Begotten. Not a word we use every day. And it certainly didn’t make the trending words list for this year. Nevertheless, begotten is theologically dense. It’s packed full of doctrinal insight. In what is perhaps the most famous verse in all Scripture, we read, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 nasb). Many, like myself, hear the word begotten for the first time and think, “What does that mean?”
How one defines this word will say a lot about who they understand Jesus to be. It’s a word we can’t afford to misinterpret as many false teachers have done. Numerous wolves in sheep clothing have misconstrued begotten and heretically emptied Jesus of His divinity.
In its literal sense, begotten refers to a child who shares the same nature as his father. False teachers have taught that the word means produced, made, or created. But think about it. If Jesus was produced, made, or created, He’s not divine. This is crucial. If words matter—and they do—then rarely has a word mattered more.
This word powerfully shows that Jesus shares the same divine nature as the Father. Begotten is meant to equate Jesus with the Father, not deflate Him before the Father. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis colors this word for us by illustrating what it means:
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 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.
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.
Jesus’s divine nature has been defended since the early church. In the fourth century, a teacher named Arius taught that Jesus was a created being and refused to embrace the divinity of Christ. Emperor Constantine called together a group of bishops at Nicea to settle the Arian controversy once and for all. By the end of the council, the bishops had formulated a creed that rejected Arianism by strongly affirming that Jesus was “begotten, not made.” This wonderfully worded creed was meant to state with the precision that Jesus Christ is Immanuel. God with us.