Both John’s Gospel and the Nicene Creed were written in Greek. The word we translate to begotten is “monogenous.” “Mono” by itself simply means “one” but in the sense of being alone, or only, like the only one – last man on earth – also forsaken or destitute of help. In the animated movie, Ice Age, a mono male wooly mammoth was the one, the only, the last. There was none like him and he was forsaken and destitute because when he died, so would his species.
“Genous” means “arising” in a particular place or manner and is the root of genes or genetics. It is typically translated as “son” because it has to do with family traits.
In some newer translations of the New Testament, begotten is translated as “only” or “one and only” like this: “And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only son.” (1:14) Monogenous implicitly refutes the belief that through prayer and self-sacrifice, one could become a “son” of God. The adamant belief expressed in the New Testament and by the early Church, and reflected in the Nicene Creed, declares that God has one Son – only one, no one else, period... don’t even try to become The Son of God because he is monogenous!
Another way to look at begotten and monogenous is to say that there is none like Jesus. No one ever was, no one will ever be – there is the one and only Jesus. As a side note, the first name of Christ is a common name. In our verbiage it would be like saying, “The one and only Joe!” The emphasis is not on Joe’s first name but rather on the substance of who Joe is. Likewise, this is how we reflect and understand Christ Jesus – the name above all other names.
The Gospel of John wrote about Christ as being begotten from God. This is not a traditional father/son relationship. My dad was born before me, so, in a sense, I was begotten by him. What St. John is getting at in the Gospel is that although we see Jesus the Son as begotten from God, he was with God in the beginning and, in fact, all things were created through him! This is the very same mystery that the Nicene Creed tries its best to explain. Like a candle flame to another candle flame, they (God and Christ) are the same substance. They are both from the beginning. Christ, however, is the one and only human one through birth from his mother, Mary.
The “begotten” point of all of this is simply there is no one like Jesus. No one ever was, no one will ever be. He loves us to the end and will someday return to restore all things. He won’t send in a look-alike, but it will be him, in the flesh, full of Grace and Truth to which every knee will bend and every tongue will confess.
Lord Jesus, get here soon.