I have chosen the faithful way. I have placed your ordinances before me. Psalm 119:30 (NASB)

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Study Notes on John 1:18 - A Modern Trinitarian

Push For A Closer Verse

 

Another issue is how John 1:18 is read one way trinitarian today based upon a few manuscripts, but the traditional way, supported by most manuscripts, it does not.

 

The traditional version is non-trinitarian, which includes the King James which renders this as follows:

 

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]. (John 1:18, KJV)  [Note this is "monogenes" Son meaning "unique / one and only" Son.]

 

This does not say Jesus is God. It says Jesus, the Son, has "declared" the Father to us.

 

This form is dominant -- ASV, YLT, etc.

 

However, then there is a modern change that implies Jesus is the one and only God. Listen to how the NIV changes this in its 1984 edition:

 

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [monogenes], who is at the Father's side, has made him known. (John 1:18, NIV)

 

This gets monogenes correct, but uses "God" not "Son" in the second part of the verse. This is now followed in the New American Standard but it renders 'monogenes' as 'only begotten':

 

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

 

Thus, Christian Courier claims this proves Jesus is God:

 

In addition to the above, John refers to Christ himself as “the only-begotten God, who is at the Father’s side” (Jn. 1:18), as the language reads according to the best Greek texts (see Merrill Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, ed, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983, Vol. 9, p. 34) ("Does John 17:3 Negate the Deity of Christ?")

 

This has been snuck in almost unnoticed by anyone as a new and modern direct proclamation that Jesus is God in the NT. Why is this happening?

 

The "only begotten [sic: monogenes = unique, one of a kimd] Son" appears in by far the most manuscripts: // Ò:@<@(,<¬HLÊ`H [monogenes son] A C3 Wsupp )1Q 0141 f1 f13 28 157 180 205 565 579 597 700 892 1006 1010 1071 1241 1243 1292 1342 1424 1505 Byz [E F G HLect ita,aur,b,c,e,f,ff2,l vg syrc,h,pal arm eth geo1 slav.

 

See www.heraldmag.org/rvic/nt/28_NT_Appendix_1.doc

 

The "only begotten [monogenes =unique] God" appears in far fewer: is:@<@(,<¬H2,`H [an only-begotten godp66À* B C* L syrp,hmggeo2... // Ò:@<@(,<¬H2,`H [the only-begotten god]p75À2 33 copbo

 

See www.heraldmag.org/rvic/nt/28_NT_Appendix_1.doc

 

Bart Ehrman in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford University Press, 1993) at 78-79 discusses this particular issue. Ehrman supports that the majority of texts has this correct. It does not support Jesus is God. Why the change?

 

The variant reading of the Alexandrian tradition which substitutes "God" for the "Son" represents an orthodox corruption of the text in which the complete deity of Christ is affirmed...Outside the Alexandrian tradition, the reading...theos [God] has not fared well. Virtually every other representative of every other textual grouping--Western, Caesarean, Byzantine--attests to [Son]Id., at 78-79.

 

Thus, because the "God" reading appears in only one geographical area / strain, and all other manuscripts, and quotation by Irenaeus, Clement and Tertullian say it is son, Erhman says it is overwhelmingly obvious that "God" is a corruption of the original verse. Id., at 79. Erhman also says the Alexandrian "God" texts are implausible textually because it is an "insurmountable difficulty" to accept John called Jesus the "unique God." Id., at 80. The word monogenes "itself embodies the notion of exclusivity conveyed by the use of the article" with it. Id., at 80. This would mean Jesus is the ONLY God. Would John eject the Father? As Erhman puts it:

 

The problem, of course, is that Jesus can be the unique God only if there is no other God. Id., at 80.

 

John 1:18 Is Mistranslated Anyway

 

In actuality, as Ehrman says, if "theos" is correct, because it says monogenes theos, one would have to translate this verse differently than the NAS and NIV. This is because it does not say "one and only begotten God," but instead actually says "one and only God," as we explained above the meaning of monogenes is exclusively 'one of its kind.'


So the NIV and NAS borrowed only a portion of the corruption, and mistranslated monogenes to make it appear more in line with the Trinity doctrine.

 

But there is another translation possible that is not Trinitarian.

 

Let's first start with a word-for-word translation of 1:18 if we assume theos is the true term: "God not  yet has one see as? when? the one and only God the one being in the bosom of the father one who leads

out." Cf www.heraldmag.org/rvic/nt/28_NT_Appendix_1.doc

 

So I would translate it this way:

 

No one has seen God -- the one and only God -- as the one in the bosom of the Father has revealed.

 

Thus, if Herald Magazine is correct -- it defends "theos" over "son" because it says the manuscripts with theos are superior although less in number -- it erroneously assumed monogenes means "only begotten" instead of "one and only of its kind." This makes a big difference to what theos (if valid) refers in the second part of John 1:18.

 

Why 'One and Only God' in 1:18: Manuscript Evidence

 

The oldest surviving Greek manuscripts -- P66 and P75 -- of John 1:18 read monogenes theos (one and only God but often interpreted today as 'only begotten God'), not only begotten Son.

 

This is what obviously is the main reason to resurrect 'theos' as the true term in John 1:18b.

 

Of some significance, these two fragments from the 200s were found in Alexandria, Egypt which causes some to suspect a gnostic heresy influenced this version of John 1:18b.

 

It is hard to reconcile "begotten God" with the orthodox church writings of that era except two sources in Alexandria -- one belonging clearly to a heretic.

 

First, the early church sources both differed and were very varied. The oldest apparent source is Ignatius, from the 100s, who in Latin says "the only-begotten Son," saith [the Scripture], "who is in the bosom of the Father."(Ignatius, Epistle to the Philippians, II.)

 

This Epistle is not considered authentic by some scholars.

 

The next oldest is Irenaeus (early 100s) who says: "For "no man," he says, "hath seen God at any time," unless "the only-begotten Son of God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared [Him]." For He, the Son who is in His bosom, declares to all the Father who is invisible." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, XI.)

 

Next is Tatian of 165 AD who is typically orthodox and from Syria. He had both "God" and "Son" (instead of one or the other); Tatian also had "only", but not begotten. In Tatian's Diatessaron IV:1 -- his version of John 1:18 -- it reads according to Schaff as: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only Son, God, which is in the bosom of his Father, he hath told of him." See this link.

 

Incidentally, this could also be translated "No man has ever seen God, the only God. The Son who is in the bosom of the Father told of Him." Thus, this has "God" and "Son" in the same text, but lacks "begotten." As I translate it, it says very much what the KJV says unlike the Trinitarian reading preferred by the NIV of 2010.

 

Next, the first step toward "begotten God" appears in the writings of the heretic Valentinus (second century) who has "begotten God." In fact, he is suspected as the source of the P75 manuscript as a deliberate fabrication. (Burgon (1896).) Burgon revived attention to a passage in Theodotus (400s) quoting Valentinus from the 2nd century as a corrupting heretic. R. P. Casey (1934) translates Theodotus as follows:

 

The verse, "in the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God," the Valentinians understand thus, for they say that "the beginning" is the "Only Begotten" and that he is also called God, as also in the verses which immediately follow it explains that he is God, for it says, "The Only-Begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him." (69)

 

So here we see a heretic added the word "begotten God" and made this refer to Jesus as God. It precisely is the same as the phrase in P75. Bear in mind a scribal error could also be involved, because the difference between "Son" (heios) and "God" (theos) in Greek is a single letter.

 

Next is Clement of Alexandria (215 AD). He reads identical to that of Valentinus. See Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book I, ch. III.

 

But Tertullian ca. 220 AD has the same reading as Ignatius: "the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, and has Himself declared Him." Tertullian, Against Praxeas, XV. So too Origen in the 200s; Hippolytus in the 200s and then from that point on it always reads "begotten Son" in Latin texts.

 

So there are only 2 writers who agree with "only begotten God" and these are the heretic Valentinus of Alexandria and Clement of Alexandria. Tatian's version is not compatible with either. And it appears no coincidence P75 and P66 were found in Alexandria from the same period. It is evident that this was a local corruption -- either doctrinally or by misreading 'heios" as "theos" - a one letter difference.

 

Consequence of Accepting P75/P66 And Keeping 'Begotten" Reading of Monogenes

 

If we reject this translation of monogenes, and accept the NIV and NAS versions which render "monogenes" as "only begotten," and theos is the correct manuscript version, we end up in a terrible polytheistic heresy that goes beyond trinitarianism.

 

Dr. Holland who wishes to defend monogenes means "only begotten" laments if theos were the valid manuscript that this would lead to a gross heresy of polytheism. Dr. Holland comments in Crowned with Glory (2000):

 

It is also interesting to note that the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses also uses the phrase only begotten god. This is, of course, in line with their teaching that Christ is a created god. Once we accept the reading only begotten god, we have opened the door to reinterpret all other verses concerning the deity of Jesus Christ. (Fn. 3, excerpted here.)

 

Another source correctly analyzes the NASB's use of "begotten" God found also in the NWT. The author says that this would necessitate there is one visible God and one invisible God - polytheism:

 

The error here is with the idea of multiple "gods.".... John 1:18 makes no sense in the NASB unless it refers to multiple, separate "gods." In fact, the verse contradicts itself. In the NASB, it is clear from the language that two individual beings are described here, the invisible "God" and the visible "God." Both are called "God." "No man has seen God" refers to the unseen God. But, the words, "the only begotten God" refer to the one who has been seen by men. Literally understood, the NASB is speaking of two distinct "Gods," one visible and one invisible. Furthermore, the use of "only begotten" (mono-genes) with "God" (theos) implies birth or reproduction of the second "God" by the first "God." The NASB's rendering here is absolutely ridiculous and completely heterodoxical. (Study to Answer.)

 

In other words, why aren't we all created gods? Polytheism becomes implicit in any notion that God can be begotten. Thus, Dr. Holland argues that theos was likely a scribe who wished to insert an heretical notion that God could be begotten as God, which would support the gnostic heresy of the 2d-3d centuries. But I contend that even if theos were in the original manuscript, it still does not mean begotten and can be read properly that Jesus revealed "the one and only God" to us. 

END

 

(May 16, 2020 - Adapted and taken from our article on John 1:14.)