Comments on the Article: Answering the Unitarian Objections to John 1:18, By Michael Burgos

Contributed by Patrick Navas



The textual critical reasons for embracing the reading “[the] one and only God” are powerfully compelling.” (Michael Burgos)

First of all, I agree with Michael Burgos that the monogenes theos reading, as opposed to monogenes huios, is most likely the original, and disagree with Kermit Zarley on this point. The evidence for this reading, as far as I can see, is “powerfully compelling,” as Burgos states, but this still does not allow us to identify it as “the proper rendering” (Burgos), as if it were an absolute certainty.


Part of the problem with Burgos’s article—and Zarley’s—is that they both argue as if the true reading can be known (or that we can completely dismiss the alternative reading as impossible) when the truth is, although we might say that the standards of textual criticism lead us—and most Bible scholars—to believe that the monogenes theos reading was the original, we still don’t really “know” what the original reading was. Unless we find the original autograph, or some other kind of verification, a level of uncertainty will always remain. The only thing we can legitimately say, from the human perspective, is which reading we think is the most likely based on the evidence. I believe the evidence favors theos. Others, like Buzzard and Zarley, are free to disagree.

One would wonder why monogenes Theos would suggest "a god" in John's gospel. In the above argument, Navas ignores the articular reading of P75. His suggestion, "the description itself would only seem to confirm that the Son was regarded by John as a god of a specific type [15]," demonstrates an a priori dismissal of the possibility of a Trinity.

In response to the first statement, all I can say is, “One wonders why monognes theos would not suggest a god in John’s Gospel”? Perhaps Burgos will explain this from his perspective at another time.


In regard to my treatment of this subject in my book, I simply used the widely-accepted anarthrous reading (monogenes theos—‘a unique/one-of-a-kind-god’) that appears in P66 and in the earliest uncials: Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Ephraemi Rescriptus, and in the critical editions of the Greek New Testament that I’m aware of. Though I was certainly aware of the existence of the articular reading of P75 (ho monogenes theos), it simply wasn’t necessary, for my purpose, to bring it up because I’ve never encountered a Trinitarian apologist or biblical scholar that has defended it as the true reading over against the anarthrous reading. According to Bruce Metzger: “The anarthrous use of theos (cf. 1.1) appears to be more primitive. There is no reason why the article should have been deleted, and when huios supplanted theos it would have been added” (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition, p. 169). Even the footnotes in the NET (from which Diaz quotes) agree: “The articular θεός is almost certainly a scribal emendation to the anarthrous θεός, for θεός without the article is a much harder reading. The external evidence thus strongly supports μονογενὴς θεός.”


Thus, in his comment (‘Navas ignores the articular reading of P75’), Burgos is simply making an issue that doesn’t need to be made, and—with all due respect—probably brings it up just to say something, anything he might be able to say, against the position articulated in my book. But the point is irrelevant in either case. Whether the true reading is “the unique/one-of-a-kind/one-and-only god” or “a unique/one-of-a-kind/one-and-only-god,” the Son is still depicted as a certain kind of “G/god” that dwells in “the bosom of the Father,” a statement that is incompatible with Trinitarianism. Why? Because, as I pointed out in my book, Trinitarianism only allows for the Father and Son to be in relation to one another as two distinct “persons,” not as two distinct “beings.” In this case, however, the Son is portrayed as a distinctive type (monogenes) of being (theos) that dwells in the bosom of the Father—leaving us with a certain kind of “being” (a divine one) standing in relation to a “person” of the Trinity (assuming the Trinitarian definition of ‘Father’). This is, quite clearly, an entirely incongruous statement to make within the framework of Trinitarian theology.

Navas only allows for one extreme or the other; unitarianism or henotheism.

In what way is “unitarianism” or “henotheism” properly characterized as an “extreme”? “Extreme” in relation to what? Why is “Trinitarianism” excluded from being an “extreme.”?

It is as if Navas has never read 1:1c wherein we see the Logos described as Theos (note the placement of Theos)…

I’ve read John 1:1c plenty of times and wrote an entire paper on the subject in my book.

Using Navas' line of argumentation, one would have to conclude that the Logos is an ontologically distinct god.

Why would that be a problem, from a biblical perspective?

What Navas fails to see is that monogenes is used as a substantival adjective in 1:14, and therefore it is highly unlikely that John would change its grammatical function four verses later. Based on the internal evidence, the NET's rendering ("the only one, Himself God") or something very close is undoubtedly the most accurate.

This is another instance of unwarranted dogmatism on Burgos’s part. Burgos is free to argue that monogenes in John 1:18 is used as a substantival adjective (which is possible, as it is used in John 1:14), so that it essentially functions as a noun (a/the “unique one” or the like). But Burgos goes too far when he says that this is “undoubtedly the most accurate” meaning, when it is not. In fact, everywhere else in the NT where an adjective appears before a noun of the same gender, number, and case (as is the case in monogenes theos), the adjective always modifies the noun it precedes. In this light the suggestion that monogenes is not being used as a simple adjective that modifies the noun theos (‘unique/one-of-a-kind god’), but is being treated as a noun (‘unique one’), is actually very doubtful.


However, if we assume that the substantival understanding is correct (an unlikely case but one that I find acceptable), why couldn’t it mean and be translated: “the/a one-and-only/unique one, himself a god”? Is the grammar against such a translation?

Navas also seems to forget the coherency of the bible in that monotheism is a central theme throughout the text of Scripture.

Biblical “monotheism,” as I explain in pages 238-256 of my book, reveals that there is only one Most High and Almighty God, but, at the same time, allows for the existence of other “gods,” and varying levels or degrees of Godship. Just as the Bible says—and ‘monotheistic’ Jews believed—that God was the “one Father” (Malachi 2:10; John 8:41), yet allowed for the existence of other “fathers” (Romans 4:11,16; John 8:39, 44; 1 Corinthians 4:15), so the Bible says—and ‘monotheistic’ Jews believed—that there is only “one God” (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5) yet allowed for the existence of other “gods” (Exodus 7:1; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Psalm 8:5; 45:6; 82:6; John 10:34-35).

John Calvin: “Scripture gives the name of gods to those on whom God has conferred an honourable office. He whom God has separated, to be distinguished above all others [His Son] is far more worthy of this honourable title... For the same reason Scripture calls the angels gods, because by them the glory of God beams forth on the world...In short, let us know that magistrates are called gods, because God has given them authority.”1

Murray Harris: Human rulers or judges, regarded as divine representatives or as bearers of divine authority and majesty (Exod. 21:6; 22:8 [cf. 1 Sam. 2:25]; Judg. 5:8; Psalm 82:1, 6) b. Spiritual or heavenly beings, including God (Gen. 1:27) and angels (Psalm 8:6 [Engl. V. 5]) c. Angels (Ps. 97:7; 138: 1) d. Heathen gods with their images (Exod. 20:23; Jer. 16:20) …both el, [meaning ‘god’] and elohim [meaning ‘gods’], have extended or ‘irregular’ applications to angels or to persons who represent on earth divine power, judgment, or majesty.2

John MacArthur: “Jesus’ argument is that this psalm proves that the word ‘god’ can be legitimately used to refer to others than God Himself. His reasoning is that if there are others whom God can address as ‘god’ or ‘sons of the Most High,’ why then should the Jews object to Jesus’ statement that He is ‘the Son of God’ (v.36)?”3

NIV Study Bible: “In the language of the OT—and in accordance with the conceptual world of the ancient Near East—rulers and judges, as deputies of the heavenly King, could be given the honorific title ‘god’ (see note on 45:6; see also NIV text notes on Ex 21:6; 22:8) or be called ‘son of God’...4

1 John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 419, 20.

2 Jesus as God, the New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, pp. 24, 26. Professor Thompson similarly pointed out: “human judges are called elohim [gods], even as they are called theoi [gods] in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew (…Exod.22:27). In the Dead Sea Scrolls one finds angels spoken of as elim or beney elim [sons of God]…the latter in keeping with Psalms 29:1 and 89:7. Other passages from the Scrolls attest to the use of elohim [gods] for the angels, as is found in Psalms 8:6; 82:1, 6; 97:7; 138:1, and so on.” —The God of the Gospel of John, p. 21.

3 MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1605 (emphasis added).

4 The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), p. 866.