On μονογενής

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
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Mike Baber
Posts: 97
Joined: May 30th, 2011, 11:25 pm
Location: Texas

On μονογενής

Post by Mike Baber » May 21st, 2012, 4:01 pm

I did a brief study on the Greek word μονογενής. Now, I'm not familiar with the PIE root system, so I think I'm at a disadvantage as far as knowledge is concerned. But, I think I understand the general concept.

Anyway, from what I can tell (and from others have told me on this forum), γένος (genos), γίνομαι (ginomai), and the suffix —γενής (among other Greek words) all share a common Greek root stem (γιν/ γεν), which itself is derived from a common Proto-Indo-European root stem shared among many languages. Did I miss anything there?

In the compound word μονογενής, one of the individual words is μόνος (monos), meaning "alone, only." However, I've seen a lot of debate concerning the latter word, which has resulted in different English translations for μονογενής, including "only," "one and only," and of course, "only begotten." Then, we have the Vulgate which as unicus and unigenitus.

From the paper I wrote:
The English word "begotten," from the supposed translation "only-begotten," is a passive participle. This would likely be translated into Greek as a perfect passive participle such as γεγεννημένον (gegennēmenon), such as that which occurs in 1 John 5:1. Because the participle functions as an adjective, it must agree in gender with the noun it modifies. The Greek noun υἱός (huios), meaning "son," is masculine-gendered; therefore, the perfect passive participial conjugation of γίνομαι must also be masculine-gendered. Thus, the conjugation would be γεγεννημένος (gegennēmenos), and combined with μονος, the compound word would be μονογεγεννημένος (monogegennēmenos). Another alternative besides the attributive perfect participle μονογεγεννημένος may be the adjective γεννητός (ho gennētos). Combined with μονος, the compound word would be μονογεννητός (monogennētos).
Based on this, I concluded that μονογενής does contain a conjugation of the verb γίνομαι itself. However, that does mean it does not contain a word based on the same root that γίνομαι is based on, i.e. γιν/ γεν.

I believe some suggest that the latter word of the compound word μονογενής is γένος. Based on the inflection of γένος and the inflection of μονογενής, I concluded that this is unlikely.

Inflection of γένος
Case Inflection
nominative γένος
genitive γένεος
dative γένεϊ
accusative γένος

Inflection of μονογενής\
Case Inflection
nominative μονογενής
genitive μονογενοῦς
dative μονογενεῖ
accusative μονογενῆ

Finally, I examined the suffix —γενής found in many Greek words, including εὐηγενής ("well born"), ἀγενής ("low born"), ἀλλογενής ("other born"), πατρογενής ("father born"), πυριγενής/ πυρογενής ("fire born"), γηγενής ("earth born") and θεογενής ("God born").

Inflection of —γενής
Case Inflection
nominative —γένης
genitive —γένους
dative —γένει
accusative —γένη

I concluded that the latter word/ component in the compound word μονογενής is indeed the suffix —γενής as they share the same inflection.

Now, I would translate it as "only born" except for the fact that τῷ τὸ μὲν θῆλυ τίκτειν, τὸ δὲ ἄρρεν ὀχεύειν ("the female is to bear, but the male is to beget/ copulate.") (Plato, Republic, Book V, §454d-e). Since the Son is called μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, it would be more proper to translate μονογενής as "only-begotten" rather than "only-born." This, I'd say, is not unorthodox considering that γεννάω (which shares the same root) can be translated as "to bear" or "to beget" according to the subject of the verb.

I concluded that the translation of the AV in such verses as John 1:14. 1:18, 3:16, etc. is correct. Can someone critique this argument for me? (This is not intended to be "journal-worthy" or scholastic, but something that the average individual can understand with moderate study of Greek.)

Eeli Kaikkonen
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Joined: June 2nd, 2011, 7:49 am
Location: Finland

Re: On μονογενής

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » May 21st, 2012, 4:57 pm

You make several mistakes.

First, you fall into a word study fallacy. The only reliable way to find out the meaning(s) of a word is to study the real use of the word synchronically. The history of the word, the etymology or derivation are not determinative.

Second, you mix theology and exegesis in a dangerous way. You say "This, I'd say, is not unorthodox". Why? Does systematic theology and theological orthodoxy determine for you what words can mean? Did the writers and original readers of Koine really think about trinitarian "only-begotten" when they used that word? The answer is obviously "no". "Only begotten" has become theological jargon with no meaning outside of Christian theology.

Third, your preferred translation "only begotten" doesn't actually mean anything in modern English. You should describe the meaning of the word in one sentence, using only ordinary, common, modern English words in their simple meanings. See Louw/Nida or BDAG for examples. And if your definition is systematic-theological instead of historically correct it's wrong. Actually almost all Greek words and phrases used in systematic theology have became to mean something else than what they originally meant in Koine.

Mike Baber
Posts: 97
Joined: May 30th, 2011, 11:25 pm
Location: Texas

Re: On μονογενής

Post by Mike Baber » May 21st, 2012, 5:35 pm

Thanks Eeli.

Posts: 22
Joined: May 31st, 2011, 1:20 am

Re: On μονογενής

Post by klriley » May 22nd, 2012, 2:09 am

Should anyone be interested - and really, why wouldn't you be? - Sihler deals extensively with s-Stem nouns on p305ff of his book New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin. You will learn all you need to know - and more.

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