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Not the One and Only

by Tim O'Hearn

Who are you? Or, as importantly, whose are you? A few years ago this might have been phrased, “Who’s your daddy?” The history of naming is a history of determining family ties.

Many surnames originally came from either a profession (Baker, Miller, Chandler) or a location (Forrest, Rivers, or something more specific). As surnames became more popular in distinguishing between people of the same given name (which John or Mary?), familial relationships became one determinant. This could have been specific to the parent. In Iceland, for instance, a child of Jon might be called by their given name and Jonsson or Jonsdottir. In Russian-speaking countries, the “middle name” will be the patronymic, such as Anastasia Nicolaevna Romanov or Alexei Nicolaivich Romanov. In many Western countries the family name may originate from a person farther back than the immediate parent. Thus we have Johnson as a name, whether the parent is John or Fred. Some countries have family names that refer back to some ancestral father (McSeverns, MacAdams) or grandfather (O’Hearn or O’Niall). Ancestry can be important to a person’s self-identification.

Some modern English translations of the Bible, including the New Living Translation or the New English Translation or the New International Version, seem to ignore the importance of belonging to a family, of bearing a family name. At least, this is true as it relates to their translation of the Greek word monogeneis. This word is a combination of the prefix mono, meaning only (monorail, monogamy, and monaural), and geneis meaning beginning or birth (Genesis, genealogy, and genetics). Literally, then, it means “only begotten,” as translated in the King James Version and American Standard Version. In those versions Jesus is, according to the gospel of John, the only-begotten (son) of the Father. According to the versions mentioned earlier he is the “one and only” son of God. Does this really make a difference?

A person who is the only and natural-born son of a parent may not care which appellation you use. There are a number of people, though, to whom it would make a significant difference. Most people who adopt would never think of referring to a child by birth as “my one and only” child, especially not in front of the adopted child(ren). To do so would be a slap in the face. It would be like saying, “Yes, I adopted you, but not so that you could be my child.”

God does not treat us like that. Adoptions are not cheap. Adoption into God’s family cost a life. God is not going to say that he paid for an adoption with the blood of his only begotten son for no reason. Rather he says that through that adoption we have acceptance, redemption, and forgiveness of sins. (Eph 1:6-7) We are not as nothing, but are rather co-inheritors with the natural son.

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom 8:15-17)

If we be joint heirs, then the modern translations are wrong. Jesus is the only begotten, but he is not the one and only. We are siblings, pure and simple.