What does 'only begotten Son' mean? How is Jesus God's only begotten Son?
John 3:16 teaches that Jesus is God's "only begotten Son" (King James Version). What does this mean?
The Greek term translated "only begotten" is monogenes, a word used nine times in the New Testament that can mean one of a kind or unique. For example, Luke uses the term three times to refer to an only child (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38). The writer of Hebrews uses the term to refer to Isaac, the only son of Abraham and Sarah, the son of the promise (Hebrews 11:17). Modern translations generally translate monogenes in John 3:16 as "one and only Son" or "only Son" to reflect this definition.
But does this mean Jesus was somehow born or created by God the Father? It does not. Instead, the emphasis is on Jesus as one in unique relationship with the Father. The Bible often uses Father and Son with God and Jesus to explain their relationship in terms we can better understand as humans, but this does not mean Jesus was created by God the Father.
Other passages in the Bible make this very clear. For example, John 1:1-3 states, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." Colossians 1:15-17 also emphasizes Jesus creating all things.
The use of monogenes in John 3:16 is similar to what is seen in other passages of Scripture to refer to Jesus as unique. For example, John 1:14 shares, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:18 includes, "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known." John 3:18 adds, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." First John 4:9 notes, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him."
The understanding that Jesus is completely unique, yet not a created being, was so important in the early church that it was emphasized in one of the earliest creeds, the Nicene Creed: "I believe...in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made." This statement sought to make clear that Jesus is both eternal and is the one and only Son of God sent to offer salvation to the world.
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