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John 1

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18

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known (NIV).

 

Grammatical Analysis

Other Views Considered

for further reading...

 

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John 1:18 presents some interesting challenges for the translator and exegete.  The issues surround the phrase rendered in the NIV as "God the One and Only."  Other versions read as follows:

 

NASB

ESV KJ V ISV RSV NWT
the only begotten God the Only God the only begotten Son the unique God the only Son the only-begotten god

The theological stakes are high.  Does this verse call Jesus the "only Son" or the "only God?"  Is the Son an "only-begotten god" - a created secondary god alongside the "unbegotten" Father?  Or is He the "only begotten Son" in a literal sense - begotten by a union of the Father and Mary?

The exegetical issues may be categorized as those dealing with whether Jesus is called "Son or God" (a textual issue) and how this title is modified or amplified (an issue of translation).

Only Son or Only God?

The initial problem is a textual one.  Of the thousands of early Greek New Testament manuscripts, there are four principal textual variants of this phrase.  We first need to establish which variant we believe represents the original text, then move from there into possible translations of that text.  The four variants (in transliterated Greek) are:

1.  ho monogenÍs  (The Only One)
2.  ho monogenÍs huios (the only Son)
3.  monogenÍs theos (only God)
4.  ho monogenÍs theos (the only God)

In the field of textual criticism, there are two fundamental criteria used to establish which text represents the original:  External evidence and internal evidence.  External evidence consists of examining the manuscripts containing the variants, collating them into "families" or so-called "text-types," charting them to see which variant may be present in the earliest manuscripts, determining which variant has the greatest manuscript support in raw numbers, which is distributed across the largest number of text-types, etc.  Next, the textual critic will see which variant best explains the others - that is, if we can demonstrate that an original monogenÍs theos more easily was changed in the transmission process to ho monogenÍs huios rather than the other way around, the former reading gains support as the possible original text.  Only after the external evidence has been weighed - and only if it is found to not to be conclusive - will textual critics turn to internal evidence, such as immediate and larger context, authorial style and usage, etc.

According to the majority of modern scholars (but by no means all), the external evidence favors monogenÍs theos as the original text.  However, it must be noted that this reading exists primarily in the Alexandrian text-types.  Textus Receptus - the manuscript tradition behind the KJV and many other Bibles - reads ho monogenÍs huios.  This reading ranks second in terms of the number of manuscripts containing it, and has a wider distribution among text-types.

Turning to internal evidence, ho monogenÍs huios is consistent with John's usage elsewhere and fits the immediate context (Son...Father) better than the other variants. Buchsel says monogenÍs theos "can hardly be credited to J[oh]n, who is distinguished by monumental simplicity of expression" (TDNT, 4:740, note 14).  MonogenÍs theos is a so-called hapax legomenon - a rare one-time occurrence in the NT.  Textual critics prefer readings that are not unique, unless compelled by external evidence otherwise.  But, as Kurt Aland, has noted even strong internal evidence should never outweigh external evidence (Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament, p. 280).  Such is the case with John 1:18.

A final consideration, which many scholars consider decisive, is that it is easier to explain a scribe - either by design or mistake - changing theos to huios, rather than the other way around.  The reading monogenÍs theos is the more "difficult" reading, in that it does not occur elsewhere in the NT, and it directly attributes theos to Jesus.  As William Barclay notes, "the more difficult reading is always the reading which is more likely to be the original" (Jesus As They Saw Him, p. 23).  This is because a scribe would generally be inclined to "smooth out" difficult readings, rather than create them.  Even if it were a simple scribal error, the sudden appearance of a "difficult reading" in the manuscript tradition would likely be corrected back to the normative text, whereas a sudden "smoothing" might remain in place and ultimately replace the original.

On balance, monogenÍs theos is represented in a great number of the earliest MSS, is prominent in the MSS that are considered to contain accurate texts, and is most probably what John actually wrote.

Translating MonogenÍs

There are two significant difficulties the translator must resolve when rendering monogenÍs in English:  What does the word mean and does it function as an adjective or as a noun?  The first difficulty is complicated by a long tradition of translating monogenÍs as "only-begotten."  This is the rendering found in most English Bibles prior to the 20th Century, most notably the King James.  The rendering "only-begotten," however, actually predates the Bible in English, going back to Jerome's Latin Vulgate.  The Old Latin versions uniformly translated monogenÍs as the Latin unicus ("only").  Jerome rendered monogenÍs this way as well, when the word does not refer to Christ.  However, in the six verses where it does, Jerome rendered it unigenitus ("only-begotten").  Jerome, probably following Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 329 - 390), sought to respond to the Arian claim that Christ was a created being by referring to the relationship of the Father to the Son as one of "generation" (the Father = gennetor ["begetter"]; the Son = gennema ["begotten"]).  Following Origen, Gregory (and Jerome) understood the generation of the Son to be an eternal process, one which maintained the unity of the Son in Eternity with His Father, while preserving the Biblical distinction between the Two.

This unfortunate (though perhaps well-intentioned) theological rendering of monogenÍs influenced the King James translators, and they in turn, most English Bibles produced since then.  In the last century, however, scholars and translators have recognized that monogenÍs is not related to the verb gennao ("begotten"), but to ginomai ("to be").  Thus, the Old Latin and Jerome (in the verses not referring to Jesus Christ) are correct to render monogenÍs as unicus ("only") - literally, "one of a kind" (see Grammatical Analysis, below, for further details).  And this practice has been followed by many modern versions, rendering it variously as "only," "unique," or "one and only."  Some scholars and translators, however, argue that monogenÍs - when used of persons - carries the sense of an only offspring.  Thus, translations such as the ESV, ISV and the RSV render monogenÍs in John 1:14 and Hebrews 11:17 as "only Son," even though it appears in these verses absolutely (that is, by itself, without an accompanying noun).

The second difficulty is determining whether monogenÍs functions as a noun or adjective in this verse.  John uses monogenÍs as a noun (or "substantive") just four verses earlier.  In John 1:14, monogenÍs is a substantive, meaning: "only Son" or "only One."  But in three other verses (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), John uses monogenÍs as an adjective modifying the noun "Son" (Greek: huios).  It would seem, on the surface, that John 1:18 is most similar to the adjectival usage, with the word "God" taking the place of "Son" (Greek:  monogenÍs theos vs monogenÍs huios).  In this case, monogenÍs would modify "God" in John 1:18 the same way it does "Son" in John 3:18:  "The only God" or "Only Son God."

But surface appearances do not always reveal the entire picture.  In his three clear adjectival uses of monogenÍs, John uses the article1.  In the substantival use in John 1:14, he does not - nor does he do so in John 1:18.  The lack of the article in John 1:18 suggests that monogenÍs and theos may be understood as two substantives in apposition ("only Son, [who is] God")2.  As Fennema puts it:

"Reading the terms individually, rather than as a unit, is consistent with the lack of an article to bind them together."3

McReynolds and Harris make the same point.4  Had John wished to use monogenÍs unambiguously as an adjective, he could have written ho theos ho monogenÍs.  He could also have made the adjectival force far more likely by writing ho monogenÍs theos.  Instead, he wrote simply monogenÍs theos, using monogenÍs without the article as he does just four verses earlier, and with a writer of John's evident skill, this certainly was intentional.

Further, in John's Gospel, there are 72 occurrences of nominative-masculine-singular adjectives (like monogenÍs, in John 1:18), and only eight of them precede the noun.5  That's an 8:1 ratio.  Let's consider the eight.  Three are terms which, to my knowledge, never occur substantivally in any context ("every," 2:10; "large," 6:5; "my," 7:8).  That leaves five, one of which is monogenÍs theos.  The remaining four are all allos mathÍtÍs ("[the /an]other disciple," 18:15; 20:3; 20:4; 20:8).  All but one are articular.  Conversely, John uses allos five times substantivally (4:37; 5:7, 32, 43; 15:24; 21:18).  In all cases, allos is anarthrous.

Considering John's usage of nominative-masculine-singular adjectives that can be substantivized preceding a nominative-masculine-singular noun, we find:

1.  John only fronts a noun with monogenÍs once when he intends it to be adjectival, and it is articular in that case.
2.  Excluding John 1:18, he uses the article 75% of the time when intending the adjectival meaning.
3.  Again, excluding John 1:18, in all cases when intending the substantival meaning, he uses the anarthrous construction.

This is not to say that an attributive adjective must have the article.6  But these statistics suggests that John favors using the article with adjectives in the first attributive position, and therefore might intend a substantival meaning in the anarthrous monogenÍs in John 1:18.  When we look at John's regular use of monogenÍs elsewhere, and particularly in the immediate context (monogenÍs is clearly used as a noun just four verses earlier), and consider the many clear examples of substantival use in Biblical and contemporary Greek texts,7 the evidence for a substantive reading is quite strong.

Conclusion

MonogenÍs means "only" or "only child/son/offspring."  It can stand alone as it does in John 1:14 - "the only Son" - or it can be used adjectivally to modify a noun as it does in John 3:16 - "the only Son."8  In John 1:18, it can be viewed as a substantive ("The only one, "the Unique One"), a substantive absolute containing the idea of an only offspring ("the Only Son"), or adjectivally modifying theos ("the only God," "the unique God").  Theos can also be taken both substantivally ("God") or adjectivally ("divine").  Thus, the translator has a number of "legitimate" choices he or she can make that are true to the grammar.  How each ultimately chooses to render the passage depends an a host of factors.

A number of prominent scholars prefer apposition to an adjectival rendering.9  Origen cites of John 1:18 in Contra Celsum 2.71:  "kai monogenÍs ge Űn theos ...," which I would translate "the one and only [Son], being God..."  McReynolds cites this as "a clear early witness as to how one should understand the reading monogenÍs theos."10

On the whole, I find the evidence presented by these scholars convincing.  I would render monogenÍs theos as "the only Son, God."  However, an adjectival reading for monogenÍs is also possible, yielding a translation similar to the ESV or ISV, "the one and only God."

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monogenhV qeoV wn ton kolpon tou patroV ekeinoV exhghsato

 

MONOGEN S THEOS hO ‘N TON KOLPON TOU PATROS EKEINOS EX G SATO

 

[The} one and only God who is in the bosom of the father, [he] has explained [Him].

 

 

MONOGEN S

BAGD:  "In the Johannine lit[erature] m[onogenÍs] is used only of Jesus.  The mngs. only, unique may be quite adequate for all its occurrences here...But some (e.g., WBauer, Hdb.) prefer to regard m[onogenÍs] as somewhat heightened in mng. in J and 1J to only-begotten or begotten of the Only One."  (Bauer, it will be remembered, believed the Gospel of John was a gnostic text, and hence saw a theology behind John's writing compatible with the creation of the Logos as a semi-divine intermediary between the Monas and the creation with which He could not directly interact).

Louw & Nida:  "Pertaining to what is unique in the sense of being the only one of the same kind or class - 'unique, only.'"

Moulton & Milligan: "Literally 'one of a kind,' 'only,' 'unique' (unicus), not 'only-begotten....'"

Grimm/Thayer:  "Single of its kind, only, [A.V. only-begotten]." (Note that Thayer's insertion merely cites the KJV translation, which owes considerable debt to the Vulgate of Jerome, who translated monogenÍs "unigenitus").

NIDNTT:  "The only begotten, or only....RSV and NEB render monogenÍs as 'only.' This meaning is supported by R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible, I, 1966, 13 f., and D. Moody, ďGodís Only Son: The Translation of John 3:16 in the Revised Standard Version,Ē JBL 72, 1953, 213-19. Lit. it means ďof a single kind,Ē and could even be used in this sense of the Phoenix (1 Clem. 25:2). It is only distantly related to gennao, beget. The idea of ďonly begottenĒ goes back to Jerome who used unigenitus in the Vulg. to counter the Arian claim that Jesus was not begotten but made."

Newman:  "Unique, only."

LSJ:  "Only, single" (references John 1:14, the only NT verse cited).

TDNT defines monogenÍs as "only begotten," but distinguishes between nouns ending in -genes and adverbs ending in -genÍs.  The former denote the source of the derivation, the latter the nature of the derivation.  Thus, the author (Buchsel) concludes that monogenÍs means "of sole descent."  But Pendrick argues strongly against this view: 

Buchsel's claim that "in accordance with the strict meaning of genos, -genÍs always denotes derivation" is contradicted both by the evidence of the aforementioned adjectives as well as by the fact that even in the earliest Greek literature genos occurs without the denotation of derivation.  On the other hand...monogenÍs could be ... interpreted rather as 'only-born.' (:Pendrick, "MONOGENHS," NTS, 41, pp. 587-588).

Buchsel also calls "an only-begotten, one who is God:" "an exegetical invention [which] can hardly be credited of [John], who is distinguished by monumental simplicity of expression." (TDNT 4 p. 740).

 

Buchsel makes this comment in a footnote, and doesn't elaborate on his reasons for his conclusion.  As far as I know, he has never in print provided a reason for this comment.  Buchsel provides a list of his sources, but makes no reference to the Patristics.  This is a rather striking omission, since the term is used over 100 times in Patristic writings.  For Biblical and extra-Biblical uses of monogenÍs as a substantive, see note 7, below.  In any case, few modern scholars writing on monogenÍs have agreed with Buchsel on this point.

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Jehovah's Witnesses

objection:  The New World Translation (NWT) of Jehovah's Witnesses renders John 1:18 as follows:

No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is in the bosom [position] with the Father is the one that has explained him.

(Joh 1:18 NWT).

In defense of this translation, Jehovah's Witness apologist Greg Stafford, citing Dahms, argues that monogenÍs - at least in John's usage, always means "only-begotten" (Stafford, pp. 356-357):

We have examined all of the evidence which has come to our attention concerning the meaning of monogenÍs in the Johannine writings and have found that the majority view of modern scholarship has very little support....'Only-begotten' is the most accurate translation after all (Dahms, "The Johannine Use of Monogenes Reconsidered," NTS, 29, p. 231).

Mr. Stafford acknowledges that Pendrick argues against Dahms on numerous points, and Mr. Stafford interacts with him and finds his counter-arguments unsatisfactory.  I will address each of Mr. Stafford's objections to Pendrick in my Response, below.  Regarding the meaning of monogenÍs, Mr. Stafford concludes: "In filial contexts where monogenÍs is used of an offspring, the idea of generation seems always to be present, or at least implied, in the NT" (Stafford, pp. 357-358).

Another Witness author, Rolf Furuli, is less dogmatic about the precise meaning of monogenÍs, however he argues whether it means "unique," "only-begotten," or "uniquely derived,"

It implies the generation/derivation of only one of its kind....the words of John 1:18, therefore, may imply that apart from the Father, others may be called "gods," but of these only one is "the only-begotten/uniquely derived god." (Furuli, p. 224).

response:  Mr. Stafford's conclusion (that in the NT, when monogenÍs is used of an offspring, "the idea of generation seems always to be present, or at least implied") is overdrawn.  Indeed, Mr. Stafford admits that in Luke, "either 'only-begotten' or 'only' is equally acceptable" (Stafford, p. 358, emphasis added).  The implication Mr. Stafford and Mr. Furuli find of generation may be explained by "the obvious and natural connection between 'child' and the notion of birth or derivation."11  On other occasions, Mr. Stafford argues that the meaning of a word in the NT should be informed by usage in the LXX.12  But in the case of monogenÍs, Mr. Stafford does not consider the LXX at all, saying: "We are primarily concerned with usage...in the NT" (Stafford p. 358).  Mr. Stafford's reluctance may be due to the fact that, as Pendrick (citing Buchsel) notes:

MonogenÍs in the LXX means 'only,' 'single' ... or 'unique' ... or even 'solitary'...reflecting the Hebrew yachid which it translates."13

Pendrick argues that monogenÍs in Hebrews 11:17 means "unique."  Mr. Stafford agrees that Pendrick's argument is "possible," but rejoins: "in human terms a child must have two parents, and Isaac was the only-begotten son of both Abraham and Sarah" (Stafford, p. 358).  But, as Pendrick points out, "Isaac is there spoken of as Abraham's son (the article ton has possessive force),"14 not Abraham and Sarah's son.  The Genesis account refers to Isaac as Abraham's "only" son (Hebrew: yachid in Genesis 22:2, 12, 16).  While the LXX renders yachid as "beloved" (Greek: agapētos), Aquila renders it as monogenÍs in Genesis 22:2, as does Symmachus in Genesis 22:12.  As Richard Longenecker notes: "the fact that yachid can be translated by both monogenēs and agapētos suggests something of the roughly synonymous notations associated with these two Greek words."15.  Thus, there is really no basis for concluding that monogenÍs in Hebrews means anything other than "only" or "only son."

Turning to John's use of monogenÍs, Pendrick argues that the adjective "emphasizes Jesus' unique status as the only son of God."16  Mr. Stafford responds:  "But Jesus is not God's only son! (Stafford, p. 359)."  Stafford suggests that the translation "unique Son" calls into question how Jesus is unique, and concludes: "Only-begotten is the only [translation] that answers this question and at the same time remains true to the Biblical teaching that God does have other sons" (Ibid).  

Pendrick's argument is substantially more nuanced than Mr. Stafford implies.  Pendrick points to support for his view in the "leitmotif which runs through the whole of John's Gospel," namely:

The uniqueness of Jesus - of his relation to the Father, of his mission and of the revelation which he offers....MonogenÍs here emphasizes that as God's only son, Jesus is the only source of revelation about the Father.17

While others may be called God's sons in the Bible, there are many ways in which God's Son is unique - and, as Pendrick correctly notes, one of the major themes in John's Gospel is to explain the various ways in which Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31).  Further, Pendrick anticipates the argument raised by Mr. Stafford as follows:

Parallel to the Johannine use of monogenÍs to emphasize Jesus' uniqueness is the careful terminological distinction maintained between Jesus as God's 'son' (huios) and believers as God's children (tekna).18

Thus Pendrick demonstrates how the translation "only" or "unique" fits perfectly with one of John's main purposes in writing his Gospel, and Mr. Stafford's response fails to provide a convincing reason to think otherwise.

Pendrick also argues that there is no undisputed use of "begotten" (Greek: gennaŰ) for Jesus in John's Gospel or letters.19  Mr. Stafford responds that 1 John 5:18 is a counter-example:

1 John 5:18b (NIV) the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him (the "one born of God" is Jesus Christ).

Pendrick considers this example to be "uncertain."  In the first place, there is a major textual variant in this verse, reflected in translations based on Textus Receptus:

1 John 5:18b (ASV) but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not (the "one born of God" is the believer).

The issue turns on who "the one born of God" is:  Jesus or believers.  If it is Jesus, argues Mr. Stafford, "1 John 5:18 is referring to Jesus Christ, and therefore shows that the idea of Jesus' 'birth' from God was well known to John" (Stafford, p. 360).

Pendrick refers his readers to commentator and author Raymond Brown for "evidence and arguments" regarding the various ways this verse has been understood by scholars, and therefore of the "uncertainty" of its referent.  Mr. Stafford does not engage Brown's arguments at all, instead apparently thinking that if he can demonstrate that the variant "him" (Greek: auton) is more likely than "himself" (Greek: heauton), he has successfully rebutted Pendrick.

Let's consider Mr. Stafford's arguments in order, supplying counterpoints from Brown and others, as necessary.  First, Mr. Stafford acknowledges that the variant "himself" occurs in a number of manuscripts, but "him" (Greek: auton) is the preferred reading, citing Metzger.  Metzger and the UBS Translation Committee rated auton as a {B} variant ("almost certain"), but the reading "himself" is very widely exampled.  It exists in:

Codex Sinaiticus, the corrector of Alexandrinus, the Byzantine tradition, the Peshitta, Sahidic, Armenian, and by Origen, Epiphanius, Didymus, Theophylact and the critical version of Merk, Vogels, and von Soden.20

It appears the UBS Committee did not give "him" an {A} rating due to this wide range of witnesses reading "himself."

But the textual variant tells only part of the story.  Even if one regards auton as the "almost certain" variant, this does not preclude the understanding that believers are the ones "born of God."  Indeed, auton may be used as a reflexive21, and - as Brown notes - this was the interpretation of many Greek church fathers.22  Thus, we must turn to internal evidence to determine just how likely it is that John here uses "begotten" of Jesus.

This brings us to Mr. Stafford's second argument; namely that that if "himself" is the preferred reading, "we have a case where the believer who is spiritually 'born' from God 'protects himself'" (Stafford, p. 360).  Mr. Stafford apparently believes that because elsewhere, (John 17:15 and 2 Thessalonians 3:3) it is God that protects sinners, this meaning is unlikely.  However, it should be noted that all translations of the Bible based on Textus Receptus (including the KJV, ASV, and RSV) read "himself," and yet no commentators using these versions found this reading to be theologically difficult.  John Gill provides a typical example:

keepeth himself; not that any man can keep himself by his own power and strength; otherwise what mean the petitions of the saints to God that he would keep them, and even of Christ himself to God for them on the same account? God only is the keeper of his people, and they are only kept in safety whom he keeps, and it is by his power they are kept; but the sense is, that a believer defends himself by taking to him the whole armour of God, and especially the shield of faith, against the corruptions of his own heart, the snares of the world, and particularly the temptations of Satan (Gill).

Further, modern scholars such as Raymond Brown who argue for "himself" as either the preferred textual variant or the preferred meaning have also had no trouble reconciling the sense of this verse with the Bible's teaching.  Indeed, Brown notes that John himself speaks of Christians as "overcoming" the Evil One in 1 John 2:13-14.23

It would seem, then, that Pendrick's assertion that Jesus is never indisputably described by John as "begotten" is confirmed by the evidence.  While it is possible that John uses "begotten" of Christ in this verse, it is not certain enough upon which to base a lexical decision.  As Brown notes:

I find it hard to believe that if the Johannine writers thought that Jesus had been begotten by God, they would never elsewhere have used that language in the many passages on the subject.24

In conclusion, Mr. Stafford's objections to Pendrick have not proven at all convincing.  On the whole, the meaning of monogenÍs is very well established:  It means "only" or "unique," and may well carry the sense of an "only child" or "only offspring."

 

objection:  Mr. Stafford considers the translation "only-begotten god" to be "lethal" to the Trinity:

The reference to the Word as the "only-begotten god" shows that he is not the same God as the Father, nor His equal.  Justin evidently understood this, for he argued: "There is, and there is said to be another God...and Lord subject to the Maker of all things." (Stafford, p. 361).

response:  If this reading is so fatal to the Trinity, it is odd that John 1:18 was never a disputed text during the Arian controversy, being used equally by both sides.  As Ezra Abbot explains:

Though monogenhV qeoV may sound strangely to us, it was not a strange or harsh expression to copyists of the third, fourth, and fifth centuries.  On the contrary, it was, as we have seen, a favorite phrase with many writers of this period, being used with equal freedom by the Arians and their opponents.25

It will be noted that Dr. Abbot was a Unitarian scholar of considerable note.  Indeed, Mr. Stafford refers favorably to Abbot's work on several occasions (e.g., Romans 9:5).  If anyone should have noticed the deadliness of this reading to the Trinity, it would be Dr. Abbot.26

As for Mr. Stafford's reference to Justin Martyr, it would be a mistake to read later Arian thought back into Justin's words.  Justin's term "second God" occurs in his dialog with Trypho, a Jew.  Justin is trying to demonstrate to a devout monotheist that there is another Person in the Bible who is called the true "God."  He does so by citing various theophanies in the OT (Dialog with Trypho, 56), by citing passages in which two "Gods" appear in the OT (Ibid., 58, 60, 126), as well as evidence from the NT, such as Heb 1:8 in which the Father calls the Son "God"  (Ibid., 56).  It must be noted that in each of these references, the implicit meaning is that the Logos is truly God - distinct from the Father and subordinate to Him, yet essentially one with Him as well.  This meaning becomes explicit when Justin discusses passages in which "Lord" (YHWH) is ascribed to "two Gods:"

It must be admitted absolutely that some other one is called Lord by the Holy Spirit besides Him who is considered Maker of all things (Ibid., emphasis added).27

 

objection:  Mr. Furuli argues against reading monogenÍs theos as two substantives in apposition (e.g., "The only [child], who is God"):

Any adjective can be sustantivized but there is no example of this in the NT when it immediately precedes a noun in the same gender, number, and case (Furuli, p. 223).

In support of this argument, Mr. Furuli cites textual scholar Bart Ehrman.28  Dr. Ehrman concludes: "To the best of my knowledge, no one has cited anything analogous outside this passage."

response:  It will first be noted that while adjectives normally agree in gender, number, and case with the nouns they modify, this is also true of two substantives in apposition.  

More importantly, there are a number of examples in the NT of substantivized adjectives preceding nouns of the same gender, number, and case.  Here are just two examples:

Mat. 13:28:  Echthros Anthropos
Echthros is tagged by Friberg as Adj-Nom-Masc-Sing; Anthropos is tagged Noun-Nom-Masc-Sing.  These are exactly the same tags as monogenes theos in John 1:18.

BAGD defines echthros as an adjective in this verse, but: "the position of e before a suggests that e is an adjective here, but a by itself could also serve to emphasize the uncertainly...then this example would belong to b" (b is the substantival definition).  Vine defines echthros as an adjective but "used as a noun" in this verse. Thayer translates the phrase in this verse: "a man that is hostile, a certain enemy."

NWT:  "an enemy, a man"
Darby: "a man [that is] an enemy"
YLT:  "a man, an enemy."

Acts 2:5:  Ioudaioi andres (eulabeis)
Ioudaioi is tagged by Friberg as Adj-Pronomial-Nom-Masc-Sing; andres is tagged Noun-Nom-Masc-Sing

NWT: "Jews, reverent men"
Darby: "Jews, pious men"
YLT:  "Jews, devout men"

If Ehrman were correct, Ioudaioi would have to modify andres, hence "Jewish men."  While some translations render Ioudaioi as an adjective, the New World Translation, which Furuli is defending, takes it as a substantive in apposition to andres.

These examples can be multiplied.  Greek scholar Daniel Wallace has written an article doing exactly that, which you can find here.  To my knowledge, Dr. Ehrman has not responded.

Thus, Dr. Ehrman's assertion is not borne out by the evidence.  There is no grammatical reason why monogenÍs theos cannot be be understood as two substantives in apposition.  As noted in the Commentary, above, Origen understood it this way, as have a number of modern Greek grammarians and commentators.

 

Notes.

1.  John 3:18 has the article and adjective in what Greek grammarians call the first attributive position (article+adjective+ noun):

tou monogenous huiou in John 3:18

John 3:16 and 1 John 4:9 have the article and adjective in the second attributive position (article+noun+article+ adjective): 

John 3:16: ton huion ton monogenÍ

1 John 4:9:  ton huion autou ton monogenÍ 

2.  An appositional substantive further defines the head-noun, as in: "This is my friend, Roger."  We may use the gloss "who is" to help identify appositional nouns (e.g., "This is my friend, who is Roger").

3.  D.A. Fennema, "John 1:18", NTS 31, p. 128.

4.  Paul R. McReynolds, "John 1:18 in Textual Variation and Translation," in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, Epp and Fee, eds, 1981, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981, p. 106;  Harris, p. 91.

5.  These statistics were derived from an analytical search of the Greek New Testament using Quickverse Greek Edition, which utilizes the Friberg morphological tagging system.

6.  "Adjectives and particles may be attributive when no article is used" (Robertson, p. 656).  Robertson cites John 1:18 as an example, but says just two sentences before: "The attribute may be substantive in apposition with another substantive."

7.  In Biblical usage, monogenÍs appears as an absolute ten times (LXX: Judges 11:34, Psalm 21:20; 24:16; 34:17, Tobit 3:15; 6:14; Wisdom 7:22; NT [excluding John 1:18]: Luke 9:38, John 1:14, Hebrews 11:17.  Lampe lists eleven examples of monogenÍs used absolutely in his Patristic Greek Lexicon.  In The Martyrdom of Polycarp, section 20:2, we find a substantival use (tou monogenous iesou christou) which the Lightfoot/Harmer/Holmes translation renders "the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, p. 242-243).

8.  It may be asked why, if monogenÍs contains in itself the meaning "only child" or "only son," it modifies huios in John 3:16, 18, and 1 John 4:9?  The NT is replete with examples of 'doubled' word pairs.  For example: Eiserchomai eis occurs over 80 times in the NT.  Erchomai eis occurs 70 times.  Both mean 'come into,' but eiserchomai also means "come into" when used absolutely (c.f., Mat 8:5).  However, we do not translate eiserchomai eis as 'come into-into."  The doubling may simply be to make the gender of the "only child" explicit, or to provide emphasis.

9. E.g., Burton, du Plessis, de Kruijf, Finegan, Theobald, Fennema, Beasley-Murray, Carson, McReynolds, BAGD, Westcott, R.E. Brown, William Loader, Feuillet, Lagrange, Cullmann, Lindars, E.A. Abbott, Barnard, Rahner, J.A.T. Robinson, W.F. Howard, and the translators of the NIV and ESV.

10. McReynolds, p. 108.

11.  Gerard Pendrick, "MONOGENHS," NTS, 41, p. 590.

12.  E.g., Stafford proskyneo (pp. 206-207); prŰtotokos (p. 217-218); archē (p. 239 n 119).

13.  Pendrick, p. 592.   BDB defines yachid as: only, only one, solitary.  The TWOT lists "only-begotten" as a possible gloss for yachid, not on the basis of any inherent meaning in the Hebrew, but because it is sometimes rendered in the LXX as monogenÍs.  But they add: "It must be pointed out, however, that even monogenÍs may "be used more generally without reference to its etymological derivation in the sense of 'unique', 'unparalleled,' 'incomparable,' " (They are here quoting the TDNT entry for monogenÍs).

14.  Pendrick, p. 593, emphasis in original.  For the article used as a possessive pronoun, see Robertson, p. 684; Wallace, pp. 215-216.  Pendrick here is responding to Dahms, who argues that monogenēs means "only-begotten" in Hebrews 11:17 on slightly different grounds than Mr. Stafford.  Pendrick argues convincingly that Dahms' appeals to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Philo do not support his position.  Ellingworth, in his Commentary on the Greek text of Hebrews, notes that the chiastic structure of this verse concentrates "attention on Abraham, and thus prepare for the development in vv. 18-19" (Ellingworth, p. 600).

15Richard Longenecker, "The One and Only Son".  Longenecker concludes his study: "in Johannine usage monogenēs is an adjective connoting quality, which should be translated in a manner signaling primarily uniqueness."

16.  Pendrick, p. 595.

17.  Ibid.  Pendrick cites Raymond Brown:  "It is the unique relation of the Son to the Father, so unique that John can speak of 'God the only Son,' that makes his revelation the supreme revelation" (Brown, The Gospel of John, p. 36).  He could, of course, have cited numerous other commentators who have drawn this same conclusion, e.g., Beasley-Murray, John, pp. 15-16; Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, p. 15; Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 135.

18.  Pendrick, p. 595 note 43.

19.  "There is no certain reference to Jesus as 'begotten' in Johannine texts; rather, it is Christians or believers who are repeatedly characterized as 'begotten by God'" (Pendrick, p. 596).

20.  Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, p. 621.

21BDF, 283.

22.  Brown, p. 621.

23Ibid.

24Ibid, p. 622.

25.  Ezra Abbot, "On the Reading 'Only-Begotten God' in John 1:18: With Particular Reference to the Statements of Dr. Tragelles," in Thayer, JH, ed., Authorship of the Fourth Gospel and Other Critical Essays, George H. Ellis Publishers: 1888.

26.  Mr. Stafford's point also seems to have eluded commentators on John's Gospel (e.g., Ridderbos, Carson, Beasely-Murray, Westcott, Robertson) and the NASB translators.

27.  For more information on the Christology of Justin and other early Church Fathers often quoted by the Watchtower and its apologists, see Were Early Christians Trinitarians?

28.  Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, London: Oxford Press, 1996 p. 81 (Furuli cites page 80 of the 1993 edition).  Greg Stafford makes the same argument (Stafford, p. 359) without citing Ehrman or Furuli.

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Articles...

   The Text and Grammar of John 1:18 Dan Wallace

   The One and Only Son Richard Longenecker

 

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   John 1:18 in the Sahidic Coptic Translation

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