John 1:18-Thinking Through Some Facts
"No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known." John 1:18 ESV
I did forget about John 1:18 and the textual variant there. Scholars in recent years have changed the translation from "only begotten Son" to "the only God" or "only begotten God." The word for begotten in Greek has been recently discovered to mean more specifically "unique." Therefore, the rendering "only God" seems logical. However, Greek grammarians do not wholly agree with this new development and the issue of the textual variant of "Son" (υιος) and "God" (θεος) is still up in the air.
John Burgon observed how Irenaeus said μονογενης υιος (Only Begotten Son) once, and μονογενης θεος (Only Begotten God) once, and then μονογενης υιος θεος (Only Begotten Son of God) once. Then Clement of Alexandria said μονογενης υιος θεος μονος (Only Begotten Son of God Alone), which Burgon thought was near the reading of the Old Latin Text of the Vercelli Copy. Eusebius four times wrote μονογενης υιος, but twice μονογενης θεος, and told his readers they could choose either reading. He lived during the Arian controversy when everyone was confused about the issue (Like they are today as well!). Strangely enough for Gregory of Nyssa and Basil, they were familiar with μονογενης υιος, but quoted μονογενης θεος more often. I don't know how heavily influenced by Arianism they were, but it is possible they adopted it for a time to gain some political expediency because Arianism possessed the Eastern Church and was the official doctrine of the realm from around 336 A.D. to 379 A.D. After the ending of the Arian rule, the lingering followers kept it somewhat alive for a time. Basil of Caesarea is the brother to Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil lived from 330 A.D. to 379 A.D. While it is said that he was a great supporter of the Nicene Creed, he was Bishop during a time when the Arians possessed the area and excommunicated anyone who opposed their doctrine. Athanasius was excommunicated five times and spent at least 17 years in exile because of his opposition to Arianism. Much of the past is shrouded in uncertainty concerning Basil and Gregory, but the facts suggest they compromised. Basil was a great admirer of Origen, and in his mind the need for "spiritual interpretation" of scripture was a necessity. Since this was true, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think Basil would be okay with an alternative reading given his love of Origen. At the least this leaning could have influenced his use of μονογενης θεος instead of μονογενης υιος. Gregory was the Bishop of Nyssa at the end of the Arian rule from 372 A.D. to 376 A.D. and then was reinstated from 378 A.D. till his death in 394 A.D. Burgon said Gregory adopted the phrase μονογενης θεος three times in his writings and Basil thirty-three times. Cyril of Alexandria also used μονογενης θεος, and Alexandria was the birth place of Arianism. However, Dean thought the expression crept into the passage due to the Gnostic influences that deemed anything material as evil. They edited many texts, and wrote their own to oppose Authentic Christianity. Eventually the Arian influence used this text for a different reason, and could be used as a reason to beware of meddling with the text of Scripture. During the Arian Heresy Arius always wrote μονογενης θεος and his opponents always wrote μονογενης υιος. Here is a quote from Decoding Nicea, which does a great job dealing with the evidence of the Arian rule:
"Constantius was soon won over to Arianism, and until his death in 361 he was the benefactor of Arian bishops. He brought Eusebius from Nicomedia to Constantinople in 341, giving Eusebius the prime see next to Alexandria in the east. Meanwhile, Constantine II and Constans continued to support Nicene bishops in the west. Eusebius, now of Constantinople, wasted no time in giving the Arians control of the east. He called a council in Antioch in 341 and affirmed a creed that did not include the offensive term homoousios. The council also removed Athanasius from Alexandria and installed an Arian bishop in his place. All in all, Athanasius would be removed from his bishopric five times, the council of Antioch's decree being his second removal. The creeds of the Council of Antioch were ignored by the western church, but for the most part, with the support of Constantius, Arian bishops would hold sway in the east until Julian the Apostate rose to power in 361. Constantine II was killed by Constans' soldiers in 341. Not long after Constans demanded that his brother Constantius deal with the division in the empire over the conflicting creeds of Nicea and Antioch. An attempt was made to accomplish this at the Council of Sardica in 343."
Pavao, Paul. Decoding Nicea (pp. 128-129). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
Many don't realize how powerful Arianism was during the time of Nicea and Constantine, and how it influenced the Church for years to come. I personally think it is still influencing us. They almost took over the church in the Roman Empire, and now it seems that their Theology has been resurrected. I did find it interesting the connection of Basil, Gregory, and the Arian Heresy. I'm not saying they ultimately were Arians, but for them to keep their position during Arian domination suggests they compromised for a time, where Athanasius didn't.
As far as the variant of John 1:18 is concerned, I personally think the evidence supports μονογενης υιος as being the authentic reading and should be considered to be the basis for all Christian translations of the Bible. Personally I think the ESV translators bombed out on this one and should reconsider their decision to use μονογενης θεος. Eusebius thought both were okay, and while that seems diplomatic, they both can't be original unless John wrote two Gospels, which I suppose is possible since most letters in the First Century were written multiple times and sent in various directions so that the letter would successfully reach its destination. You see, one letter couldn't be circulated because most mail carriers in the first century were met with peril of some sort when delivering their message. You could probably make a movie about the profession. They were met with all kinds of obstacles that hindered the delivery of the mail. Therefore, those who wrote the messages these brave souls would deliver would send the same message through multiple routes, hoping at least one of them would arrive. I find it unlikely though that John wrote μονογενης θεος instead of μονογενης υιος. God knows for sure, but I think the evidence here is enough to defend the traditional reading.