When studying Scripture, the accurate definition of its words is critical to understanding their meaning. Also, of prime importance, is the context of any words under consideration.
For example, we understand that the word “salvation” does not always refer to being forgiven of one’s sins and thereby justified before God. In Exodus 14:13, Moses says to the children of Israel who are fleeing the oncoming Egyptian army, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord…”
It is obvious from the context, that this has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins, rather this salvation is a deliverance from physical death at the hand of their enemy.
Similarly, we will see that the word “begotten” carries more than one meaning, in Scripture.
I have little doubt that the first thing most people think of when they hear the word “begotten” is of the birthing process. We see this definition evident in passages such as Judges 8:30… “And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives.” We know there are many other references that refer to this specific meaning of the word begotten.
Also, when considering this word, the first Bible verse that comes to mind is probably John 3:16… “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Like you, I always thought that John 3:16 was a reference to Jesus’ birth, when He is identified as God’s “only begotten Son”. Some modern translations of the Bible leave out the word begotten and state that God gave His “only Son”. So, when someone would read or quote the verse and leave out the word begotten, I would ask them, “Does God have only one Son?” After I registered the quizzical expression on their face, I would inform them that God has many Sons that are identified in Scripture.
Let’s look at the following examples. Exodus 4:22… “And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, thus saith the Lord, Israel is my Son, even my firstborn.” Here, is a nation of people (Israel) who are identified as God’s firstborn Son! Hmmm… Isn’t that interesting?
Not only is Israel called a Son of God, but so to is the Body of Christ. We see this designation as Sons of God in Romans 8:14… “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:19… “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”
Did you know that Adam was the “son of God”? Please reference the genealogy recorded in Luke 3:38… “Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.” This genealogy tracing Christ’s physical lineage back to Adam, declares Adam to be the son of God. (Hence, we have the question asked by Sunday School kids of whether Adam had a belly button. Since he was not born of a woman, but created by God, the answer is No.)
Now then, if the word “begotten” is not always referring to physical birth, and knowing that God has many sons, what could it mean when it says “His only begotten Son” in John 3:16? The key to defining this application of the word is found in Genesis 22:2 and Hebrews 11:17 regarding Abraham and his son, Isaac. We read in Genesis that Abraham was to take his “only son” Isaac and offer him to God.
Now, wait a minute! Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. Did we forget about Ishmael? Abraham will also have many other sons after Sarah dies, by his next wife, Keturah, and some concubines. So, why is Isaac described as being his only son? More interesting is the verse in Hebrews 11:17 where we read that Abraham offered up his “only begotten son.”
Obviously, we are not talking about physical birth here when we see the word “begotten”. This gives us insight into John 3:16 as well. Continue reading the next two verses in Hebrews 11… “Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall they seed be called. Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead: from whence also he received him in a figure.”
The great promises God made to Abraham would be fulfilled through Isaac and his seed (Jesus Christ), and not any other son of Abraham. Isaac, according to God’s plan and purpose, is a special, unique, one-of-a-kind individual. In like manner, so is Jesus Christ! He is the only BEGOTTEN Son of God! Of all God’s sons, there is NONE like Him! Nobody can do what He alone can accomplish to the glory of God. Of all God’s sons, He is the Pre-eminent One! He is the express image of the Invisible God, the Firstborn (a title of preeminence and exalted status) of every creature! (Colossians 1:15)
Look with me at one more way the word is used. This is amazing! What does it mean when we read in Psalm 2:7 and repeated in Hebrews 5:5… “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee”? Again, this is not about the physical birth of the Savior. Begotten, in these contexts refers to His Resurrection! Here we have the all-encompassing truth of the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ! Regarding resurrection, He is also the one who is unique, special, one-of-a-kind, the Firstfruits of all, in order of position and majesty.
Romans 1:3-4 identifies both His physical lineage through David (so no mistake is made as to who Paul is talking about) and He is declared to be the only begotten Son of God with power! How, may we ask? By the Resurrection from the dead!
In our relationship with Him, “He is the head of the Body, the church: Who is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:18)
The Lord Jesus not only was begotten, in the aspect of the baby born to Mary, but He is also the Only Begotten of God by His Death, Burial, and Resurrection! No one else could accomplish what He could to satisfy the demands of God’s Justice and make possible the reconciliation of all things both in heaven and earth! He is unique and one-of-a-kind. The Elect of God in Whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells, and in Whom we are complete!