Monday, July 14, 2008

The Only Begotten?

In an earlier post, I pointed out that, in the Hebrew culture, the inheritance of land, titles and other property as well as the responsibilities for caring for an individual family was channeled along patrilineal lines using a system of modified Primogeniture, or succession by the eldest son. The institution is explicitly promulgated in Deuteronomy 21:15-17. In part, because paternity cannot be certainly known (like maternity), the Hebrews had two "firstborn" traditions. One, the peter, or "opener" of the womb, referring to the firstborn of the mother. The other, was the bekor, ("he bursts forth") referring to the firstborn "or choicest" of the father.

The bekor was also referred to as the yachiyd "the only one." Genesis 22:2 records the fact that Isaac, the second son (but heir) of Abraham was referred to as "your only one whom you love." Matthew 3:17 refers to Yeshua as the primogenitor of Yahweh, saying, "and behold! A voice out of the heaven saying, This is My son, the loved one, in whom I delight." "Delight" (Hebrew chaphets) was a idiomatic phrase as well that marked primogeniture (see 1Sa 18:22).

In John 1:14, the writer refers to Yeshua as the monogenes, a word which has been greatly debated. Most translators render the translation as "only begotten" (only sired), but this tradition follows the misunderstanding introduced (probably intentionally) by Jerome to conform to his theology. Pre-Jerome, the word was translated as "unique." It means "the only one," or "one of a kind," and refers to Yeshua in his role as Primogeniture of Yahweh. Hebrews 11:17 uses the same word to refer to Isaac: "By faith, being tested, Abraham offered up Isaac; and he receiving the promises was offering up the monogenes," and Isaac certainly was not the "only begotten" of Abraham.

John 1:14 would be better understood to say:

"And the logos became flesh and pitched his tent among us. And we perceived his glory (glory like that of the Father's firstborn), full of grace and of truth. "

John 1:18 says: "No one has seen God at any time; the only son, who is "in the bosom of the Father", this one draws him out." The term "in the bosom of the Father" is also an idiomatic phrase referring to the primogeniture.

From a theological perspective, the first-century Hebrews would have understood Yeshua to be the primogeniture (legal heir) of Yahweh on Earth, legally responsible for carrying out his will and caring for his affairs.

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