Bible Word Study – μονογενῆ (monogene)


μονογενῆ. This is a compound noun, formed with an adjective and a noun steam, μονο and γενon that have a semantic range of various meanings such as, “one, only, unique” or “one of its kind” and “offspring, family, beget.” (see. NIV, ESV, and NASB Study Bible).

NIV translate this word in John 3:16 as one and only; ESV renders its meaning to only , while NASB translate the word only begotten.

The frequency of μονογενῆ is only 9 times in the New Testament (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Hebrews 11:17; 1 John 4:9). The same word can be found 10 times in Septuagint translation (LXX) in Judges 11:34; Psalm 21:21; 34:17 and apocryphal writings like Psalm of Solomon 18:4 and Odes 14:13 to denote one and only one; unique of its kind.[1] μονογενῆ is used to describe the relationship of Abraham with Isaac.

The question is, how then is it different that Jesus as the only begotten Son of God from a widow’s only son (Luke 7:12) or Jairus’ only daughter when the same word μονογενῆ is used to talk about these relationships?

In the Johannine literature, the same word μονογενῆ is used to entitled to talk about the relationship of Jesus with the Father. The uniqueness of Jesus and his divinity is centralized in the uses of the word μονογενῆ in John and 1 John. The meaning is transcending and heightened to talk highly about Jesus being only-begotten or begotten of the Only One[2] who has no other competent gods or deities. No other relationship comes close to the Father other than Jesus in Apostle John’s writing. Having said this, the uniqueness of Jesus as the One and Only Son of the Father, the implication is that Jesus is the exclusively above all beings in both earthly and heavenly realm. Therefore, μονογενῆ has the soteriological meaning[3] when it is applied to Jesus.

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[1] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Mille, Analytical Greek Lexicon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), Bibleworks v.9.

[2] Frederick W. Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 658.

[3] Verlyn Verbrugge, ed., The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 840.

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