The Only-begotten Son of God: Studying part of the Nicene Creed

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on November, 02, 2022

The Only-begotten Son of God: A Study on the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed from 325 AD is a worldwide accepted Christian doctrinal statement, but this does not mean that the statement is easily understood in our age. Someone wrote asking about the meaning of the phrase “only-begotten Son of God.” We can see the confusion: the word ‘begotten’ is rarely used in English, we don’t easily grasp its meaning, nor why they used this phrase as part of the amazing Nicene Creed.

This is the brief section that we will focus on.

“ ... one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

begotten of the Father before all worlds.” 

(Nicene Creed)

Keep in Mind

Many read and hold to creeds but do not maintain the integrity of the Scriptures from which the teachings come—some knowingly while others ignorantly. In today’s churches, one might or might not come upon these statements of faith. These creedal statements found increased importance when believers did not have their own Bible.

Creeds and statements are written to protect and guide their generation of believers but have great value for others. When young, every Sunday my church would together aloud read one or more creeds. (Alas, they did not believe in the authority of the Scriptures!) 

In the case of what would later be known as the Nicene Creed, the early church during the 300s faced Arianism, a denial of Christ’s eternal nature—similar to today’s Jehovah Witnesses. (It’s partly due to this that the JWs are called a cult.) Creeds remain important if we can clearly prove their scriptural support  (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Let me orderly explain the three phrases above, though they necessarily overlap and strengthen each other’s meaning.

1) “One Lord Jesus Christ”

Jesus is Lord of all; His name, ‘Jesus,’ means savior. Joshua is the Hebrew form of this Greek name. ‘Christ’ means Messiah and instructs us that Jesus as the Christ fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of the One to come. There is only one Lord; no others. Every knee will bow down to Him (Rom 14:11)

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:5).

I doubt there is any dispute about whether Ephesian 4:5’s “one Lord” refers to any other than the Lord Jesus Christ. There are actually 85 NT Bible references with “Lord,” “Jesus,” and “Christ” (see the full list in the appendix). Here are a few others that uphold this teaching of Jesus being “one Lord.” The scriptures and the early church amply affirm Jesus Christ’s Lordship.

“…God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36).

“to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:25).

Jesus is the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 17:14). I will not belabor this teaching due to its common acceptance, but its meaning is powerfully important.

In a practical sense, we should realize that though many might confess Jesus as Lord, they don’t follow what they say. Our religious structures would completely change if they realized they served not their religion or self-interests but the one Lord of all. False teaching that fills our churches is one means mankind counters the One Lord. They don’t care to believe what Jesus says.

Let me move on.

2) “The Only-Begotten Son of God”

Five Bible verses, all by John, use the phrase “only begotten” to describe Jesus Christ the Son of God. John, originally known as a simple Jewish fisherman, uses simple words to convey deep thoughts.

They contrast with another usage of only-begotten in Hebrews. It’s obvious that Isaac’s father is not God but Abraham.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.” (Heb 11:17-19)

Isaac is not the Son of God but many consider him a type of the Messiah that would come. “His only begotten son” highlights Isaac’s uniqueness. Abraham had many sons, but the covenant would be only continued through Isaac.

Here are John’s five verses.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)

“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)

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. (1 John 4:9)

In each case, they are sensibly connected to His Father.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father…” (John 1:14)

Translation of Only-begotten

Greek: δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός

The one Greek word (μονογενοῦς) is translated as two words in English ‘only-begotten’ or born (John 1:14). 

The NET Bible translates the word more understandably, trying to take into consideration the full implication of the word used for Christ: “saw his glory—the glory of the one and only.”

We need to be clear that no one disputes that this phrase describes Jesus, the only-begotten of the Father.

The Net  Bible has a long footnote for John 1:14, explaining why they go for the “one and only” English translation. For sure, the readers no longer need to wonder what “only-begotten” might mean.

“Although this word is often translated “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12; 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological Phoenix (1 Clem. 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant., 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God, Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14; 1:18; 3:16, and 3:18)."

The term, Jesus the only Son of God, negates any expectation or need of another Savior or Messiah (Mat 24:24). Jesus fulfilled the work of Savior that His Father sent Him to do and now reigns.

The ancient church seemed to drift too far into the mystical meaning of this phrase. For sure, there are many mysteries about Christ and His relation to the Father. The Book of Revelation, as an example, presents their changing, and yet never changing relationship, which can increase our wonder of Jesus. We cannot—I certainly cannot—fully understand the glory and full nuances surrounding this only-begotten description but can accept its teaching. Jesus is uniquely the Son of God.

Other Comments

While faith is crucial to salvation, it is faith in Christ Jesus that saves. Salvation does not require an ability to explain the meaning of the only-begotten Son of God. Even John 3:18 does not state that we need to understand the only begotten Son of God but only believe in Him—we place our trust in Jesus, not in our own works or morals. 

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Neither do other gospel writers assert the need for this ‘doctrine’ before becoming believers—they don’t use it with reference to Jesus. It’s part of our growing knowledge of Him.

Even the commonly-known evangelistic passage of John 3:16 speaks about the only begotten Son of God.

“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)

This usage by John does not require a complete understanding of its ‘ins and outs’ but that there is only one Savior from God, excluding the tolerance of many gods. Our faith must be centered on Jesus Christ, sent from God, through which He manifested His great love. There is no other Savior, even though there are many religions. 

The phrase “Son of God” is regularly used and holds a deep theological meaning from both the Old and New Testaments. I am too limited to go into this. Indeed it identifies Christ’s relationship with God, the Heavenly Father, and His deity as the exact nature of the Father—the son shares the same nature as the father.

Equally important is Jesus’ teaching of full obedience to the Father. He allowed no turning from His pledge of obedience, even the pain of the cross. Jesus left a perfect example for us in seeking our Heavenly Father.

Further Thoughts

For a more extensive study, explore The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT - 4:737-741).

Three times Luke uses this word (Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38), only-begotten (only son), but each time it clearly has no reference to Christ, the Son of God. “Only Jn. uses monogenous to describe the relation of Jesus to God.”

1 John 5:18 speaks of God fathering believers, but John distinguishes God’s children from the “only-begotten Son of God” (1 John 4:19).

3) “Begotten of the Father before all worlds”

The Nicene Creed again states ‘begotten’ to emphasize this element or action comes alone from the Father, God Himself. I don’t like this separation of “only-begotten” from “begotten” even if it's for the purpose of using it as a verb. The scriptures present an existing relationship and the verb is always upon God sending His only Son to earth to complete His redemptive program. I don’t think it misconstrues the meaning, but it takes the “only” from the word which emphasizes the “one and only.”

This relationship between the Father and the Son always existed (“before all worlds.”). Jesus, the Son of God, was not created. He came and was sent by the Father, but did not have a point of origination or creation.

The above Johannine Bible verses always point to an existing relationship, not a new relationship—“the only-begotten Son of God from the Father.” John does this in two different ways. Sometimes, it states that the Father sent His unique and only Son (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9), while more often, John states that the only-begotten Son is from or of the Father (John 1:14, 1:8, 3:18).

The phrase “before all worlds” describes the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. John 1 pointedly establishes the truth of their relationship through their joint saving salvation; the use of the only-begotten Son fleshes it out. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1-3)

Jesus often identified Himself as God’s Son, seeking to do His Father’s will. His appearance on earth didn’t change that. This relationship never began but endures through eternity, past and future, and continued through Christ’s visitation on earth to save mankind. 

We can use the same verses from John above. Notice the truths:

God sent Him (not created Him). 

Jesus the Son was always in the bosom of the Father, articulating complete harmony throughout eternity. John 1:18, in my mind, goes a step further speaking about the characteristic of this eternal relationship. “The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” The Son is before the Father in heaven, and perfectly represented Him on earth—“He explained Him.” 

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

The glory of the Father manifested itself in Him, “full of grace and truth.” “Became flesh” emphasizes His preexistence and His eternal position before the Father.

Now let me return to the words, “before all worlds” from the creed. They speak of this positional relationship from eternity. God sent His only begotten Son into time and earthly history, born of Mary, and became flesh. “Before all worlds” probably means “before in time” but also preeminent above all, teaching the Apostle Paul often teaches. I’ll quote parts of Colossians and Ephesians 1.

Colossians 1:15-18

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”

The apostle does not use John’s “only-begotten Son” but instead the “image of the invisible God” and “firstborn of all creation,” which differ in thought from the “only-begotten Son,” but arrive at the same conclusions. Jesus is unique, never created. “By Him all things were created” (Col 1:16).  He was before all creation, before all worlds but also over them all, which Paul nicely articulates.

Ephesians 1:21-23

21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”


I like to meditate on the Word of God rather than a creed. If the creed is not clear enough to one generation, write another that gives a more precise and relevant framework of essential teachings. NET Bible has essentially done this with the translation of this Greek word monogenous, meaning one and only, willing to depart from a confusing literal translation.

Jesus remains Lord over all, seated at the right hand of the Father (similar to the picture of being in His bosom). God sent only one Savior, the Messiah Jesus Christ. We must not believe there are many ways to be saved but put our complete hope in God’s Son, only believing in Him for salvation.

The applications are many, including the demand for us to worship and obey Christ even as He obeyed His Father. God is our Father too, though definitely not in the same unique way the Son is. We are to put our ultimate hope and faith in Christ’s work rather than being distracted by other religions or popular teachings like Arianism. Our central focus is on Jesus, not the creed. Our faith in Christ changes lives but confidence in a creed doesn’t save, though it can help point to a person that strays from sound doctrine.

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Study Questions on the “Only-begotten Son of God”

  1. What do you know about the Nicene Creed?
  2. What threat did the church defend itself from to create the Nicene Creed in 325 AD?
  3. What scriptures support the teaching of Jesus as “one Lord?”
  4. How does the teaching of Jesus as “one Lord” practically shape your life?
  5. Describe John’s five usages of “only-begotten Son of God.”
  6. Where else is the Greek word “only-begotten” used?
  7. How does John’s use differ?
  8. Do you support the Net Bible, which translates “only-begotten” as “one and only?”
  9. Is the phrase “before all worlds” from the Bible? Explain.
  10. What is John’s primary purpose in using the words “the only-begotten” to refer to Jesus as the Son of God five times?

Appendix 1: Search 

85 uses of verses that include ‘Lord,’ ‘Jesus,’ and ‘Christ’.

Acts 2:36
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Acts 10:36
The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—

Acts 11:17
Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Acts 15:26
men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 20:21
solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

(For complete, download pdf.)


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