Beyond the Begats

Will Penner

My absolute least favorite sections of scripture are what I refer to as “The Begats.” Begat is an antiquated term we don’t really use anymore, but basically it means “to father a child.” Implicit in the definition is a biological connection. My first attempt to read through the entire Bible was at age 11, and it was the King James Version placed by the Gideons in a hotel room. There were several genealogical sections where one person begat another, who begat another, who begat another, and so on. Super dull.

Bible Reading Guy2 TS 137299797Important, though, I suppose. They certainly establish some lineages that are of interest, particularly those that lead to major figures among the Hebrews—and they establish credibility for Jesus as the Messiah prophesied about in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s also important to understand that in the first-century Roman Empire, a biologically produced son automatically held a level of authority equivalent to his father, allowing him to transact business on behalf of the household. So being begat by an important person made that person important as well.

Neither the New Revised Standard Version, my current favorite, or Today’s New International Version, a close second, use the term begat or any of its derivatives, such as begotten. While not a significant issue much of the time, the lack of its use obscures the original Greek on a key point.

John 3:16 is probably the most famous passage, and it may be one of the few passages—along with the Lord’s Prayer and Shepherd’s Psalm (23)—that many people still prefer to learn in King James language rather than more modern translations: “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.”

This is a beautiful passage, definitely worthy of memorizing. Just two chapters earlier, though, John was claiming that Jesus gave those who believed in him “power to become children of God” (1:12). If we read only a newer translation, which says on one hand that Jesus was the only child of God and then on the other that we can become children of God, frankly that can feel a bit inconsistent. That’s where the begats come in.

devozine Extended Family TSP 200280711-001God only has one “begotten” Son—one who is of exactly the same divine essence. This is probably the closest possible metaphor to a biologically-produced human offspring—one sharing much of the same DNA as the parent. However, scripture is very clear that we have been adopted into God’s eternal family as “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), making us princes and princesses of the kingdom of heaven. How cool is that?

Part of what this means is that whether we live with biological parents, step parents, adopted parents, siblings, grandparents, other family members, in a foster home, a transitional living facility, or even out on the street—we shouldn’t be defined by that situation. “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,” according to Galatians 3:28. I would also add that there is neither begotten nor foster, neither adopted nor orphaned. We are “all one in Christ Jesus.”

Another part of what it means that we are members of God’s family is that our earthly parents, even those biologically connected, are really just foster parents of sorts. They are stewards of our growth for a season, but our destiny is heirship to heaven. By all means, we can (and should) be grateful for the influence of all of those who pour into our lives to steward our growth, but we can (and should) also look toward our eternal destination when we will finally be home resting in the arms of our heavenly Father.



Spend time writing about how you have allowed your identity to be shaped by decisions made by those who were supposed to be your caregivers, especially any of those messages that have been negative. In what ways can your identity begin being refashioned right now by the awareness of your adoption into God’s family?

Will Penner is a husband, teacher, youth worker, author, and speaker in Fairview, Tennessee—and the proud father of both begotten and adopted children, all of whom are heirs to his love and devotion.

—from devozine (August 2016). Copyright © 2016 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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