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12/31/2016

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Kevin Giles

Dear Lee, in this fourth post on the two versions of the Nicene Creed you again concentrate almost exclusively on trying to prove that the best way to translate the Greek word monogenes into English is “only-begotten”. You have still not convinced me that this word primary speaks of begetting. I still think the note of uniqueness is to the fore. However, I concede that every child or son is begotten and in the Greek fathers the Son is primarily thought of as the monogenes Son because he alone is eternally begotten.
In four long posts you have not once made any attempt to deal with the central question in dispute. You, Grudem and Ware argue that the Greek fathers predicated/based their doctrine of the eternal generation on the word monogenes and the texts in which this word is found in John’s Gospel. In my book, The Eternal Generation of the Son, chapter 3 I say this is NOT the basis. The doctrine arises because the Greek fathers inferred that an eternal Father implies an eternal Son and Fathers beget Sons of the same nature. As proof of their inference or deduction they quoted first of all Ps 2:7 and, Prov 8:5-26, which spoke of the begetting of a son or wisdom. You have to refute this argument and give convincing evidence for your counter proposal. So far you have not even attempted to do this.
Now to your fourth post.
Scholars are agreed, the wording of the 325 creed of Nicea is convoluted. The general consensus is that it is the amalgamation of two or more creeds known at the time put together by 318 bishops with the Emperor Constantine in the chair pressing for an answer whatever it might be! J N D Kelly says the Christological clause in this creed shows a “disregard for stylistic grace” (Early Christian Creeds, p. 215). Oskar Skarsaune, in his article to which you refer, notes that the wording and syntax of this clause has puzzled patristic scholars for years. There are no parallels to the wording found in this creed and no consensus on how best to translate the Greek.
Skarsaune seeks to answer two difficult questions the creed of 325 raises, how to construe the strangely-worded clause in which this word monogenes is found and how best to translate the word monogenes. On the first matter he points out as many others have before him that the word monogenes seems to be in the wrong place. One solution is that the word is in “asyndetic apposition to the foregoing phrase”, and thus should be translated something like, “the Son of God, begotten (gennao) of the Father (and) monogenes” - however this word is translated. Skarsaune rejects this solution, opting instead to read monogenes as giving “precision” to the word gennethenta. So he translates the Greek, “the Son of God, begotten as only begotten”( p. 36). In giving this translation he assumes that the meaning of monogenes is “only-begotten”. It is not until page 44 of his article, however, that Skarsaune admits that how to translate monogenes in the creed of 325 is contested. He says the meaning “the only one of its kind, … seems to be the original meaning – probably also the Johannine meaning” (p. 44). He argues however, that the translation “only begotten” is to be preferred in the creed of 325 because for Alexander of Alexandria the word had taken on this meaning rather than unique. To substantiate this claim he appeals to three passages in Bishop Alexander of Alexandria’s epistle to Alexander Bishop of Constantinople (p 43), passages you also quote to corroborate your agreement with Skarsaune that in this creed monogenes is best translated “only begotten”.
The quotations given by you and Skarsaune without a context made little sense to me so I went direct to volume 3 of NPNF, pages 35-41 where this epistle is given. I had not read the short work before. Thank you for sending me the Greek texts. This is what I discovered by inductively reading what Alexander writes.
1. What Bishop Alexander of Alexandria primarily writes about is his objection to Arius’ teaching, “there was a time when the Son was not”. This means for Arius, he concludes, that the Son is a creature.
2. On page 36, half way down in the first column Alexander of Alexandria writes, “To establish this insane doctrine, they [Arius and his followers] insult the scriptures” … he then denies the Son was created. Alexander then continues, “He [the Son] was not [created] is expressly taught by John the evangelist, who speaks of him as “the monogenes Son which is in the bosom of the Father. This divine teacher desired to show that the Father and the Son are inseparable; and therefore he said, ‘that the Son is in the bosom of the Father’. Moreover the same John affirms that the Word of God is not classed among things created out of the non-existent.”
My comment: In this passage the Son is called monogenes in a context in which Alexander is arguing that the Son uniquely is not created. This suggests the idea the Son is like no other Son; he is one of a kind. Alexander dos NOT quote John 1:18 to establish the eternal generation of the Son, a matter he does not mention in this passage, but rather to speak of the co-eternity of the Father and the Son and thus to exclude the Arian idea that the Son is created in time.
3. Alexander continues arguing in more detail against the creation of the Son in time, warning that we humans should not seek to comprehend God and his ways and affirms the dignity of the Son as the “first born” of all creation (page 37 at the top of column 2). Then on page 37, column 2 lower down in the middle of the second paragraph he says, “Hence it may be seen, that the Sonship of our Saviour has not even anything in common with the sonship of men” (it is unique in other words) and then he expounds on this point at great length. On page 38 column 1 second paragraph, Alexander concludes this argument by alluding to Ps 2:7, “The Lord said unto me, thou art my Son”, then adding the comment, “By proclaiming natural sonship he [God] shows that there are no other natural sons besides himself [i.e. Jesus]. In other words, Alexander is saying the divine Son is like no other Son; he is unique. Following these words he quotes the LXX of Ps 110:3, “I begot thee from the womb before the morning”.
My comment. We have here a very strong affirmation that the Son of God is like no other Son; he is one of a kind by nature. In his divine begetting he alone comes to share perfectly the same nature/being as the Father, and in support the classic proof texts Ps 2:7 and Ps 110:3 are cited. No Johannine texts are mentioned.
4. On page 39 column 2 first paragraph, we next find Alexander saying, “We believe, as is taught by the apostolic church, in an only unbegotten Father, who of his own being hath no cause immutable and invariable, and who subsists always in one state of being, admitting neither progression nor diminution … and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the monogenes Son of God, begotten not out of that which is not, but of the Father, who is yet not after the manner of material things”. Following these words Alexander quotes Is 53:8, “who shall declare his generation”, another common proof text for the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
Comment: In this section of his letter Alexander clearly differentiates the Father and the Son as unbegotten God and begotten God; identifies Jesus Christ as the monogenes Son who uniquely is begotten of the Father; makes the point that his generation is “not after the manner of material things” and appeals to Ps 110:3 and Is 53:8. No text from John’s Gospel is mentioned. However what I need to point out more than anything else is the most serious error your personally make is by claiming Alexander words, [We believe] “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the monogenes Son of God, begotten …”, written in about 324, “foreshadow the language of the Nicene creed itself”. You must mean the creed of Nicea in 325 as you have not yet come to the Nicene creed of 381. These words do not reflect the words of the creed of 325. What Alexander writes in fact perfectly reflects the words of the creed of 381 where as I will show the consensus is that we confess “Jesus Christ the only (monogenes) Son, eternally begotten of the Father ...” two things, Jesus Christ is the only Son AND he is eternally begotten. What this means is that Alexander’s words support reading the 325 creed as also speaking of two things, the uniqueness of the Son and his begetting by th Father, albeit in confused syntax.
5. Towards the bottom of column 2, page 39, Alexander says “we believe that the Son has always existed with the Father for he is ‘the brightness of his [God’s] glory, and the express image of his Fathers person’” (Heb 1:3). Then he adds, “But let no one be led by the word ‘always’ to imagine the Son is unbegotten”.
Comment: Alexander quotes Heb 1:3 not as proof of the eternal generation of the Son but as indicating his divine glory and status. The denial that the Son is unbegotten is an aside that excludes the thought that there can be two unbegotten Gods, as the Arians accused their opponents of teaching. The Father alone is unbegotten God; the Son alone begotten God.
6. On page 40 column 1 Alexander elaborates on why the Father alone is called “unbegotten”. He says this “individual dignity must be reserved to the Father as the Unbegotten One , because no being called the cause of his existence”. The he adds, “To the Son likewise must be given the honour that befits him” as begotten God.
Conclusion: Lee you appeal to this letter to corroborate your assertion that monogenes should be translated into English as “only-begotten” in the creed of 325 but the text of the letter itself does not establish your belief. Alexander emphases the uniqueness of the Son in that he alone is begotten God. This observation suggest the translation “only Son; the unique Son”. To conclude by claiming that “there can be little doubt that Alexander thinks monogenes means “only-begotten” is again simply an assertion and as I have shown in direct contradiction to the facts of the case. What is more, in Alexander’s letter no appeal is made to the Johannine texts in which the word monogenes is used to support of the generation of the Son by the Father and Heb 1:3 is quoted to speak of the glory and dignity of the Son, not his eternal generation.

Why you appeal to Skarsaune’s article puzzles me. He does not help your case. He openly admits the wording of the creed of 325 is very difficult and offers two fairly equally balanced alternatives in how to construe the difficultly-worded clause in which monogenes is found, one of which favours the meaning unique/only Son and two possible meanings for the word monogenes, the Biblical and the ecclesiastical. I for one would prefer the Biblical. I want to believe when I recite the Nicene Creed (of 381) I am saying what John the apostle believed he was saying when he designated Jesus Christ the monogenes Son. He is the only (unique) Son of the Father.

The Nicene Creed of 381. You rightly note the wording of this creed is different to the creed of 325. In particular, the word monogenes is in a different location in the Christological clause. You translate the Greek sentence in contention as, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God (monogenes), begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light ... .” Your translation of monogenes “only- begotten, does not convince me. The repetition does not seem right, “only begotten, eternally begotten”. Yes, all languages allow repetition as you say and we find repetition in this creed but reduplication is another thing. A more basic linguistic rule is that when you find two very different words you conclude first of all that thy must speak of different things.
In opposition to your translation of these words I endorse the translation of the Greek agreed to by all the churches. In the ecumenically agreed wording of the creed, we Christians believe in “Jesus Christ the only (monogenes) Son, eternally begotten of the Father ...” Two things are confessed, Jesus Christ is the only Son AND he is eternally begotten. All English speaking Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterian’s, Methodists, Reformed, Presbyterian, etc, take this to be the right translation of the Greek.
An individual can have another opinion on how to translate the Greek but it is just an idiosyncratic opinion. Orthodox theologians must always prioritise the translation of a creed or confession approved and promulgated by the whole church.
The wrong anchor. As you draw your fourth post to a conclusion you claim that the “the word monogenes is the anchor” on which all else in the creed of 381 depends. I totally disagree. The confession that Jesus is the monogenes Son of God – however the Greek word is translated - is hugely important but what is foundational in the Christological section of the creed is the eternal begetting of the Son. It is because the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, not created, that he is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God one in being with the Father.” He is omnipotent God without any caveats.

I conclude once again you have not convinced me that the word monogenes should be translated into English as “only begotten”, or this word and the texts in which it is found are the biblical basis for the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. You have one last try to prove this to me in your fifth and final post.

Kevin Giles
6-1-2017



Kevin Giles
6-1-2017


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