5. The Son begotten out of God (John 1:13)
In his book, “The Birth of Jesus or the Birth of Christians, An inquiry into the Authenticity of John 1:13,” Catholic theologian Denis S. Kulandaisamy outlined the history of controversary concerning John 1:13. He gave a detailed summary of the scholarly works and their reasoning in favor of the singular reading, “who was begotten” (referring to the Son of God) as opposed to the majority reading, “who were begotten,” (referring to Christians). This variant reading can be illustrated by comparing the NASB with the LGV.
John 1:12-14 (NASB) 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This reading indicates that “those who believe on His name” are “born … of God.”
John 1:12-14 (LGV) 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those believing unto the name of Him 13 who was Begotten, not out of bloods, nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of a male, but out of God. 14 And Logos became flesh, and sojourned among us, and we gazed upon His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The singular reading, however, indicates that the one “begotten … out of God” is the only-begotten Son in whose name we believe.
Almost all English translations render the underlined clause in the plural simply because all of the known ancient Greek copies of John have the plural reading. However, some Old Latin, Aramaic, Coptic, and Ethiopian copies of John have the singular reading. But these are not taken into account in most translations.
One rare exception to the plural reading in English translations is the Jerusalem Bible, which is a Catholic translation first made in French and then in English.
John 1:12-14 (Jerusalem Bible) 12 But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to all who believe in the name of him 13 who was born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself. 14 The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Of the scholarly works defending the singular reading, as referring to Christ, many appear to be Catholic. These scholars, for the most part, see this passage as reference to the virgin birth of Jesus. The negative statements, “who was Begotten, not out of bloods, nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of a male, but out of God,” is seen by them as support for the idea that Jesus did not have a human father.
A few scholars, however, have seen this statement as a reference to the Son’s having been begotten of the Father before the creation of the world, which is the position of 4Winds. The singular reading is the minority opinion of scholarly sources. And of these, the idea that this statement does not refer to the birth of Jesus from Mary but rather His begetting out of God before creation, is certainly a very small minority opinion. But this should not be surprising since the theology that the Son was begotten by God at the beginning of the creation week, the common view of the earliest Christian writers, was long ago abandoned by Rome and has never been seriously embraced by Protestant or Evangelical Christianity.
The purpose of this article is not to give an exhaustive accounting of the evidence for the singular reading, but rather to show why the singular reading has been adopted in the LGV, due primarily to internal considerations.
Before doing this, however, it should be noted that the oldest external evidence points to the singular reading. This verse was cited or referenced by several of the earliest Christian writers, with the singular reading, who wrote significantly earlier that the oldest Greek copies of John (P66 & P72) which have the plural reading. For example, here are two second century quotes from Irenaeus:
“Matthew might certainly have said, “Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise;” but the Holy Ghost, foreseeing the corrupters [of the truth], and guarding by anticipation against their deceit, says by Matthew, “But the birth of Christ was on this wise;” and that He is Emmanuel, lest perchance we might consider Him as a mere man: for “not by the will of the flesh nor by the will of man, but by the will of God was the Word made flesh;” and that we should not imagine that Jesus was one, and Christ another, but should know them to be one and the same.”
“For this reason [it is, said], “Who shall declare His generation?” since “He is a man, and who shall recognize Him?” But he to whom the Father which is in heaven has revealed Him, knows Him, so that he understands that He “who was not born either by the will of the flesh, or by the will of man,” is the Son of man, this is Christ, the Son of the living God. For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin, the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him:”
That John 1:13 has been controversial from at least the second century is proven by Tertullian’s charge that it was corrupted by the Valentinian Gnostics who changed the singular to the plural.
“What, then, is the meaning of this passage, ‘Born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God?’ I shall make more use of this passage after I have confuted those who have tampered with it. They maintain that it was written thus (in the plural) ‘Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,’ as if designating those who were before mentioned as ‘believing in His name,’ in order to point out the existence of that mysterious seed of the elect and spiritual which they appropriate to themselves. But how can this be, when all who believe in the name of the Lord are, by reason of the common principle of the human race, born of blood, and of the will of the flesh, and of man, as indeed is Valentinus himself? The expression is in the singular number, as referring to the Lord, ‘He was born of God’.”
These very ancient witnesses to the singular reading should not be summarily dismissed simply because the plural reading is in the majority in the manuscript tradition which came after them. The text of John’s Gospel which they had before them in the second century definitely had the singular reading, otherwise their arguments from the singular reading would have been immediately challenged by their readers by pointing out the plural.
For our purposes, the deciding factor for using the singular reading in the LGV rests squarely on the internal evidence. This includes how the series of logical ideas progress throughout John’s prologue, the consistent Johannine style, and the logical problems which the plural reading presents.
The first consideration is the fact that everywhere else in John’s writings, when speaking of the spiritual “begetting” of Christians “out of God,” John always referred to the collective whole and used the perfect tense. For example, 1 John 3:9 has Πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (“the whole having been begotten out of God”). Again, 1 John 4:7 has πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται (“the whole loving out of God has been begotten”). Again, 1 John 5:1 has Πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστὶν ὁ χριστός, ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται (“The whole believing that Jesus is the Christ, out of God has been begotten”). Again, 1 John 5:4 has “ὅτι πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον (“because the whole having been begotten out of God overcomes the world”). Finally, I John 5:18 has “ὅτι πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει (“because the whole having been begotten out of God does not sin”).
The preposition ἐκ is extremely important to this discussion. This little preposition literally means “out of.” When used of procreation ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (“out of God”) it necessarily implies generation from within God Himself, procreation of like kind. The Bible nowhere speaks of individual Christians as “begotten out of God.” This language, using the perfect tense, is only used of the collective Son of God.
In contrast to this, the aorist tense verb is used of the Son’s having been begotten ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (“out of God”). And this is the reason John refers to Jesus as “the only-begotten of the Father,” the “only begotten Son,” and the “only begotten Son of God.” If there were multiple “begotten” sons, then “only-begotten” is false. The aorist indicative verb points to an historical event, the point in time when the Son was literally “begotten out of God.” This stark contrast in John’s terminology between referring to the Son as “begotten” and believers being part of “the whole having been begotten” is best shown in the following verse where the two are contrasted — 1 John 5:18.
Οἴδαμεν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει,
ἀλλ᾽ ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ τηρεῖ ἑαυτὸν καὶ ὁ πονηρὸς οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ.
“We have known that the whole having been begotten out of God does not sin,
But the [one] begotten out of God keeps Himself and the evil does not touch Him.”
John referred to the whole collective using the perfect tense participle (having been begotten), but then immediately referred to the only-begotten Son using the aorist indicative singular masculine verb “the [one] begotten.”
Christians are not individually “begotten out of God,” which is why the aorist tense of the verb (which refers to an historical event) is never used of Christians being begotten “out of God.” We are only a part of the whole collective, which has been “begotten out of God.” The present state implied by the perfect tense is something that all Christians share in together. The past action that is implied by the perfect tense is not our individual “begetting,” but rather the only-begotten Son’s begetting at a single point in time. That is the historical event which brings about the present state in which we share.
Jesus’ own begetting ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (“out of God”) was recorded from Jesus’ own mouth by John.
John 8:42 (LGV) 42 Jesus said to them, “If God was your Father, you were loving Me, for I issued forth out of God, and am come. For I have not come from Myself, but He sent Me.
The underlined clause above is ἐγὼ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθον. The prepositional phase “out of God” applies to the Son of God alone, which is why John could call Him “the only begotten of the Father.” The verb ἐξῆλθον (“issued forth”) is aorist indicative, again pointing to the same historical event mentioned by John in 1 John 5:18.
Given this very clear distinction between the collective Son of God and the only-begotten Son of God, we are now faced in John 1:13 the only exception to this pattern IF the plural reading is adopted, as Young’s Literal Translation puts it: “who – not of blood nor of a will of flesh, nor of a will of man but – of God were begotten.” The underlined clause is ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν, (“out of God were begotten”). Here the aorist indicative form of the verb is used, pointing to a single point in time when an event took place. But what point in time have all believers been begotten?
The fact is, the “only-begotten of the Father” is the only individual who has been begotten “out of God” as a historical event. This is by far the strongest evidence that the singular reading of John 1:13 is what John actually wrote, and the plural is a corruption.
Finally, let’s consider this reading of John 1:13 within the logical flow of John’s prologue.
John 1:1-14 (LGV) 1 In the beginning was Logos, and Logos was with God, and Logos was God. 2 This one was in the beginning with God. 3 Everything originated through Him, and without Him nothing originated. 4 What has originated in Him was life, and the Life was the Light of men, 5 and the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not take hold of it. 6 A man originated having been commissioned from beside God whose name was John. This one arrived for a witness so that he should testify concerning the Light 7 so that all may believe through Him. 8 He was not the Light, but [came] so that he should testify concerning the Light, 9 which was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens each man). 10 He was in the world, and the world originated through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came into His own [things], and His own [people] did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those believing unto the name of Him 13 who was Begotten, not out of bloods, nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of a male, but out of God. 14 And Logos became flesh, and sojourned among us, and we gazed upon His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Consider that verse 4 refers to life itself (apart from God) originating in Logos, which is why Paul could refer to Him as “the first-produced of all creation.” This statement refers to the origin and begetting of the only-begotten Son out of God. Thus verse 13, “who was begotten … out of God,” naturally refers back to Logos in verse 4.
The plural reading is highly unlikely simply because of the three negative clauses which would then be applied to believers: “who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man …” (NKJV). Tertullian pointed out the problem of the plural reading. “But how can this be, when all who believe in the name of the Lord are, by reason of the common principle of the human race, born of blood, and of the will of the flesh, and of man, as indeed is Valentinus himself?” All Christians are born in the usual way common to all even if they are also “begotten out of God” in a spiritual sense. John’s three “not … but” statements imply mutual exclusivity. But being begotten naturally and being begotten spiritually out of God are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Another difficulty is the apparent clash in this passage between how, when, and why someone might become “begotten out of God.” Verses 12-13 states, “12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (NASB). If the Son gives people who already exist the right to become children of God, the implied mechanism for existing people becoming children of God is adoption not begetting. Also, the identification of the persons to whom He gave the right to be called “children of God” is those who meet the following description: “as many as received Him, … those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” This appears to make the result the condition. That is, those who were already “begotten … out of God” Jesus then gave them the right to become “children of God.” But if they were already “begotten out of God” as the aorist tense of the verb indicates, they were already children of God and did not need anyone to give them the right to become children of God.
Further, even many of the scholars who take the singular reading as what John genuinely wrote, yet apply this to the virgin birth, have a serious difficulty. Since Mary was human and thus gave birth to the human “Son of Man,” Jesus as Man was indeed “born of blood” from Mary. Who would deny that Jesus’ birth from Mary involved both the blood of Mary herself and of Jesus? He was also born of “the will of the flesh,” since Mary agreed to Gabriel’s proclamation, “Be it unto me according to your word.” Thus Mary’s will, as a human, was involved in the birth of Jesus. The only one of the three “not of … but” statements that could fit the virgin birth is “nor of the will of a male.” Yet John seems to place this begetting out of God completely outside of contact with humanity altogether, either male, female, or human blood, by these negative statements. Also, in what sense was Jesus’ human birth an actual begetting “out of God?” Such language, especially in view of Jesus’ statement in John 8:42 as well as Psalm 2:7, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You,” certainly imply procreation of like kind. These words cannot literally apply either to the Trinitarian incarnation or the Unitarian virgin birth. In Trinitarianism, the Person (God the Son) already existed and was not really “begotten out of God” at the incarnation. In Unitarianism, since the Son who was produced was necessarily of the humankind not the divine kind, He was created by God not “begotten out of God.”
Finally, notice how nicely John’s prologue flows when we understand this singular begetting as that of the Son at the beginning of creation as also described in Proverbs 8:24-25: “When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills, I was brought forth.” (NKJV).
John 1:1-4,12-14 (LGV) In the beginning was Logos, and Logos was with God, and Logos was God. 2 This one was in the beginning with God. 3 Everything originated through Him, and without Him nothing originated. 4 What has originated in Him was life, … 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those believing unto the name of Him 13 who was Begotten, not out of bloods, nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of a male, but out of God. 14 And Logos became flesh, and sojourned among us, and we gazed upon His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Verse 13 refers back to verse 4 when the Son’s origin (out of God) is first mentioned. Then verse 14 refers to this preexisting one becoming “flesh” and sojourning among men. John then says “we gazed upon His glory,” no doubt referring to the Transfiguration experience. Yet this is augmented by John’s recording Jesus’ prayer, “And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (Jn. 17:5 NASB). John ends by saying, “we gazed upon His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This last statement, “glory as of the Only-Begotten from the Father,” shows that John did not view Jesus as merely a man, but something much more because of His origin out of God in the very beginning, when “what originated in Him was life.” It is this original begetting out of God Himself which is at the root of John’s use of the term “only-begotten” for the Son of God. The singular reading of John 1:13 is what John wrote, and this is consistent with John’s theology and his consistent jargon.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, BK. III, ch. 16:2
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. III, ch. 19:2
 Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 19
 John 1:14
 Col. 1:15