Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Recently monogenes (only begotten) came to my attention, and I am so glad that it has. For one thing, it opened a new blue sub-category (blue in my study is a colour code that signifies that a passage could be suggestive of something that later could be interpreted according to a Triune-God perspective, from the late fourth century onward), just for these special mentions by John.

Really interesting what came out of the study. I learned the following:
  • Only John uses this only-begotten language of Jesus.
  • Of the other New Testament references, we note
    • It's boys and girls
    • There is always a high risk of death or death has already come to the monogenes.
    • There is a specific reference by the Hebrews writer to Isaac, the monogenes of Abraham (even though there was an older half-brother)
  • In all they number 9.
The problem that Trinitarians must still face is the "of" that is required, at least in English, between "only begotten [son]" and "God": only begotten of God. What would have been really ideal for Trinitarian theology, I think, would have been if the authors had used the preposition "in" - the only begotten son in God. Jurgen Moltmann advocates this solution in a similar problem, The Crucified God. Here Moltmann says that it is more accurate to talk not so much of the death of God as of the death in God.

Returning to monogenes and John, I am now wondering if John, writing later, used this expression specifically with the sacrifice story in Genesis 22 in mind. I was initially a little disappointed to note, I must admit, that the Septuagint (LXX) Greek uses a different expression than monogenes.

"τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν ὃν ἠγάπησας"

But check out what it means: your beloved son you love (the beloved son of you that you love). That's a lot of love! There is nothing here explicitly "mono", but it is carried by singular definite articles and this "love focus". So the idea remains very consistent between monogenes and τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν. We could legitimately wonder, as John taught his church group/disciples, did he discover the strong parallels in the Isaac story, teach that and subsequently adopt this into a working title for Jesus? Or was the monogenes description sufficiently circulated in the story-telling of the Isaac history in first century Judaism and Christianity, as evidenced by Hebrews, to be prepared for John in a similar way to logos (see Philo)? Really interestingly, Philo, who shows scant if any evidence of knowledge of the events of Jesus in Palestine and Jerusalem, already equates God's utterance (logos) with being his first-born son. I'm checking up on this.

In any case, this reflection on the context of death, breaking or abandon of one so unbelievably precious was powerfully reinforced for five of us this evening in a small house group setting. So nice when theology finds its way out into people's lives! We realised that you simply cannot realise how precious something is to you without some kind of knowledge of how terrible it would be to lose it.

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