O is for Only
O is for “Only” – as in unique or “one of a kind”
I am teaching through the gospel of John in our Adult Bible Class called the Sojourners. We have finally reached John, chapter three and verse sixteen. Without a doubt this is probably the most famous of all verses in the bible. It is also the most misunderstood and misquoted verse in the entire bible.
In order to understand this verse correctly, I have developed a plan to look thoroughly at this particular verse. We have spent one week introducing this verse. I have broken the verse down into four separate weeks of observation phrase by phrase. We will then culminate the study with a wrap up of the verse with its proper meaning. All in all we will have spent six weeks looking at John 3:16.
“So loved God the world that he gave his only Son…” is how the text actually reads.
One of the misunderstandings of this verse includes the meaning of the Greek word μονογενης (monogenes). The literal meaning is “one of a kind,” only,” or unique.” It does not mean “only begotten.” John could have said that but he would have to use the word, “monogennetos.”
Our word “monogenes” is used in the New Testament a number of times to refer to “only” sons or daughters. This word is applied to Jesus in a special sense that since he is the only Son of God, he has no one equal to him, therefore he and he alone is able to fully reveal the Father to us.
The word "monogenes" comes from two Greek words; the first is mono which means “of a single” and genos which means “kind or type.” Our word is describing a quality of Jesus which is his uniqueness. Our Greek word actually expresses the idea of a Hebrew word which is translated as “only, precious.” This word is used of Isaac in Genesis 22:2, 12, and 16. Isaac was Abraham’s uniquely precious son. Incidentally, if you recall Isaac was not Abraham’s only-begotten son. Abraham had already fathered or begotten Ishmael by Sarah’s maid.
So Jesus is the only, uniquely precious Son of God. He is not God’s only-begotten. How did it get miss-translated as the only begotten Son of God? A man named Arius (250-336 AD) challenged the Trinitarian teaching of the church. He taught that Jesus was made by God and did not exist eternally as the Son of God and as the second member of the Godhead. As a means of refuting this teaching Jerome when he translated the bible into Latin (The Latin Vulgate) supplied the Latin word for only-begotten. The Latin Vulgate had a major influence on the King James Version. When the Greek word, (translated by the Latin word) was translated into English, the mistranslation continued as the “only-begotten.”
The first question you should be asking, “Does it matter?” It doesn’t matter if you know what John is stressing. The first question that must be asked when interpreting scripture is “Who is speaking?” The second question that must be asked is, “Who is being spoken to.” The third question that must be asked is, “What is being said?” In other words, when John wrote these words, “So loved God the world that he gave his only Son…” what did John mean and what did he intend for his readers to understand?
To answer that question we have to remember what John’s purpose was for writing his gospel. The first purpose was that the Elders in the Ephesian church pushed him to write this gospel. They shared with him that he was the last apostle, the last link to Jesus Christ. He needed for the sake of the church to write his memoirs. Secondly, John tells us in chapter 21:30-31 why he wrote his gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
John’s purpose was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. To prove this John chose to write about seven signs or miracles that Jesus performed. The purpose of writing about these miracles was so that his readers, a combination of Jews and Gentiles would believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
So, John is establishing the credentials of Jesus Christ. John also establishes the fact that Jesus came to reveal the Father. Who else could accurately reveal the Father than a Son? John establishes the fact that Jesus is able to reveal the Father because he is the only, the one of a kind, the unique-precious Son of God. Therefore we must believe Jesus. He has the credentials as the only Son to fully and accurately reveal the Father.
And so, “O” is for the “only” Son of the Father!