Made and Begotten.

The first chapter of the fourth book of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis discusses Making and Begetting. A selection from the chapter reads as follows:

One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God “begotten, not created”; and it adds “begotten by his Father before all worlds.” Will you please get it quite clear that this has nothing to do with the fact that when Christ was born on earth as a man, that man was the son of a virgin? We are not now thinking about the Virgin Birth. We are thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began. “Before all worlds” Christ is begotten, not created. What does it mean?

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.

Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.

This got me thinking, is the Bible careful to use different words for made and begotten? Is the word for “begotten,” referring to Jesus being the only begotten of God ever applied to man or anything else that is made?

John 1:14 states that Jesus is the only begotten of the Father. The Greek word here is monogenēs (Strongs: G3439). This word is used only nine times in the New Testament and is used in reference to Jesus as a unique being who is “of God” and thus, like a child is the same “thing” as his parent, Christ is the same “thing” as God. It speaks to something that has the full characteristics of the other. For this reason, this word is also used to refer to only sons and daughters of their parents or of Christ to God the Father.

We have to be careful to note that the original Greek word monogenēs is not a word describing being born or birth. It describes a uniqueness. It is not describing Jesus as someone who was born (and especially not created, as very different Greek words could have been used if this were the case). Monogenēs describes the uniqueness of Jesus in his relationship to Father God. This is why this same word can be applied to Abraham’s son, Isaac, even though Abraham had other sons. Isaac was the unique son of the covenant between God and Abraham. It is a misinterpretation of the Greek word to imply that “only begotten” (monogenēs) implies a birth or beginning. That is not the point of using monogenēs. If it did imply a birth or beginning, then the Bible would contradict itself when it says Jesus is from everlasting (see Isaiah 9:6). We must also remember that Jesus was careful with his words when he said “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). When Jesus said this, he greatly aroused the anger of the pharisees because he was confirming his eternal existence. Jesus was careful to use the present tense phrase, ego eimi (“I am”) which stands in stark contrast to the aorist phrase genesthai (“was born” – to begin to be, to come into existence).

While in today’s vernacular, saying someone/thing is begotten may mean they were created or made (I have begotten my robot child!), this is not how the monogenēs was used in the Bible. We should be careful not to impose a modern translation or idea to texts which were quite careful to not use the word with such an implication.

So, the above shows how Jesus is referred to as monogenēs. What about the word used for created. Is this ever applied to Jesus?

1 Corinthians 11:9 says “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” If Jesus were created, then the word used for created in this verse should at least somewhere in the Bible reference Jesus. The word translated as “created” here is ktizō (Strongs G2936). Used only 14 times in the New Testament, this word means create and in one instance, the one who created, just as we would think of something or someone that is created. It refers to creation (this world) (see Mark 13:19), the creator God (see Romans 1:25), and the creator Jesus (see Colossians 3:10), us being created in Christ (see Ephesians 2:10), of Christ having made us into a new man (see Ephesians 2:15, 4:24), and of God creating all things in Christ (see Ephesians 3:9 and Colossians 1:16 – notice Jesus is clearly separated from this creation of all things). Also see Revelation 4:11 and 10:6).

While no other Greek word is translated “created” in the KJV New Testament, the Greek word poieō is used 579 times and is often translated as “do” but is sometimes translated as “make/made.” In Matthew 19:4, it refers to man and woman being made in the beginning (also see Mark 10:6). It refers to many of the works Jesus did (for example, see Mark 5:19, 20) and works done by others. However, it is never used to show God making or creating Jesus.

If God had at his avail Greek language which clearly shows something as either being made/created, and if Jesus were made or created then these words would have been used in describing Jesus, but they never are. We should be careful not to apply scriptural interpretations or doctrine which could have been easily supported with the language available to the author, especially when the language used is very careful to avoid implying such interpretations.

One Response to “Made and Begotten.”

  1. […] like the previous, this post is inspired by Book 4 of Mere Christianity, specifically the 2nd through 4th chapters. […]

Leave a Response