Author: Andrew Harrison
In the Book of Common Prayer we have the Creed of Athanasius which tell us;
“The Father eternal, the Son eternal and the Holy Ghost eternal… yet they are… one eternal…TheSon is… not made, not created, but begotten – God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds.”
This article considers the validity of this statement using the Bible as total and final authority on doctrinal issues. This article does not intend to prove the deity of Jesus within the Trinity (that is left to other articles), but the starting point is the knowledge, that Jesus has always existed, as equally God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, a part of the Trinity. The question we seek to answer here is, “The Scripture clearly speaks of Jesus as ‘begotten’ from God the Father. Does this begotten-Ness refer to Jesus simply from the time of His incarnation (through Mary), or from eternity?
The Gospels frequently refer to Jesus as the Son of God or Son of Man and one may at first understand this to refer simply to His incarnation (having been conceived in the virgin Mary), therefore, He is ‘Son of Man’ through Mary and ‘Son of God’ through the Holy Spirit. However, this sonship is strongly emphasised by the constant references to it and this must prompt us to consider that there may be an ‘eternal’ significance for this title. There is very little in the Old Testament that can be drawn on to clearly convey this point about God’s Sonship, but the same could be said of the concept of the Trinity. These are however brought to light in New Testament times.
“… for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV)
” …the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the Sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 3: 4-5 ESV)
Believing in this eternal Sonship can be a problem to some, because they may feel that it implies that there must have been a time when Jesus was not, or that Jesus is to be perceived as a lesser being than the Father. But we cannot fit God into our own limited perceptions. The important part is to discover what the Scripture says on the subject, and by this marker alone the doctrine stands or falls.
As I said, we have already established in other articles that Jesus is equally God, yet He clearly has His own function or relationship within the Trinity. After all, a human child is as much a human as his parents are, and that Parent – Son relationship remains, whatever the status of either over the years. Neither is inferior to the other. And it seems more appropriate that the Father would sacrifice His own Son in response to the crying need on Earth rather than produce a Father-Son relationship for the job to fulfil John 3:16. Nonetheless we will see what the Scripture has to say. It is however worth pointing out that if the idea of a part of God being in a Sonship relationship is so alien to being God, then He would have appeared in a different form or through other means. It would be inconceivable for Jesus to say:
“But concerning that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matt 24 : 36).
and after He had shaken off the ‘mortal coil,’ it would not be the ‘Son’ who comes the next time. But we are told:
“As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the ‘Son of Man’.” (Matt 24:37 ESV)
The fact that the concept of an ‘eternal birth’ is beyond our comprehension or experience is no excuse for disbelieving. Similarly, the virgin birth is a concept we can hardly grasp or even regard as ethical, but we cannot challenge that without denying that Jesus is God. The eternally begotten-Ness of Jesus is perhaps the perfect example of which human birth is a tiny reflection.
Sons of God
Even Adam was called ‘the son of God’ by Luke (Luke 3:38). We know from the book of Genesis that Adam was created, albeit uniquely directly from the dust of the ground straight into ‘adulthood’. It may be the uniqueness that is the key here. God ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature, (Genesis 2:7 ESV). We must remember too that Adam in some ways prefigured Jesus who is referred to as the ‘last Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:45 ESV). The first Adam was the imperfect ‘Son of God’ and failed, the second ‘Adam’ was the perfect Son of God and brought redemption from the death that came through Adam number one.
Also the angels are referred to as ‘sons of God’ in Job chapter 1 as elsewhere. We know nothing of the process of creation, but they are never singled out as ‘the son of God’.
As John 1:14,18;3:16,17 and 1 John 4:9 point out in the Greek, Jesus is the ‘only begotten’ (from the Greek monogenes meaning ‘only-born’ or ‘only-begotten’). Some Bibles translate it in a way that emphasises the uniqueness and specialness of Jesus’ Sonship, and therefore read ‘only Son’ (ESV) or ‘one and only Son’ (NIV), rather than the more literal ‘only-begotten Son’ (NKJV,NRSV) which I personally prefer. But perhaps it is right to dwell on the uniqueness of the Father-Son relationship since we too readily confuse the ‘eternal begotten-Ness with what we know of human childbirth. It is perhaps the reality of Jesus’ Sonship relationship within the Godhead which is more important than imagining an eternal process of giving birth.
Even the Old Testament sits comfortably with the idea of a ‘son’ being called, “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV). This prophecy does not simply reflect His earthly humanity because it says in the same verse:
“… for to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder.”
On whose ‘shoulder’ will the ‘government’ be? On the ‘Son’s’. When will this take place? After the resurrection, as it says in Acts 2:34-35:
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The Sonship is clearly linked to Jesus well after He has left his human body.
Today I Have begotten you
“The Lord said to me,’You are my Son; today I have begotten you.'” (Psalm 2:7 ESV)
This passage refers to an earthly king of Israel in its immediate context and prophetically to Jesus the King of kings. God declared the king begotten ‘today’ during the king’s adulthood – see in the context of verse 6. As far as a human is concerned he can be reborn spiritually. As far as Jesus is concerned He did not need to repent, but He is the begotten of God eternally, at all times, in every circumstance. Verse 9 clearly places it in the area of prophecy about Jesus (compare Revelation 2:27). Psalm 2:7 is used in reference to Jesus in Hebrews 1:5, 5:5. Psalms 2:12 tells us to:
“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.” (ESV)
The Old Testament owns this ‘Sonship’ within the Godhead although even with Isaiah 9:6 the Jews did not comprehend it.
Without dealing with every passage in the New Testament I think that Romans chapter 1 sums it up quite well:
“…and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ is Lord.”‘ (Romans 1:4 ESV)
If the resurrection declared Jesus to be the ‘Son’ then surely we have eternal significance here. Ps. 2:7 is directly quoted in connection with the resurrection too in Acts 13:33.
Jesus is the ‘firstborn’ (prototokos), as we are told in Matthew 1:25, Luke 2:7, Colossians 1:15, 18, Hebrews 1:6 and Revelation 1:5. This can signify being ‘prior in generation’ or ‘first-born head of a spiritual family.’ Jesus is both, and is also heir of all things as we shall see later. Colossians 1:15 tells us that Jesus is:
“The firstborn of all creation.” (ESV)
He is above all and over all, and the ruler of all things, as all things were made through Him (see Col. 1:16). As Bruce M Metzger says in his article ‘The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ’:
“If the word ‘prototokos’ was intended to show that Jesus was a created being rather than being ‘firstborn’, then Paul could have used the word ‘protoktistos’ meaning ‘first created’.”
Some Particular Scriptures
“But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (ESV)
Jesus is heir of all things because He is the Father’s Son, pure and simple. The subordination aspect of the relationship can be pointed out by the word ‘through’ – through whom He [the Father] created the world.
This point is confirmed elsewhere including in John 1:3:
“All things were made through Him.” (ESV)
This is never said of the Father – all things were always made by Him.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28
This passage is set in our future. The ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ are named as such in the context of our future, thousands of years after the resurrection of Jesus. Verse 28 says:
“… the son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (ESV)
For God to be ‘all in all’ at the end of time, the Son must be in subjection to the Father. This ‘Sonship’ must be eternally significant. Jesus is equally God within the Godhead, therefore His position of subjection can only be in the sense of a Father-Son type relationship and function.
This verse clearly refers to Jesus, – see v.18, “I died, and behold I am alive for evermore” – and He is described as “one like the Son of man”. The book of Revelation is of a similar kind to the book of Daniel, as both are apocalyptic books. Daniel himself also saw a vision of Jesus; in Daniel 7:13 “one like a son of man” was coming “with the clouds of heaven”.
Again we can see that the Old Testament is aware of the ‘Sonship’ aspect of God, although it is a prophetic prediction of the second coming.
Jesus is the only-begotten, first born Son of God. No one else is. For God to be all in all at the end of time, the Son has to be subject to the Father. At the ‘beginning’, God created all things through the Son. The Son is the firstborn of all creation.
Rather than visualise a birth process, we need to acknowledge the Father-Son relationship that exists in the Godhead. This relationship has existed from infinity-past and will do so into infinity-future. He is the eternally-begotten Son of God.
I have deliberately avoided referring to Proverbs 8:22-31, as an exegesis of this passage would require this article as a back drop. We are now in a position to tackle the issues in Proverbs 8 in part 2.