Let’s Go Back to ‘Only Begotten’

Charles Lee Irons | November 23, 2016


The classical doctrine of the Trinity affirms that within the one, undivided being of God there are three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It also affirms that what distinguishes the three persons are their relations of origin: the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The second point is referred to as the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. This doctrine has traditionally been grounded in a number of scriptural proof texts, one set of which is the five Johannine verses that, according to the Vulgate and the King James Version, affirm the Son is the “only begotten” Son of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). 

In recent times, however, many evangelical theologians have doubted whether the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is indeed taught in Scripture. A principal source of doubt has been the 20th-century scholarly consensus that the Greek word monogenēs does not mean “only begotten.” Scholars have argued that the compound Greek adjective is not derived from monos (“only”) + gennao (“beget”) but from monos (“only”) + genos (“kind”). Thus, they argue, the term shouldn’t be…


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