John 3:16 — “The Only Begotten Son of God” — (Nicodemus part 6) — LeGrand Baker

This encapsulation of part of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus contains what may be the most beautiful sentence in the scriptures.

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

In the New Testament, only John uses the Savior’s name, “the Only Begotten Son of God.” That may be significant because it is also true that only John uses a discussion of the premortal Christ as the beginning point of his gospel, and also of letter we call First John. When John uses that name, he always does it with great reverence.(John 1:14-18; 3:17, 18; 1 John 4:1-21). {1}

One wonders if there is more to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” than just their comradery in this life. It may be that when John focuses his writings on the glory of the premortal Christ, that John is reminiscing about their earlier friendship as well. The admonition that concludes in his letter to the Saints includes these tender words that express his total devotion.

7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (1 John 4:1-21).

The fact that Jesus used that name/title, “only begotten Son,” in his conversation with Nicodemus, is another evidence that the Jewish scholar had access to, and was familiar with, historical documents that we do not now have in our Old Testament.

The name, “Only Begotten Son,” is very ancient, but it is not found anyplace in the Old Testament. However, it is found throughout the version of Genesis that is the Book of Moses . Of the 54 times the Savior is called “the Only Begotten” in our scriptures, 26 (almost exactly half) are in the Book of Moses, indicating that even though the name was known by the early Israelites, it had been lost — probably along with the temple rites, during the Jewish apostasy that happened about the time Lehi and his family left Jerusalem.

The name is both a statement of the Savior’s relationship with his Father, and also an assertion of his royal heritage, and his eternal kingship and priesthood.

Jesus used this name/title twice during his conversation with Nicodemus. The second time was near the end when he explained,

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).

Like those in the Book of Moses, this reference also calls our attention back to the very beginning by asserting that we must believe “in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

In that verse, as elsewhere, “name” denotes “covenant.” One always receives a new name when one makes a new covenant (as, for instance, when we are baptized and take the sacrament, and elsewhere, we take upon us the name of the Savior). Because that is so, the word “name” is often code for “covenant,” as it is here:

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name [covenant] of the only begotten Son of God.

Nephi also taught that concept. He prophesied that after the Jews left Babylon and returned to the land of Jerusalem they still would not have peace.

12 But, behold, they shall have wars, and rumors of wars; and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth [that is another of the Savior’s names], shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks.
13 Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning him, for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name (2 Nephi 25:12-13).

Theother name/title that Nephi uses for the Savior is “the Father of heaven and of earth.” It is about Jehovah’s role as the Creator God.

It is intriguing to me that the prophetic name “the Only Begotten Son of the Father” is most frequently used about the Savior before he was born on this earth. He was called that from the very beginning. That name also identifies him as the Creator.

31 And behold, the glory of the Lord was upon Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God, and talked with him face to face. And the Lord God said unto Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.
32 And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.
33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten (Moses 1:31-33).

1 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak. I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest (Moses 2:1).

26 And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. And I, God, said: Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them (Moses 2:26-27).

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi, Jacob, and Alma all refer to the premortal Savior as the Only Begotten Son of God. {2} For example, while Alma was speaking to Zeezrom and others, he explained,

Now we see that Adam did fall by the partaking of the forbidden fruit, according to the word of God; and thus we see, that by his fall, all mankind became a lost and fallen people (Alma 12:22).

He then taught his listeners the origins of the Nephite temple drama and assured them of the Father’s promise that “whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest (Alma 12:34).” Alma said,

28 And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them;
29 Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory.
30 And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works.
31 Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good—
32 Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God.
33 But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;
34 Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.
35 And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest ( Alma 12:33-34).

Then, almost immediately after reviewing the origin of the Nephite temple drama, Alma explained the origin of the orders of premortal priesthood. {3}

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son,
9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen (Alma13:1-9).

Just as our beginnings are described withing the context of “the Only Begotten Son of God,” so also are our endings. Here are some excerpts from the vision that is Doctrine and Covenants section 76. While they are about those who inherit the celestial glory, they also tell us a great deal about who Christ is.

12 By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God——
13 Even those things which were from the beginning before the world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning;
22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father——
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
50 And again we bear record——for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just——
51 They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given——
52 That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
53 And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
54 They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.
55 They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things——
56 They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;
57 And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.
58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God——
59 Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
60 And they shall overcome all things.
61 Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.
62 These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
63 These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.
64 These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection.
65 These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.
66 These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.
67 These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.
68 These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.
69 These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
70 These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical (D&C 76: 12-13, 22-24,50-70).

We cannot know how many of those concepts Nicodemus already understood before he talked with Jesus, but given what else Jesus told him, it is reasonable to suppose that most, if not all of these facets of the name “the Only Begotten Son of God,” were included in their conversation.


{1}The phrase “Only Begotten in the flesh” is a convenient modern explanation, but it is not found anywhere in the scriptures (except in the LDS Bible Dictionary). Still, it tells a truth that is important to tell.

{2} 2 Nephi 25:12-13; Jacob 4:6, 11; Alma 5:35-53; 9:26; 12:33-34; 13:5. 9.

{3} There is an analysis of priesthood “orders” in the essay called “John 1:1-4 — & Alma 13:1-20 — ‘in the beginning’ — ‘Orders’ of Premortal Priesthood.”


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