My Musings on Mere Christianity (Part 4): C.S. Lewis on Begetting
Last Friday, I was not able to post another installment of the series, since I had to serve for a college retreat. Two Fridays ago, I blogged about C.S. Lewis and looking forward to heaven (See it here). Today, I’ll be blogging about the meaning of begetting.
We are familiar of this word (or the word begotten) because of John 3:16 (NASB):
16For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (Emphasis added)
I really did not know the meaning of the word begotten until I read Mere Christianity. Lewis writes that what gives us greatest shock is that by attaching ourselves to Christ, we can become Sons of God. But one might ask “Aren’t we Sons of God already? Surely the fatherhood of God is one of the main Christian ideas?” Lewis answers:
Well, in a certain sense, no doubt we are sons of God already. I mean, God has brought us into existence and loves us and looks after us, and in that way is like a father. But when the Bible talks of our “becoming” Sons of God, obviously it must mean something different.1
Lewis later clarifies that “we are not thinking of the Virgin Birth.” Instead, “we are thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began. “Before all worlds” Christ is begotten, not created.” Finally, he discusses the word (or words):
We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still know what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make.2
At first, it seems they’re just the same. But here’s the difference:
When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.2
So that’s the difference! When one begets, he can only begets something of the same kind as himself. When one creates, he makes something of a different kind. So Lewis adds:
What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.3
Now I know what the word begotten means. And now I know why other translations of John 3:16 where the word begotten is omitted, is considered weak.
1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Walker and Company, 1987), 241.
2C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 242.
3C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 242-243.