How do we understand the meaning of "only begotten" Son?

How do we understand the meaning of "only begotten" Son?

The word translated "only begotten" appears nine times in our New Testament. Luke uses it three times in his gospel to describe either an only daughter (8:42) or only son (7:12; 9:38). The term also describes Isaac (Heb 11:17), which is instructive, because Isaac was not the only son born to Abraham. He was the father of Ishmael and six other sons (Gen 25:2). Isaac, however, was uniquely precious (22:2), because God promised to fulfil His covenant with Abraham through Isaac.

The remaining references to "only begotten" are from John’s pen and all refer to the Lord Jesus. The first mention in John is significant. Although the other four references (1:18; 3:16, 18; 1Jo 4:9) have an article ("the") with "only begotten," the first reference does not. "We beheld His glory, glory as of an only begotten of a Father" (John 1:14, YLT). The absence of an article does not mean He was like an only begotten son. He was and is "the only begotten Son." As Mr. Newberry points out, the missing article indicates character. John saw in Christ every evidence that He was the Son uniquely precious to His Father and every reason why He should be thus treasured by His Father.

Although John never refers to believers as "sons of God," he does tell us that we are begotten (a related word) by God (1Jo 5:1, 18). Since many are begotten by God, the term "only begotten" cannot refer to the act of "begetting." It cannot therefore imply a beginning of the Son’s existence, or His becoming the Son of God, or His birth into humanity. "Only begotten" expresses the uniqueness of the Son in the essential value He has to the Father and in the central place He has in all that the Father has purposed.

For those who find the expression "only begotten" rather archaic, the words "only Son" convey much the same truth, although "unique Son" may express the truth more completely.

D. Oliver