1 IS THE ETERNAL SON-SHIP OF JESUS CHRIST BIBLICAL? Andrew Ansell This doctrine deals with the relationship between the First and Second Persons in the Godhead, Who are otherwise known to us as the Father and the Son. The question given above is of the utmost importance, if we desire to understand the Biblical teaching of God the Father and God the Son. Not too long ago I was charged with heresy, because I said that I did not believe in the Eternal Son-ship of Jesus Christ. This doctrine teaches that Jesus Christ always was the Son of the Father, something that He has been from all eternity. This is the position of many Biblical scholars, which has been held from very early times. On the other side we have, the Son-ship of Jesus Christ actually only beginning at His birth from the Virgin Mary, which therefore denies the eternity of His Son-ship. It is this second view, as we shall see, is the Biblical position on this subject. For us to get a clear understanding on this subject, we have to take into account, with the Eternal Sonship, the doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son. This teaches that, outside of time, the Father, by an eternal act, eternally begets the Son. As we go into this study, what this means will become more apparent. But, it must be said here, that, those who accept the doctrine of the Eternal Son-ship, cannot do so without accepting the Eternal Generation. And this is only the beginning of the problems! "The eternal sonship of Christ. The Scriptures represent Christ as eternally the Son of God by eternal generation. While it must be admitted that the nature of the sonship and the nature of the generation are unique, being eternal, sonship has been used in the Bible to represent the relationship between the first Person and the second Person" (Dr John F Walvoord; Jesus Christ our Lord, p.41) There can be no doubt that both doctrines have to be taken together, as it is impossible to have the one without the other. Thus, we have J C Philpot, in his book on the Eternal Sonship of Christ, declare: "Believing in a Trinity of Persons, in the unity of the divine Essence, we say that the Father is a Father as begetting; the Son as a Son as begotten; and the Holy Spirit as a Spirit as proceeding...to sum up the whole in a few words, it is in His Person, not in his Essence, that He is the only-begotten Son of God" (page 48) To understand what Mr Philpot is arriving at, I shall further quote from his book, where he is quoting from Dr John Gill:
2 "To come to the point: it is the personal relations or distinctive relative properties, which belong to each Person which distinguish them from one another; as paternity in the First Person, filiation in the Second, and spiration in the Third; or, more plainly, it is begetting (Ps.2:7) which peculiarly belongs to the First, and is never ascribed to the Second and Third, which distinguishes Him from them both, and gives Him, with great propriety, the Name of the Father: and it is being begotten, that is the personal relation, or relative property of the Second Person, hence called 'the only-begotten of the Father' (John 1:14)" (ibid). The Father alone is seen by many Christians, to be the Source of all live, which He imparts through His Son Jesus Christ. Thus the Father is referred to as, "the Fount or Source of Godhead, from Whom by eternal Generation and Procession respective, the Son and the Spirit derive their Personal being" (Dr H P Liddon; The Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, p.422). If this is the true Biblical position on the Persons of the Godhead, then we are left with many great problems, which contradict the teachings of the Holy Bible. The Eternal Son-ship of Jesus Christ, as we have already seen, presupposes His Eternal Generation from the Father, whereby He is known as His Son. Both of these doctrines clearly make Jesus Christ subordinate to the Father, thereby making him into someone Who is inferior to the Father, and which would deny the co-equality of the Father and the Son. I am aware that those who maintain these doctrines, actually try and deny that they teach an inferiority between the Father and the Son, but, this is not so. For us to understand these doctrines, we need to see from where they begin. Before the New Testament was written, the Logos doctrine was to be found in the writings of the Jewish "thinker", Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.-A.D.50), in whose writings we find, "The metaphor of Divine 'begetting'" (Dr W F Howard; Christianity According to St John, 198), used of the creation of the Logos (ibid). To Philo, the Logos was only the mediator through whom God created all things (ibid, pp.37-38), but was never considered to be a personal being. Philo also referred to the Logos as a "second god", by whom God is known to man (see, F J Foakes Jackson; The History of the Christian Church, pp ). Philo's "confusion of ideas was felt by Christian theologians, some of whom fell into the error of making the Logos an inferior God, whilst others went to the opposite extreme, in declaring that God's Word had no personal existence, but was merely a manifestation of His nature" (ibid, p.156). Some of these theologians who adopted these errors of Philo, were, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, who was also from Alexandria. It is the last named, who had, and still has, a far reaching influence on the theology of the Church, especially on the Person of Jesus Christ. We know from the writings of Origen, that he was "an admirer of Philo" (J N D Kelly; Early Christian Doctrines, p.73), and that he actually borrows Philo's expression of the Logos, where he calls Him "a second God"! (J F Bethune-Baker; Early History of Christian Doctrine, p.148).
3 This is not all that Origen said of the Logos, but also "taught that the essence of the Father and of the Son was not the same, but that there was a difference of essence, thus paving the way for Arianism" (Foakes Jackson, p.163). Origen was also the most prominent proponent for the doctrine of the Eternal Generation, a phrase which he coined. He said, "Who...can suppose or believe that God the Father ever existed even for a moment without heaving generated this Wisdom (which is His Only-begotten Son)...His generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliance which is produced from the sun...the Father did not beget the Son and let Him go from the Source of His generation" (Bethune-Baker, p.147). The Father, according to Origen alone can properly be described as being "unoriginated", that is, He does not derive His being from any other. The Son, on the other hand, cannot be "unoriginated", since "His deity is derivative, and He is thus a 'secondary God" (Kelly, p.128). Now, the very fact that the Father is the Source of the Son's life, as touching His Deity, can only mean that the Father is Superior to the Son, thereby making the Son eternally subordinate to the Father! There is not a single instance in Scripture, where we read of this heresy, that the Father alone is "unoriginated" (unbegotten), as God, whereas the Son has His being from the Father. Origen, like others after him, based their ideas, not upon the Word of God, but, by following the teachings of Philo, as the language of these theologians clearly indicate. I shall come back to deal with some of the Scriptures that are claimed to teach these doctrines. The teaching of Origen, especially on the Person of Jesus Christ, was adopted by not a few orthodox theologians, so much so, that even the champion of the Council of Nicaea (A.D.325), Athanasius, who was one of the foremost of the orthodox party, against the fight of Arianism, himself fell into the errors of the heretic Origen. He also refers to the Father as the "fountain", and the Son as the "stream", and says that "the Godhead pours itself, without division, from the Father into the Son...He is begotten from eternity of the unbegotten Father" (Dr P Schaff; History of the Christian Church, vol.ii, p ). Language which he no doubt borrows from Origen. Now, since Athanasius was the leader of the orthodox party at this Council, the Creed that was drawn up, would no doubt reflect his Christology. Thus, when we read in this Creed, "Begotten of the Father before all worlds", it is based on the concept that the father alone is "unbegotten", and "without beginning", whereas both phrases are not true of the Son. (see, A P Forbes; A Short Explanation of the Nicene Creed, p.121). Much of the language in this Creed, phrases such as, "God of God", "Light of Light", "begotten of the Father", etc, all teach the subordination of Jesus Christ to the Father. If the Father alone has no Origin, but the Son has His from the Father, then it can only mean that both Persons cannot be co-equal, as this would require that the Father and the Son, are both "Unbegotten", that is, have no beginning as touching their Godhead. It is on this point that I would agree with Marcellus, Bishop of Ancyra (died, A.D.374), who was a strong defender of the orthodox party at Nicaea, where he "wished to hold fast the true deity of Jesus Christ without falling under the charge of
4 Subordinationism. He granted the Arians right in their assertion that the Nicene doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, involves the subordination of the Son, and is incompatible with His own eternity" (Schaff, p.652). There can be no doubt that in this Marcellus is correct, as this doctrine does call the eternity of the Son into question. I have no doubt, that the Jehovah's Witness will readily accept the doctrines of the Eternal Son-ship and Eternal Generation of Jesus Christ, as both clearly make Him out to be subordinate to the Father, something the teach. This in itself should make us take note, that these doctrines are acceptable to the heretics! JOHN 1:14 "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father..." A text that is appealed to, which is thought to teach the doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son. Commenting on the Greek word μονογενοϛ, which is translated as only-begotten in the King James Version, Dr A Plummer says, that when it is "applied to our Lord... it refers to His eternal generation from the Father" (on John's Gospel, p.72). This is the same interpretation as given by Dr Gill, as quoted above. But, is understanding of this text is incorrect on two counts. Firstly, only-begotten is not the correct rendering of the Greek μονογενοϛ, which is a compound word, which is made up from μονοϛ (only), and γενοϛ (kind), literally, "of a single kind", or "unique" (W F Ardnt and F W Gingrich; A Greek-English Lexicon, p.529). Dr Joseph Thayer, who was a Unitarian, has an interesting definition on this Greek word. "single of its kind, only...used of Christ, denotes the only Son of God or one who in the sense in which He Himself is the Son of God, has no brethren. He is so spoken of by John, not because the Logos which was in Him was eternally generated by God the Father (the orthodox interpretation), or came forth from the being of God just before the beginning of the world (Subordinationism), but because by the Incarnation of the Logos in Him, He is of nature or essentially Son of God" (Greek-English Lexicon, pp ). Here Dr Thayer shows that the word μονογενοϛ is not used to teach the Eternal Generation, but has to do with the Uniqueness of One Who is the Son of God, by nature. Had John wished to teach the begetting of Jesus here, then he would have used the Greek μονογεννητοϛ (J Moulton and G Milligan; The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, pp ). Our only-begotten is due to the mis-rendering of the Greek μονογενοϛ in the Latin, where, instead of the reading of the Old Latin unicus (one of its kind, unique), the Latin Vulgate wrongly uses the word unigenitus (only-begotten), which no doubt was due to this doctrine (see, T Herbert Bindley; The Oecumenical Documents of the faith, p.28).
5 The second reason, and no less important, is the fact that in the Greek text, John did not use the preposition εκ, which could be used to denote "out of", as from a source, in which case the proponents of the Eternal Generation would have had a very strong text in their faviour. John uses the preposition παρα, which literally denotes, "from besides", which cannot be used to teach the Eternal Generation, as it does not refer to the source! It is interesting to note, that this teaching of the Son as deriving His being from the Father, was also extended to the Holy Spirit. Here also the orthodox sought from Scripture to justify their teaching, and used John 15:26, "the Spirit of Truth Who comes forth from the Father". Here, like in John 1:14, it is the preposition παρα that is used, which clearly denotes that the Father and Holy Spirit are separate Persons! However, in at least two Church Creeds, Mopsuetia, and Constantinople (both 4th century), the preposition παρα has been substituted by εκ (J N D Kelly; Early Christian Creeds, pp.188, 298), which is then taken to teach that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the being of the Father (see, Bibdley, p.78). Unfortunately, Church fathers, such as Athanasius, when referring to this text, introduce the substitution (εκ for παρα) as if it were part of the text! GALATIANS 4:4 "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman..." This, and other texts, like John 3:16 (God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son...), are used by proponents of the Eternal Son-ship of Christ. It is argued, that since we read that "God sent His Son", then He must have been His "Son" before His Incarnation, and therefore the Eternal Son of God. I think that this line of argument is reading too much into these texts. Paul, like John, a merely stating a fact about someone Who is known to their readers as already "the Son". This language cannot be taken as an argument to prove that Jesus already the Son. John, in his opening chapter of his Gospel, is writing about John the Baptist, where he says in verse six: "there was a man sent from God, whose name was John". Now, here we read that John the Baptist was sent from God. Are we to conclude from this, that John existed as John, before this time? Surely not! Neither does it prove, that Just because we read that God sent His Son, that he needed to be the Son prior to this time. If this example is not good enough, then we shall take another. Keeping to this Gospel, we read of Jesus' Prayer in chapter 17, where in verse three we read: "And this is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ Whom thou hast sent". In the last clause, we read the words, "Jesus Christ Whom thou hast sent". Are we to conclude from this, that our Lord, prior to His Incarnation, already was Jesus Christ, Whom the Father sent? This would be most absurd, as Matthew's Gospel clearly tells us, that at His birth, "His Name shall be called Jesus" (1:21), which He not have been Prior to his birth! Likewise, we read in Luke 1:35, where the Angel tells Mary that, "the Holy one to be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God". If Jesus were already the Son, then we would have expected the Greek καλειται to have been used, which
6 properly denotes "is called the Son of God". The text actually reads κληθησεται, which is in the future tense, where the above translation "shall be called", is correct. The grammar of the Greek text is very precise. As important is the text in Hebrews chapter one, where we read in verse five: "and again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son". Again, it the future εσομαι (will be) and εσται (shall be) are used. This is a prophecy that is found in 2 Samuel 7:14, which is speaking of the Messiah, Who shall be known as the Son of God. There can be no doubt that Scripture is clear to the fact, that the Son-ship of Jesus belongs to His Incarnation, and never used of Him prior to that! ACTS 13:33 "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" This is one of the strongest texts of those who teach the Eternal Son-ship, and Eternal Generation doctrines, as this one text is supposed to teach both doctrines! Here we have the English word "art" (are), which is a translation of the Greek συ, and which is in the present tense. Then, we also have the word "begotten", which is from the Greek γεγεννηκα, which literally means, "to bring forth". Two factors will prove that this text, which is quoted from Psalm 2:7, does not teach either of these two doctrines. Firstly, by saying "thou art", God the Father is making an affirmative statement about Jesus Christ, that He is His Son. Likewise at Jesus' Baptism, and Transfiguration, where we read the Father saying: "This is (εστιν, present tense) My Son...", words that are spoken to reassure the disciples. Since the text is a prophecy in the Psalm, we cannot build the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship on it. Secondly, the key to the timing of these words, whether they refer to the eternal past, or to Jesus' Incarnation, will be found in the words, "this day have I begotten thee". Psalm 2:7 is quoted three times in the New Testament. The one time in Acts, as we have seen above, and twice in Hebrews (1:5; 5:5). As we shall see, the "this day", far from being a reference to some time in the past, which is seen by some as "eternal", is a clear reference to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the day when He was "conceived" in the womb of the virgin Mary, by the act of God the Holy Spirit. To be able to have a perfect understanding of these quotations, I feel that we ought to spent some time looking at each one. ACTS 13:33 Here we have Paul addressing his audience in a synagogue, when he says: "God had fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus; as it is written in the second Psalm: 'Thou art My Son, this day I have begotten thee'" There are some who seen in these words, a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of the use of the words "raised up". But, this is incorrect, as in verse 22 we read of God raising up David (same Greek word), which can only refer to his birth, as David has not yet been raised from the dead! In fact, in verses
7 30 and 34 of this same chapter in Acts, we read the words: "raised Him ("up". ver34)from the dead", where it clearly speaks of our Lords resurrection. Verse 34 begins with the words: "and as concerning that He raised Him up from the dead..."; which clearly shows that verse 33 cannot be a reference to Jesus' resurrection. (see, F F Bruce; The Acts of the Apostles; Greek Text, p.269; and, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. II, pp ). I am aware of the reading of verse 33 in the King James Version, where it has it: "In that He raised up Jesus again"; where "again" has no corresponding word in the Greek! HEBREWS 1:5 "For unto which of the Angels said He at any time: 'Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee...and again when He brings forth the First-born..." (also verse 6a). Here verse six holds the answer to the words in verse five (This day...). Here Paul says "again, when He brings forth the First-born". By using the Greek παλιν, Paul meant, "once more" (E Robinson; Greek-English Lexicon, p.586; J Parkhurst Greek-English Lexicon, p.453). Verse six clearly refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, a fact that no one one will dispute. With παλιν Paul wishes to connect verse six (the Second Coming), with verse five, which teaches the First Coming, or else the use of παλιν in verse six is superfluous. There can be no doubt that verse five refers to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. HEBREWS 5:5 "So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made a High Priest; but He that said unto Him, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" Here we read of Jesus as our High Priest, where His appointment was not of Himself, but it is the Father Who said to Him, "This day...", Who appointed Him. This text ties in with the references in Acts and Hebrews 1:5, which both refer to the Incarnation of Jesus. It is highly improbable that the reference in Acts, and the one in Hebrews 1 would refer to Christ's Incarnation, whereas the reference in Hebrews 5, speaks of another time. It is further argued, that passages like John 3:13, and 6:62, which speak of "the Son of man" as coming from heaven, clearly indicate that Jesus must have been the Son in heaven before He came down. But, these Scriptures by no mean prove the Eternal Son-ship. The Title The Son of man is found in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, chapter seven. This Title is used to describe the Messiah, something that Jesus was not prior to His birth. Now, had John 6:62, for example, read "What and if ye shall see the Son ascend up where He was before?"; then proponents of the Eternal Son-ship doctrine would have had a very strong text on their side. But nothing can be gained by them from the text reading Son of man. It
8 is quite evident, that had Jesus wished to show that He was the Son prior to His Incarnation, then He would have said "Son of God", and not "Son of man". The former refers to His Deity (Divine Nature), whereas the latter to His Humanity (human nature), and which is a Title of the Messiah. It is like 1 Corinthians 15:47, where Paul's speaks of "the second man", Who is Jesus Christ, Whom he says "is the Lord from heaven". This reading which dates from the middle of the second century (textual evidence), has been corrupted to read: "the second man is from heaven", which has led to heresy, where it is claimed that Paul here teaches that Jesus was a heavenly man (that is, according to His human nature) before His birth from Mary. But Paul clearly says that "the second man is the Lord from heaven", like he says in 1 Timothy 3:16, "God was manifest in the flesh". It never says in Scripture that "the Son (or, Son of God) was made flesh", but it clearly does say as we have seen in 1 Timothy 3:16, and in John 1:14, that "God became flesh" Scripture does say that "in the beginning was the Word". It also says that "God was manifest". And that Jesus is "the Lord (YHWH) from heaven". There is no doubt in my mind that the Son-ship of Jesus Christ, belongs to His Incarnation, prior to which He was not the Son. He assumed the Title Son, because at his Incarnation He took on a role where he became subject to God the Father, thus showing the perfect Father-Son relationship in the Godhead.