Introduction

This word study investigates the Hebrew word יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî) in Psalm 2:7, and the Greek word γεγέννηκά, (genenneka) in the three NT quotations that often translate these words as “begotten” in literal translations. This word study looks at the definitions of the words and how they are translated but it does not delve into the interpretation of the verses. This study serves to illustrate a practice involved in careful Bible studying.

Begotten: is an English word. One should keep in mind, when asking what “Begotten” or “Beget” means, one is asking for the definition of the English word that the original languages have been translated into. In English, begotten carries the idea of the biological connection as in procreation.

By investigating the meaning of the words in the original words in the Hebrew and Greek and comparing it to the definition of the English words, one is in essence double checking the translation’s accuracy. One also stands to gain a better understanding of the meaning intended by the author as there is frequently something lost in the translation process.

Looking at Begotten in Psalm 2:7

  1. יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî) Begotten
    1. (verb, Qal, (perfect), first person, singular)
    2. Qal perf. of completed action in time of speaker for יְלַדְתּיךָ .[1]
      1. The perfect form indicates that actions, processes, and events have already been completed in the past.[2]
      2. The perfect form can express a state of affairs or a condition.[3]
      3. The perfect form, often referred to as the prophetic perfect meaning they may have spoken of it as though it had already happened from a future perspective.
    3. The word appears in Genesis 21:7; 29:34; 30:20; Numbers 11:12; Ruth 1:12; 1 Kings 3:21; 1 Chronicles 4:9; Ps 2:7; 110:3; Isaiah 23:4; Jeremiah 20:14. Isaiah 23:4 is included when disregarding vowels and searching for consonants only. This is mentioned because earlier manuscripts did not include the vowels to save space. The words were later reconstructed by the Masoretes[4] who added the voweling points.
    4. יְלִדְתִּֽי occurs in the OT as Qal Perfect 11 times with four of the occurrences being in the construct. The Septuagint’s sole use of γεγέννηκά appears in Psalm 2:7 for יְלִדְתִּֽי. This is the same exact word form used in Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, and Acts 13:33.
    5. One must also consider if the meaning of γεγέννηκά has changed since when the Septuagint used it to translate יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî). Based on definitions for the lemma γεννάω, the usage of γεννάω in the Septuagint appears to have the same definition as it did in the NT going with Lust’s[5] definition of “to bring forth, to create” compared to BDAG’s “to cause someth. to come into existence, primarily through procreation or parturition.”[6] Although Lust’s definition may be broader, it is very close to BDAG’s third definition, “to cause someth. to happen, bring forth, produce, cause, fig.” While Brannan[7] provides the glosses beget and engender for γεγέννηκά. Therefore, one lacks support to say the definition has changed between the time of the Septuagint translation and the time of the New Testament writings.

HALOT[8] יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî) lexiconical definitions for the Qal stem only.

  1. Give birth to or bear young (said of women)
  2. To beget (said of men and comparable to the hifʿil use- to beget or cause to bring forth)
  3. Metaphorical usage.

Many commentators agree with HALOT’s placing Psalm 2:7’s use of יְלִדְתִּֽי under metaphorical use.

  • “I have become your father. Implying through adoption”[9] as it is adoption language.
  • “I have begotten you” is metaphorical language; it means more than simply adoption, which has legal overtones, and implies that a “new birth” of a divine nature took place during the coronation.[10]
  • Yahweh adopted David and his seed as His’ Son on the day of the institution of the Davidic covenant, when first David reigned by right of divine sonship.[11]

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [12] quotes Buswell saying:

yālad in Ps 2:7 (note that it is not Hiphil) refers to the relationship of love between the Father and the Son. The NT interprets it of Christ’s resurrection and session at the Father’s right hand (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:3–5; 5:5)

How to approach Psalm 2

Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm and we do well to first understand it in that way, as addressed to the newly crowned David. The New Testament writers were able, via inspiration, to draw from the Old Testament and apply it in a fresh new way to present their message. We have the task of also understanding the quoted passage in this new way in the New Testament when the New Testament authors do this. We must also take care as to how much if any of the unquoted context of a passage also applies in the new way along with the quoted passage. It is often thought that reading part of a passage would bring the entire passage to the mind of the hears, such as when Jesus read from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19). One must consider whether the New Testament writer applied new meaning to the quote or retained the original meaning. Some translations use begotten while others use something like “I will be/become your father.”

Each Bible student will decide, either consciously or by default, whether it is the job of the translator, the commentator, themselves, or a combination of these to consider interpretation issues. Every translation introduces some interpretation at points, some more than others. This also applies to the Septuagint.

Summary of יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî)

יְלִדְתִּֽי (yelidti) means procreation as in a biological procreation such as fathering a child. However, according to Harris and Buswell, the use of the Qal instead of Hif may indicate a focus on the relationship rather than the event of biological procreation, but HALOT indicates that a definition for the Qal and Hif are comparable, and both denote beget, when applied to men. The Septuagint’s use of γεγέννηκά many indicate the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 at the time of translation or it may be an unfortunate choice that introduced additional possible meanings as it probably meant the same since the Septuagint’s translation through NT times.  Yet it is the state of affairs after “today I have begotten you” that requires one’s attention.

Understanding begotten in The Book of Hebrews:

(γεγέννηκά, genenneka, (lemma γεννάω) verb, perfect, active, indicative, 1st person, singular)

    1. Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5
      1. The only other time γεγέννηκά also appears in in the New Testament is in Acts 13:33
      2. All three incidences of γεγέννηκά are quotations of Psalm 2:7.
    2. A search of the New Testament for the lemma γεννάω in NASB95 yields 97 results in 65 verses. Only four of these are translated “begotten” by NASB95
        • see Philemon 10 (ἐγέννησα) for the fourth. It is in the aorist tense rather than the perfect.
      1. NASB95 translated these 97 occurrences as: born, father, begotten, became, child, bear, bearing, bore, conceived, gave, gives, and produce.
      2. Γεγέννηκά (genenneka) comes from a different root than μονογενής (monogenes).
      3. In Greek, the perfect tense, as in Hebrew, indicates the completion of the action by the time of the speaker without further indication of time.

Lexicon BDAG[13] main definitions:

      1. Become the parent of, beget.
        1. By procreation.
        2. By exercising the role of a parent figure.
        • BDAG list all three quotations of Psalm 2:7 under this definition. Hebrews 1:5; 5:5; and Acts 13:33 [14] although NASB95 seems to have place it under “1.A) “by procreation,” translating it “Begotten.” Note that HALOT’s definition 3 of “Metaphorical” is not applied to these verses by BDAG.
        • This definition is supported by Philo’s use of γεγέννηκα for the relationship of a teacher and his students.
        • BDAG list Paul’s two uses of the aorist form of the word (ἐγέννησα) under this definition in:
          • 1 Corinthians 4:15 - became your father
          • Philemon 10 - begotten.
      1. To give birth to, bear
      2. To cause something to happen, bring forth, produce, cause, figuratively.

When was Jesus Begotten

Sometimes lexicons list definitions that are not truly a definition of the word. One must use discretion when using lexicons. In this case, even though BDAG’s definition i.B is not an identical fit for Psalm 2:7, there is support for this definition for the use of γεγέννηκά, genenneka in the New Testament. Questions to consider are: How much does one lean on the source of the quote in these verses? How did the Jewish readers/hears of this passage understand it and how does it fit into the NT context? It is up to the interpreter as to whether definition 1A or 1B is to be used for γεγέννηκά in these verses after due considerations.

The difference made by the use of the perfect tense or the aorist tense and what the perfect tense tells us:

It is to be noted that the choice between aorist and perfect is not determined by the objective facts, but by the writer’s wish to connote the special nuance of the perfect; if this be not required, the aorist will be used. The use of the perfect in the NT thus shows that the author has in mind the notion of a state of affairs resultant upon the action.
Zerwick [15]

It is important for us to understand the state of affairs resulting in the action of God having begotten Christ. That is, a focus on the authority the Father has given Him rather than His incarnation or coronation as some have considered.

People place Christ’s being begotten of Hebrews 1:5 as occurring at various times such as: His transfiguration, resurrection, or ascension, but John 3:35; 5:22 shows and establishes Christ’s authority prior to those events. Hebrews does not aide one in establishing the time of when Christ was begotten. The importance of when Christ was begotten is greatly diminished when one understands the importance of the state of affairs after He was begotten. It is quite likely Christ was begotten from eternity.

For a quick analysis of translations use of begotten in these three verses to get a feeling of how it is being translated, I have examined 25 Bibles that include both testaments. I have tried to avoid multiple editions of any single translation. 13 translations consistently use begotten while 10 consistently do not use begotten and 2 are not consistent in their use of begotten in these verses. The older formal-equivalent translations tend toward using the word begotten; However, the latest translation, NASB2020, uses “fathered” instead of “begotten,” which still fits well.

Summary:

Begotten in Psalm 2:7 retains the lexiconical meaning of יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî). However, it is taken in a metaphoric sense by interpreters as it is applied either to the human king or Christ in the verse. Half of the translations give it a metaphoric interpretation. They also carry that metaphoric interpretation into the New testament. Both יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî) and γεγέννηκά (gegenneka) indicate the action is completed at the time of the speaker, yet it may be the “prophetic perfect” used in prophecy indicating it will certainly occur.

Μονογενῆς (monogenes) “only begotten” or more recently translated “unique” or “only Son” (and deserves a separate article) is a different word than γεγέννηκά (gegenneka) and the meaning of one word does not affect the meaning of the other.

γεγέννηκά (gegenneka) allows the obtaining of descendants or becoming a father through formal adoption or merely acting fatherly toward someone as does the apostle Paul. “Become your father” seems to be an acceptable translation of γεγέννηκά (gegenneka) but not for יְלִדְתִּֽי (yĕlidtî) as this introduces interpretation not present in the Hebrew word. The Perfect tense of the Greek directs one toward the state of affairs after γεγέννηκά (gegenneka) rather than to the event itself and sets the stage for understanding the passages as the result of an existing state, Christ is begotten and therefore possesses authority and relationship with God the Father.

Bibliography

[1] Briggs, C. A., & Briggs, E. G. (1906–1907). A critical and exegetical commentary on the book of Psalms (p. 22). New York: C. Scribner’s Sons.

[2] Van der Merwe, C., Naudé, J., Kroeze, J., Van der Merwe, C., Naudé, J., & Kroeze, J. (1999). A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (electronic ed., p. 145). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Futato, M. D. (2003). Beginning Biblical Hebrew (p. 7). Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

[5] Lust, J., Eynikel, E., & Hauspie, K. (2003). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint : Revised Edition. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart.

[6] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 193). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[7] Brannan, R. (Ed.). (2020). Lexham Research Lexicon of the Septuagint. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[8] Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 411). Leiden: E.J. Brill.

[9] Dahood, M., S. J. (2008). Psalms I: 1-50: Introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 16, p. 11). New Haven;  London: Yale University Press.

[10] Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19, p. 67). Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.

[11] Briggs, C. A., & Briggs, E. G. (1906–1907). A critical and exegetical commentary on the book of Psalms (pp. 15–16). New York: C. Scribner’s Sons.

[12] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 379). Chicago: Moody Press.: E.J. Brill.

[13] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 193). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[14] Although Acts 13:33 has more than its share of textual issues, these issues do not affect the use of γεγέννηκά aside from P45, 33 (context), 99 (omission) and spelling in 9 manuscripts. (per CNTTS: H. Milton Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies. (2010). The Center for New Testament Textual Studies: NT Critical Apparatus (Ac 13:33). New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

[15] Zerwick, M. (1963). Biblical Greek illustrated by examples (English ed., adapted from the fourth Latin ed., Vol. 114, p. 97). Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico.