The Only Begotten Son

Dan Lenington on April 21, 2015

     Inevitably, most homes have had individuals knock on their door from the group calling themselves Jehovah's Witnesses also known as the Watchtower Tract Society. Many know that this group denies the eternal deity of Jesus Christ as the second member of the Godhead or trinity. One of the words they use to suppor this denial is the term begotten as it is used in reference Jesus. Since this term is found in multiple passages a basic Bible study is necessary to understand how the word is being used.

     The phrase "only begotten Son" is used in reference to Jesus Christ exclusively by the apostle John. In John 1:14, John says that the eternal Word (John 1:1) was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. Here we can see that Christ's begetting is a reference to His coming to earth at the incarnation. In fact, the phrase "only begotten" (in Greek as monogenes) is distinguishing Christ from believers who also may become sons of God as explained only two verses prior in John 1:12. Christ is the only Son of God who was begotten by God. In other words, His human life was a direct result of God the Father placing His spirit into the virgin Mary where His earthly physical body would be formed. Each of the other uses by John referring to Christ as the "only begotten Son" are speaking of His incarnation (John 1:18; 3:16; 3:18; 1 John 4:9). Hebrew 11:17 also gives interesting insight into this phrase by referring to Isaac as the "only begotten" son of Abraham. Obviously, Abraham had other sons. Most notable was Ishmael, but he also had 6 sons by his second wife Keturah (Gen 25:1-2). Therefore, "only begotten son" is not primarily a reference to physical descent but to prominence of position. When Jesus is referred to as the only begotten Son of God it does not mean that He was created by God at some time before Christ created the world. It refers instead to the act of God placing Jesus' spirit into His physical body at the incarnation and to distinguish Him from believers, the lesser sons of God.

     However, there is a second event in the life of Christ that is referred to by the term "begotten." In Psalm 2:7, God declares that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is His Son and is begotten on a specific day. While it is true that the Hebrew word for day (yom) can mean an age or as some think an eternal age of generation, I believe this to be an unnecessary interpretive stretch. In fact, Paul interprets this day of generation handily for us. Acts 13:33-34 explains that the day God begat Christ was the day of His resurrection from the dead. (Psalm 2:7 is also referenced in Heb. 1:5 and Heb. 5:5 to emphasize the superiority of Christ and His unique relationship to God the Father). God raised Jesus from the dead granting Him the glorified body that we too will recieve at our own resurrection. This leads us to the term "firstborn" (prototokos in the Greek) which is another misunderstood term in reference to Christ. Christ is referrred to as the firstborn among many brethren in Rom. 8:29. At the resurrection, He was the first of many to receive the glorified body. Paul also calls Him the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of every creature in Col. 1:15. While creature does mean created being, Paul is again referring to the new creation of the resurrection. This is clear by looking at the context of verse 18. (It may be possible that verse 15 is a reference to Christ's incarnation, however, since He is the ultimate man or form of created being during His earthly life.) The remaining references to Christ being the firstborn all reference His resurrection and subsequent headship over the church (Heb. 12:23; Rev. 1:5).

     Finally, let me stress a few verses which emphasize the eternal nature of Jesus to counteract the notion that He is a created being who had a beginning at a certain time in history. As the Messiah, Jesus is called  the everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6, or as some would put it, the father of eternity. In Micah 5:2, His activity is said to be from of old, even from everlasting. In the New Testament, He is given the title of the Word who was already in existence at the very beginning (John 1:1). He claimed to be the first and last in Rev. 1:8, 11. Finally, He claimed to be the eternal self-existing Jehovah God in John 8:58. Christ says that before Abraham was "I Am." He is referencing the name of God given to Moses at the burning bush in Ex. 3:14. This statement is the same as the title Jehovah or Yahweh. The New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses mistranslates these passages to fit their interpretation. They say the original is in the perfect tense and translate it as "I have been." However, if you were to look up the verse in the original Greek text, you would find the words "ego eimi" (I AM). Eimi is a present tense verb for being. In fact, there is no occurrence of this verb in the perfect tense in all of the New Testament! Not only did the Jehovah's Witnesses change the tense of the word but they also are not consistent. In other places where this present tense verb is used, they translate it correctly as "I Am." Their false doctrine has caused them to be dishonest with the text and their corrupt translation.

     I have stressed that the biblical references to God's begetting of Jesus Christ do not refer to His coming into being at some time before the rest of creation. These passages simply reference first the incarnation of Christ and secondly the resurrection of Christ. At the same time, we must remember the clear references to Jesus Christ being eternal without beginning or end. In fact Christ declares that He is the first and the last five times (Rev. 1:8, 11, 17; 2:8; 22:13) which is a designation used for Jehovah in the Old Testament (Is. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). Jesus Christ is God the Son, the eternal 2nd member of the triune Jehovah God of the Old Testament. Do not be deceived by well meaning but mistaken individual from the Watchtower Tract Society.