John 3:16 shows up everywhere. At least everywhere if you watch sports. As I think about it,  I’ve never seen the magicmarker-made sign at awards shows or a Broadway musical. Perhaps the carrier of the sign enjoys sports more than music or movies.

Certainly, that sign is in the background every time a crowd gathers to repeat the early creeds of the Christian church. As the players line up facing uncertainty, take a deep breath and repeat “I believe in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ his only-begotten son”, there is a guy in the balcony holding up his John 3:16 sign: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

You can’t talk “only-begotten” without John. The Greek word monogenes (μονογησ) only shows up five times in the New Testament when talking about Jesus, and all five of those are from John.

The relationship between God and Jesus is described at the relationship of father and son: parental, genetic, unique. There aren’t any other genetic kids, though there are adopted children.

But when does the begetting happen? Was Jesus God’s son at the moment of his conception, his physical birth, his baptism? Perhaps the creed is talking about essence rather than timing. Jesus and the Father in a parental relationship as far back as can be imagined, a relationship that becomes visible to humans when Jesus puts on a body.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this simply for a week. And I can’t. It doesn’t help that John doesn’t explain it much either. Or that Jesus doesn’t explain it, he just says it.

I hate to say this, but sometimes we can’t explain parts of creeds. We believe them.

5 thoughts on “only-begotten.

  1. Mike Goodner

    There’s nothing wrong with not being able to understand or explain. Adam and Eve wanted the same level of knowledge as God, and their plan didn’t work out so well. By having faith, we can trust in God that He is what He says.

    Thanks, Jon, for the continuing series on the creed!


  2. Rich Dixon

    Can’t explain the relationships in the Trinity simply? I’m shocked!

    How can Jesus be God and God’s Son at the same time? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, exactly. To me that’s one cool thing about contemplating infinite, all-powerful God–He can think about and be stuff I can’t even imagine.

    If I can’t accept that, perhaps I’m trying to limit God to something I can understand. He’s chosen to reveal what He wants us to know. The rest will have to wait.


  3. Jon Swanson

    Thanks Mike and Rich. The funny thing is that I have a sense of understanding that is is true, but I can’t explain it. Which is faith. But for a communication and story and translation guy, this was an incredibly hard thing. Thanks for giving me permission. 🙂


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