Μονογενής = ‘only begotten’?

So says Charles Lee Irons, “Let’s Go Back to ‘Only Begotten,’” Gospel Coalition website, 23 Nov 2016: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/lets-go-back-to-only-begotten#_ftn3

Irons begins by noting that in the KJV there are five Johannine passages that speak of the “only begotten” Son of God (John 1.14, 18; 3.16, 18; 1 John 4.9). He then notes that in the modern era there has been a broad scholarly consensus that μονογενής means ‘one of a kind.’ He then accurately represents the rationale for this consensus: “Scholars have argued that the compound Greek adjective is not derived from monos (‘only’) + gennao (‘beget’) but from monos (‘only’) + genos (‘kind’). Thus, they argue, the term shouldn’t be translated ‘only begotten’ but ‘only one of his kind’ or ‘unique.’”

Irons offers as his first argument that μονογενής means ‘only begotten’ in some passages. This presumably means that there is no noun like ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ in the context to already suggest birth, though he does not say this. It is certainly what I expected in order for his argument to make much sense, however. Otherwise, ‘one and only son/daughter’ makes perfectly good sense, which would defeat his point.

Irons begins by citing one reference from Plato—Critias 113d: μονογενῆ θυγατέρα ἐγεννησάσθην. Here not only is ‘daughter’ mentioned explicitly, but also that she had been ‘born.’ If μονογενής here means ‘only begotten’ then an awkward tautology occurs: “They begot an only-begotten daughter.” (The Attic aorist middle dual is here used.)

Further, I was surprised to read his three biblical examples:
Luke 7.12: μονογενὴς υἱός—here ‘son’ is explicit.

Luke 8.42: θυγάτηρ μονογενής—again, explicit.

Luke 9.38: διδάσκαλε, δέομαί σου ἐπιβλέψαι ἐπὶ τὸν υἱόν μου, ὅτι μονογενής μοί ἐστιν. But here ‘son’ is already mentioned, so the ‘one and only’ [son] is simply good economical Greek style.

Thus, Irons’s approach so far is simply question begging.

He follows this up with 1 Clement 25.2 [Irons says it is 25.1], which speaks of the Phoenix as ‘one of a kind’ using μονογενής. He also mentions an unidentified text (‘an ancient treatise’) that speaks of trees as ‘in one kind.’ But he adds, “these are uniformly metaphorical extensions of the basic meaning…” That, too, is begging the question, because he is assuming that the essential idea of μονογενής has to do with birth.

Second, he says that “careful examination of the word list of Thesaurus Linguae Graecae reveals at least 145 other words based on the –genēs stem.” This is a more significant argument, but I would need to see his evidence before recognizing its validity. He also adds that “fewer than a dozen have meanings involving the notion of genus or kind.” To argue from other words that have the –γενής stem as though they must inform the meaning of μονογενής may seem to be imbibing etymological fallacy, especially since there are some –γενής words that have the force of ‘kind’ or ‘genus.’ However, if ‘begotten’ is the routine meaning diachronically, and especially synchronically during the Koine period, Irons may well have a point.

He does seem to engage in etymologizing, however, when he says that γενός and γεννάω “both genos and gennao derive from a common Indo-European root, ǵenh (‘beget, arise’).” He finishes his arguments by again claiming that –γενής essentially has to do with birth. The BDAG lexicon allows for the meaning ‘only begotten’ for μονογενής but seems to view this meaning as secondary. In addition, they note that in the Johannine literature “The renderings only, unique may be quite adequate for all its occurrences here.”

 All in all, Irons is right to focus on the data provided in TLG for this certainly expands our knowledge base of the term. But that he seems to have focused on cognates that have the morpheme –γενής rather than the specific usage of μονογενής, both diachronically and synchronically, is a weakness in his argument.


A Curator’s Guide — An Exploration into Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

img_9080The series continues this week with literature recommended by Rob Bowman on Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.


Arnold, Clinton E. Ephesians. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. Perhaps the best recent commentary on the epistle, by an evangelical scholar well known for his earlier work on Ephesians and Colossians.

Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002. Magnum opus of this influential Dallas Seminary professor; an indispensable reference.

Lincoln, Andrew T. Ephesians. Word Biblical Commentary 42. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. Brand-new, expanded edition of Lincoln’s standard academic, mainline commentary, first published in 1990 and revised in 2003.

Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. Excellent, evangelical commentary.


Cohick, Lynn H. Philippians. Story of God Bible Commentary. Tremper Longman III and Scot McKnight, gen. eds. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. Evangelical commentary in this relatively new series.

Hellerman, Joseph H. Philippians. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough, series eds. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015. New exegetical commentary by a NT professor at Biola University; presents detailed information about the Greek text alongside important background information.

__________. Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum. SNTSMS 132. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Arguably the best academic monograph on Philippians 2:6-11, one of the most debated passages in the Bible.

Reumann, John Henry Paul. Philippians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Yale Anchor Bible 33B. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008. Standard liberal Protestant academic commentary.

Silva, Moisés. Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992; 2nd ed., 2005. Still one of the very best commentaries on Philippians, by a well-known evangelical NT scholar.

Colossians and Philemon:

Barth, Markus. The Letter to Philemon: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000. Massive commentary on Paul’s shortest epistle, by Karl Barth’s son.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Letter to Philemon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 34C. New York: Doubleday, 2000. Standard academic commentary by a renowned Roman Catholic NT scholar.

Harris, Murray J. Colossians and Philemon. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Rev. ed. Nashville: B&H, 2010. Strong evangelical commentary, originally published 1991.

Johnson, Matthew V., James A. Noel, and Demetrius K. Williams, eds. Onesimus, Our Brother: Reading Religion, Race, and Culture in Philemon. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012. Essays exploring the epistle from African-American perspectives.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Pillar NT Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. Standard commentary by preeminent evangelical Pauline scholar.

Pao, David W. Colossians and Philemon. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. Recent commentary by an evangelical scholar.

Tolmie, D. F., and Alfred Friedl, eds. Philemon in Perspective: Interpreting a Pauline Letter. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010. Collection of papers from a 2008 conference, examining the epistle using a variety of methods.

Wilson, Robert McL. Colossians and Philemon. International Critical Commentary. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2005; paperback, 2014. An unusually conservative entry in this academically rigorous commentary series.

A Curator’s Guide — An Exploration into Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians

img_9080This week I am posting the latest installment from our Curator’s Guide series. Each week has brought you an expertly compiled list (put together by Rob Bowman) of helpful books to guide your study of the New Testament. This segment will contain the bibliographies for Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.


Note: This bibliography lists not five but six books on Romans, which has attracted more commentators than most other books of the Bible.

Byrne, Brendan, S.J. Romans. Sacra Pagina 6. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press—A Michael Glazier Book, 1996. Detailed commentary by a Jesuit scholar that supports at crucial points the correctness of the Protestant interpretation.

Dunn, James D. G. Romans. 2 Vols. WBC. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988. Controversial, stimulating commentary by a neo-evangelical theologian who supports the unconventional view (known as the New Perspective on Paul) of Paul’s critique of first-century Judaism.

Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006. Standard liberal commentary, a massive work drawing heavily on ancient literature, making full use of new critical methods, and treating Romans more culturally and ideologically than theologically.

*Kruse, Colin G.  Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Pillar NT Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. One of the very best and most recent commentaries on Romans, critiquing the New Perspective.

Moo, Douglas. The Epistle to the Romans. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. Excellent scholarly commentary by an evangelical scholar, sensitive to theological issues.

Schreiner, Thomas. Romans. BECNT 6. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. Evangelical exegetical and theological commentary that is critical of the approach taken by Dunn and other scholars.


Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians:

*Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. Perhaps the best overall, up-to-date commentary on 1 Corinthians.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, 2014. Magisterial commentary by the premier Pentecostal New Testament scholar.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible 32. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008. Best commentary representing mainstream critical scholarship, by a renowned Roman Catholic scholar.

Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. Massive commentary by an evangelical NT scholar.

Harris, Murray J. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2005. Exegetical commentary by a scholar especially noted for his close reading of the Greek text.

Malcolm, Matthew R. The World of 1 Corinthians: An Exegetical Source Book of Literary and Visual Backgrounds. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013. A commentary that focuses on explaining the historical and cultural references and contexts using numerous quotations from ancient sources as well as photographs and other visual aids.

Martin, Ralph P. 2 Corinthians. WBC 40. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. Standard academic commentary on 2 Corinthians by a renowned neo-evangelical Pauline scholar.

*Seifrid, Mark A. The Second Letter to the Corinthians. Pillar NT Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014. Just published, but reviews suggest this may now be the best commentary on 2 Corinthians.

Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000. Massive, philosophically and exegetically sophisticated commentary, notable for its standout, vigorous defense of the materiality of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15.

Witherington, Ben III. A Week in the Life of Corinth. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012. And now for something completely different: Witherington has written a novel about a Corinthian through whose eyes we come to understand Corinth, in the process illuminating our understanding of Paul’s epistles to the church there.



De Boer, Martinus C. Galatians. New Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. Standard mainline Protestant commentary, interpreting the epistle as an “apocalyptic sermon.”

Martyn, J. Louis. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries 33A. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. Standard mainline Protestant commentary, generally reflecting the New Perspective on Paul.

*Moo, Douglas J. Galatians. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013. Arguably the best evangelical commentary on Galatians, though Schreiner’s is certainly also worthy.

Nanos, Mark D., ed. The Galatians Debate. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Essays, generally by liberal and secular scholars, exemplifying rhetorical and socio-historical approaches to NT studies and contemporary academic scholarship on the interpretation of Galatians.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Galatians. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. Excellent evangelical commentary by the leading Southern Baptist Pauline scholar.

Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Evangelicals: ETS 2016 in San Antonio

On Wednesday, 16 November 2016, I had the honor of delivering the presidential address at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in San Antonio. The title of the lecture was “Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Evangelicals: Lessons from the Past, Guidance for the Future.” Essentially I argued that we can learn many things from the paratextual and codicological features of medieval manuscripts.


Codex 800 with wrap-around commentary

The lecture will be published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society next year. I would like to thank all of you who helped in the preparation of this message–especially CSNTM staff and interns–as well as all who responded afterward. The staff and interns need to be singled out here:

Staff: Rob Marcello and Andrew Bobo were especially helpful, as well as Stratton Ladewig, Christina Nations, Andy Patton, and Mark Arvé. Kudos to you all!

Interns: Laura Peisker, Micah Geyman, Colleen Doran, Joshua Smith, David Lopez, and Teddy Jestakom. You all helped immensely and responded quickly over the last few months to the myriad of sources I needed post haste for the paper. Thank you all!

I am very grateful for the privilege of having served as president of this Society, and I hope that its future will be bright. Sam Storms is now the president of the Society. He was responsible for selecting the plenary speakers on this year’s topic, the Trinity. I know that he will give an outstanding address at next year’s meeting. David Dockery will be the program chairman for the 2017 conference. I’m quite confident that it will be a terrific meeting. And Michael Thigpen and his staff (especially his wife, Bonnie) are to be thanked for their tireless efforts and timely communication. Without Mike as the Executive Director, ETS could hardly function. He is in charge of running the Society and he always seems to think four steps ahead of anyone else as to what is needed to make ETS both stronger and function smoothly.

Daniel B. Wallace
ex-president, Evangelical Theological Society

A Curator’s Guide — An Exploration into the Gospel of John

img_9080I continue our Curator’s series this week by bringing you Rob Bowman’s recommendations for the Gospel of John.


Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002. Short introduction and commentary by an evangelical, comparing John to the Synoptics and defending its historical credibility.

Edwards, Mark J. John. Blackwell Bible Commentaries. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. One of the first NT commentaries focusing on “reception criticism,” considering how John impacted the thought, literature, and life of its readers from the Gnostics to Dorothy Sayers, and engaging modern critical views and interpretations in that light.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. An absolute must: an evangelical historical and exegetical commentary grounded in a mastery of the ancient background sources.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. John. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. Relatively modest in length yet still detailed exegetical commentary by a leading evangelical Johannine scholar.

Lincoln, Andrew T. The Gospel according to Saint John. Black’s NT Commentary. London: Continuum, 2005; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. One of the few good, recent commentaries reflecting mainline, moderately critical scholarship.