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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, July 28, 2017
John 3:16
ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη απολλυηται αλλα εχη ζωην αιωνιον - John 3:16
My old mentor was leery of any pastor who would "go to the Greek" whenever something in the English didn't satisfy the particular nuance he felt was, or ought to be in a verse.  Most people don't study biblical Greek, so the moment you "go to the Greek" to clarify a text, you are doing one of two things - you are expounding upon the full flavor of the word (in it's particular usage) to flesh out (for the English ear) what the Greek ear would have heard, but which may not be being represented fully by a single English word or phrase.  Alternately, you're going to the Greek because a passage may be translated in more than one way - with more than one meaning - in English - and the decision of which translation to go with is informed by the context, and often by one's own theological (as opposed to hermeneutical) framework.

If you're my age, and spent any time in Sunday School as a youth - you've probably been asked to memorize either the New International or New King James translation of this passage.  Today you might also be asked to memorize the verse, but a lot of churches are using the English Standard Version or the New American Standard Bible for memorizing verses.  So I'll present those here to compare them with one another:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [NIV]

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. [NKJV]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [ESV]

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. [NASB]
The biggest difference we see in these translations is how they translate the Greek adjective that modifies the word "Son".  Jesus is alternately God's one and only Son as the NIV translates the word.  He is God's only begotten Son in both the NKJV and the NASB, and he is simply God's only Son in the ESV.

The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe an only child. The son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:12) was the widow's only son.  The daughter of Jarius (Luke 8:42) and the demon possessed boy in Luke 9:38 is likewise the man's only son.

But it is the use in Hebrews 11:17 that gives us, I think, the most insight into the way this adjective could be used.  In this verse, Isaac is called the monogenes son of Abraham.  But you will recall that Abraham had already fathered a son (Ishmael) through Hagar.  Obviously Isaac is neither only son of Abraham, nor the "one and only" son of Abraham.

Monogenes was used in three ways to describe one's child, either from the unique perspective of the father, the unique perspective of the mother, or the unique combination of the mother and father:

  • Abraham's perspective: He had two sons, Ishmael (from Hagar) and Isaac from Sarah.
  • Hagar's perspective: She had one son, (Ishmael)
  • Sarah's perspective: She had one son (Isaac)
  • Abraham + Hagar: They had one son together (Ishmael)
  • Abraham + Sarah: They had one son together (Isaac)

The text of Hebrews 11:17, describes Isaac as Abraham's monogenes son - but Isaac was by no means Abraham's only (physical) son.  Even though it would be a lot easier to interpret the meaning of this verse by ignoring the fact that the writer is describing this relationship entirely from Abraham's perspective by assuming the author mentions Abraham but intends in doing so to suggest a more compatible relationships (i.e. from the perspective of, say Abraham and Sarah together); I'd rather not rest on an interpretation that requires me to "correct" an assumed imprecision in the original text.

The Greek word monogenes is a compound word that combines mono (only) and genos (birth/kind). We don't really have a lot of trouble with the concept of something being the only representative of its kind, but we might not understand the idea of how "birth" could fit into the semantic range of a word like genos.  In the book of Genesis (Genesis itself means origin, creation, or generation - i.e. that which is generated or born), the word genos is used (c.f. Genesis 1:24-25 for example) to describe the things God had created as having the capacity in themselves to procreate after their own kind (genos) - giving birth to something that is uniquely like themselves.  Cows beget baby cows, and sheep beget lambs.  Each "begetting" new life according to its kind (genos).

Hence older lexicons define monogenes as "only begotten" rather than as "only kind", - this because compounds adverbs that use with genes as one of the words are used to describe the nature rather than the source of their derivation.

Following this understanding, monegenes ought to translated in a way that captures the nature (begetting) rather than the source (kind) of the relationship.  We might translate it fully, though awkardly in English as the "only begotten kind" of something.

Going back to Hebrews 11:17 - Isaac isn't the only son of Abraham, but he -is- the only son of Abraham's who would be inherit God's promise to Abraham.  That this very promise is mentioned in that verse suggests to me that the author intended to convey the message that Isaac was the only son born of Abraham's faith in the promise of God.

We know from Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac because he was utterly convinced that in order for God to keep His to him (i.e. through Isaac Abraham's descendants would be named) God would have to raise up Isaac in order to keep His promise to Abraham.  Abraham trusted God that much.

Well, we know the rest of the story - as Isaac was about to plunge the knife into his son, and angel stopped his hand, and lo - God provided a sacrifice in his son's stead.  Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh - God will provide - and that all happened on a particular mountain in the mountain range named Moriah (c.f. Genesis 22:2), which is probably the same Moriah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 3:1 - where Solomon built the first Temple at Jerusalem.

As an aside, no Christian should ignore the import of the imagery we are discussing here.  Abraham was willing (on the strength of his trust in God's promise) - to offer up to God's the very son through whom God had promised to bless him.  This is exactly what God would do with Christ - offer up His own Son (Jesus Christ) through whom God's promise to Abraham would ultimately be fulfilled.  There on likely the very spot where the temple itself was built - was the Holy of Holies - were God's presence was understood by way of God's covenant with Israel - to remain - above the mercy seat which rested atop the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies.  Do not forget how that great curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two in the moment of our Lord's greatest accomplishment (His death) - where before the actual throne of God in heaven the pouring out of Christ's life expiated God's wrath towards all those who are in Christ through faith.  As the way was opened in heaven, so the symbols upon the earth reflected it - in the tearing asunder of that great curtain that separated men from God.

Not withstanding, when we look again at John 3:16, we must ask ourselves, what does John intend to convey in using the word monogenes to describe the son-ship of Christ?

Where normally I prefer the ESV translation, in this case I find it wanting - for if John had intended to say convey the meaning that God had had only one Son - Jesus - he needed bother using such a specialized compound word as monogenes to say such.  Recall that John was a fisherman - his writing style and grammar are simple compared to other writers in the New Testament.  New students of biblical Greek are often made to begin reading John's writings for this very fact - they are less complicated grammatically than more the more learned writings of men like Luke and Paul.  I am compelled on this point to believe that John would not only have been aware of a more simple way to say that Jesus was God's only Son, if that is all he intended to convey here.

That being my understanding - it follows that he chose this word to convey something more than that - which is why I feel the ESV's translation here is the least nuanced of the ones quoted above - and as such it is also the least precise.  Don't get me wrong - in recent years there seems to be something of a silent revision going on when it comes to the notion of Christ being the only begotten son of God.  I can only postulate that new scholars have been ingesting the philosophies of relativism since the cradle.  What scholar, having unconsciously imbibed such a bias for the whole of his or her life will not want to step back from the former generation who collectively spoke to these matters in a way so narrow and precise it leaves no room for anyone with a contrary "truth" to be considered right.

It is not stretch for me to say that when scholarship becomes more scholarly, it doesn't necessarily become more true.  There is an army of biblical scholars coming out of a large network of liberal seminaries all convinced from their education - such as it is - that homosexuality is no longer a sin, and never really was, convinced that women can and should be pastors, convinced that God has evolved into a better God than the previous Old Testament God.  These are not B-team scholars - these are the best of their best - the movers and shakers, the people selling books increasing their influence in the world.

Maybe the reason that those lexicons which today are backing away from their former handling of monogenes is because we've been getting it wrong for a couple of thousand years.  But I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, not to those who are rewriting what the church has believed for millennia, but rather with those who instead are alarmed by this trend.

That brings us back to the text of John 3:16.

Dismissing the ESV's translation of monogenes, I move onto the NIV translation  "one and only".

This meaning falls apart harder in Hebrews 11:17, than the ESV translation.  From Abraham's perspective - which is the perspective in that context - there is no way that Isaac is his one and only son.  He is the one and only son born as the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham - but that is not only not hinted at in this rendering - it is rather denied as the natural reader will associate the uniqueness implied by "one and only" with the son-ship itself rather than the nature of that son-ship.

That Jesus (in our text) is the one and only son of God is certainly true - but the question isn't whether the words that appear in this text are true in and of themselves.  If our translation injected the adjective "male" the noun "Son" - it would certainly be true - but that doesn't mean it is what the text is saying.

That leaves us with the NASB and NKJV translations which tell us that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.  This translation - which I think is the best of the ones supplied here - means that Jesus is the only son of God's kind.

I want that to sink in.  God did not create or make Jesus.

So what do I mean when I say begotten?

Let's start with this: God is (and has always been) a spirit.  When we think of Fathering someone, it involves a chronological order - because we are created beings who exist in God's creation.  Part of that creation is "time" - and we move through in such a way that every child is preceded in time by their parent.  So it is quite natural for us to think (from a chronological perspective) that if God is the Father of Jesus, that means That God came first, and Jesus came some time after that.  That is how our concept of being a parent works.

But God is not bound by time in that way, because He exists apart from it.  Time is part of creation, and neither God nor His Son are bound by those laws that they knit into creation.  It other words, when Jesus tells us that God is heavenly Father, we shouldn't anthropomorphize that into something that requires God the father to exist in isolation at some point, and then produce Jesus at another point, after which they both exist eternally.  That doesn't make sense because chronological concepts like before and after have no meaning in a reality wherein time itself does not exist.

So when we say that God is the Father and Jesus the Son, we are not suggesting that God brought Jesus into being, or that Jesus did not exist at some point with God.  What we are doing is taking what the scriptures say, and trying to understand them properly, given that the bible tells us that we are created, and God is not.

When we say that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, we mean that God and Jesus are both of the same kind - both are not just equally divine, both rather the are each full partakers of the same divinity.  God the Father is not "more" God than Jesus, nor is God the Father a different God than Jesus.  God did not bring Jesus into being - but the relationship between these two persons (in the Triune Godhead) is that God the Father (eternally) begets Christ the Son.

In other words God has always been the Father, Christ has always been the Son.  The relationship is an anthropomorphism, as God the Father is a Spirit, and Jesus the Son is both a Spirit in eternity, a man who lived and died within the envelope of this creation - and is now the resurrected God-Man who is presently sitting at God's right hand - making intercession for His saints until God the Father places all of Christ the Son's enemies beneath Christ's feet.

For our purposes in John 3:16  - the apostle sums up in this one adjective what he laid out at the very start of His gospel - that Jesus was with God the Father in the beginning, and that Jesus was and is the same God, though not the same person.

If you get nothing else from this post - remember cats beget cats, and cows beget cows - and God begets God.  God did not beget Adam - he created Adam.  The word son, to the writers of scriptures, did not almost mean of the same flesh - but often meant of the same substance or kind.  We are sons of Abraham, not because we are physically descended, but because we have the same kind of faith.  The Pharisees and scribes who rejected Christ were sons of the devil - not physical sons but like the devil they rejected God's plan to go with their own.  Jesus explains in Matthew 12:50For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Such usage at the time ought to inform our understanding of what John meant by referring to Christ as the only begotten Son of God - whatever was meant in this term that describes kinship - the kinship certainly included a similitude in purpose and thought; a likeness that further respects the full partaking of  the exact same divine nature - and that without division or diminishment.

There are two other words I wanted to address in the passage - the words, "so" and "world".

So

Oὕτως, (outos) the Greek adverb that is translated above in John 3:16 as "so" in "for God so loved the world" either expresses degree (soooo much) or manner ("just so", or "in this way") or both.  Without going into how the word translated as love is in the indicative, and how that affects our understanding, it is enough to say that the third option - where both the manner and the degree are intended - is probably the best approach for translating this word.

Unfortunately, the English word, "so" doesn't show us that John is really telling us that this is how God loved the world - it rather just suggest that God really, really loved the world - which confuses the meaning the author likely intended.

The best renditions I've seen follow the most common usage, with the understanding that the other usage is implied.
"For God loved the world in this way: He gave... etc"
If a translation is going to state one of these two aspects more clearly than the other - all things being equal - the most common rendering (describing manner rather than degree) ought to be the one we use.

I am persuaded however by the context, given that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about the manner in which we are saved - that this is the clear and obvious purpose of this discussion - it follows that when our Lord has an opportunity to explain that God saves "in this way" in a conversation that is about "how God saves" - we should probably assume that Jesus intends to say, "in this way" - rather than that painting this verse as though Jesus was spontaneously talking about how much God loves us ("thiiiiiis much!").

God does love us, and that love is most clearly put on display in laying down your life for your friends, as our Lord himself explained to his closest disciples in John 15:13 (c.f. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends).   Paul likewise tells us the same in Romans 5:8, (c.f. but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.) - both verses leave the magnitude of God's as testified fully in the naked reality of just how far God has gone to demonstrate that love.  Neither of these other passages require an adverb to inflate the "bigness" of that love - and I wonder that if Christ was ever of the persuasion to inflate that love - why he would fail to do so when speaking to his disciples in John 15 about... basically how much God loves them and will care for them - but would put that meaning into his discussion with Nicodemus - who came for the very instruction ("how") that Christ was giving to him.

For me, even though the adverb in John 3:16 can mean manner, degree, or both.  I think our Lord intended in that verse to portray only the manner in which God saves us.  That fits the context, and it fits the fact that our Lord doesn't inflate his language on this point anywhere else - especially where one would expect him to do so if this was something that His message needed.

Yes, that means that I don't believe the our Lord was saying that God loved the world soooo much that he gave his only begotten son.

World

That the word κοσμον (Kosmos) translates as "world".  I don't read to much into that.  God loves his enemies, so that whether you're an enemy of God or not - God loves you.    Since I don't believe the text is saying "God loved the world so much that he have his only begotten son" but rather that our Lord was telling Nicodemus that his understanding of the way God loved the world (by blessing the those who keep the law with long life and wealth, for instance) was entirely wrong - that that was not the way God shows love.  This is how God loves the world - he sent his only begotten son Jesus so that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish, but have everlasting life.


posted by Daniel @ 2:31 PM  
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