Root and Offspring
Jesus Christ is both the "root" and "offspring" of David:
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.
I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
"Offspring" as born in the flesh, "Root" as pre-existing.
Sons and Slaves
'Only begotten' doesn't mean the Son of God had a beginning, because time
is not a condition of God's life, but only of ours. In their haste to avoid
misunderstanding on this point, modern versions like the NIV translate
'monogenes' as 'one and only' or 'unique:' "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s
side, has made him known. (John 1:18 NIV); "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes
in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 NIV). In defense of this translation they offer Hebrews 11:17, which describes
Isaac as Abraham's "only-begotten" (monogenes), even though Ishmael was the elder.
Why is Isaac so described? A contemporary Jewish author who wrote in Greek,
Philo Judaeus, also describes Isaac as Abraham's only son, but unlike the
author of the letter to Hebrews, he explains why he calls him that. Philo
Judaeus is not an inspired author, and his 'allegorical method' often leads
to results which are just silly. Nevertheless his understanding of 'sons'
and 'slaves' might shed light on the language in Hebrews.
According to Philo, it all comes down to one son (Ishmael) being the son of a slave, and therefore illegitimate, and the other
son (Isaac) being the son of the citizen wife, and therefore legitimate. Genesis says, "And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid
the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife." (Genesis 16:3),
but Philo does not conclude that Hagar too was Abraham's lawful wife, because she was still a slave. Keturah likewise was not a wife: "But
unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived,
eastward, unto the east country." (Genesis 25:6).
We are the heirs of centuries of legal tradition which, perceiving the unfairness of penalizing a child for the circumstances of
his birth, over which he had no control, entitles illegitimate children to a legal claim on their father. The child's guardian can sue
the father for child support, even though the father was never married to the mother. But under Mosaic and also Hellenistic law, illegitimate
children had no such rights. They were not even citizens, or members of the assembly: "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation
of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 23:2). These law codes
looked to the good of the community in discouraging single parenting rather than to what was fair to the child. After all our modern way
of doing things may give the child a monthly check, but not a loving father in the home to play with him and teach him. That is not fair
to the child either! Illegitimate children had no inheritance rights, no title to the father's property. (If they had, that in and of itself
would have been enough to bring the slavery system down!) They were not really even sons to Greek-speakers:
"And this is why he only says that he will give her one son. And now he called it a son, not speaking carelessly
or inconsiderately, but for the sake of showing that it is not a foreign, or a supposititious, nor an adopted, nor an illegitimate child,
but a legitimate child, a proper citizen, inasmuch as a foreign child cannot be the offspring of a truly citizen soul, for the Greek
word teknon (son), is derived from tokos (bringing forth), by way of showing the kindred by which children are, by nature,
united to their parents. And, says God, 'I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations'. . ." (Philo Judaeus, On the Change
of Names, XXVI. 147).
This is the point that Philo stresses, that Isaac was legitimate: "A legitimate son is borne to the wise man by his wedded
wife, a beloved and only son, very beautiful in his person, and very excellent in his disposition." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, XXXII. 168).
"In the second place, after he [Abraham] had become the father of
this his only legitimate son, he, from the moment of his birth, cherished
towards him all the genuine feelings of affection, which exceeds all modest
love, and all the ties of friendship which have ever been celebrated in
the world. . . But the man who gives the only beloved son that he is possessed
of performs an action beyond all powers of language to praise, as he is
giving nothing to his own natural affection, but inclining with his whole
will and heart to show his devotion to God." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, XXXV. 194-196).
"But Abraham, marvelling more and more at the love of his wife for
her husband thus continually being renewed and gaining fresh strength,
and also at her spirit of forecast so desirous to provide for the future,
takes to himself the handmaid who had been approved by her to the extent
of having a son by her. . .So then he speedily had a son by this handmaid,
but at a very distant period after this he had also a legitimate son, after
he and his wife had both despaired of any offspring from one another."
(Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, XLVIII. 253-254).
Paul also stresses that Hagar was a slave, Sarah a free woman: "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the
one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman." (Galatians 4:22). So that is the point of the "only-begotten" in
Hebrews 11:17, not that 'monogenes' means 'one and only' or 'unique.' This incidentally was also true of
Athenian law in most periods, that a man could register as his 'son' only
the offspring of his lawful, citizen wife. While it is difficult for modern
readers to share in the mind-set that illegitimate children are 'slaves'
not 'sons,' that is the correct road to go down in understanding Abraham's
"only-begotten" younger son.