What does "only begottn Son" mean?

Some say that the word translated, “only begotten”, in such phrases as, “The only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:14), merely means, “beloved,” and should be so translated especially in all passages relating to the Eternal Son—the Second Person of the Divine Trinity.

Do you think this is so?

My own conviction is other, though I know esteemed brethren who maintain it. I doubt indeed if such an opinion would ever have been broached, had it not been for the mistaken notion that to apply such a term as “only begotten” or even “begotten” to our Lord in a past eternity, necessitates the thought of a time before the begetting, and therefore must infringe on the eternity, and therefore on the true Deity, of the Son. This, however, is only so, if we insist on defining and explaining Divine relations by the human, whereas, the latter are the vaguest shadows of the Eternal and Divine: as soon measure the fixed stars with a foot-rule. The same objection applies to the terms “Father” and “Son”. Such terms do imply priority and subsequency in earthly relations, but there cannot be priority or the reverse in the case of Eternal Persons.

The same objection would apply to the epithet, “the Word,” for does not such a term necessitate to our minds a time before the word was uttered, and when consequently the word had no existence? was reading only the other day two writings, one by a denier of the Deity of the Son, the other by a denier of His Eternal Sonship, who both refused to believe, because their minds forsooth could not comprehend the possibility of such things. There must be no unsolved mysteries to this type of person, though one wonders how such can believe at all in the God of Revelation, for surely His existence is beyond their comprehension. Such might also lay to heart the limitation imposed by the Lord Himself, “No man knoweth the Son save the Father.” However, to return to those who, while holding firmly the Eternal Sonship of Christ, yet refuse the term “only begotten,”* and substitute for it “well-beloved.” This is indeed a secondary meaning springing, as we see, directly from the primary, forwho is more beloved than an only child? Now although “only-begotten” is the literal translation of the Greek word, it would be permissible, under certain conditions to abandon this—the etymological meaning—if usage justified it. But if the predominant usage agrees with the original philological meaning, then we must keep to that.

That this is the case here, can, I think, be clearly shown by a reference to our three chief sources of information (not to mention Latin ecclesiastical writers who translate—uni-genitus “only begotten”)—the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint Greek version, and the New Testament. (a) The Hebrew word, “yahidh,” occurs twelve times in the Old Testament, and is translated in A. V.: twice, “my darling”; margin “only one” (Psalm 22:20; 35: 17); twice “desolate” or “solitary” (Psalm 25:16; Psalm 68:6); once “only beloved” (Proverbs 4:3); and six times “only son” (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16, of Isaac; Jeremiah 6:26. Amos 8:10, and Zechariah 12: 10); and “only child” (Judges 2:34, of Jepthah’s daughter); and with all these the R.V. agrees. (b) The Septuagint translates the two Genesis, the Proverbs, and the three prophetic occurrences by “beloved,” and the remaining five by “only child” or “son” (monogenës). It may be added that the LXX in their translation of Genesis 22:2 have, “thy loved son, whom thou lovest,” the tautology of which translation might alone have raised a doubt as to its correctness. (c) In the New Testament the word “mono- genes” occurs nine times: once of Isaac (Hebrews 11:17)t and thrice of only children (Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38), and five times of the Son of God (John 1:14, 18; John 3:16-18 and 1 John 4:9), translated in each case both in A.V. and R.V. as “Only Begotten.” Lest anyone should imagine that this is the ordinary word for “beloved”, when applied to the Lord, I would mention the significant fact that on the two occasions on which the Father bore audible witness from heaven to the Lord as His beloved Son (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5), He does not use the word we are considering (monogens), but the ordinary word for “beloved” (agapetos). Surely these two occasions would have been specially suitable for the use of the word “only-begotten,” if the Lord’s Sonship depended, as is falsely taught in some quarters to-day, on His incarna tion.

W.H.