This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.
In the previous column, we showed how Jehovah’s Witnesses twist the use of “firstborn” in Scripture to deny the deity of Christ. They also misuse the term “only begotten,” which appears several times in the Gospel of John, most notably in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).
Many modern translations render the term “one and only Son,” emphasizing Christ’s uniqueness.
Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that “only begotten” means Jesus is the only direct creation of Jehovah, who then created all other things through His Son. The key is the Greek word monogenes. James White explains how linguistic studies and the discovery of ancient papyri in the Egyptian deserts within the last century have clarified a proper understanding of this term:
“It was assumed that the term was made up of two parts: monos, which means ‘only,’ and gennao, which is a verb meaning ‘to beget, give birth to.’ The assumption was half correct. Monogenes does come from monos but not from gennao; rather, the second part of the word comes from a noun, genos, that means ‘kind’ or ‘type.’
“Therefore, monogenes means ‘one of a kind, unique’ rather than ‘only begotten,’ and, accordingly, the term was used of an only son, a unique son. The importance for Christology is clear: No one can base a denial of the Son’s eternal nature upon this term, for it does not refer to a ‘beginning’ at all but instead describes the uniqueness of the object.”
The apostle John, who takes great care to establish the deity of Jesus, wants us to know that while Jesus is the Son of God, His Sonship is an eternal, one-of-a-kind relationship with God the Father. Believing sinners are “begotten” in the sense that we are born again, or made spiritually alive through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Our sonship is through adoption; Christ’s Sonship is by the very nature of His eternal relationship with the Father.