In John 3:16, isn't "only begotten" Son in the KJV the correct translation, whereas "one and only" Son in the NIV is an inaccurate translation?

Email Received:

I read your defending of the NIV translation and I will say out front that I'm not one of those KJV only advocates. I have a couple of questions though. It sounds like from your comments that when studying from the NIV translation it's essential to read the footnotes too. Unfortunately, who reads the footnotes while studying?

The NIV translation of John 3:16 bothers me. The translators have removed the word "begotten" and say "one and only" Son. Isn't this inaccurate? All other translations use "begotten" and the Nicene Creed clearly translates the word "begotten." According to the NIV translation, then, Jesus is God's only Son; so you, me, and other Christians are not his sons and daughters. Can you please explain the NIV translation of this verse? I've never found the reasoning behind this.

Ted's Response:

Concerning your first point, I assume you are referring to my email response, Why do you use the NIV, rather than the KJV, for the Bible references in all of your commentaries? Isn't the NIV negligent in showing whom Jesus really was? As for your second point, I do not see the footnotes in the NIV as "essential," but I have read every footnote in my multiple readings of the NIV. I know others, as well, who choose to read, rather than to ignore, the footnotes in the NIV.

I would liken this to reading the footnotes of any document or manuscript in which they are included. Reading them is not essential, but it does provide additional information or perspective to the reader who wishes to take the time to read them.

As for your third point, there are several Bible versions, besides the NIV, that do not have the word "begotten" in the translation of John 3:16. Here is John 3:16 from both the KJV and the NIV:

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. (John 3:16óKJV)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16óNIV)
The Nicene Creed uses the phrases "eternally begotten" and "begotten, not made." Whatever their understanding was of the word "begotten," those phrases would not apply to you, to me, nor to any other person. They would apply, uniquely, to Jesus.

Each mortal man is begotten at a certain point in time and is made or created by God. On the other hand, Jesus was not made or created. We are "sons of God," but we have not existed from eternity past as Jesus, the Word, has (John 1:1,2; 1 John 1:1,2).

The Father/Son relationship has existed from eternity past, not from the moment that Mary gave birth to, or even conceived, Jesus. You and I are sons of God from birth, or probably even from conception, which are fixed points in time. Also, in John 3:16, "Son" is capitalized, which further designates the uniqueness of Jesus, separate from anyone else. He is the only "son" in existence who is part of the Godhead with the Father.

Another consideration is how the same word, monogenes (μονογενη in the Greek), appears in Hebrews 11:17, when referring to Isaac as being Abraham's "one and only" son (NIV) or "only begotten" son (KJV). In this verse, the KJV's translation is flawed, since Isaac was not the only son that Abraham begat; he also had begotten Ishmael.

So although Isaac was not the only begotten son of Abraham, he was unique in his relationship with Abraham. Also, the everlasting covenant of promise that God had made with Abraham would be made with Isaac, not with Ishmael (Genesis 17:19-21). God Himself even referred to Isaac as Abraham's "only son" (22:12,16). See more details at Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel).

Therefore, in the sense of a unique father/son relationship and association, both in John 3:16 and in Hebrews 11:17, the NIV is more accurate than the KJV. From an everlasting and supernatural frame of reference, Isaac was Abraham's "one and only" son. Likewise, in a similar manner, Jesus is God the Father's "one and only" Son. The promise of everlasting life is possible only in and through Jesus.

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