Response to: Michael Burgos’s A Response to Patrick Navas Regarding John 1:18

Contributed by Patrick Navas



In his latest article on John 1:18 Michael Burgos wrote:


If the word of God has been preserved (Is 40:8), then one of the two readings must be correct.

I agree that the “word of God” has been preserved in the Scriptures and that one of the two John 1:18 readings must be correct.

When the textual evidence weighs heavily upon one side (not in quantity but quality of both internal and external evidence), as I argued it did for monogenes Theos in the relevant article, I therefore, have no quibble about testifying to the truthfulness of that reading...I see no issue with characterizing monogenes Theos as the proper reading based upon the extant evidence.

As stated, I have no issue against the monogenes theos reading. I believe it was the original. The only point I made (which is a true one) is that, in spite of the evidence in its favor, we still don’t know for sure that it was the original reading1 (some Bible students still argue for the alternative). There are, in fact, quite a number of textual (and interpretive) issues relating to the Bible that we simply don’t have certainty on, and that’s okay. Our faith in God, in Jesus as his Son, and in the Gospel message, does not need to be weakened or compromised due to the uncertainties and ambiguities that exist in relation the biblical text. Sometimes it is wiser to speak in terms of probabilities, as opposed to certainties, with reference to certain issues of biblical interpretation. I think Daniel Wallace made a similar point when he observed: “In a historical-literary investigation we are dealing with probability vs. possibility. We are attempting to recover meaning without all the data. This is not a hard science...Unlike the hard sciences, a falsifiable hypothesis in the humanities is difficult to demonstrate because of the vacillations in the levels of ambiguity in the data examined (in our case, the ambiguities in the texts whose authors cannot be consulted” (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 9).

Navas has presented a slippery slope. One that if embrace, would be a stones throw away from the skepticism of Bart Ehrman.

To simply acknowledge a level of uncertainty on a textual or interpretative issue hardly results in being “a stones throw away from the skepticism of Bart Ehrman.” As far as I know, Ehrman is an agnostic and definitely does not believe in the God of the Bible.

Navas: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.”


Burgos: Navas has made a false claim in the above statement. Fascinatingly, regarding this very issue, Bart Ehrman made a similar claim in his book, ‘The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.’ Ehrman stated, ‘It is true that monogenes can elsewhere be used as a substantive (equals ‘the unique one,’ as in v. 14); all adjectives can. But the proponents of this view have failed to consider that it is never used in this way when it is immediately followed by a noun that agrees with it in gender, number, and case. Indeed one must here press the syntactical point: when is an adjective ever used substantivally when it immediately precedes a noun of the same inflection? No Greek reader would construe such a construction as a string of substantives, and no Greek writer would create such an inconcinnity. To the best of my knowledge, no one has cited anything analogous outside of this passage [2].’ Like Ehrman, Navas has become dogmatic about this issue with undue warrant. Dr. Daniel Wallace has proven both Ehrman and Navas wrong en toto: ‘Ehrman thus suggests that it is nearly impossible and completely unattested for an adjective followed immediately by a noun that agrees in gender, number, and case, to be a substantival adjective…his absolutizing of the grammatical situation is incorrect...There are, indeed, examples in which an adjective that is juxtaposed to a noun of the same grammatical concord is not functioning adjectivally but substantivally’ [3]. Wallace has identified the following sampling of texts as being ‘identical structure parallel[s]:’ John 6:70, Rom 1:30, Gal. 3:9, Eph 2:20, 1Tim 1:9, 2Tim 3:2, Titus 1:10, 1Pet 1:1, and 2Pet 2:5.

My friend Baker alerted me to the existence of Wallace’s paper before Burgos published his rebuttal. He wrote:

There was one part of the paper on John 1:18 that may face undue criticism. I believe the point you make is justified but came up for debate by no less than Dan Wallace in his ‘displeasure’ of Bart Ehrman…Wallace and 1 or 2 of his assistants went through the NT coming up with what Wallace tried to foist as similar examples, of adjectives used substantively (which is very common), with a few used in immediate apposition to another noun (which is not). These were unusual examples to be sure. Only 2 come close, one which he admits could follow usual grammar where the adjective modifies the noun,—several translations have it that way; and a second, 2 Pet 2:5, where the noun following the adjective is a PROPER NOUN, hence it really doesn’t follow the same exact syntax either IMO. (See Wallace’s examples in the attached article). In my opinion Wallace FAILED to provide a single example where an adjective, used substantively, is immediately appositional to a noun USED ADJECTIVALLY, which is the actual pinpoint exegesis which the NET, NLT and a few other versions are making. When these translations use appositional verbage, like ‘who is himself God,’ or ‘himself God,’ these versions are not using the word GOD substantively (as a noun) since that would equate Jesus with the God mentioned in the first part of the verse (No one has seen that God!) and would cause a blatant contradiction! So the translators made a decision not to cause such a blatant contradiction by nuancing this theos predicatively (as a description), ‘himself God’—God used adjectivally, abstractly, like ‘deity.’ Because of the snow job of Trinitarian theology through the centuries, entraining common usage, the predicative use of God is not immediately apparent to western ears but If ‘man’/anthropos was used instead, as in ‘himself man,’ the adjectival/qualitative use becomes clear. I’ll do the research but I think that that peculiar syntax (as previously detailed) would be even rarer than Wallace’s current rag-tag list of supposed similarities.


The short of this is that I agree with you and Ehrman on this point. The way some Trinitarians want it (Theos/God taken substantivally) is infinitesimally possible, but highly unlikely, because the outcome would then equate Jesus with the same God no one has seen. The other meaning offered, the way that other Trinitarians want it, (Theos/God used predicatively, as a description, in apposition with monogenes), is just as unlikely, because to the best of my knowledge, as yet there are no other mimicking syntactical exemplars being offered, i.e. ones that instantiate an example of a substantively used adjective followed immediately by an appositional noun used predicatively/qualitatively/adjectively. Why on earth would John write in such a contorted way??? By the way, I think Wallace’s argument is proven disingenuous here since he argues for a continued substantive meaning of theos but backs a predicative use in the NET Bible which he is editor of, ‘the only one, himself God.’ Another blatant example of his misdirection you will find in the article attached where he proposes that monogenes ‘simply means unique one.’ This is a humongous dumbing down of the issues involved. This word’s meaning remains highly disputed amongst Trinitarians themselves.

In view of the aforementioned points, I think Wallace’s case is highly questionable if not completely invalid (Greg Stafford has addressed Wallace’s arguments in a separate paper. See attached document: Bart D. Ehrman, Daniel B. Wallace, and the Syntax and Meaning of John 1:18).2 However, if Wallace’s conclusions are correct, I would only modify my original point as follows:

“In fact, in nearly every case 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 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 quite doubtful.

However, as I stated in my response to Burgos, given the facts, the substantival interpretation is improbable but “possible” (since any adjective can be substantivized) and still one that I can accept. In other words, I don’t interpret the text that way, but I can accept it, knowing that it does nothing to prove or support the Trinitarian cause.


As far as I can see at this point, the Trinitarian apologists are, in reference to “monogenes theos,” proposing a syntactical scenario of a remarkably strained and extraordinary kind. They are, in effect, trying to change an adjective (monogenes) into a noun (called a ‘substantive’)3 and a noun (theos) into an adjective (or abstract/qualitative term) like ‘deity’ or the like (i.e., Trinitarians actually interpret the verse to mean: ‘the unique one, Himself God [as to his essence’]). This is no surprise given that any other way would contradict the requirements of Trinitarian theology. Why? Because if theos in John 1:18 is taken as a common noun, then the Son is either equated with the one (God/the Father) that can’t be seen, or the Son is being portrayed as a particular “G/god” that dwells in the Father’s bosom, concepts that are unacceptable to Trinitarian doctrine.

In addition, the places in which the Evangelist uses monogenes as an adjective (3:16, 18, and 1John 4:9) he includes the article (e.g. τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ), but in 1:14 and 1:18 he did not. Thus, given the fact that John has already utilized the term in such a way a few verses prior, and the precedence of such constructions in the NT, to call the substantival function of monogenes ‘very doubtful’ is itself very doubtful.

It is true that John utilizes monogenes as a substantive in John 1:14, but, unlike John 1:18, it is not immediately followed by a noun of the same inflection. Thus, monogenes in 1:18 appears, quite naturally, to function as a simple adjective that modifies the noun theos, so that the Son is identified by John as a particular kind of “G/god” (not a ‘person’ of God) that dwells “in the bosom of the Father” (‘the unique/one-of-a-kind theos that dwells in the Father’s bosom’). The other problem is that the “precedents” cited by Wallace/Burgos have not been solidly established (see Stafford’s article), are very few and far between if they are legitimate, and, therefore, the substantival function, though a grammatical possibility, is doubtful, or, at least, objectively open to serious question.

Navas asks, ‘why couldn't [monogenes Theos] be translated: ‘the/a one-and-only/unique one, himself a god’? To even posit the notion that monogenes should be preceded by an indefinite article is ridiculous. The definitional purpose of the word is to set the subject apart from all else within a specific context [4]. Therefore, the inclusion of the indefinite article mitigates against the very meaning of the word. Consider the suggested rendering; ‘a unique one;’ it is nonsensical.

Not that this is the key issue (or even necessary), but “a unique one” is sensible—just as, in ordinary speech, we can speak about “a unique/one-of-a-kind bird” or “a unique car,” etc. There is nothing unusual about such language. There is, likewise, no problem in using the indefinite article in an English translation of John 1:18, from either a grammatical, contextual, conceptual, biblical or logical perspective. If there is, one wonders why BDAG gives the following translation in its entry on monogenes:

See also Hdb. on vs. 18 where, beside the rdg. μονογενὴς θεός (considered by many the orig.) an only-begotten one, God (acc. to his real being; i.e. uniquely divine as God’s son and transcending all others alleged to be gods) or a uniquely begotten deity (for the perspective s. J 10:33–36), another rdg. μονογενὴς υἱός is found.4

But there is no problem with “the unique one” either. I do apologize if this distracted from my main point/question, however, which was (granting the very unlikely conclusion that monogenes is used as a substantive in this case), why not translate: ‘the unique one, himself a god,” as opposed to “himself God”? Why is “himself God” a better interpretation, from a grammatical and “theological” standpoint?

What would prevent one from inserting the indefinite article in 1:14 where monogenes functions in a similar way? It would read, “we have seen his glory, glory of a one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

There is nothing, grammatically/logically/conceptually, to prevent this. That is why several translations have:

we saw his glory—such glory as is given to an only son by his father—saw it to be true and full of grace.” —Bible in Basic English

we actually saw His glory, the glory of One who is an only Son from His Father” —The New Testament by C.B. Williams

we saw his glory, glory such as that of an only son from the Father”

Byington, The Bible in Living English

we have seen his glory—glory such as an only son enjoys from his father”

New Translation by James Moffatt

we saw the honor God had given him, such honor as an only son receives from his father” —Goodspeed, An American Translation5

Burgos claimed:

Furthermore, monogenes is placed in apposition to Theos. Had John used the article, an adjectival function of monogenes would have been the result.

If that’s the case, what was the point of Burgos contending for the articular reading of P75 in his first article?

Thus, the inclusion of the indefinite article would leave the author without the faculty to express monogenes as a substantive while maintaining the definite force of Theos.

David Barron did some research on this point and observed:

An examination of monogenes in the LXX (including the Apocrypha) and the New Testament reveals no consistent pattern of use with relation to the article. What is consistent, however, is that within this corpus it always modifies that noun with which it is paired. This is not a prescriptive statement to suggest such must always be the case, only descriptive in that this is true within the examples found.

Anarthrous, Substantival

Anarthrous, Not Substantival

Tobit 3:15

Luke 9:38

John 1:16

Judges 11:34 – Modifies substantival agapete

Tobit 6:11 – Modifies thugater

Luke 7:12 – Modifies huios

Psalms of Solomon 18:4—Debated, likely modifies houion with protokon

Articular, Substantival

Articular, Not Substantival

Psalm 21:21

Psalm 32:17

Hebrews 11:17

John 3:16 – Modifies huion

John 3:18 – Modifies huiou

1 John 4:9 – Modifies huion

While John does use the article on three occasions, he does not follow a specific pattern. He uses both tou monogenous huiou and ton huion ton monogene. That John uses monogenes only once where it is clearly substantival is hardly sufficient evidence to demand it is also such in 18, even while lacking the article. In 14 the adjective is not paired with a noun, in 18 it is, and John well demonstrates no concern using an anarthrous adjective to modify a noun.


At John 12:41 we find polun karpon ferei (‘it brings much fruit’), while 14:16 says allon parakleton (‘another comforter’). Similarly, 18:15 reads allos mathetes (‘another disciple’), yet 20:2-4, 8 reads the same, though articular. John uses the article and drops it in cases where adjectives modify nouns.


While John uses an anarthrous monogenes at John 1:14, it is not paired with a noun. That it is in 18 makes modifying the noun probable, as in every other scriptural and apocryphal instance. This is consistent with John’s use of theos in 1:1c and the scriptural distinction between the sense in which Jesus is theos and the Father is theos (Heb. 1:8-9).


As 1:18 is paired, it is entirely appropriate to see monogenes modifying theos, telling us that Jesus is in fact a unique god, one of a kind as the true son of the Father.

Burgos continues:


It seems as though Navas is willing to place an indefinite article anywhere to take away from the force of the text.

Not exactly. Indefinite articles are often used to bring out the accuracy of the text.

Why hasn’t Navas argued for an indefinite rendering of the anarthrous Theos in the first clause of 1:18 (no one has ever seen a God...)? It would seem that Navas' plea for the indefinite rendering is indicative of special pleading.

I’m obviously not saying that everywhere a noun appears without a definite article in the NT we should use the indefinite article in translation. Other factors (like logic, context, etc.) are involved. As Daniel Wallace notes in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (pp. 243, 245): “It is not necessary for a noun to have the article in order for it to be definite. But conversely, a noun cannot be indefinite when it has the article. Thus, it may be definite without the article, and it must be definite with the article...there are at least ten constructions in which a noun may be definite though anarthrous.”


It seems that, logically (given that the theos that can’t be seen is contrasted with the monogenes theos that reveals him), the theos in the first clause of 1:18 is a reference to “God” (the Father) not “a god,” although, grammatically, it could certainly be rendered “a god no one has ever seen.”

But does John 1:18 teach that the monogenes Theos is an ontologically separate God?...Well, since monogenes isn’t adjectivally modifying Theos, but a substantive operating in apposition to it, there is no basis in suggesting that the Son is ‘a distinctive type of being.’

Here Burgos argues from the premise that monogenes is definitely being used as a substantive when that’s one of the very points in dispute. And I’m not quite sure how Burgos could disagree with the point that the Son is a distinctive type of being. In Burgos’s view the Son is not a being?

Rather, this text tells us that the Son is the unique one who is Himself God; thus simultaneously distinguishing Him from the Father while still affirming His actual (read: true) deity. It is interesting how John tells us this truth. He states, "no one has seen God" only to tell us that the unique one who is Himself God has exegeted Him. Are we to believe that the one who exegetes (ἐξηγέομαι) the Father is Himself a created god?

Where does the Bible say that one must be Almighty God—or a member of the ‘Godhead’—in order to “exegete” or explain God?—or that a “created god” or an inspired human/prophet cannot do this?

The one who makes known the God who no one has ever seen, the Word of God, he is himself a lesser god? Is that what John is communicating? How can a lesser deity exegete the Living God?

Not that it’s my practice to identify Christ as a “lesser deity” (as to demean or dishonor him in some way), but, I’m not aware of any logical or biblical principle that says a “lesser deity” cannot “exegete the Living God.” Where are the rules against such articulated in the Bible? Or is there a logical basis to this argument?

There is no grammatical basis to assert an ontological separation, and there is no theological basis either.

If the Father and Son are the same “being,” the same “God” (which Trinitarianism does teach), then Jesus would be “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:17), which is impossible. If Jesus were the same “being/God” as the Father he would be “the invisible God,” but he’s not (Col. 1:15). If Jesus wanted us to believe that he and the Father are the same “being/God,” why did he so plainly present himself as a figure distinguishable from, or as someone other than, “the only true God”? Is “the only true God” not a reference to a specific being?


If the author of Hebrews believed the Father and Son were the same “being/God,” he could have said something like, “He is the radiance of the Father’s glory and one who shares the very being of God,” but he didn’t. Instead, he taught that the Son is a “copy/reproduction” of God’s being.


So there certainly is a “theological” and biblical (not to mention ‘common sense’) basis for an “ontological” distinction between the Father and the Son (i.e., the Father and the Messiah are two distinct ‘beings’—God and God’s Son). If the Son is a “copy” of God’s being, then the Son’s “being” and God’s “being” are not the “same being.” Instead, there is one being (God’s being) and one who is a copy or reproduction of that being—God’s Son, Jesus.

1 To illustrate what I mean even further, note that “the 2nd/3rd century Sahidic Coptic version is a conflated text that combines both readings. (Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, page 112) The Coptic text reflects the reading μονογενὴς υἱός θεὸς. Whether such a Greek text actually existed, or whether the Coptic translators had both readings before them, and did not want to drop one reading in favor of the other, and so combined them, is not clear. The actual Sahidic Coptic text (John 1:18): ΠΝΟΥΤЄ ΜΠЄ λΑΑΥ ΝΑΥ ЄΡΟϤ ЄΝЄϩ. ΠΝΟΥΤЄ ΠϢΗΡЄ ΝΟΥШΤ ΠЄΤϢΟΟΠ ϩΝ ΚΟΥΝϤ ΜΠЄϤЄΙШΤ ΠЄΤΜΜΑΥ ΠЄΝΤΑϤϢΑϪЄ ЄΡΟϤ. My 2006 Contemporary English translation of Sahidic Coptic John 1:18: No one has ever seen God at any time. The divine being, the only Son, who is in the bosom of his Father, is the one who has revealed him.”Solomon Landers, Email Correspondence: Sunday, October 30, 2011

3 Of course, as Ehrman explains, all adjectives can be substantivized; but when an adjective is paired with a noun of the same inflection in the NT, the typical result is that the adjective is simply modifying the noun that follows it.

4 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (658). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

5 Other translations use the indefinite article but translate monogenes as “only-begotten”: “we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.” —Young’s Literal Translation; “and we gaze at His glory, a glory as of an only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” —A.E., Knoch, Concordant Translation; “And we gazed upon his glory,—A glory as an Only-begotten from his Father.” —Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible; “we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father, full of grace and truth” —Darby Translation;“we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; and he was full of undeserved kindness and truth” —New World Translation