|John 1:17b-18 in Codex Alexandrinus.|
John 1:18 contains one of the most significant textual variants in the New Testament: did John write ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός – “the only-begotten Son” – as the vast majority of Greek manuscripts read, or ὁ μονογενης θεος” – “the only begotten God – as a few Alexandrian manuscripts read? Or did John write μονογενης θεος (without the Greek article ὁ)? Or did John write something else?
If mere quantities of witnesses were decisive, the question would be settled in a moment: about 1,610 Greek manuscripts read ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός. Seventeen Greek manuscripts read υἱός accompanied by a minor variation. (Details from Text und Textwurk: 225, 352*, 581, 1126, 1171, 1651, 2311 and 2462 read ὁ μονογεννὴς υἱός and 2546 reads ὁ μονογενὴς ὁ υἱός and 2479 and 2528 read μονογενὴς υἱός, and 2192 reads ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός του θεου and 1116 reads ὁ μονογενὴς γαρ υἱός; the other variants are trivial.) Seven Greek manuscripts read θεός, of which only five – P66, À*, B, C*, and L – do not have the article ὁ before μονογενὴς.
The reading adopted in NA27 is attested in .3% of the extant Greek manuscripts. Here, as elsewhere, one may sense the inconsistency of those who speak about “an embarrassment of riches” in the church’s textual treasury and then proceed to adopt readings which imply that 99.7% of the coins are counterfeit.
Rather than observe such an overwhelming wave of evidence and call it a day, we should consider ancient evidence – and when we do, this contest becomes less lopsided.
Data that pertains to this textual contest can be harvested from the textual apparatus of the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition, from Ezra Abbot’s 1861 article, On the Reading ‘Only-begotten God’ in John 1:18, from Hort’s 1876 dissertation On the Words Μονογενὴς Θεός, and from Paul McReynolds’ essay John 1:18 in Textual Variation and Translation (on pages 105-118 of New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis, 1981).
That data needs to be carefully processed. The first thing that needs to be done is to realize that there are more than two horses in the race, so to speak. ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (The only begotten Son) is the majority reading; μονογενης θεος (only begotten God) is the reading supported by Papyrus 66, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus; ὁ μονογενὴς θεος is supported by Papyrus 75, by an early corrector of Codex Sinaiticus, and by minuscule 33. Codex W, in a supplemental section, has a slightly different reading: εἱ μὴ ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (“except the only begotten Son”). And, as we shall see, some patristic witness support ὁ μονογενὴς, with neither “Son” nor “God.”
A word of caution may be in order regarding an online essay by Brian J. Wright, Jesus as Θεος (God): A Textual Examination. Though described by Daniel Wallace as “outstanding,” and certainly more thorough than most commentaries, the essay contains so many errors that readers are well-advised to avoid relying on Wright’s work without double-checking it. A few examples of the errors in Wright’s essay may convey why it should be considered thin ice: (1) Wright listed S* among the witnesses for μονογενὴς θεός; however, this is surely because Wright used a source in which the letter “S” was used in place of “À” and Wright simply failed to realize this, and misreported À’s testimony twice. (2) Wright listed Codex D as a witness for ὁ μονογενὴς θεός; however, Codex D – that is, Codex Bezae – is not extant for John 1:18. (3) Wright listed Hilary among the witnesses for μονογενὴς θεός. (The term is used by Hilary in On the Councils, chapter 36). However, as Ezra Abbot observed over 150 years ago, although the term “unigenitus Deus” is often used by Hilary, that does not mean that the phrase was in Hilary’s manuscripts of John. Abbot observed that Hilary “has never quoted the passage with this reading” (i.e., with μονογενὴς θεός) “but has, on the contrary, expressly quoted it seven times with the reading filius; and not only so, but has commented upon it in such a way (De Trin. Lib. VI. c. 39) as to demonstrate beyond question that he thus read the passage.” (4) His use of Apostolic Constitutions as a witness for “only begotten God” as a reading in John 1:18 does not appear to be based on Scripture-quotations, but merely on the use of the phrase “only begotten God” in Apostolic Constitutions 3:17, 5:20, 8:7 and 8:35.
Dispensing with such foggy goggles, let’s look at some patristic evidence in more detail (as well as evidence from three early versions), beginning with the composition Against Heresies, written in the late 170s and early 180s by Irenaeus, the famous apologist and bishop of Lyons. (Beside most of the following witnesses I have placed a dot: a red dot = support for “Son,” a blue dot = support for “God,” a green dot = support for both readings, a grey dot = support for something else, and unclear evidence receives no dot.)
● Irenaeus (c. 180). The testimony of Irenaeus supports both “Son” and “God.” In Book 3, 11:5-6, Irenaeus states, “The God who made the earth, and commanded it to bring forth fruit, who established the waters, and brought forth the fountains, was He who in these last times bestowed upon mankind, by His Son, the blessing of food and the favor of drink: the Incomprehensible [acting thus] by means of the comprehensible, and the Invisible by the visible; since there is none beyond Him, but He exists in the bosom of the Father. For ‘No man,’ he says, ‘has seen God at any time,’ unless ‘the only-begotten Son of God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared [Him].’ For He, the Son who is in His bosom, declares to all the Father who is invisible. Wherefore they know Him to whom the Son reveals Him; and again, the Father, by means of the Son, gives knowledge of His Son to those who love Him.”
In this use of John 1:18, even with the addition of the words “of God,” it is clear that Irenaeus was using a text that read υἱός and not θεός; not only is υἱός in the quotation but it is also in Irenaeus’ comment which immediately follows (“For He, the Son who is in His bosom,” etc.).
In Book 4, 20:6-7, Irenaeus writes, “He [i.e., God] is by no means unknown: for all things learn through His Word that there is one God the Father, who contains all things, and who grants existence to all, as is written in the Gospel: ‘No man has seen God at any time, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; He has declared [Him].’ Therefore the Son of the Father declares [Him] from the beginning, inasmuch as He was with the Father from the beginning.”
Irenaeus may have used a text of John in which εἱ μὴ preceded ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός in 1:18, as in Codex Wsupp, but regardless, υἱός is clearly favored in this quotation and in the subsequent comment (“Therefore the Son of the Father,” etc.). Hort’s attempt (in his 1876 work Two Dissertations) to spin away from this conclusion is not plausible, despite his confident tone.
Only shortly later in Book 4, in 20:11, Irenaeus uses a different reading of John 1:18, stating, “It is manifest that the Father is indeed invisible, of whom also the Lord said, ‘No man has seen God at any time.’ But His Word, as He Himself willed it, and for the benefit of those who beheld, did show the Father’s brightness, and explained His purposes, as also the Lord said: ‘The only-begotten God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared [Him].’” This quotation in 4:20:11, while not accompanied by confirmatory exposition, clearly supports the reading θεός. While it may seem unlikely that Irenaeus would cite two different forms of John 1:18, or that he would fail to point out that they were verbally different, that seems to be what has occurred.
While on the subject of Irenaeus’ writings, it should be noted that there is an issue regarding Irenaeus’ statement that Irenaeus stated that the Valentinians described the Arche-emanation as μονογενὴς θεός; Paul McReynolds states that Irenaeus claimed that the Valentinians describe the Αρχη as Son and Only-begotten and God (that is, υἱόν και μονογενὴ και θεόν). However, Hort preferred to follow the text of Epiphanius’ extract from Irenaeus as it appears “in the
” [Venice MS II. 483, I think] with και υἱόν και μονογενὴ θεόν which, Hort said, agrees with the properly
compiled Latin text, “et Filium et
Unigenitum Deum” and disagrees with “the common text.” Following Hort’s approach, it appears that
the Valentinians in Irenaeus’ time used the term “only begotten God.” Venice MS
● The Diatessaron (172). The Diatessaron appears to support neither major contender. The Arabic Diatessaron, although it echoes the arrangement in which Tatian ordered the text of the Gospels in the second century, is not a safe stand-alone guide to Tatian’s text where details are concerned, and regarding the text of John 1:18 almost certainly only echoes the Peshitta, in a form extant in 873 (when the Arabic Diatessaron’s Syriac ancestor-manuscript was made). Are there other relevant Diatessaronic witnesses? Yes. Ephrem Syrus, writing a commentary on the Diatessaron around 360, used John 1:18 in a form which favored neither “only begotten Son” nor “only begotten God” but which read simply “the only Begotten,” treating the Syriac equivalent of μονογενὴς as a noun. Similarly, in about 345, Aphrahat, another Syriac writer who used the Diatessaron, wrote in part 6 of Demonstration Six (On Monks), “The Only Begotten who is from the bosom of His Father shall cause all the solitaries to rejoice.”
● Hippolytus (190s). In Contra Noetum 5 Hippolytus specifically quotes John 1:18: “For John also says, ‘No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
● Tertullian (very early 200s). In Against Praxeus 15:6, Tertullian utilizes John 1:18 with clear support for “only-begotten Son”: “It is of course the Father, with whom was the Word, the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, and has Himself declared Him.”
● Clement of
(150-215). In Stromateis 5:12. Clement
clearly uses John 1:18 with θεός: “John the apostle says, ‘No man has seen God
at any time. The only-begotten God, who
is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.’” Yet in Who Is the Rich Man Who Shall Be Saved, part 37, we read as
follows: “For what further need has God
of the mysteries of love? And then you
shall look into the bosom of the Father, whom God the only-begotten Son alone
has declared.” And in Stromateis 1:26, we read: “The
expounder of the laws is the same one by whom the law was given; the first
expounder of the divine commands, who unveiled the bosom of the Father, the
only-begotten Son.” McReynolds provided
the Greek text of the final phrase: –
ο τον κόλπον του Πατρος εξηγούμενος υιος μονογενής. Unless Clement’s compositions’ text has been
thoroughly altered by scribes, it would appear that Clement knew of forms of
John 1:18 with “only begotten God” and with “only begotten Son.” Alexandria
● Origen (184-253). In his Commentary on John, 2:29, Origen makes a clear utilization of John 1:18 with ὁ μονογενὴς θεός: “Accordingly John came to bear witness of the light, and in his witness-bearing he cried, saying, ‘He that comes after me exists before me; for He was before me; for of His fullness we have all received and grace for grace, for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.’ This whole speech is from the mouth of the Baptist bearing witness to the Christ. Some take it otherwise, and consider that the words from ‘for of His fullness’ to ‘He has declared Him’ are from the writer, John the Apostle.”
In Contra Celsum 2:71, Origen supports θεός in some copies of this composition, but two copies of it read υιος: “Jesus taught us who it was that sent Him, in the words, ‘None knows the Father but the Son,’ and in these, ‘No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Very probably the copies with υιος represent scribal conformations to the Gospels-text known to later copyists of the composition, as Hort explains in Note A in his dissertation.
● The Sahidic version (late 200s or 300s). Although most Sahidic copies of John are relatively late, the situation changed with the publication in 1981 of P. Palau Ribes 183, part of a Sahidic Gospels-manuscript which has been assigned to the 400s. (This production-date is not secure, due to the consistency of Coptic scripts in the 400s-700s, but even a production-date in the 700s would be relatively early, as Sahidic manuscripts go.) The manuscript known as P. Palau Ribes 183 reads as follows, according to Coptic specialist Alin Suciu: “No one has ever seen God. God, the only Son, the one who is in the bosom of his Father, that one is he about whom he spoke.”
● The Epistle of Hymenaeus (270). Also known as The Epistle of Six Bishops, or, The Epistle to Paul of Samosata, this letter was written and signed by Hymenaeus the bishop of
who presided at the Council of Antioch in 264/268. It was also signed by five other bishops
(Theophilus, Theotecnus, Maximus, Proclus, and Bolanus) to express their
opposition against the teachings of Paul of Samosata. It was mentioned and summarized by Eusebius
of Caesarea. Its text supports ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός. Jerusalem
● Hegemonius (late 200s/300s). According to an obscure writer named Heraclianus of Chalcedon, Hegemonius was the person who wrote down the contents of Archelaus’ Dispute with Manes, but Epiphanius and Jerome claim that the author was Archelaus himself, which would place its composition-date in 277. It does not seem impossible that Archelaus wrote this composition in Syriac and Hegemonius made a definitive translation. The latest possible date for the Greek text of this work is the 370’s, since Epiphanius used extracts from it. In part 32, Archelaus makes a clear utilization of John 1:18 with “only-begotten Son” – “No man has seen God at any time, save the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.” (Notice that here we have another witness that agrees with Codex W.)
● Eustathius of
337). This writer, in the 18th
chapter of his work, De Engastrimytho
Contra Origenem, utilized John 1:18 with ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός, and commented on
the verse. (The citation is in Volume 18
of Migne’s Patrologia Graece, in
column 652, digital page #333.) Antioch
● Eusebius of
Caesarea (early 300s). The testimony of Eusebius, who is cited in UBS4 as if he utilized ὁ μονογενὴς θεός three times
out of seven utilizations, was tested by Abbot, who (in citation-references on
page 859 of his article, in a footnote) observed that Eusebius repeatedly used
John 1:18 with υἱός. As evidence, Abbot
mentioned De Ecclesiastica Theologia,
Book 1, chapter 20, in paragraphs 4, 5, and 7, and Book 2, chapter 23, and a
comment on Psalm 73:11, and a comment on Isaiah 6:1, where the entire phrase,
“the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father,” is found.
Abbot countered the claim (previously advanced by Tregelles) that Eusebius utilized John 1:18 with θεός in De Ecclesiastica Theologia, Book 1, chapter 9, by succinctly showing that the passage supports υἱός more than it supports θεός. Abbot noticed that in De Ecclesiastica Theologia, Book 3, chapter 7, Eusebius states that the Father alone may be called “the One God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; but the Son [may be called] only-begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father,” – (in the Greek text here, there is no article) – “and the Paraclete, Spirit, but neither God nor Son.” Abbot minimized this statement as something less than a direct quotation, but to me, it looks like a utilization of John 1:18 with no article before μονογενὴς, followed by θεός.
● Athanasius of
(296-373). The bishop of Alexandria in the early
300s might be expected to promote the Alexandrian reading of John 1:18 – but
that is not what we find. Instead, in Defense
of Nicea 5:7, Athanasius uses
John 1:18 with “the only-begotten Son”
as one of the proof-texts that Christ is begotten, not created. And in Discourse
2, Athanasius quoted John 1:18 with ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός in the midst of a
theological discussion. Alexandria
In the composition Contra Sabellians, which is sometimes attributed to Athanasius, all of John is cited with “ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός.” If this is not the work of Athanasius then it is the work of another, slightly later, Greek writer.
(250-336) and Auxentius of (d. 374). Arius is the infamous heretic; Auxentius
is an Arian bishop who held the office of bishop in Milan in the 300s before Ambrose. Auxentius, in his creedal statement of Arian
beliefs, said that Wulfilas (translator of the Gothic version, and regarded as
an Arian late in his career) taught that God the Father “did create and beget,
make, and establish an only-begotten God (unigenitum
deum).” Auxentius used the term
“only-begotten God” three more times: Milan
(1) Auxentius stated that Wulfilas handed down the argument that “If the inexhaustible power of the only-begotten God (unigeniti dei) is reliably said to be capable of having made all things celestial and terrestrial, invisible and visible, and is believed rightly and faithfully by us Christians, why is it not credited that the passionless power of God the Father might create His only-begotten Son?”
(2) Auxentius stated that Wulfilas “spread abroad, by his words and tractates, that the Father and the Son were different in their divinity, unbegotten God and only-begotten God (dei ingeniti et dei unigeniti).
(3) Auxentius stated, “An unbegotten God being in existence, and one Lord only-begotten existing by God, the Holy Spirit Advocate can be said to be neither God nor Lord.”
Although Auxentius never cites John 1:18, it is at least clear from his statements that Arians in the 300s had no objection to the phrase “only begotten God.” This phrase does not appear in John 1:18 in any Old Latin manuscripts; yet the Arians in the West were entirely comfortable using it. The notion that the reading in John 1:18 with θεός was a particularly powerful weapon in defense of Trinitarian orthodoxy rings hollow in light of this; it is rather baffling to find modern apologists treating the reading “only-begotten God” as if it is a bulwark against Arianism. (See, for example, Bob Utley’s claim that John 1:18 with “only-begotten God” is “a strong affirmation of the full and complete deity of Jesus!”)
● De Sanctissima Trinitate Confessio (300s). This Latin text is usually attributed to Eusebius Vercellensis, although this attribution is not secure; the composition in any event is from no later than the late 300’s. According to McReynolds, in 4:16 the author quotes John 1:18 with “only-begotten Son” (unigenitus filius) in its fourth chapter.
● Hilary of
(310-367). In chapter
39 of Book Six of On the Trinity, Hilary
specifically quotes John 1:18 and interprets it: “Let him speak to us in his own familiar voice: No one has seen God at any
time, except the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father. It
seemed to him that the name of Son did not set forth with sufficient
distinctness His true divinity, unless he gave an external support to the peculiar
majesty of Christ by indicating the difference between Him and all others. Hence he not only calls Him the ‘Son,’ but
adds the further designation of the ‘Only-begotten,’ and
so cuts away the last prop from under this imaginary adoption. For the fact that
He is Only-begotten is proof positive of His right to the name of Son.” (Notice the “except,” as if Hilary’s text is
an ally of Codex Wsupp.) Poitiers
Hilary rather frequently uses the phrase “only begotten God” in his writings, but when he makes citations of John 1:18, he shows plainly that his Gospels-text supports “the only begotten Son.”
● Phoebadius of Agen (mid-300s). This Latin-writing bishop in northeast
was in the thick of theological controversies; he wrote Against
the Arians (Contra Arianos) in 358.
In chapter 12, part 4, as Phoebadius confronts Arian teachings, he
quotes from the Gospel of John: “For
John says, ‘No one has ever seen God except the only-begotten Son who is in the
bosom of the Father.’” This composition
is plausibly as old as Codex Sinaiticus; yet Phoebadius’ name seldom appears in
commentaries. (Notice again the
agreement with Wsupp.) Italy
● Gregory Nazianzus (329-390). Gregory Nazianzus provides a clear citation of John 1:18 in his Third Theological Oration (also titled Oration 29), chapter 17, using John 1:18 as a proof-text for the deity of Christ: “Then the Son is only-begotten: ‘The only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father,’ it says, ‘He has declared Him.’”
● Basil (330-379). In De Spiritu Sancto 8, 15, and 27, in 375, Basil used a series of proof-texts. In chapter 15, as Basil demonstrated that the exaltation of Christ as divine is Scriptural, he wrote: “We ask them to listen to the Lord Himself, distinctly setting forth the equal dignity of His glory with the Father, in His words, ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father,’ and again, ‘When the Son comes in the glory of His Father,’ ‘that they should honor the Son even as they honor the Father, and, ‘We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father,’ and, ‘The only-begotten God which is in the bosom of the Father.’ Of all these passages they take no account, and then assign to the Son the place set apart for His foes. A father’s bosom is a fit and becoming seat for a son, but the place of the footstool is for them that have to be forced to fall.”
In chapter 8 of De Spiritu Sancto, Basil writes that the Scripture “uses terms descriptive of His nature, for it recognizes the name which is above every name, the name of Son, and speaks of true Son, and only-begotten God, and power of God, and Wisdom, and Word.”
At the end of chapter 11 of De Spiritu Sancto, Basil clearly shows that his text of John 1:18 read θεός: following a quotation of First Corinthians 12:3, he states, “And, ‘No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten God which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.’”
● Gregory of Elvira (mid/late 300s). This opponent of Arianism quoted John 1:18 in Latin in the composition-collection known as Tractatus Origenis (Tractate 16, part 25), preceded by a quotation of Exodus 33:20: “Non poteris faciem meam videre, nemo enim vidit Deum et vixit? Salvator quoque in evangelio: Deum, inquit, nemo vidit umquam nisi unicus filius, qui est in sinu Patris.” This supports “only begotten Son.”
● The Peshitta (late 300s). The standard Syriac translation supports “only begotten God.” There is some inconsistency in how the Peshitta’s text of John 1:18 has been translated; to settle this question I consulted Dr. Jeff Childers, who provided the following information:
“The expression ihidaya Alaha is pretty straightforward grammatically. The noun Alaha (“God”) is being modified by the adjectival ihidaya. It cannot mean “ihidaya of God” – that would be quite a different construction. It literally means, the “ihidaya God.”
Again: the Peshitta supports ὁ μονογενὴς θεός.
● Didymus the Blind (313-398) (maybe). The testimony of Didymus should be viewed through the lens of the suspicion that someone other than Didymus is the author of De Trinitate. Whoever the author of De Trinitate was, he utilized John 1:18 with θεός in , and 2:5. According to Hort, Didymus used the same text in a comment on Psalm 76:14. McReynolds lists Didymus’ Commentary on Zachariah 5:33 and Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12:5 as additional utilizations of John 1:18 with θεός.
● Epiphanius (late 300s). According to Hort, in Ancoratus 2:5, 3:9 and in Panarion 612, 817, Epiphanius utilizes John 1:18 with θεός; unfortunately Hort did not specify whether the article was present or not.
● Serapion of Thmuis (300s) and Titus of Bostra (d. 378) have been confused with one another in earlier editions of the
UBS Greek New Testament; both authors wrote
compositions titled “Against the
Manichaeans.” Without going into
detail about the causes of the confusion (See Robert P. Casey’s 1928 article in
Harvard Theological Review for
details), it should be sufficient to note that John 1:18 with ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός is utilized in Adversus Manichaeos 3:6 – the text is in
Volume 18 of Migne’s Patrologia Graecae,
col. 1224 (digital page #631) – and in the same composition, further along (in
column 1240, on digital page #639), the author quotes John 1:18 with the
reading “ὁ Μονογενὴς Υἱός Θεός,” and the author describes this as a statement
from the Gospel. (A Syriac version of
Titus of Bostra’s Against the Manichaeans
is extant in a manuscript dated to 411.)
● Ambrose of
(340-397). This famous bishop quotes John 1:18 with
“only-begotten Son” several times, such as in his work De Ioseph, 14:84 (composed in 388) and in his Exposition on Luke, 1:25 – “Et addidit quod ultra caelestis est
potestates: unigenitus filius, qui est
in sinu patris, ipse enarravit.” Milan
● John Chrysostom (349-407). This famous writer quoted John 1:18 seven times, and every quotation supports ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός. A definitive example is Chrysostom’s Homily 15 on John; another is in his composition On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, 4:3 and 5:1 (found in Vol. 48 of Migne’s Patrologia Graece, columns 731 and 736; digital page #211 and #215).
● Cyril of
444). Cyril of Alexandria might naturally be
expected to strongly support μονογενὴς θεός – and he does. In his Commentary
on John, chapter 10, in the course of commenting on John , the text which forms the
heading of the chapter contains μονογενὴς θεός.
In the commentary, Cyril restates the verse slightly loosely: “No man has seen God at any time; for the Only-Begotten, Himself being God, which is in the bosom of God the Father, made this declaration to
us.” In the same paragraph, Cyril
repeatedly uses the phrase “only-begotten God” and attributed it to John’s
Gospel. Cyril also quotes John 1:18 with
“The only begotten God” in his Five Tomes
Against Nestorius. (In one
instance in his work against Nestorius, and once in the extant text of Cyril’s Thesaurus de Sancta Substantiali Trinitate,
in part 35, John’s Gospel is specifically cited and the full contents of John
1:18 are quoted with ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός; these are almost certainly scribal
conformations by the copyist of Cyril’s works; in his Thesaurus, Cyril refers to the contents of John 1:18 a few
sentences later in the composition, using the expression, “The only-begotten God the Word.”
The scribes who made these conformations were strangely inconsistent, altering
some quotations, but not others which were nearby.) Alexandria
● Adimantus (mid/late 300s). This Manichaean heretic wrote a book and Augustine wrote a response to Adimantus’ book. Usually when Augustine quotes John 1:18, he uses unigenitus to represent “only-begotten,” but in Contra Adimantum 9, a quotation of John appears in which unicus is used instead: deum nemo vidit umquam nisi unicus filius qui est in sinu patris ille adnuntiavit vobis de eo. (See pages 144-145 of Hugh Houghton’s Augustine’s Text of John, © 2008 H. A. G. Houghton, Oxford University Press.) Repeatedly in Contra Adimantus, Augustine’s quotations from John depart from the form that he usually employs, suggesting that in these particular quotations, Augustine is quoting passages of John as they were presented in Adimantus’ composition.
● Augustine (354-430). Augustine utilized John 1:18 without a noun after “only-begotten” in Tractate on the Gospel of John, 3:17 (similar to the Diatesaronic reading used by Ephrem and Aphrahat). In Tractate 31:3, however, he quotes the verse with “only-begotten Son,” (with the Latin equivalent of ει μη) and in Tractate 35:5 he quotes the verse more precisely, and again in Tractate 47:3: “He Himself has said, ‘No one has seen God at any time; but the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
● Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428). In Theodore’s commentary on John (composed probably in 404-408), John 1:18 is utilized twice, once with “God the only-begotten,” (as he introduces the verse) and once (in his comment on John 1:29) with “Only Son.” (See pages 18 and 20 of the English translation of Theodore’s Commentary on John by Marco Conti, edited by Joel C. Elowsky, published by InterVarsity Press, 2010.) In a comment on Psalm 34:13, Theodore quotes John 1:18 twice, using ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός. (For details see pages 368-369 of Robert C. Hill’s 2006 Theodore of Mopsuestia – Commentary on Psalms 1-81, Translation with Introduction and Notes, published by the Society for Biblical Literature.) (It is tempting to conclude that some copyist who was influenced by the Peshitta is responsible for the one instance of “God the only-begotten.”)
● The Ethiopic Version (300s or 400s). Hort, in Note C of his 1876 dissertation, described 19 Ethiopic manuscripts of John: two at
and 19 at the (all of which are
very late). Hort seems to have concluded
that two Ethiopic manuscripts support “the
only-begotten God,” one supports “the
only-begotten of God” (a reading
which aligns with a paraphrastic form of the verse used by Eusebius, ὁ
μονογενὴς του θεου, in a comment on
Psalm 67:2-4), and the remaining 13 support “only-begotten one Son.” British
An edition of the Ethiopic text made in 1862 by Solomon Caesar Malan gave the impression that the Ethiopic Version favors “the only Son” in John 1:18, with “unto us” at the end of the verse. (Notice that Cyril of Alexandria also supports a form of John 1:18 with “unto us” at the end.)
More recently, it has been ascertained (via carbon-dating) that the Ethiopic Garima Gospels were produced in or about the 400s-500s, a date far earlier than any other Ethiopic Gospels-manuscript has been ascertained to have. A consultation with Michael Wechsler, who edited the Ethiopic text of John (Evangelium Iohannis Aethiopicum) as Volume 617/109 in the series Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium in 2005, revealed that the Garima Gospels supports “the one [or, unique, wahed] God,” which constitutes support for ὁ μονογενης θεος or μονογενης θεος.
This evidence shows that a simple numerical count of medieval manuscripts does not tell the whole story about this text-critical contest. At the same time, it also demonstrates that both readings are very ancient, and that both were used by orthodox writers and by heretics.
Readers are invited to explore the embedded links to additional resources.
Excellent research James. Interesting that some textual witnesses that read God/Theos do not include the article. A lot to digest here, but none of the Greek forms appear to be out of character with the rest of the scriptures. Only some of the English translators are culpable.
Looks like those conjectural conflations may go way back too.
Excellent, thought provoking information Thank you for your efforts.
You mentioned that P66 supports the reading of monogenes theos. But that kinda does give a good amount of weight to monogenes theos being the original reading, in light of the fact that P66 is the 2nd earliest manuscript of John after P52. Wouldn't that better establish monogenes theos rather than some other reading?
P66 is an early, though very aberrant, witness to the Alexandrian text. It testifies that the monogenes theos reading was present in the earliest recoverable stratum of that text--nothing more.
Thanks for this information. I think it's possible the original was 'the only begotten' without either 'God' or 'Son'. This could explain why very early on scribes thought something was missing and added 'God' or 'Son' to 'clarify' leading to the variety of witnesses we have today.
<< Can someone please explain to me why the Codex Sinaiticus web site translation reads “only begotten Son” at this point & not “only begotten God.” >>
Yes. See my post about the inaccurate translation at the CodexSinaiticus website, at
and regarding John 1:18 specifically the four-part series of posts that begins at
James Snapp Jr.
Do you have any idea what the P52 Manuscript of John says?
If you know it, please send a link. Thank you. :)
Go to https://greekcntr.org/collation/index.htm and look up John 18:37ff. You will get the exact text.
Thanks. Much appreciated.
Hey James, thanks for the post, first of all! I do have something to add; Origen doesn't merely attest to the reading "only-begotten God", but also to "only-begotten son (of God)". See his Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book VI, Chapter 2: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/101506.htm
This is an extremely helpful list of Patristic quotations. There is also a quote by Ignatius that supports "Theos." "
"If any one says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom, and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such an one is a serpent, that preaches deceit and error for the destruction of men."
Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 83.
I know that some of the old Patristics in Latin and Greek differ, and it is thought that some of the "Theos" references were scrubbed when updated to Latin. I know it's a theory and hard to substantiate. Anyway, I thought to add this one since it showed up in my search.
Post a Comment