As I read through the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel several days ago there was an opportunity to interact with unknown siblings in Christ from the past who have provided interesting glosses made evident by a couple of textual variants that say a lot about Christ.

The first one was brought to my attention in a recent conversation with JohnDave Medina. It appears in 1.18 where it says in the KJV, “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The textual variant occurs where the KJV says, “the only begotten Son”. This is based on MSS that say ho monogenes huios (ο μονογενης υιος) or the only-begotten son. Other English translations that have “Son” include the NKJV, NIV 2011 (“one and only Son”), the CEV, ASV, and the HCSB.

Other translations say something like the NASB, “the only begotten God” or the ESV “the only God”. This is based on MSS that say monogenes theos (μονογενης θεος). The new SBLGNT apparatus sides with this rendering. While I am no expert in textual criticism it would seem (from what little I know) that this text has more probability of being original if for nothing else it is the more difficult gloss. In other words, it would make sense that “only-begotten God” or “one and only God” who is in the bosom of the Father would be glossed as the “Son” to explain how this God relates to the Father, but it doesn’t make as much sense for the Son to be in the bosom of the Father and therefore it was seen as necessary to add the more obscure “only-begotten/one and only God”.

This is not the only time something like this happens in the first chapter. In 1.34 there is an MSS tradition that has eklektos tou theou (εκλεκτoς του θεου) translated “chosen/elected one of God”, but many MSS have ho huios tou theou (ο υιος του θεου) “Son of God”. Again, the SBLGNT went with eklektos and likely for the same reasons. It makes more sense that early scribes would explain the elect/chosen one as the Son than that the Son would be explained as the elect/chosen one.

While the reader may see this as say “Duh!” because it is obvious that the “only-begotten God” or “one and only God” and that “chosen one” are references to Jesus who is the “Son of God” it was exciting for me because it felt like I was having a conversation with Christians from the past. We read together that the Logos is the only-begotten God in the bosom of the Father and the “Chosen One” (echoes of a designation for YHWH prominent in the Book of Isaiah) and they remind us, “That is the Son of God.”