John 1:18

John 1:18

Here I am going to respond to selections of Kel’s article.  The selections I have chosen are the ones I regard as embodying Kel’s main arguments; I have left out what I regard as repetitious or off the point.  If I have missed or misunderstood Kel’s arguments, anyone who reads this – including Kel – is welcome to bring that to my attention.

. . .

In this section, Kel argues that in John 1:18, which the NASB renders “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him,” “only begotten God” is not what John actually wrote.  He says what John wrote was “only begotten Son.”

The reader should note that in my response to this article I am not making an attempt to fact-check all of the assertions Kel makes or the accuracy of his charts.  But I have found some errors in his charts so I am advising the reader not to take them at face value but instead to do his or her own research.  I reproduce his charts to help understand how he develops his argument, but I claim responsibility for my own words only.

Argument:

“The facts show that Trinitarians are cherry picking a variant manuscript reading of a verse which is known to have suffered corruption.”

Response:

When we examine the evidence, we find that this is completely false; this variation of the text is not “known” to have suffered corruption.  Let’s take a look at Kel’s evidence.

Argument:

“The Problems with the Claim

  1. Authenticity

There are two main manuscript traditions for this passage. Your Bible may show this in a footnote to this verse. The ancient manuscripts we do have in our possession are not in agreement. Some manuscripts read “God” while other manuscripts read “Son.” Most early church writings quote “Son” while some writers quote “God,” especially after the Council of Nicea. Hence, at least one of these readings is a corruption and did not originally come from the hand of the Apostle John.

It is very difficult to tell which rendering is authentic based purely upon the manuscript evidence alone. The very earliest manuscript we have reads “monogenes God.” However, it is a well known fact among textual critics that earliest does not necessarily mean best. Additionally, all the manuscripts which read “God” seem to conspicuously reflect an Alexandrian tradition while the ancient non-Alexandrian tradition seems to consistently have “Son” with few exceptions. Early Christian writings also tend to lean heavily toward the “Son” reading which indicates they were using manuscripts which had that reading. Moreover, some of these patristic documents pre-date most of the earliest manuscripts we have in our possession.”

Response:

I also don’t fully understand why Kel would argue that “earliest does not necessarily mean best” and then immediately follow that with an appeal to early documents.  It seems that he recognizes that all other things being equal, the closer in time a document is to the original, the better its chance of being closer to the original.

Contrary to what Kel says, the Alexandrian tradition is widely regarded as being the most faithful to the originals.  Philip W. Comfort says, “. . . it seems that the Alexandrian scribes did not greatly change the substance or meaning of the text; rather, they polished it grammatically and stylistically.  Thus, an Alexandrian MS reflects a fairly accurate text.”(Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament, Comfort, 1990).

Kel also argues that because both readings are found in early church writings, “at least one of these readings is a corruption and did not originally come from the hand of the Apostle John.” But this is not the only possible conclusion.  Perhaps both readings accurately reflect John’s original meaning and are therefore not “corruptions” in a bad sense but merely variations, which taken together, accurately reveal the fullness of John’s intention.

Who said that John only wrote on this subject once?  And if he did write on it once, who is to say that he never mentioned it again?  Perhaps he preached on it many times during his long life.  And if so, it is quite possible that some of the early scribes who copied John’s gospel were also hearers of John’s sermons.  I would suggest that this is a likely source of the two versions of John 1:18, and that both versions are sourced in John’s actual words, whether written or spoken later.

I will be arguing in the rest of this article that IF one of them is a corruption it is more likely the “only begotten Son” variation.

Argument:

“2. Variations in Major Trinitarian Translation

The difference between these two traditions can be seen in major Trinitarian Bible versions, some of which are translated from one manuscript tradition and others which are translated from the other manuscript tradition.”

Response:

I have a major problem with Kel’s belief that there are “Trinitarian translations.”  As I read through his website I saw no evidence that there are any translations that excluded input from non Trinitarian scholars, or even weighted scholarly input to favor Trinitariansim.

Argument:

“The most recent translations tend to have “only-begotten God.”

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Godwho is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (NASB).

No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him. (NAB).

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

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (ASV).

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (RSV).

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]. (ASV).

No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Sonwho is in the Bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (Douey-Rheims).

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (KJV).

The difference in in these Trinitarian translations illustrates a very serious problem in using this passage as evidence concerning Trinitarian doctrine. These differences reflect a changing opinion over time since the Bible was first translated into English. The older translations tend to have “Son,” while the newer translations have “God.” This is partly due to an accessibility to a wider variety manuscripts for modern translators. The difference in translations is mainly due to modern manuscript discoveries.”

Response:

Again, Kel has not demonstrated the existence of any “Trinitarian” translations.  And, I see no problem for Trinitarians resulting from differences in the translations of John 1:18.  As we will see as we read on, both versions (one being “only begotten God” and the other “only begotten Son”) were well known since ancient times, and yet there was no battle in the Church over which one was “heretical.”  To me this is evidence that the early Church regarded both versions as conveying accurate information.  The only disagreement they had seems to be over which version was stated explicitly in verse 18 of John’s gospel. The article continues:

“3. Manuscript Evidence

Manuscript Common Name Date Text Origin
P66 Bodmer Papyri ca. 200 monogenes God Near Nag Hammadi, Egypt
P75 Bodmer Papyri ca. 250 monogenes God Near Nag Hammadi, Egypt
B Codex Vaticanus ca. 325 monogenes God Alexandrian
Aleph Codex Sinaiticus ca. 350 monogenes God Alexandrian
A Codex Alexandrinus ca. 450 monogenes Son Byzantine
Curetonian Syriac ca. 450 monogenes Son

Response:

Here Kel seems to be conceding the point that the earliest manuscripts that we have say that Jesus is God in verse 18, so I don’t have to restate it.

Argument:

“However, earliest does not necessarily mean authentic because our earliest copy could very well be a corrupted copy. Textual corruptions, even intentional textual corruptions, are known to have occurred at a very early date in church history. These manuscripts also seen to be concentrated in the Alexandrian locale and textual criticisicm tells us this means we just might have a locally perpetuated error on our hands. Second, Egypt was known for a high level of Gnostic activity and they were well known to have tampered with Scripture. The Gnostics also would have preferred the rendering “monogenes God” as we shall soon see. The Chester Beatty papryii, for example, were found in the Nag Hammadi region where Gnostic Scriptures were also discovered.”

Response:

In Kel’s article on 1 Corinthians 10:4, while discussing verse 9, he states that the codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are, along with Alexandrius, “the best manuscript evidence” because on that verse they support his point.  However, both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, the earliest of the codices, have the “only-begotten God” reading, which Kel rejects.  Suddenly Vaticanus and Sinaiticus become unreliable sources of a locally perpetuated error because they include textual variations which seem “to be concentrated in the Alexandrian locale” where there was “a high level of Gnostic activity.”  Which is it, Kel?  Are Vaticanus and Sinaiticus “the best manuscript evidence” or are they riddled with “textual corruptions?”  It would seem that the same documents that are the best manuscript evidence when they support Kel’s interpetations become unreliable when they don’t.

Additionaly, although the Codex Sinaiticus as a whole is considered a representative of the Alexandrian text-type, the Sinaiticus version of John 1:1-8:38 is more representative of the Western text-type, which suggests to me that its version of John 1:18 cannot be grouped together with texts from “the Alexandrian locale.”  This suggests a wider distribution of the “only begotten God” reading than Kel is willing to admit.

Kel states that an early copy “could” be a corrupted copy, and I can’t disagree but the same could be said of any copy, and it is still true that the earlier the date the less time it has had to be corrupted.  Another point is that mere proximity is not evidence of corruption.  The Christians in Egypt were surely highly aware of the heresies in their vicinity, and perhaps even more on their guard against them then Christians who lived in other places who had less experience with them.  Add to this the fact that Scriptures which were copied in Egypt were disseminated elsewhere, and it becomes evident that the early Church authorities in many places would have become aware of both versions of John 1:18.  Since they did not identify the monogenes God text as being heretical, Kel’s case collapses right here.  However, he is not done arguing.

Argument:

“We also need to consider the evidence provided by early Christians. Which version did they have in their possession? We can find out by discovering which version they quoted in their writings.

Quotations of John 1:18 in Early Christian Writings

ca. 200monogenesSonHead of the School of Alexandria

Author Reference Date Text Comments
Ignatius Bishop of Antioch Syria Philippians II ca. 110 monogenesSon Long Recension only
Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons Gaul Against Heresies III, 11:6 ca. 180 monogenesSon
Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons Gaul Against Heresies IV, 20.6 ca. 180 monogenesSon
Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons Gaul Against Heresies IV, 20.11 ca. 180 monogenesSon Interpolation
Clement Alexandria Pedagogue I, 3
Clement Alexandria Stromata I, 26 ca. 200 monogenesSon
Clement Alexandria Stromata V, 12 ca. 200 monogenesGod
Hippolytus Rome Against Noetus V ca. 205 monogenesSon Greek Writer
Tertullian Africa Against Praxeas VIII ca. 212 monogenesSon

“The Son alone knows the Father, and has Himself unfolded the Father’s bosom.”

Not an explicit quotation of John 1:18 but obviously implied.
Tertullian Africa Against Praxeas XV ca. 212 monogenesSon Latin writer
Origen Alexandria Commentary on John II, 24 ca. 230 monogenesGod Head of the School of Alexandria
Origen Alexandria Against Celsus LXXI ca. 248 monogenesSon
Letter of Hymenaeus ca. 268 monogenesSon
Archelaus Bishop Mesopotamia Disputation with Manes ca. 280 monogenesSon Syriac
Alexander Bishop Alexandria Deposition of Arius I, 4 ca. 324 monogenesSon Arius’ initial chief rival
Athanasius Alexandria De Decretis Defense of the Nicene Definition monogenesSon
Arian Bishops Antioch Second Arian Confession 341 AD monogenesGod Not a quote of John 1:18 but very suggestive
Athanasius Alexandria Four Discourses Against the Arians Discourse II 357 AD monogenesSon Athanasius obviously does not wish to appeal to the unbegotten God text
Athanasius Alexandria Four Discourses Against the Arians Discourse IV 357 AD monogenesSon
Hilary Poitiers On the Trinity Book IV, V, VI 359 AD monogenesSon
Basil Bishop of Caesarea On the Holy Spirit VI ca. 375 monogenesGod
Basil Bishop of Caesarea On the Holy Spirit XI ca. 375 monogenesGod
Gregory of Nyssa Letter VIII to Flavian monogenesSon
Gregory Nazianzus Letters monogenesGod [quotation] Numerous references to “only begotten God”
Chrysostom Homilies on John XV ca. 389 monogenesSon
Ambrose Bishop of Milan Italy The Patriarchs XI.51 ca. 389 monogenesSon
Augustine Bishop of Hippo Africa Gospel of John XLVIII, 3 430 monogenesSon

Response:

It seems to me that the earliest patristic document that Kel lists as saying monogenes Son (Ignatius Letter to the Philippians II 110 AD) is based on a mistake. First, Ignatius’ “letter to the Philippians” was not mentioned by Eusebius in the fourth century or Jerome in the fifth century, and it refers to the Patripassian heresy of Praxeas, who lived almost a century after Ignatius died, so most scholars consider this letter to have been composed by later writers.  Second, does the Letter to the Philippians even have a long recension?  I don’t think so.  If not, the first (and earliest) quotation of “only-begotten Son” on Kel’s chart is an imaginary quotation from a nonexistent document.  This means he has no real evidence that monogenes Son was there earlier than monogenes God.

I did find John 1:18 mentioned in the long recension of Ignatius’ Letter to the Philadelphians, but that had the monogenes God variation rather than the monogenes Son variation.

“If any one says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom of this world, lest at any time being conquered by his artifices, ye grow weak in your love.”  (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, long recension, chapter 6).

Unlike the spurious Letter to the Philippians, the Letter to the Philadelphians is regarded to be genuine at least in the short recension.  If one accepts the long recensions as from the hand if Ignatius, as Kel seems to think likely, the earliest date Kel has on his chart for a quotation of John 1:18 (110 AD) should be the “only-begotten God” reading!

Argument:

“5. Easy Opportunity for Corruption

Another fact concerning this passage is the nomina sacra for “God” and “Son.” These were very common scribal abbreviations that lessened the pain of endless hours of manuscript copying. The nomina sacra ΘΣ (“God”) and ΥΣ (“Son”) differ only by one Greek letter providing a high likelihood of scribal error or providing an easy opportunity for corruption.”

Response:

Kel’s admission that the nomen sacrum (sacred name) abbreviation was used both on “God” and “Son” is evidence that the earliest Christians regarded God and the Son as being equal, since the tradition of abbreviating the sacred name actually comes from the Jews who used it on the name of God to safeguard the name from being misused.  The Church eventually began to use this kind of abbreviation on other names as well, but this came later.  I believe there was a window of time in the very early Church in which the nomen sacrum abbreviation was used only on four words: God, Lord, Jesus, and Son (I have also seen a list of six words, God, Lord, Jesus, Son, Spirit, and Father, but I am not sure whether this might reflect a slightly later development).

Before leaving the subject of Ignatius, let me point out that in the shorter recensions of Ignatius’ letters there are numerous references to Jesus as God.  Perhaps this is why Kel does not believe the short recensions of Ignatius are trustworthy; however, the long recensions also refer to Jesus as God.

Argument:

“Analysis of the Facts

  1. The Ante-Nicene Voice

Clement of Alexandria, writing in the early 200’s in his Stromata (V, 12), appears to have ” monogenes God,” but he also has “monogenes Son” in the same document (I, 26) and his The Instructor has “monogenes Son” (I,3) suggesting that the line which reads “monogenes God” in the Stromata could be a copy corruption, or vice versa. Origen has “monogenes Son” in Against Celsus (II, 71) but “monogenes” in his Commentary on John (II, 24). Both Clement and Origen were Alexandrians.”

Response:

That Clement has both monogenes Son and monogenes God does not necessarily suggest that one or the other is a corruption, since it could also mean that Clement believed both were true or viewed them as meaning essentially the same thing.

Argument:

“Tertullian around 212 A.D. has “monogenes Son” in Against Praxeas (VIII; XV). In the later 200’s, Archelaus in his Disputation with the Heresiarch Manicheus, still has “monogenes Son” (XXXII). Hippolytus has “monogenes Son” in Against Noetus (V). All these men were writing before Nicea and the development of Trinitarian doctrines. Alexander who writes against the Arius and the Arian heresy always refers to “monogenes Son.” The ante-Nicene texts which have “monogenes” God seem to be confined to one locality – Alexandria – where Platonism and Gnosticism flourished. So we can see here a very serious problem with the “monogenes God” manuscript reading of this passage. Either the texts of the Bible were later miscopied and/or corrupted, or the texts of these church fathers were later corrupted with an interpolation to meet a new doctrine and/or a later corrupted Bible text.”

Response:

Addressing the last point first, many of the texts of John 1:18 which say “monogenes God” are very ancient indeed, predating the council of Nicea, as Kel’s own charts demonstrate.  According to his charts, this is true both of texts of the Bible and of texts from the early fathers.  If the “monogenes God” reading had early and wide distribution and yet conveyed a false doctrine, where was the uproar in the early Church that one would expect if scribes were inserting a falsehood into John 1:18 on such a widespread scale?  Kel hasn’t presented any evidence if such a reaction in the Church.

Also, Kel practically contradicts one of his earlier statements, for in one place he says “The ante-Nicene texts which have “monogenes” God seem to be confined to one locality – Alexandria,” and yet in the very next paragraph he says “With very few exceptions, the “monogenes God” version is restricted to the Alexandrian region.”  Which was it, were there exceptions or weren’t there?  Perhaps he was thinking only of Bible manuscripts in his first chart when he made the first statement, and of the early fathers when making the second statement, but he doesn’t say so.

In his chart of early Church writings, he lists four non-Alexandrian locations where texts originated that refer to “monogenes God” (it would have been five if Ignatius’ letter to the Philadelphians had been included). Two were before the Nicene council (Irenaeus and Ignatius if his long recensions are included), one (the Arian bishops) were around the same time, and two (Basil of Caesarea and Gregory Nazianzus) were after the council.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that the climate in the area around Alexandria is extremely good for the preservation of old documents; but it is not so good in most other places around the Mediterranean.  Since this is so, the fact that several “monogenes God” documents existed in places far away from Alexandria suggests that many more may have existed in ancient times.  This is evidence that the Church at large was aware of the “only begotten God” text, and since it was never excised from copies of Scripture as a heretical corruption, nor stated to be heretical in early Christian writings, the early Church must have accepted the doctrine implied by it.

Argument:

“2. Irenaeus

As we can see from evidence in the above list, and if we assume these early Christian writings are not corrupted, both renderings of John 1:18 are attested from around 200 A.D. With very few exceptions, the “monogenes God” version is restricted to the Alexandrian region which strongly suggests a locally circulated corruption. The following quotation by Irenaeus which has “monogenes God” is considered to be an interpolation (i.e. corrupted text) by translators and textual critics (and yes they are Trinitarians).

“But His Word, as He Himself willed it, and for the benefit of those who beheld, did show the Father’s brightness, and explained His purposes (as also the Lord said: The monogenes God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared [Him];” and He does Himself also interpret the Word of the Father as being rich and great); not in one figure, nor in one character, did He appear to those seeing Him, but according to the reasons and effects aimed at in His dispensations, as it is written in Daniel.”

The portion in brackets is thought to have been added to Irenaeus’ actual words. The style and structure of the sentence indicates these are not his own words and it would also contain an error because John said these words in narration, not the Lord Jesus as this interpolation mistakenly indicates. Moroever, Irenaeus had just finished quoting John 1:18 as “monogenes Son” in the preceding context.”

Response:

The editors of the Roberts and Donaldson translation point out that “monogenes God” (only begotten God) agrees with the Syriac version of Irenaeus, which supports the view that these were Irenaeus’ actual words and not an interpolation at all.

However, whether or not Irenaeus himself wrote “only begotten God” or someone else did is irrelevant to Kel’s argument, which is that those words were not found in texts outside of the Alexandria region in pre-Nicene times.  If monogenes God was added to Irenaeus’ work early on, it would still be evidence that this version of John 1:18 was known in a place far from Alexandria.

Argument:

“Another interesting fact concerning this particular quotation by Irenaeus is the context in which he said these words. In the following passage, Irenaeus is saying the only begotten Son declares the one God who Irenaeus identifies as the Father.

“Indeed, then, the Scripture declared, which says, “First of all believe that there is One God, who has established all things, and finished them, and having caused that from what had no being, all things should come into existence.” He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one. Rightly also has Malachi said among the prophets, “Is it not One God who established us? Have we not all One Father?” Corresponding to this, too, does the apostle say, “There is One God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all”…. There is One God, the Father, who upholds all things, and who bestows existence to all, as is written in the Gospel, “No man hath seen God at any time, except the monogenes Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared.” (Against Heresies, Book IV, 20).

Here we have clear evidence the rendering “monogenes Son” was in use in the early church well before 200 A.D. The “monogenes God” text seems to first show up around 200 A.D. in Egypt and these are the earliest manuscripts we have in our possession at this time. However, the evidence merely suggests such a date and this reading may have been in circulation at an even earlier time. We must also be reminded that Gnostics were amiable to the “monogenes god” rendering and the Gnostic population was relatively large long before 200 A.D. and especially in Egypt. And for the later Arians, it afforded them the same idea they advocated in John 1:1. The Arians believed Jesus was “a god”, a begotten God of the unbegotten God. This is likely why we do not find the Athanasians clamouring to use John 1:18 to support his argument against Arius or the Arians.”

Response:

I see nothing in the preceding three paragraphs that advances Kel’s argument.  The implication that only the Father is identified as the one God is Kel’s interpretation of Irenaeus’ words, but not quite what Irenaeus actually said.  As we have seen elsewhere, wherever Kel sees the words “one God, the Father” he reads them to mean “only the Father is the one God.”  He does not consider the possibility that these words are part of a longer definition of God, defining the Almighty as the Father and also as the Lord Jesus. (See my article on 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Kel also asserts that the evidence is that the monogenes Son reading predates the monogenes God reading, but all the evidence Kel has offered up so far (other than his own interpretation) merely suggests that both readings are very ancient, or, if Kel is right and Ignatius’ long recensions are genuine, that the earliest known monogenes God text predates the earliest known monogenes Son text.

All are agreed that both renderings (monogenes Son and monogenes God) were around at least by 200 AD (and if you ask me, well before that).  Regardless of whether or not Gnostics were more “amiable” to one rendering than another, if both readings were being circulated in the early Church and yet there was no fight over which one was correct, does this not prove that they were both held to be, if not identical in meaning, at the very least both equally true?

Concerning the claim that the Athanasians did not clamor to use John 1:18 to support the argument against Arianism, there could have been many reasons for this other than that which Kel implies, which is that the only begotten God reading was somehow favorable to the Arian position.  Further, does Kel really have proof that the Athanasians only used the only begotten Son reading and not the only begotten God reading?  Some scholars say that both readings were used by both sides (see 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).

Also relevant is the following quotation from Dan Wallace:

“In sum, externally, both readings enjoy wide geographical distribution, even though υἱός is relatively stronger in non-Alexandrian forms of text. Both readings co-existed in the second century, although weightier MSS support θεός. As a whole, then, I believe θεός is more probable due to the quality, antiquity, and transmissional history of the witnesses listed above . . . .”

“In retrospect, I conclude that μονογενὴς θεός is the best reading given all the evidence we have internally and externally. As a result, it is highly probable that the text of John 1.18 calls Jesus θεός.” (Dan Wallace, Jesus as Θεὸς, Textual Examination, John 1:18)*

Argument:

“3. The Two God Dilemma – The meaning of the Greek word monogenes is debated. If it does mean “only-begotten,” and the text did indeed say, “No one has seen God; the only-begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father expresses Him”, this introduces the concept of multiple Gods. Unbegotten God number 1 is expressed by the other begotten God number 2. One simply cannot escape the fact that John would be describing “a” distinct God that everyone saw from “the” distinct God no one has ever seen, but who is declared by the other God who people can see. Indeed, such a rendering indicates the visible God expresses the invisible God and the unbegotten God begat a begotten God, the second God declares the first God. Since the Word is begotten of God then we have a begotten God of the unbegotten God. And in the end, the Trinitarian has two Gods on his hands and is caught in the very predicament he accuses Arians of being found in.”

Response:   Here Kel argues that John 1:18 doesn’t say “only-begotten God” because such a reading seems to him to result in two gods.  His argument is fallacious for two reasons.

1) The word “begotten” may not be an adjective that modifies “God;” instead, it could be that Christ is being called both “only begotten” and “God,” not “a begotten God.” Indeed, this is the way that most textual interpreters see this passage.  Thus the “monogenes God” text is not saying that there is a God who is unbegotten and another God that is begotten, but simply that Christ is both God and also the only-begotten.

2) Even if “begotten” modifies “God,” that would not mean a second God because it could be that within God there is that which is unbegotten and that which is begotten (in fact this is true whether “begotten” modifies “God” or not).  Since God does not change this would be an eternal begetting, meaning that God the begotten has always existed alongside God the unbegotten.  This is how the Nicene Creed puts it, “begotten of the Father before all worlds.”

Also, Kel’s argument that the Trinitarian position implies the existence of one God that no one has seen and another God that everyone saw is phony for three reasons.

1) Nothing in this version of John 1:18 (No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him – NASB) says anything about a God who can be seen.  All it says is that the only begotten, who is also God, has made the unseen God known.  There is nothing in this text to suggest that the Divine nature of the Father and the Divine nature of the Son are not both invisible.

2) Kel has already stipulated that in a sense the Father’s Divine nature can be seen in Jesus.  Since therefore Kel himself believes that there is a sense in which the Father cannot be seen and another sense in which the Father can be “seen,” why couldn’t the “only begotten God” be visible in the same sense that the Father is?

3) I think Kel is dragging in the old and tired “no one can see God, but people saw Jesus, therefore Jesus can’t be God” baloney, trying to somehow fit it into his John 1:18 argument.  Not only is this argument false (because in seeing Jesus’ human body people still could not see his Divine nature in its fullness) but it can’t be fit in here anyway, since nothing is said in verse 18 about a God who can be seen in the first place.

Argument:

“The only way out of this predicament is for Trinitarians to pretend in his mind that John was simply saying that one person of the Trinity is expressing another person of the Trinity. In other words, he must try to insist that this is no different than saying God the Son expresses God the Father. However, this contrivance doesn’t work because this claim ignores what the “monogenes God” reading states. It simply doesn’t say that the Son expresses the Father. This version says the begotten God reveals/declares God the Father. The passage says that one visible begotten God expresses another invisible unbegotten God. This would not be a case of the Son member of the one Triune God expressing the Father member of the one Triune God, but a case of one God expressing another God. It is inescapable.”

Response:

Kel is basically repeating the same argument I just refuted.  And he is still wrong; there is nothing in the “begotten God” version of the text that implies two Gods.  The text does not say that the only begotten God is visible, but instead that the only begotten has made God known.  Nor does it say that all of God is unbegotten, or that all of God is begotten.  Kel has added the concept of “an” unbegotten God and “a” begotten God to the text; the text itself doesn’t imply anything like that.

Argument:

“John 1:18 puts them [Trinitarians] into a dire dilemma. Here we have an “only begotten God.” Obviously, this God would need to be distinguished from the Triune God.  Hence, the Son is a begotten God, the only begotten God and would be therefore a distinct God from the Trinitarian Triune God.”

Response:

Notice again the insertion of the word “an” before “only begotten God.”  Kel says “Obviously, this God would need to be distinguished from the Triune God.”  Why?  Why can’t this mean that within God there is something that is unbegotten and also something that is begotten?  The only begotten God text simply does not imply “a” God which is unbegotten, and “another” God which is begotten, as Kel claims it does; my reasons for stating this are presented in my previous responses.

Argument:

“Also, the Father is the unbegotten God in Trinitarianism. Hence, the Father too is a God. And the Holy Spirit is co-qual to the other two and so the Spirit is also a God. And then Trinitarians also believe in one other Triune God making a total of four Gods . . . . No matter how you look at it, the Trinitarian ends up with more than one God.”

Response:

Many errors here; the Father is the unbegotten person in Trinitarianism; not the unbegotten God in Trinitarianism.  Nor is the Spirit “a God,” but rather a person who is God.  These nonsensical statements are nowhere implied in any of the texts of Scripture interpreted in a Trinitarian sense, including John 1:18; nor are they implied by the Trinity doctrine.

Argument:

“4. The Internal Evidence: Father-Son Relationship

If the passage did say, “monogenes God,” then such a translation would also be inconsistent with the rest of John’s message where Jesus is always portrayed as God’s only-begotten Son. The Greek word itself, monogenes, indicates a Father/Son relationship. The same word is used of Isaac at Hebrews 11:17. If we carefully think about the siutation, the Father-Son version of the text seems to be far more likely than the only begotten God version. No one has seen God but the only-begotten [somebody] who is in the bosom of the Father expresses Him. If we are to understand that “God” here in this verse is the Father and only the Father, then what word goes with “Father?” The term “only-begotten Son” goes with the word “Father.””

Response:

“Only-begotten” implies Son without having to say it explicitly, so the monogenes God text can mean “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.”  – Berean Study Bible.  Thus the monogenes God version is not contrary to the monogenes Son version but instead includes it; it is also consistent with the rest of John’s message even if it differs from his normal terminology.

Then Kel says in part, “If we are to understand that “God” here in this verse is the Father and only the Father . . .” – but of course if we assume that God in this verse is only the Father we have assumed that Kel’s conclusion is right before we even examine his arguments.

After argument 4, Kel continues to repeat the same arguments in slightly different words so I won’t quote all of them; instead I will move on to what I think is a new argument.

Argument:

“7. Monogenes – A Third Possibility  . . . Some manuscripts simply read monogenes and do not say “monogenes Son” or “monogenes God.” Carefully regard John 1:14.

And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of a monogenes para the Father, full of grace and truth. (Young’s Literal).

It seems most likely to this writer that, based purely on the manuscript evidence, that this may be the original text. Why would anyone remove “son” from the text since John uses it elsewhere? Why would anyone completely remove “god” from the text and not just replace the word with “son” especially since this is what Trinitarians suggest is what happened?”

Response:

This argument leaves unanswered my earlier question of why the Church would accept both monogenes God and monogenes Son (which evidently they did) unless both readings were regarded as either true or as meaning the same thing.  I also don’t think the early Church as a whole was in the habit of going beyond the apostolic teachings.  Consequently I don’t think the original is likely to have said merely “only-begotten” – John must have written something or later said some things which, all taken together, gave rise both to the word “God” and to the word “Son” that we find in almost all of our earliest texts.

Kel then goes into a discussion of the precise meaning of the term monogenes, and since I do not completely trust Kel’s Greek abilities, let me simply quote from some superior authorities on the meaning of this word.

Joseph Henry Thayer, a Unitarian who denied the Deity of Christ but who was an outstanding Greek scholar, wrote in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, that monogenes means

single of its kind, only, [A.V. only-begotten]; used only of sons and daughters” and when “used of Christ, denotes the only son of God or one who in the sense in which he himself is the son of God has no brethren.  He is so spoken of by John not because ὁ λόγος which was ἐνσαρκωθεις in him was eternally generated by God the Father (the orthodox interpretation), or came forth from the being of God just before the beginning of the world (Subordiantionism), but because by the incarnation (ἐνσἀρκωσις) of the λόγος in him he is of nature or essentially Son of God, and so in a very different sense from that in which men are made by him τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ (Jn 1:13).”

Thus we see that monogenes, according to Thayer, does not mean merely unique, or merely offspring or son, but rather a unique kind of offspring or son, different from all those who become children of God.  Thayer, a Unitarian, cannot be accused of trying to prop up the Trinity doctrine with this argument since he did not believe in it.  Philip W. Comfort says in his New Testament Text and Translation Commentary that

“Since the term μονογενης more likely speaks of “uniqueness” than “only one born,” it probably functions as a substantive indicating Jesus’ unique identity as being both God and near to God, as a Son in the bosom of his Father” (found in his article on John 1:18).

Many scholars now favor the meaning of “unique” over that of “begotten” for monogenes, and this is perhaps backed up by Hebrews 11:17 which calls Isaac Abraham’s only begotten (μονογενῆ) son.  Isaac was not the only son born to Abraham, nor was he the first.  Nevertheless he was unique in the sense that the promises were to be through Isaac only.

My speculation is that the word monogenes implies both unique and begotten, and I would not be as quick as Thayer to dismiss the judgement of the early Church regarding the eternal generation of the Word of God.  I suspect that their judgment was not based primarily on the meaning of the word monogenes but on a rigorous examination of all Scriptures regarding the relation of the Son to the Father.

. . .

Kel then spends some time quoting from Gnostic texts to prove that they used the phrase “only-begotten God,” as if this showed the phrase was Gnostic.  I would ask Kel, did not the Gnostics also use the term “God?”  Does this mean that the word “God” is Gnostic?  There is much phraseology that the Gnostics had in common with Christians, but this does not prove derivation one way or the other.  At the end of this article, Kel has a section entitled Determining Factors:

Argument:

“There are two manuscript traditions. Each of them were widely attested in the early church. The authenticity of the “only begotten God” text is therefore highly questionable on these grounds alone. Are we expected to rest our faith upon such suspicious evidence?”

Response: This makes no sense.  The two manuscript traditions are “the only begotten God” and “the only begotten Son.” Kel states correctly that “each of them were widely attested in the early church.”  Since both are widely attested, how does this make the authenticity of one of them (only begotten God) “therefore highly questionable”?  It doesn’t; rather, it makes it likely that both accurately reflect John’s original words.

Argument:

  • “The earliest Christians attest to the “only begotten Son” version except in the Alexandria region.”

Response: As we have seen, this statement is false, and Kel’s own charts include examples that show the version existed outside the Alexandrian region at an early date. Worse yet for his case, if the long recensions of Ignatius are genuine as he claims, the earliest Christian attestation is to “only begotten God”, not “only begotten Son” – and this was outside of Alexandria.

Argument:

  • “The “only begotten God” version absurdly results in a visible begotten God everyone can see declaring/revealing the unbegotten invisible God no one can see.”

Response: As I have argued, this is illogical because 1) there can be in God both that which is begotten and that which is unbegotten 2) even Kel admits that God can be seen in some senses but not in others, and 3) the text does not say “an only begotten God,” but “the only begotten God.”  There is nothing in the wording that suggests another God, as I have shown earlier.

Argument:

  • The “only begotten Son” version is the one which is consistent with John’s terminology

Response:

Although the phraseology “only begotten God” might be unusual for John, the concept of Jesus as God is not, unless you accept Kel’s arguments that Jesus is not called God in John 1:1, 5:18, or 20:28.  It actually fits nicely, as Jesus is called God in verse 1, only begotten in verse 14, and finally only begotten God in verse 18, combining the two ideas at the end of the prologue.

Argument:

  • During the Arian controversy, the “only begotten God” was not used by the Athanasians but was used by the Arians.

Response:

So what?  Since both versions were widely circulated in the early Church, Athanasius probably used the one he was more familiar with, but that doesn’t mean or even imply mean that “only begotten God” version supports Arianism.  Besides, Kel has not refuted the claim that both sides used both versions.  The assertion that the only begotten God wording was not used by Athanasius is not that same as the assertion that this wording was not used by Athanasians (people who supported Athanasius’ position).

Argument:

  • The manuscript to which Trinitarians appeal, was found in near Nag Hammadi where the Nag Hammadi gnostic collection was found.

Response:

Two points here:  (1) Many manuscripts support the only begotten God reading, not just one, and (2) Proximinty neither proves nor implies a causal relationiship.  All sorts of ancient artifacts are found “near” each other which have no connection with each other.

Argument:

  • “Evidence shows the Gnostics preferred the “only begotten God” version and since they loved to tamper with Scripture, they likely corrupted this passage to say just that. Trinitarians opt for the version that puts them into company with the Gnostics.”

Response:

Kel is simply repeating what he said before.  Scribes in the early Church were also in the habit of removing what they regarded as corrupted passages, so the fact that the “only begotten God” version of this verse gained such wide circulation in the Church is strong evidence that they did not regard it as a Gnostic corruption.

Argument:

  • “Irenaeus reports how the Gnostics corrupted the Gospel of John and he seems to be referring to John 1:18.

Response:

This last point took up a good portion of the end of Kel’s article but I did not quote it fully here; however this is my answer to his point.

The evidence to which Kel refers (from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 8, 5,) only shows that Bentley Layton translated the Gnostic Ptolemaeus as using the exact phrase “only begotten God.”  If this translation is correct in would only prove that Gnostics quoted the phrase; it would not mean that Gnostics inserted it into John’s gospel.

Irenaeus quotes from Ptolemaeus’ commentary on John 1 to demonstrate that Ptolemaeus misuses the Scriptures to support his own heretical position.  If you read what Irenaeus says here carefully, you will notice that Ptolemaeus accurately quotes some passages from John and misquotes others.  Since some of the Scriptural quotations are accurate, the “only begotten God” wording might also be an accurate quotation from John.

The only thing we know for certain about what Irenaeus meant was that Ptolemaeus was using John 1:18 to support false doctrines.  Irenaeus’ words here do not prove that Ptolemaeus was misquoting the text because it is just as likely (from Irenaeus’ words) that Ptolemaeus was assigning a wrong meaning to an accurate quotation.   After all, this is the same Irenaeus said that the devil “endeavoured again to make an assault by himself quoting a commandment of the law . . . . thus concealing a falsehood under the guise of Scripture, as is done by all the heretics“  – Irenaeus Against Heresies book 5, chapter 21, section 2.  (This quotation refers to the time when the devil tempted Christ with an accurate quotation of Scripture in Matthew 4:6).

Conclusion

Kel has failed to produce any convincing reasons why Jesus as the “only begotten God” is not a valid variation of John 1:18.  Both “only begotten God” and “only begotten Son” are very ancient versions of this precious text, and since words “Son” and “God” were both written with the sacred name abbreviation and the early Church appears to have embraced both readings interchangeably, it is evident that regardless of which one came first, both were regarded as meaning that Jesus is equal to God.

_____________________________________________________

* From a paper “originally given at the Evangelical Theological Society’s southwestern regional meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Seminary on March 23, 2007” (quoted from an article found at https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/6/should-john-118-read-the-only-begotten-god).

Appendix

At one point (it might not have been in his article on John 1:18) Kel argues that Jesus was once the only-begotten Son of God, but since he was the firstborn of many brethren (Romans 8:29), Jesus’ being the “only one” ended when others, like him, also began to be born of God.  I think this argument is refuted in two ways; first, the fact that when Jesus told Nicodemus you must be born again to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3) he was clearly talking about the begetting of new believers, (who surely are the “many brethren” of Romans 8:29) and yet when Nicodemus had a hard time believing or comprehending this, Jesus told him,

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:6-12, NASB, emphasis mine)

To me this suggests even if Jesus did not explicitly say that “being born again” was already occurring and was in fact recorded in the Old Testament, he did imply it.  Though the Spirit had not yet been poured out on “all flesh,” he had been active in ancient Israel.  Nicodemus should have already known about the new birth, and “everyone who is born of the Spirit” is in the present tense, not the future tense.

Second, it seems clear to me that even if we discount the Old Testament believers and only start counting “being born of God” from the beginning of the Church, when John wrote his prologue in John 1, he was writing long after the Church had begun to grow and long after these “many brethren” began to be in the world.  And yet unlike most of John 1:1-18 “the only-begotten (God or Son) who IS in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” — is in the present tense.  That means that Jesus was still the monogenes when John wrote his gospel, long after the founding and growth of the early Church.  (Kel cannot interpret monogenes as being resurrected because the rest of John 1:1-17 is in the past tense, and Jesus was already monogenes when the disciples first saw him — John 1:14).

If this analysis is correct, Jesus’ being the firstborn of many brethren does not mean he was the first one born (in time) but that he is preeminent among all these brethren (preeminent is the other biblical meaning for firstborn).