“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

There is no doubt this is one of the most beloved and most quoted verses in the Bible. It is a universal touchstone for explaining the Gospel. Many have treasured the words of this verse as a promise directly from God for securing their forgiveness of sins and guarantee of eternal life.

As cherished as the verse is to believers everywhere, it is also a verse used against faith by those who are Bible-illiterate and follow cultish explanations. The problem centers on the two words “only begotten.” It is actually one Greek word, monogenes. Its gross literal interpretation is only begotten, but its literal meaning is the stuff of good theology. It is not focused on physically giving birth but focused on uniqueness and relationship.

In the Greek world, the word was not viewed from the physical aspect. This is why John chose the word. Cult-followers would have us believe that the word monogenes disqualifies Jesus as Savior because if He was born, had a beginning, and is God’s offspring, then He is not God, coequal with God, and one in essence with the Father. There is no biblical basis that gives credence to such a heresy; rather, the Bible plainly reveals that Jesus Christ is God, the perfect God/Man; Immanuel?—?God with us!

The plain meaning of monogenes is one-of-a-kind, or unique. There are two ways to understand this uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Monogenes means “only one of its kind within a specific relationship” and “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.” This was the understanding in the day John wrote, even before John wrote. The Septuagint uses the word to describe Isaac’s relationship to Abraham in Genesis 22:2: “Then He said, ‘Take now, your son, your only [unique, absolute, singular] Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’” Isaac was the unique son of promise and of the covenant that God had given to Abraham. Abraham obviously was the father of Ishmael as well as Isaac. Ishmael was even older than Isaac. But Isaac was the unique one, the son through whom God’s promises of land, seed, and blessing were to be fulfilled.

God goes to great lengths to identify the significance of the sacrifice He asked of Abraham. Isaac was his son, he was also his singular son, and he was his loved son. This idea of uniqueness was so important that in verse 12 He says, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” The passage is saturated with significance since God would not withhold His one-of-a-kind Son when He gave His Son for our salvation.

The word fits in the Isaac/Abraham context because of the meaning “only one of its kind within a specific relationship.” Hebrews 11:17f picks up the same thread: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’” Further uses of the word in a human context are worth reviewing (Judges 11:34; Psalm 22:20, 35:17; Jeremiah 6:26). The word is also used by Luke to give added emphasis as people encountered our Lord before He miraculously restored life (Luke 7:12, 8:42, and 9:38).

The Apostle John’s use handles monogenes from the view of “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.” John 20:31 tells us John’s purpose in writing his Gospel, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” His purpose is to clearly show that Jesus has a one-of-a-kind relationship with God the Father. Jesus is uniquely God’s Son, sharing the same nature with the Father, one in essence with the Father. Our sonship with Christ before the Father is one of adoption (Ephesians 1:5). Christ’s Sonship is unique in relationship, the only one of its class, the only beloved One.

John 1:14 reads, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John’s point is that Jesus is the “sole representative of the being and character of the One who sent Him” (Vines). Vines also points out that there is no article before the word mongenes and “lays stress upon the characteristics referred to in the terms used.” The disciples had seen the glory that can only accompany the perfect revelation of the Father by the Son because He is the same essence as the Father.

John 1:18 states, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” John clearly teaches the “eternal union with the Father in the Godhead and the ineffable intimacy and love between them, the Son sharing all the Father’s counsels and enjoying all His affections” (Vines). Such is the quality of the unique, one and only Son of God! He is the One God gave to die for your sin. He is the One in whom you must believe for your salvation (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). Trust and obey.