Discovering what it means that Jesus was God’s “begotten Son” reveals wonderful realities about their special relationship and how they love us.
One Bible verse sums up the entire Gospel message. John 3:16 declares: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” While we celebrate the good news in this verse, it’s also important to understand the “begotten Son” meaning. Discovering what it means that Jesus was God’s “begotten Son” reveals wonderful realities about their special relationship and how they love us.
Where Do We Get the Phrase “Begotten Son” From?
The Bible features the phrase “begotten son” several times besides in the famous John 3:16 verse. Here are other biblical instances of that phrase:
- John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
- John 3:18: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
- Hebrews 11:17: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,”
- 1 John 4:9: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”
Beyond verses that use that exact phrase, the Bible also features other verses that reference Jesus as God’s begotten Son. In Psalm 2:7, the psalmist (King David) writes prophetic words that point to the future coming of the eternal king – Jesus – who chose to be born into a human family descended from King David: “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’” The Bible references that verse from the Old Testament in the New Testament, after its prophecy has been fulfilled by Jesus’ birth. In Acts chapter 13, the apostle Paul and other early church leaders are preaching in a synagogue when Paul refers back to Psalm 2:7. He says about God in Acts 13:22-23: “… He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior – Jesus,” indicating God’s plan for the human part of Jesus’ ancestry. Then Paul says in Acts 13:32-33: “And we declare to you glad tidings – that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’” The Book of Hebrews refers back to the prophetic words of Psalm 2:7 twice – in Hebrews 1:5 (“For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’”?). and Hebrews 5:5 (“So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’”).
What Does it Mean That Jesus Was God's “Begotten Son”?
All the Bible verses that use the exact phrase “begotten son” were originally written in the Greek language, using the word “monogenes” for the concept that we translate into English as “begotten son.” The word “monogenes” describes a unique relationship between parent and child – a special relationship that is one of kind. Unlike the most common way that we interpret the word “begotten” in English, “monogenes” doesn’t refer to literal begetting (the act of procreation). Instead, “monogenes” refers to a distinctive parent/child relationship. So, when the Bible refers to Jesus as God’s “begotten son,” it doesn’t indicate that Jesus is a created being. Rather, it points to the unique relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son. While some Bible translations (such as KJV, NKJV, and ASV) translate “monogenes” as “begotten son,” other Bible translations (such as NIV and NLT) translate it as “one and only son” or simply “only son” (such as ESV and CEV).
Hebrews 1:1-5 (NKJV) describes the special relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son as one of perfect love in action: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’?” This passage points out that God and Jesus are fully united yet distinct in their relationship. That type of relationship – a perfect union with distinct roles – is also the same for their Trinity relationship with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 2:18 declares that through Jesus, people “have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
So, Jesus is God’s begotten son because he is unified with God in a special relationship. He is “in very nature God” (Philippians 2:6) yet also works in the distinctly different roles of the Trinity. Jesus is not a created being, like other begotten children. Instead, Jesus is both fully divine and fully human.
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Why Is it So Important That Jesus Was God's “Begotten Son”?
This is important because it reveals Jesus’ full glory. Jesus isn’t a created human. Instead, he is God who came to earth in human form. Hebrews 1:3 (NIV) declares: “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word…”. When Jesus comforts his disciples in John chapter 14, he speaks about his unity with God the Father. Jesus says in John 14:6-7: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” In John 14:9-11, Jesus says: “… Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” When we notice the wonder of God at work in our lives, we’re noticing Jesus’ work just as much as the work of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Acts chapter 4 describes that when believers in the early church prayed to be able to perform signs and wonders, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God all worked together. Acts 4:29-31 records the end of that prayer and the answer: “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
The fact that Jesus is God’s begotten son is also important because it inspires us to trust him, so we can become adopted sons and daughters of God. John 1:12-13 tells us: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” Ephesians 1:5 highlights that loving spiritual adoption for those who place their faith in Jesus: “God was kind and decided that Christ would choose us to be God’s own adopted children.”
Discovering the biblical meaning of how Jesus is God’s begotten son shows us the special relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son. They are perfectly united, yet perform distinct roles. That reality reveals the wonder of Jesus’ glory, inspiring us to trust him. When we do, we can enjoy loving relationships as God’s adopted children.
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Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.