First John, chapter 3, part 1
Jan 16, 2018
The third chapter of John’s first letter gives us the characteristics of fellowship and how we obtain it. He begins in 1 John 3:1,
1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children [teknon, “children, offspring”] of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know [ginosko] us, because it did not know [ginosko] Him.
Using the word gennao in the previous verse, John says that we have been “begotten of Him” (1 John 2:29). More than that, we were begotten by the love of the Father. John’s use of the term ginosko (“know”) should be viewed as the equivalent of the Hebrew word yada, “to know,” as used, for example, in Genesis 4:1 KJV, “Adam knew his wife, Eve, and she conceived and bare Cain.”
John carefully chose words that denoted conception, not birth as such. When John says that “the world does not know us,” his words had a double meaning. On the surface, he was saying that the world does not recognize us as children of God, any more than it recognized Jesus as the first-born Son of God. They only us as children of our earthly parents. The world cannot relate to a spiritual child—only to a child of the flesh according to one’s genealogy.
Yet our heavenly Father recognizes who we are, because we are His children. He conceived us in love, and He loves us still. The first and foremost example, of course, was when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary and begat Jesus in her (Matthew 1:18). But Jesus was not the only Son; he was “the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
The Only-Begotten Son
The biblical term, “only-begotten son” (Greek: monogenes, “only-born, sole”) does not mean that the Son was the only one begotten. This was a Hebrew idiom that meant one of a kind. It was used to describe the sole heir who was given authority over the estate in the next generation. There could be only one heir to the estate, and all younger brothers were to recognize the authority of the “only-begotten son.”
The Hebrew equivalent to monogenes is yachiyd, a word that David used to describe himself prophetically in Psalm 22:20 and again in Psalm 35:17. In both cases, the Septuagint translation renders yachiyd by the Greek word monogenes. David had seven brothers, but he was also the “only-begotten son” in the sense that he was the sole heir (in his generation) to the throne promised to Judah. Further, he was also a type of Christ, who was the final Heir to the same throne.
The Children of God
We too are His children, younger brothers and sisters of Jesus Himself. 1 John 3:1 says that we too are recognized by God as His children. John 1:12, 13 says further,
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right [exousia, “authority”] to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born [gennao, “begotten”] not of blood [bloodline], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
In normal, earthly situations, men beget by the will of the flesh, and their children are said to be of their bloodline. But God begets by His Spirit, not through a fleshly, sexual act, but by a spiritual act of love according to His own will. We are begotten by the gospel, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:15 KJV, “for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” The apostle claims to be their “father” by delivering the gospel to them, though it is plain that God Himself was their ultimate Father.
Likewise, Peter speaks of this, for we read in 1 Peter 1:23,
23 for you have been born [gennao, “begotten”] again, not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.
When used of a man, the term gennao means “to beget;” when used of a woman, it means “to give birth.” Peter was not speaking of birth, but of begetting, since he refers directly to the “seed” by which we were begotten. Women do not provide “seed.” Peter was telling his readers that the seed of God is immortal, not “perishable” (mortal). That seed was “the living and abiding word of God,” provided by the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of truth.
So Peter continues his thought in the next verses. 1 Peter 1:24, 25 reads,
24 For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord abides forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.
Peter was paraphrasing Isaiah 40:6-9, which says,
6 A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. 9 Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news [the gospel]….
Isaiah was told to “call out” something—because he was the “bearer of good news” (vs. 9). The word gospel means “good news.” It is the good news of the New Covenant, which alone is the immortal seed that has the power to beget immortal children of God. Fleshly seed begets only fleshly children who are mortal. Hence, “all flesh is grass” and “the flower of the field.” While flowers are beautiful, they are transitory, because fleshly beauty fades and flowers fall off.
Yet “the word of the Lord abides forever,” providing the best quality seed possible. The word of truth carries immortal life, and all who are begotten by such seed are immortal. Their bodies, of course, remain mortal, because they were begotten by “seed which is perishable.” The soul, too, is mortal and dies along with the body, for “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4 KJV). But our spirit is the son that has been begotten by the Holy Spirit. It never dies, and is our new creation man within. If we identify with our new man and forsake the old man of flesh, then we can say truly that we are immortal, for we have become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The term, monogenes, “only-begotten,” is reserved for Jesus alone. Yet the apostles tell us a remarkable truth: we too have the right to be called “children of God,” if indeed we have been begotten by the same Spirit that begat Jesus in Mary. Jesus is the pattern for all of us. Even as He was begotten in a virgin, so also are we begotten without sexual contact, for in hearing and believing the gospel, we are begotten through our ears.
Flowers may be beautiful, but they do not abide forever. The flesh may be handsome and beautiful with all the right genetics, but it is all fleshly. Men trace their genealogy back to their forefathers, to a tribe of Israel, or to Abraham, or to Adam. While these may have beauty on an earthly level, such genealogy can never rise to the level of immortality and its glory.
The New Testament gospel teaches clearly that the only path to immortality, which is our true inheritance, comes only by a spiritual begetting through the Holy Spirit, followed by birth into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Flesh certainly has its place in the divine plan, but if we identify ourselves by the old man of flesh which was passed down to us from Adam, then we cannot properly say that we are the sons of God. Or if, as some say, the sons of God are those who are of a particular physical genealogy, their teaching is in error.
Likewise, those who deny the virgin birth of Christ simply do not comprehend the gospel or the concept of the children of God as taught by Paul, Peter, and John. The Jews did not understand how Jesus could be born of a virgin, because it was foolishness to them. So in the early centuries they opposed the teaching of the apostles. Even some Jews who claimed to believe in Christ could not shake off the old Jewish concept of a messiah born of an earthly father. Their ancient view is still found in many messianic circles today.
But Matthew 1:18 makes it clear that Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit, and the other apostles enlarge upon that foundational truth in their teaching of Sonship. We are all Marys, and the Holy Spirit begets Christ in us (Colossians 1:27), just as He begat Christ in Mary herself.
This is part 13 of a series titled "Studies in First John." To view all parts, click the link below.