For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, K.J.V.)
The Bible is a book filled with genealogies and begetting. Its first use of the word “begat” is found in Genesis 4:18, which tells us that Irad begat Mehujael, Mehujael begat Methusael, and Methusael begat Lamech. With all the begetting that took place, both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the classic King James Version translation provide us with numerous uses of the words “begat,” “beget,” “begettest,” “begetteth,” and “begotten.”
The Old Testament Hebrew word for all this begetting is yalad. The New Testament Greek equivalent is gennao. Both words mean what you think they mean. When used in reference to women, they mean “to bear young,” “to bring forth,” “to deliver,” etc. When used in reference to men, they mean “to father.”
Herein lies the problem with the King James Version and the New King James Version. Their use of the word “begotten” in John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18; and 1 John 4:9 make it sound as if God the Father somehow fathered Jesus rather than Jesus being eternal (having no beginning) like God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Putting it another way, they make it sound as if Jesus is a created being and therefore not a fully equal member of the Trinity.
This idea that Jesus was somehow created (begotten) by God the Father allows some false religions to deny the divinity of Jesus. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was “the first and direct creation of Jehovah God,” and that unlike God the Father He had a distinct beginning. Similarly, the Mormons believe that God the Father literally fathered Jesus (brought Him into existence) by coming down to the earth in a celestial body and having sex with the virgin Mary.
Actually, this controversy about Jesus’ eternality and divinity goes all the way back to the fourth century A.D. and an influential heretical Presbyter named Arius. In the city of Alexandria, he clashed with his denominational superior, a Bishop named Alexander. While Alexander taught that Jesus coexisted from eternity past with God the Father, Arius taught that there was a time when Jesus “was not.” This new interpretation of Jesus became known as “Arianism.” The dispute between Alexander and Arian reached a fever pitch when Alexander publicly condemned Arius’ teachings and used his influence to have him removed from his post in the church at Alexandria. Arius refused to accept this removal and instead organized his supporters into a public crusade in his defense.
The whole mess became such a scandal that the Roman emperor Constantine had to get involved. When his attempt to reconcile the two factions failed, he scheduled a Council in which all the Christian Bishops from throughout his empire were invited to gather in the city of Nicea to settle various doctrinal disputes. This convening of these Bishops became famously known as The Council of Nicea, and first and foremost the Council had the job of deciding what to do about Arianism. Since Arius himself wasn’t a Bishop and therefore couldn’t attend, one of his prominent supporters, Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, represented him. In the end, The Council of Nicea ruled against Arianism and in favor of the traditional view of Jesus espoused by Alexander.
Getting back to the the King James Version and New King James Version, the sad thing is that those translations create a theological problem they don’t even have to create. Do you remember that I told you that the Greek word for “begat” is gennao? Well, the adjective form of that word is not the Greek word that gets translated as “begotten” in John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18; and 1 John 4:9. Instead, the Greek word used in those verses is monogenes. It is the word used in Luke 9:38 when the father of a demon-possessed boy says to Jesus, “…look upon my son; for he is my only child” (K.J.V., emphasis mine). This shows us that even the translators of the K.J.V. didn’t always translate monogenes as “begotten.” With this in mind, let me offer a list of how seven modern translations translate John 3:16. You’ll note that each of these foregoes the word “begotten” and uses instead some form of the term “only Son.”
- For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. (New American Standard Version)
- For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (Christian Standard Bible)
- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (New Revised Standard Version)
- For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (English Standard Version)
- God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. (New International Version)
- For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (New Living Translation)
If you can manage to remember the basics of this post, it will help you the next time you are talking to someone from the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons. All you have to do is ask them, “Do you think that Jesus is a created being?” If they are truthful, they will answer, “Yes.” Then you can correct their theology. Even if they try to use John 3:16 against you, you’ll be able to refute their claims that God the Father somehow created Jesus by begetting Him. Of course, if you really want to go “old school” on them, you can tell them their spiritual forefather was Arius and that the church dealt with his doctrinal error a long time ago.