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Only Begotten Son

The Real Issue

Scholars and Bible students who support the recent rampage of bible versions in English deny that the issue is in any way doctrinal.  They declare confidently that the new applicants to the position of biblical authority do not change any major doctrine.  We are supposed to believe that the modern translators have no doctrinal or other bias.  Their approach to the words of the living God is entirely objective and untouched by preconceptions.

Yet, this perception is totally wrong.  The changes made in the new versions are indeed doctrinally motivated.  And, their approach to the text is very prejudiced toward certain ideas and beliefs.

Examining John 1:18

A case in point is found in John 1:18.  Here, the King James Text states, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

This key text wonderfully describes the special relationship between the Father and the Son.  The Father, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, cannot be accessed apart from a mediator.  The Son, who is “the only begotten Son”, comes to man in the veil of human flesh and reveals the Father to mankind.

Notice that Christ is entitled “the only begotten Son”.  This refers not to a begetting in time as found in other passages (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33-34).  Rather, this refers to the Son’s eternal relationship with the Father.  The Son relates to the Father “as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).

The Attack on the Deity of Christ

Yet, not only is this eternal relationship between the Father and Son attacked today, the very deity of Jesus Christ is being denied by more and more people.  His deity is denied by modernists, by Mormons and by Jehovah Witnesses.  The Jehovah Witness translation of the bible, which is called the New World Translation, translates John 1:18 as, “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.”

Notice that Christ is no longer identified as the “only begotten Son”.  Rather, He is the “only-begotten god”.  Consider the difference this makes.  An only begotten son has a special relationship to his father that is very natural.  He will receive the entire inheritance.  All hopes of carrying the family name are placed on him.  He will be especially loved of the father because of this importance.  The father will be especially interested in his welfare and safety.  The picture of the only begotten son is very powerful and is easily understood as a description of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

Yet, what is described by the phrase, “only-begotten god”?  This phrase indicates a god that has a beginning; a lesser god; a created god.  This fits well into the Jehovah Witness bible because it is a Jehovah Witness doctrine.  They teach that Jesus Christ is a created god who, in turn, created the world.  He is not one with the Father at all.

The History of This Attack

But, you say, most people do not believe the heresies of the Jehovah Witnesses nor do they subscribe to their false doctrine about Jesus Christ.  What about the modern bible translators?  What do they believe?  The modern era of bible translating in the English language got its start with the English Revised Version in 1881 and the American Standard Version in 1901.  Actually, two committees—one in England and one in America—translated these versions.  The American team agreed to wait twenty years before publishing their version in order to give the English Version time to establish itself.  Yet, the two committees influenced each other in many ways.

One of the men who worked on the American Bible Revision Committee was Ezra Abbot.  He was one of its original members in 1871.  According to the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, his services to the committee were “invaluable” and the “critical papers which he prepared on disputed passages…had no small influence in determining the text finally accepted.”  In other words, Ezra Abbot had much influence on readings concerning which he had prepared papers.

One of the passages about which Mr. Abbot wrote was John 1:18.  He published an article in June of 1875 called On the Reading “an only begotten God,” or “God only begotten,” John 1.18.  Therefore, Mr. Abbot must have had much influence on how the American Standard Version of 1901 and its direct descendents translated John 1:18.  One thing that needs to be noted about Mr. Abbot is that he was a Unitarian and the above-mentioned article was published in The Unitarian Review.

Unitarians flatly deny the deity of Jesus Christ.  They stand as the epitome of all who try to deny the literal truth of the scriptures.  In my hometown, the Unitarian church has rented its facilities to the Metropolitan Church; i.e., the sodomite church.  It has also dedicated rooms to Henry David Thoreau and Charles Darwin.  They are about as anti-scriptural as any group can get.  Yet, a Unitarian was in on the ground floor of what the new versions have done with John 1:18.

The Evidence Against Only Begotten Son

What exactly is the evidence against “the only begotten Son”?  Sir Frederic Kenyon’s Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament gives credit for the departure from the Authorized Version of 1611 to the influence of the Codex Sinaiticus.  This Greek manuscript was discovered by Constantin Tischendorf in 1844 in the Eastern Orthodox monastery of St. Katharine at the base of the traditional Mt. Sinai.

In fact, the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament lists eight Greek texts that read the “only begotten god” though some manuscripts have a “the” and some do not.  Yet, thirty-one listed manuscripts and a multitude of quotations from the early Christian authors attest to the King James reading of “only begotten Son”.  The Sinaiticus, whose authority is definitive in this decision, is thought to be a product of the fourth century after Christ.  Yet, at least two authors of the second century (Irenaeus and Clement) quote the passage as “the only begotten Son.”

The Record of the Modern English Versions

So, what have the modern English versions done with John 1:18?  We will look at three of them:  The American Standard Version of 1901, the New American Standard Version of 1963 and the New International Version of 1978.  Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, the ASV of 1901 leaves “the only begotten Son” in the text of the verse.  There was much opposition in 1901 to promoting an “only begotten God”—even among the liberal translators of the new version.  However, this did not stop them from making their point.  A marginal note says, “Many very ancient authorities read God only begotten.”  The desire to place the radical phrase in the text was there but they lacked the courage.

In 1963, the revised or New American Standard Version was published.  What the old translators put in a marginal note, the new translators put in the text.  It reads, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  A marginal note reads, “Some later mss. read, Son.”  Now “Son” is in the margin while “God” is in the text.

Interestingly enough, some have maintained that the “only begotten God” reading gives a stronger evidence to the deity of Christ since it uses the word “God”.  Yet, the Jehovah Witnesses do not seem to think so.  They fit it perfectly into their doctrinal system that denies the deity of Christ and makes Him a created “god”.  In fact, as a whole, the Christian community did not like this reading.  Despite other weaknesses, they saw it for what it was—an attack on the deity of Christ.  To use an old saying, the “only begotten God” became about as rare in modern versions as hen’s teeth.

When the NIV of 1978 came out, they knew that it was politically unpopular to speak of Christ as the “only Begotten God.”  However, they had already determined allegiance to the popular Alexandrian Text, which is the basis of most modern versions.  So, they came up with a novel reading: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

Jesus is now “God the One and Only”.  But this causes more doctrinal confusion.  If Jesus is “God the One and Only”, who is the God who no “one” has ever seen?  If Christ is the “One and Only”, how could there be another one?  This is plainly a political move made to stay away from the unpopular “only begotten God” and yet still reject the established “only begotten Son.”  But it still destroys the doctrinal continuity of the passage.  It also belittles Christ because this new title sounds like an introduction from a ringmaster for a Barnum and Bailey Circus—“We now introduce to you the One and Only!!!”


So, why are all these transmogrifications necessary?  Why not just accept the text of the King James Bible as it stands?  It is understandable.  It is doctrinally correct.  It is supported by the greatest, best and oldest manuscript evidence.  What is the problem?  I Believe the reason for this attack is twofold.  First, it is the text of the hated King James Bible and that is enough for the modern scholars.  Second, it is influenced by those like Ezra Abbot who deny the deity of Christ in the first place and desire a text that dilutes the plain teaching of texts such as John 1:18.