You are my Son, today I have begotten you

What does this mean?

In the Qur'an we find various passages protesting against a notion of "begetting" for God, for example

Many Muslims make statements like the following, taken from a newsgroup posting:

Where does the Bible even say so? I have not found one passage where God is connected with a sexual act. It is understandable that Muslims might believe this to be so since the Qur'an speaks out against it so forcefully, but it is actually nowhere to be found in the Bible itself.

There are a number of passages the word "begotten" is used, but it is usually metaphorically, and never literal when associated with God.

There are exactly three passages where Jesus is called "begotten" in the Bible.

There are a few more in the King James Version, but in those other places it is a mistranslation of monogenes according to the unanimous opinion among the scholars of the Greek language.

The verses that do speak about "begotten" are:

In the above three cases it is not an "original statement" but each time it is quoting Psalm 2:7 from the Old Testament.

What are all of these three passages talking about? Let us read them in context. In Acts 13 we find this expression a sermon preached by Peter:

32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers,
33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, 'Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee.'
34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke in this way, 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.'
35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, 'Thou wilt not let thy Holy One see corruption.' ...

In Hebrews 1:

1 In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets;
2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
3 He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to what angel did God ever say, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
6 And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."

Hebrews 5:

1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.
3 Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.
4 And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee";
6 as he says also in another place, "Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchiz'edek."
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.
8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;
9 and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,
10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchiz'edek.

All of these passages speak about the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. It refers to his taking office as king and priest. This took place about 33 years after the birth of Jesus. Clearly, in Biblical usage, the term "begotten" when used for Jesus in those passages is not at all connected with anything sexual but has a metaphorical meaning. The expression "the begotten son" of God is never mentioned in respect to his miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit or his birth by the Virgin Mary.

It might well be that the Muslim understanding is correct in regard to the Qur'an, but it is better to carefully read the Bible or ask knowledgable Christians before just assuming that the Bible does speak about the same thing that is condemned in the Qur'an. There is no duty on the part of the Christian to actually believe in the false notions that the Qur'an has about the Christians. The problem in not in the Bible, it is in the Qur'an whose author has not understood the clear meaning of the Biblical language.

What then is the Biblical meaning? I think Romans 1:4 says it most clearly that Jesus "was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord." The resurrection was the time of public declaration of what he has been all along. The NIV translates the three above mentioned verses as "Today I became your Father" instead of the literal "Today I have begotten you" in order to bring out more clearly the strong symbolic meaning of the word, which should be already obvious from their original place in Psalm 2:7 as well as from the way it is quoted in the New Testament in refering to the resurrection.

Psalm 2 is an inauguration psalm for the Israelite kings -- the public declaration of kingship. And most of the Kings became kings as grown men. None became king at his conception.

And this meaning carries over into the New Testament use for Jesus just as well, that the resurrection is the public announcement by God about the true identity and authority of Jesus, Messiah, true king of Israel, representative of God among mankind.

Jochen Katz

Further discussion:

What does it mean when we speak of Jesus as the Son of God?

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