“Only Begotten” in Early Latin Christianity

The term monogenēs is found nine times in the New Testament; of these, five are Christological, that is, attributed to Christ as God’s only Son (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). Traditionally, the term as applied to Christ was rendered unigenitus in Latin or “only begotten” in English as far back as Wycliffe and Tyndale. But in the 20th century, a scholarly consensus emerged that the term in the New Testament means “only one of his kind” or “unique,” not “only begotten.” As a result, just about all modern English versions, with only a few exceptions (MEV, NASB 1995, NKJV, LSB), have dropped “begotten” from their translations, leaving “only” (ESV, CEB, CEV, NASB 2020, NRSV, RSV) or “one and only” (CSB, NCV, NET Bible, NIV, NLT). In 1953, Dale Moody fingered Jerome as the culprit responsible for introducing the innovative rendering unigenitus, which Moody saw as a tendentious rendering, contrary to the authentic meaning of monogenēs as “unique” and designed to insert Trinitarian dogma into the Bible. Contra Moody, I argue that the Latin speaking church understood monogenēs as unigenitus (which itself was understood to mean “only begotten”) from the very beginnings of Latin Christian literature. This understanding is practically universal, from Tertullian to Augustine. The Old Latin witnesses at John 1:14, 18 support the rendering unigenitus, a reading that pre-dated Jerome and which he left unchanged in his editorial work on the Latin Gospels. Latin theologians commented on the meaning of unigenitus and understood it to mean “only begotten.” The conclusion is that the traditional rendering “only begotten” in the English Bible traces back (through Wycliffe) to the very beginnings of Latin Christianity and is thus not a late dogmatic innovation of Jerome.

6 thoughts on ““Only Begotten” in Early Latin Christianity”

  1. I agree that it appears to be
    I agree that it appears to be an excellent paper but I am not sure about its fit in our section – but open to discussion on that front!

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  2. highly technical textuality
    The tie of the translation to the Old Latin tradition is good. The details constructing the thesis are good, but the technical manuscript element is compete with the theological elements. Reviewers above are right–this belongs in a textually-oriented section.

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