The “Begotten Son” in Watchtower Theology

For any who have had interaction with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will know that in the midst of the conversation with them, they will consistently state that Jesus CANNOT be YHWH the Son because He is after all, begotten and therefore a temporal creature (Michael, the first creation of Jehovah God). The proof-texts that they use for this teaching are John 1:14, 18, 3:16 and 1 John 4:9. However, is this at all a valid argument? It turns out that it’s not on several fronts, as we will see in the following.

1)      First, from an ontological standpoint, something can only beget that which is in their (or “its” – i.e. animal kingdom) nature to beget. Hence, when the law of identity is invoked it is seen that God can create whatever he wishes, but He can only “beget” that which is in His nature, which would be in its full essence, God. Nowhere in all of Scripture does holy writ speak about YHWH begetting creation, or anything in creation. Rather, the terms “create” or “made” are invoked in reference to God’s creative act, which is far from how the Greek term “beget” is utilized (or not utilized) of the Son. So, in short, if the Son was indeed “begotten,” then it logically follows that He is of the same essence of the Father, because from a logical and ontological basis, something can only beget what is in their nature to beget (cat’s beget cats, dog’s beget dogs, and humans, humans).

2)      Next, for Christ to claim to be the Son of God means that He is of very nature, God of God and hence, could at no point of been created. Meaning, He is of the same essence of God (Heb 1:3) and it’s clear that His Sonship is that of one who is by very nature, YHWH the Son. Note that John 12:41 (c.f. Isa 6:1 LXX –[keyword > glory] Isaiah is speaking of YHWH, John tells us it was the Son), Hebrew 1:10-12 (c.f. Ps 102:25-27) and Philippians 2:9-11 (c.f. Isa 45:23) all ascribe the name, actions and attributes of YHWH to the Son; very passages which in their OT form are exclusive of YHWH, to include Psalm 102 and its declaration that YHWH is immutable and non-changing.

3)      Next, often, the Witness made a big to-do of the use of “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15. Their argument is that the use of this term ascribes temporality to the Son, and hence, proves that He is after all, the firstborn begotten Son. However, nothing could be further from the truth when the context of the verse is evaluated. First, while the Greek term can mean order of birth, which is not necessarily excluded from the context (Christ, the firstborn of the new salvific creation – i.e. covenant head), this term in its context is most assuredly speaking to Christ’s supremacy as the firstborn of creation. Meaning, this word is speaking to Christ’s special status as the firstborn heir of the creation, which He suffered for to save as noted below from the BDAG.

πρωτότοκος, ον …‘firstborn, heir apparent’.

① lit. pert. to birth order, firstborn …Gen 147, 7) Mt 1:25 v.l.; Lk 2:7the firstborn=all the firstborn…Hb 11:28

pert. to having special status associated with a firstborn, firstborn, fig. ext. of 1

ⓐ of Christ, as the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified, as its exalted Lord is glorified πρωτότοκος ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς Ro 8:29. Also simply πρωτότοκος Hb 1:6; cp. Rv 2:8 v.l. This expr., which is admirably suited to describe Jesus as the one coming forth fr. God to found the new community of believers, … Col 1:18; Rv 1:5. πρ. πάσης κτίσεως Col 1:15[1]

 And next, note how Louw-Nida defines this word in the context of Col 1:15

87.47 πρωτότοκοςc, ον: pertaining to existing superior to all else of the same or related class—‘superior to, above all.’ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως ‘existing superior to all creation’ Col 1:15.[2]

This interpretation of prototokos (firstborn) is confirmed by verse 18 which self-defines what the “firstborn” status of the Son is when it proclaims, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (c.f. Heb 1:2). Meaning, Christ and His firstborn status is speaking to His preeminence over creation, and not at all about a temporal status of being created, which is also refuted by the context because He is the creator of all things (not “all other things” as the NWT so perversely reads – see also what they do to “every name” in Phil 2:9) in every realm (vs. 16) who has the fullness of deity dwelling within Him (v. 19 c.f. Col 2:9).[3]

4)      Finally, as previously mentioned, the Witnesses derive their understanding of the begotteness of the Son from John 1:14, 18 (begotten god), 3:16 and 1 Jn 4:9, with the translations of each below;

  • 14  So the Word became flesh+ and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son+ from a father; and he was full of divine favor* and truth. (Jn 1:14, NWT)
  • 18  No man has seen God at any time;+ the only-begotten god+ who is at the Father’s side*+ is the one who has explained Him.+ (Jn 1:18, NWT)
  • 16  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son,+ so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. (Jn 3:16, NWT)
  • 9  By this the love of God was revealed in our case, that God sent his only-begotten Son+ into the world so that we might gain life through him.+ (1 Jn 4:9, NWT)

What these verses have in common is that they all share the Greek word, μονογενής (monogenes), which for years was translated as “only begotten” in the King James tradition. The reason for such a translation is due to the fact that for many years, translators believed that this word was derived from the term gennao, which is defined as, “23.58 γεννάωa: the male role in causing the conception and birth of a child—‘to be the father of, to procreate, to beget.’ Ἀβραὰμ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰσαάκ ‘Abraham was the father of Isaac’ Mt 1:2.” However, this understanding of monogenes has been outdated for many years, which is reflected in newer translations of the Bible that are not in the KJV line, such as the ESV, NET, LEB and NIV, all of which translate this word as “one and only” (LEB, NIV, NET, HCSB), or “only” (ESV, CEV). Note below how the Mounce Interlinear translates this word;

Mounce Jn 1_14

There’s an excellent reason for the linguistic shift in the newer translations, that being from “begotten” to “only,” “one and only” or “unique,” and this is due to the lexigraphical understanding of this word in modern scholarship, where this word, monogenes is defined as;

μονογενής, ές

pert. to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship, one and only, only (so mostly, incl. Judg 11:34; Tob 3:15; 8:17) of children: of Isaac, Abraham’s only son (Jos., Ant. 1, 222) Hb 11:17. Of an only son…

pert. to being the only one of its kind or class, unique (in kind) of someth. that is the only example of its category [4]

Please note that this word DOES NOT imply what gennao implies in regards to begetting or the like. Instead, monogenes speaks to the uniqueness of the Son, as being the only Son who is Himself, YHWH, the one who is Himself God (Jn 1:1c, 18, Rom 9:5, 2 Pet 1:1, Tit 2:13) and has always been in perfect and intimate relationship with the Father for all eternity (Jn 1:1a, 1:1b, 1:18). This is the very reason why, in John 17, Jesus can call the first member of the Trinity “Father” (v. 1) and “the only true God,” (v. 3), and yet ascribe eternal life to Himself as well (v. 3), along with the glory that the YHWH the Father possessed from all eternity (v. 5); a glory that according to Isaiah 42:8, YHWH shares with no other, “I am the Yahweh; that is my name, I do not give my glory to another, nor my praise to the idols” (Isa 42:8, LEB).

Hence, the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine of the temporal begetting of the Son is flawed from a philosophical perspective (law of identity – logical laws which are not outside of YHWH, but rather, reflect His perfect standard of rational – laws of logic are universal, abstract and invariable laws which transcend creation and as such, these laws must be extended from a mind that transcends creation), from a Biblical/contextual perspective (what it means to be the ONLY Son of the Father) and from a linguistic perspective (the meaning of monogenes as unique to a class, only, or only one – NOT BEGOTTEN). Hence, it is safe to say that the new and updated New World Translation (2013) is based on flawed scholarship in this area and therefore, it is right to proclaim that their doctrine and the proof-texts for their doctrine of temporal begotteness is nonexistent in the Scriptures (unless of course, they wish to change the argument for such a nonexistent doctrine).

Finally, there are verses in the Bible that do indeed speak to the temporal begetting of the Son. Psalm 2 speaks to this issue, but, this is always in reference to the Davidic throne which Christ is seated on. Remember, Psalm 2 is a Psalm about both David and Jesus, and the Davidic Covenant is founded on the promise that one from David seed will always be seated on the throne which God established with him. Hence, Psalm 102 and the “this day I have begotten you” (gannao, not monogenes) aspect of the text, along with the NT citations of this verse, contextually always speak to the Messianic office of the Son, and not a creation of or ontological begetting of the Son. For more on this issue, see the PDF below, which we went over in Sunday School two weeks ago.

Updated Begotten vs Unique

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies.

[3] In Col 2:9, the term theotetos is used of the Son, which the BDAG defines as “the state of being god, divine character/nature, deity, divinity, used as abstract noun for θεός (Orig., C. Cels. 7, 25, 9): τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θ. the fullness of deity Col 2:9.”

Louw-Nida defines this word as, “12.13 θεότης, ητος f; θειότης, ητος f; θεῖονa, ου n: (derivatives of θεόςa ‘God,’ 12.1) the nature or state of being God—‘deity, divine nature, divine being.’ θεότης: ἐν αὐτῷ κατοικεῖ πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς ‘in him dwells all the fullness of divine nature in bodily form’ Col 2:9.”

[4] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.