Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Eternal Generation of the Son


Ken Temple, in the COMBOX of the previous thread, raised some questions concerning the use of monogenēs (μονογενὴς) in the NT, and the related doctrine of ‘eternal generation’ (i.e. eternal begetting) as it pertains the Second Person of the Trinity.

I do not recall exactly when I first learned of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, but it was probably during my first reading of Charles Hodge’s, Systematic Theology (circa early 1980s). It was not long after my initial exposure to this doctrine, that I ran into a robust denial of it by another Trinitarian author: Walter R. Martin. From his famous book, The Kingdom of the Cults, in his chapter on the “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower” (chapter 4, 1977 rev. ed.), we read:

Arius derived many of his ideas from his teacher, Lucian of Antioch, who in turn borrowed them from Origen, who himself introduced the term “eternal generation” or the concept that God from all eternity generates a second person like Himself, ergo the “eternal Son.” Arius of course rejected this as illogical and unreasonable, which it is, and taking the other horn of dilemma squarely between his teeth reduced the eternal Word of God to the rank of a creation! It is a significant fact, however, that in the earliest writings of the church fathers doting from the first century to the year 230 the term “eternal generation” was never used, but it has been this dogma later adopted by Roman Catholic theology, which has fed the Arian heresy through the centuries and today continues to feed the Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (pp. 101, 102—1977; pp. 115, 116—1985 rev. ed.; p. 168—1997 rev., updated, expanded anniversary ed., Hank Hanegraaff, general editor; pp. 137, 138—2003 rev., updated, expanded ed., Ravi Zacharias, general editor.)

After insisting that “monogenes” must be rendered “only” or “unique” in its NT usage, Martin continues with:

The Bible clearly teaches, then, that Jesus Christ before His incarnation was the eternal Word, Wisdom, or Logos, of God…and further, that Jesus Christ is not called by Scripture the “eternal Son,” the error passed on from Origen under the title “eternal generation,” but rather He is the Living Word of God…Let us fix these things in our minds then: (a) the doctrine of “eternal generation” or the eternal Sonship of Christ, which springs from the Roman Catholic doctrine first conceived by Origen in A.D. 230, is a theory which opened the door theologically to the Arian and Sabellian heresies which today still plague the Christian Church in the realms of Christology.

(b) The Scripture nowhere calls Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, and He is never called Son at all prior to the incarnation, except in prophetic passages in the Old Testament…

(d) Many heresies have seized upon the confusion created by the illogical “eternal Sonship” or “eternal generation” theory of Roman Catholic theology, unfortunately carried over to some aspects of Protestant theology.
(pp. 102, 103—1977; pp. 116, 117—1985; pp. 169, 170—1997 rev., updated, expanded anniversary ed., Hank Hanegraaff, general editor [with minor additions and deletions]; pp. 138, 139—2003 rev., updated, expanded ed., Ravi Zacharias, general editor [with minor additions and deletions].)

One need not bring into question Walter Martin’s popularity within the Evangelical community, and his influence upon subsequent generations of believers, especially those involved in apologetics; however, theology is never a ‘popularity contest’, and I shall submit that Martin’s positions on the term “monogenes” and the doctrine of “eternal generation” must be critically examined.

First, is Martin correct concerning the use of “monogenes” in the NT; that is must be rendered either “only” or “unique”? Note the following reflections:

The Greek word μονογενής is an adjective compounded of μονος "only" and γενος "species, race, family, offspring, kind." In usage, with few exceptions it refers to an only son or daughter. When used in reference to a son, it cannot mean "one of a kind," because the parent is also of the same kind. The meaning is, the son is the only offspring of the parent, not the only existing person of his kind. And so in the Greek translation of the book of Tobit, when Raguel praises God for having mercy on δυο μονογενεις (8:17), he does not mean that his daughter Sara and Tobias were two "unique" persons; he means that they were both only-begotten children of their fathers. In Luke's Gospel, the word is used in reference to an only child in 7:12, 8:42, and 9:38. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is said that when Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac he was offering up τον μονογενή, "his only-begotten" (11:17), because although Abraham had another son, God had said that only in Isaac shall Abraham's seed (σπερμα) be named. (Πίστει προσενήνοχεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ πειραζόμενος, καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ τὰς ἐπαγγελίας ἀναδεξάμενος, πρὸς ὃν ἐλαλήθη ὅτι Ἐν Ἰσαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα). When the word μονογενής is used in reference to a son or daughter, it always means "only-begotten." (Michael Marlowe, “The Only Begotten Son”, online paper @ http://www.bible-researcher.com/only-begotten.html.)

Dr. Gordon H. Clark, in a critique of J. Oliver Buswell (who rejected eternal generation, but not eternal Sonship) wrote:

…when Dr. Buswell says that the Greek fathers did not know as much Greek as we do, it must surprise the student to learn that Athanasius and a hundred Greek bishops, whose mother tongue was Greek, knew less Greek than we do, and in particular did not know that monogenes is derived from ginomai rather from gennao. Even so, the two verbs are themselves derived from an earlier common stem. At any rate, the genes in monogenes derives immediately from genos. This word as a matter of fact suggests begetting and generation, as much as if it had been derived from gennao. (The Trinity, p. 120.)

Dr. John V. Dahms, in an essay published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, states:

John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9 teach than Christ is God’s monogenēs Son. That monogenēs implies that he was begotten is the understanding of Justin Martyr Apol. 1.23 (c. A.D. 150); Dial. Trypho 105 (c. 153). Theophilus of Antioch (115-181) Theophilus to Autolycus 2.10 seems to assue such an understanding. Tertullian (c. 197-c. 225) Against Praxeas vii evidently had such an understanding. And Hilary of Poitiers On the Trinity 1.10; 6.39 (before 358) implies that the Latin Bibles with which his readers were familiar had unigenitus in John 1:14, 18. Moreover the fact that Isaac could be described as Abraham’s monogenēs son (Heb. 11:17), despite Ishmael, is not surprising. Philo had stated: “He [Abraham] had begotten no son in the truest sense but Isaac” (de Abr. 194: cf. de Sac. 43) and had even spoken of Isaac as Abraham’s “only (monos) son” (de Abr. 168: cf. de Abr. 196; Quod Deus Imm. 4). (JETS 32/4, Dec. 1989, p. 495.)

Lee Irons:

Traditionally, the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son was supported by an appeal to the five Johannine texts in which Christ is identified as monogenes (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; I Jn 4:9). As early as Jerome's Vulgate, this word was understood in the sense of "only begotten" (unigenitus), and the tradition was continued by the Authorized Version. However, most scholars of this century reject this understanding and believe, instead, that the idea behind the word is more along the lines of "only" (RSV) or "one and only" (NIV) [3]. One of the main arguments is that the -genes suffix is related to the verb ginomai rather than gennao, thus acquiring the meaning "category" or "genus."

Unfortunately, this argument requires a selective reading of the evidence. It ignores the wealth of lexemes that have the -genes suffix. After searching Thesaurus Linguae Graecae on CD-ROM (a comprehensive collection of all extant Greek literature up to the 6th century AD), my estimate is that there are approximately 120 such words in the Greek vocabulary. Of these, 30% are not listed in Liddell and Scott, but the lexicon's glosses of 55% contain such words as "born" and "produced." For example, neogenes is glossed as "newly produced," and theogenes, "born of God." A mere 11% involve meanings related to "kind" (e.g., homogenes means "of the same genus"), while the remainder of usages have miscellaneous meanings. The sheer preponderance of the evidence would indicate that monogenes in the Johannine literature could very well mean "only begotten." At least, it cannot be ruled out on the basis of etymology.

If this meaning is now considered a very live possibility, then an inspection of some of the Johannine texts will render that possibility all the more likely. In the first text monogenes is used as a substantive: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). In the second text, I follow the textual variant found in the Bodmer papyrus, dated c. 200, and other ancient manuscripts: "No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten God, who is in the Father's bosom, has made him known" (v. 18). The NIV completely misses the point ("God the One and Only ... has made him known"), for it is not the fact that the Son is the only God (as opposed to another god) but the fact that he is begotten of God (and thus truly God) which enables him to make God known. On balance these passages provide strong support for the interpretation "only begotten."

Further support may be marshaled from I John 5:18, which, though it does not use the word, shows that John taught that the Son is begotten of God: "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who is born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him." It seems reasonable to suppose that "the one who is born of God" is the Son of God. Some follow the textual variant "keeps himself" and see this as referring to the believer. However, this would lead to a redundant statement. It seems likely that John is pointing to the similarity between two sonships - that of the believer and that of Christ. Christ, of course, is the Son by nature, and we are sons by grace. But the point is that the ontological Son of God will protect the adopted sons of God from the evil one. Although it would be dangerous to make too much out of the different tenses (aspects) used, the distinction may be signaled by the fact that the believer is ho gegennemenos of God (perfect), while Christ is ho gennetheis (aorist). Be that as it may, the fact that the verb gennao is used in this context at least suggests the idea of generation. It also adds credibility to the traditional etymology of monogenes (mono + gennao) by providing at least one text where gennao is used in reference to Christ's sonship. (Lee Irons, “The Eternal Generation of the Son”, http://www.upper-register.com/papers/monogenes_print.html.)

Certainly, at the very least, one must differ with Walter Martin’s narrow position that “monogenes” in the NT must mean either “only” or “unique”; I shall let my readers decide whether or not “only-begotten” is the more accurate rendition.

Second, moving on to the doctrine of “eternal generation”, not only has this doctrine been enshrined in many Catholic creedal documents from the 4th century forward, it is also found in many of the Protestant confessions. For instance, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, we read:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (Chapter 2.3.)

When one examines the teachings of the vast majority of the greatest Trinitarian theologians down through the history of Christendom (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant), one will be hard pressed to find those who reject the eternal generation of the Second Person of the Trinity prior to the 19th century.The first major Trinitarian theologian who seems to have had doubts about the doctrine was John Calvin. The precise position of Calvin is not without controversy, but I side with B. B. Warfield who wrote:

Although he taught that the Son was begotten of the Father, and of course begotten before all time, or as we say from all eternity, he seems to have drawn back from the doctrine of "eternal generation" as it was expounded by the Nicene Fathers. They were accustomed to explain "eternal generation" (in accordance with its very nature as "eternal "), not as something which has occurred once for all at some point of time in the past - however far back in the past - but as something which is always occurring, a perpetual movement of the divine essence from the first Person to the second, always complete, never completed. Calvin seems to have found this conception difficult, if not meaningless. In the closing words of the discussion of the Trinity in the "Institutes" (I, xiii. 29, ad fin.) he classes it among the speculations which impose unnecessary burdens on the mind. "For what is the profit," he asks, "of disputing whether the Father always generates (semper generet), seeing that it is fatuous to imagine a continuous act of generating (continuus actus generandi) when it is evident that three Persons have subsisted in God from eternity?" His meaning appears to be that the act of generation must have been completed from all eternity, since its product has existed complete from all eternity, and therefore it is meaningless to speak of it as continually proceeding. If this is the meaning of his remark, it is a definite rejection of the Nicene speculation of "eternal generation." But this is very far from saying that it is a rejection of the Nicene Creed — or even of the assertion in this Creed to the effect that the Son is “God of God.” We have just seen that Calvin explicitly teaches the “eternal generation” of the Son, in the sense that He was begotten by the Father before all time. (Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. WarfieldCalvin and Calvinism, pp. 247, 248—1981 reprint; online version HERE.)

Interestingly enough, the majority of theologians who would identify themselves as “Calvinists” did not follow Calvin here, and retained the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son it its fullest sense. The earliest Calvinist I have found (being limited to works either written or translated in English) who explicitly rejected the doctrine of eternal generation seems to have been the English Independent minister Thomas Ridgely (d. 1734). Unlike Walter Martin, Ridgely, while rejecting eternal generation, did not deny the eternal Sonship of the second Person of the Trinity. The earliest theologian (and/or Biblical scholar) to have denied eternal Sonship, that I have been able to identify, was the famous British Methodist, Adam Clarke (d. 1832). After Clarke, a number of theologians/scholars began to reject not only the doctrine of eternal generation, but also eternal Sonship (though those who do so remain in the minority).

The fact that the rejection of the doctrine eternal generation is a very late development (among Trinitarians), coupled with the fact that the majority of influential theologians down through the ages to our present day retain it, does not in and of itself make Walter Martin’s position untenable; however, for one to adopt the rejection of a doctrine that has been revered and cherished by so many, for such a lengthy period, there had better be some very strong and compelling evidence for doing so. I shall let my readers decide if such evidence exists.

I would now like to provide a list of representatives [with brief selections] from both sides on the issue of the doctrine of eternal generation. One should keep in mind that not all who reject the doctrine of eternal generation also reject eternal Sonship, however all who deny eternal Sonship, deny eternal generation. (The list is not meant to be exhaustive, and is based on works I own; the list does not include Catholic, EO, or Lutheran examples, for orthodox theologians of these communions have not questioned either eternal generation, or eternal Sonship.)

Those who accept the doctrine of eternal generation:

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume 1, pp. 468-474—1981 reprint. [Reformed Presbyterian] (Note: Hodge’s position on eternal generation is not entirely clear and at times appears to be inconsistent, with some actually maintaining that he denied the doctrine; I believe that he held to the doctrine, but with reservations—B. B. Warfield is of the same opinion: “His position [Calvin] is, in a word, that of one who affirms the eternal generation of the Son…It is interesting to observe that Calvin’s attitude upon these matters is precisely repeated by Dr. Charles Hodge in his discussion in his ‘Systematic Theology.’” – op. cit. pp. 249, 250.)

The First Person of the Trinity is Father, because He communicates the essence of the Godhead to the Second Person; and the Second Person is Son, because He derives that essence from the First Person. This is what they mean by Eternal Generation.” (p. 468)

There are numerous passages in the Scriptures which clearly prove that our Lord is called Son, not merely because He is the image of God, or because He is the object of peculiar affection, nor because of his miraculous conception only; nor because of his exaltation, but because of the eternal relation which He sustains to the First Person of the Trinity.” (p. 472)

Though Charles Hodge was not always clear (consistent?) on this issue, his son, A. A. Hodge was crystal clear:

The Father eternally ‘begets’ the Son, and the Spirit eternally ‘proceeds from’ the Father and the Son.” (A. A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology, p. 103—1990 reprint.)

The peculiar personal property of the first person is expressed the title Father. As a person he is eternally the Father of his only begotten Son. The peculiar personal property of the second person is expressed the title Son. As a person he is eternally the only begotten Son of the Father, and hence the express image of his person, and the eternal Word in the beginning with God.” (A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith, p. 60—1992 reprint.)

[See also A. A. Hodges’s 10 page treatment in his Outlines of Theology, pp. 178-188—1980 reprint.]

William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Volume 1, pp. 286-292—1979 reprint. [Reformed Presbyterian]

The Divine nature energizes internally from eternity to eternity in two distinct manners, and thereby is simultaneously and eternally three distinct persons: Father, son, and Holy Spirit; God Unbegotten, Begotten, and Proceeding. The Westminster Confession (II. iii.) defines this internal activity in the terms of the Athanasian creed. “In the unity of the Godhead, there are three persons of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (p. 286)

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Volume 12, pp. 177, 184-186, 189, 190, 193,213, 214—1976 reprint. [Reformed Congregational]

we say not that the Son is begotten eternally out of the divine essence, but in it, not by an eternal act of the Divine Being, but of the person of the Father. (p. 177)

He who is the true, proper, only-begotten Son of God, of the living God, he is begotten of the essence of God his Father, and is his Son by virtue of that generation… (p. 184)

The same truth may have farther evidence given unto it from the consideration of what kind of Son of God Jesus Christ is. He who is such a son as equal to his father in essence and properties is a son begotten of the essence of his father. Nothing can give such an equality but a communication of essence. (p. 186)

That Christ’s filiation ariseth from his eternal generation, or he is the Son of God upon the account of his being begotten of the essence of his Father from eternity. (p. 190)

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, pp. 292-302—1992 English edition.

TWENTY-NINTH QUESTION: THE ETERNAL GENERATION OF THE SON
Was the Son of God begotten of the Father from eternity? We affirm
. (p. 292)

As all generation indicates a communication of essence on the pat of the begetter to the begotten (by which the begotten becomes like the begetter and partakes of the same nature with him), so this wonderful generation is rightly expressed as a communication of essence from the Father (by which the Son possesses indivisibly the same essence with him and is made perfectly like him.) (pp. 292, 293)

H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, Volume 1, pp. 430-434—1940. [Nazarene]

In the Nicene statement of the monarchy, the Father is not more divine than the Son, or the Son than the Holy Spirit. But in the order of subsistence in that one essence, the Father depends upon Himself alone for His Godhead, the Son derives His Godhead from the Father (God of God Θεον εκ Θεου)…The filial relationship as Son to Father is second and therefore in this sense subordinate; but the filial essence is equal and co-ordinate with that of paternity, “the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.” Furthermore, the order is not temporal or chronological, but grounded in the three distinctions or subsistences of the one essence, and therefore real and eternal. (p. 431)

J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Volume 1, pp. 92, 93—1988. [Charismatic]

The property of God the Father is generation. The Father who is “unbegotten” eternally “begets” the Son. (p. 93)

Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 340, 341—1979 reprint. [Reformed Baptist]

That the Sonship of Christ is eternal, is intimated in Psalm 2:7. “This day have I begotten thee” is most naturally interpreted as the declaration of an eternal fact in the divine nature. Neither the incarnation, the baptism, the transfiguration, nor the resurrection marks the beginning of Christ’s Sonship, or constitutes him son of God. (p. 340)

John Gill, A Complete Body of Divinity, pp. 143, 144—1987 reprint. [Reformed Baptist]

The second Person, whose distinctively relative property and character is, that he is begotten, which is never said of the other two Persons, and so distinguishes him from them, and gives him the name Son…The Sonhip of Christ is an article of the greatest importance in the christian religion… (p. 143)

that Christ is the Son of God, Acts ix. 20. 2 Cor. i. 19. and, indeed, it is the distinguishing criterion of the christian religion, and what gives it the preference to all others, and upon which all the important doctrines of it depend; even upon the Sonship of Christ as a divine person; and by generation, even eternal generation. Without this the doctrine of the Trinity can never be supported. (p. 144)

Louis Sperry Chaffer, Systematic Theology, Volume 1, pp. 313-316—1980 reprint. [Dispensationalist]

The relation of the Second Person to the First Person has from all eternity been that of a Son, and, like all else related to the Godhead, is not only eternal but is unchangeable. He did not become a Son of the Father, as some say that He did, by His incarnation, or by His resurrection, nor is He a San by mere title, nor is He temporarily assuming such a relationship that He may execute His part in the Covenant of Redemption. Of these claims, that of sonship by the incarnation has had many exponents and none more effective than Ralph Wardlaw, who made certain distinctions which others of that school of interpretation failed to note, namely that the title of Son of God is not, according to this specific belief, to signify that He is a son through the channel of His humanity alone—which idea borders on the Unitarian opinion—nor is it true that the title belongs to His Deity alone. Dr. Wardlaw claims that it belongs to the Person of Christ including His Deity and His humanity as they both resided in Him following the incarnation. This incarnation theory of sonship does not question the preexistenc of the Second Person as the Logos of God, but it does assert that the specific title Son of God does not apply to the Logos until the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures is formed by the incarnation. Theologians generally have been emphatic in their insistence that the divine sonship is from all eternity. Their belief in this matter is based upon clear Scripture evidence. He was the Only Begotten of the Father from all eternity, have no other relation to time and creation than that He is the Creator of them. (pp. 313, 314)

Various passages imply the generation of the Son,—“the only begotten of the Father”; “the only begotten Son”; “the only begotten Son of God.” On the basis of these and other terms the theological distinction is set forth to the effect that the Son is eternally generated. (p. 316)

Those who reject the doctrine of eternal generation:

Thomas Ridgely, A Body of Divinity, Volume 1, pp. 258-280—1814 American ed. [Reformed Independent]

And here we shall give a brief account of what we apprehend to be the commonly received sentiments of divines, who, in their writings, have strenuously maintained, and judiciously defended, the doctrine of the Trinity, concerning the eternal generation of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Ghost ; which I shall endeavour to do with the greatest deference to those who have treated of these subjects, as well as with the greatest impartiality ; and shall take occasion to shew how far the Arians conclude that we give up the cause to them, and yet how little reason they have to insult us upon this head.

(1.) As to the eternal generation of the Son, it is generally explained in this manner ; the Father is called, by some, the fountain of the Godhead, an expression taken from some of the fathers, who defended the Nicene faith ; but others of late, have rather chose to call the Father the fountain of the Trinity ; and he is said to be of himself; or unbegotten ; which they lay down as his distinct Personal character, from that of the Son.

On the other hand, the Son, as to his Personality, is generally described as being from the Father, and many chose to express themselves about this mystery in these terms ; that the Father communicated the divine essence to the Son, which is the most common mode of speaking, though others think it safer to say, that he communicated the divine Personality to him ; though I cannot tell which is least exceptionable
. (pp. 258, 259)

Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, Volume 3, pp. 725, 726—1846 reprint. [Methodist]

But I believe not in an eternal sonship of generation of the Divine nature of Jesus Christ. Here I have long stood, here I now stand, and here I trust to stand in the hour of death, in the day of judgment, and to all eternity. (p. 726)

Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 27-29—1843 edition. [Presbyterian]

I do not see any evidence in the Scriptures of the doctrine of "eternal generation," and it is certain that that doctrine militates against the proper eternity of the Son of God. The natural and fair meaning of that doctrine would be, that there was a time when he had not an existence, and when he began to be, or was begotten. But the Scripture doctrine is, that he had a strict and proper eternity. I see no evidence that he was in any sense a derived being—deriving his existence and his divinity from the Father. The Fathers of the Christian church, it is believed, held that the Son of God as to his divine, as well as his human nature, was derived from the Father. Hence the Nicene creed speaks of him as " begotten of the Father before all worlds ; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made" language implying derivation in his divine nature. They held, with one voice, that he was God ; but it was in this manner. (p. 28)

J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, pp. 106-112—1962 one volume edition. [Reformed Presbyterian]

We have examined all the instances in which “begotten” or “born” or related words are applied to Christ, and we can say with conifidence that the Bible has nothing to say about “begetting” as an eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. (p. 111)

Robert Reymond, Systematic Theology, pp. 324-341—1998. [Reformed Presbyterian] (See also Reymond’s “Classical Christology’s Future in Systematic Theology”, in Always Reforming, ed. A.T.B. McGowan, pp. 112-123—2006.)

Bringing this chapter to a conclusion, I would contend that the three basic propositions given at the beginning of the preceding chapter are sufficient to express the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. When the church went beyond these three in its conciliar deliverances and added the two additional propositions that the Son’s essence is eternally generated by the Father and that the Spirit eternally and essentially proceeds fro the Father and the Son, I would urge that it went beyond the deliverances of Scripture and that these last two propositions should not be made elements of Trinitarian orthodoxy. (pp. 340, 341.)

Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (referenced above). [Baptist]

Finally, there is the position/s of John MacArthur. Through much of his writing career, MacArthur rejected both eternal generation and eternal Sonship; however, sometime after 1991, he reversed his position. See his brief online essay, Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ.


Well, this thread has already turned into the longest post I have yet to produce; so, I shall at this time refrain from delineating MY position, and let the readers decide for themselves which side of the issue they will embrace.


Grace and peace,

David

7 comments:

Ken said...

David,
I knew you would be thorough!
Wow.

Thanks for all that work.

It will take me a while to digest it.

Sincerely,
Ken Temple

Lvka said...

Birth denotes the relationship to another Person, not to Time. Of course, people are temporal creatures, possessing a physical body of certain limited dimensions, etc... but God is without time, physical body, and limits, etc. , so His birth is also spiritual, timeless, eternal, non-physical, etc.

It's also interesting to note the conflation of created and begotten when saying that because of being uncreated, the Son must also not be begotten. -- and this 1,000 yrs after Niceea!

It's also interesting to see how he denies the sonship AND affirms the mind-wisdom relationship at the SAME time. (The imagery becomes even more complete when taking into account the fact that in Semitic anthropology, man thinks with the heart, not with the mind: the human heart is at the same time the seat of both wisdom as well as life: just as the Father is at the once the origin of both Son/Wisdom/Logos and life-giving Spirit).

Ken said...

David,

Thanks for all the quotes from various theologians, etc.

Does this (the disagreements and debates between Christian theologians and thinkers) mean that is it not un-orthodox or heretical to not hold to the "eternal generation" or "eternal begotten-ness" of the Son; as long as one holds to the Deity of Christ as the logos (Word) from all eternity (John 1:1-5; 1:14; 8:24; 17:5; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:3, 1:6; 1:8, etc.) and that the Father, the Son (Word) and Spirit are one in nature/substance/essence and also three in persons or personal relationships from all eternity past?

I am still wondering more about the following verses and explaining it to Muslims; and discipleship with former Muslims.

1. What about Luke 1:34-35 ?

"for this reason, the holy offspring will be called 'the Son of God' "

The reason (s) are because:
1. Jesus had no human father
2. It was by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit
3. It was by the power of the Most High (God the Father)

This seems to point to the incarnational Sonship, rather than eternally in the past generated "Sonship", of pure "Spirit". (God is Spirit, John 4:23-24)

I am not saying "eternal generation" of the Son is not true; just that it is a difficult concept to explain from a specific Scripture verse, and for Muslims and former Muslims.

Jesus as the Logos/ Word from eternity past is easier to explain for Muslims and former Muslims.

The Father, Son, and Spirit, in eternity past, were pure spirit. (before the word/Son became incarnated)

God (Father), the Word (John 1:1-5; 1:14 - Jesus), the Spirit are more helpful for explaining to Muslims and former Muslims.

2. What about the word "today" ? in Psalm 2:7, and Hebrews 1:5; 5:5 (seems to be talking about time, the incarnation) and Acts 13:33 (seems to emphasize the resurrection)


Thanks

David Waltz said...

Hello Lvka,

Good comments! You wrote:

>>Birth denotes the relationship to another Person, not to Time. Of course, people are temporal creatures, possessing a physical body of certain limited dimensions, etc... but God is without time, physical body, and limits, etc. , so His birth is also spiritual, timeless, eternal, non-physical, etc.>>

Me: That is how I have understood the Father/Son relationship for over 30 years now; to deny this relationship and demote our Lord’s sonship to an “incarnational sonship” and/or threat it metaphorically ultimately (IMO) leads one to Socinianism (i.e. adoptionsim) if one follows through consistently.

>>It's also interesting to note the conflation of created and begotten when saying that because of being uncreated, the Son must also not be begotten. -- and this 1,000 yrs after Niceea!>>

Me: Indeed.

>>It's also interesting to see how he denies the sonship AND affirms the mind-wisdom relationship at the SAME time. (The imagery becomes even more complete when taking into account the fact that in Semitic anthropology, man thinks with the heart, not with the mind: the human heart is at the same time the seat of both wisdom as well as life: just as the Father is at the once the origin of both Son/Wisdom/Logos and life-giving Spirit).>>

Me: I too see this as being inconsistent; and, once again, if there was consistency here, there would be the abandonment of Trinitarianism—this is perhaps THE most important reason for retaining the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son by the Father (i.e. God from God).


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks much for taking the time to respond; you posted:

>> Thanks for all the quotes from various theologians, etc.>>

Me: It was pleasure; I really enjoyed studying this issue anew.

>>Does this (the disagreements and debates between Christian theologians and thinkers) mean that is it not un-orthodox or heretical to not hold to the "eternal generation" or "eternal begotten-ness" of the Son; as long as one holds to the Deity of Christ as the logos (Word) from all eternity (John 1:1-5; 1:14; 8:24; 17:5; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:3, 1:6; 1:8, etc.) and that the Father, the Son (Word) and Spirit are one in nature/substance/essence and also three in persons or personal relationships from all eternity past?>>

Me: That is certainly the argument/position of many Trinitarian theologians since Adam Clarke (though as I noted earlier, they remain in the minority).

>>I am still wondering more about the following verses and explaining it to Muslims; and discipleship with former Muslims.

1. What about Luke 1:34-35 ?

"for this reason, the holy offspring will be called 'the Son of God' "

The reason (s) are because:
1. Jesus had no human father
2. It was by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit
3. It was by the power of the Most High (God the Father)

This seems to point to the incarnational Sonship, rather than eternally in the past generated "Sonship", of pure "Spirit". (God is Spirit, John 4:23-24)>>

Me: I too have had some difficulty with a few of the ‘traditional’ verses that have been used to defend “eternal generation”—the above is one of those.

>>I am not saying "eternal generation" of the Son is not true; just that it is a difficult concept to explain from a specific Scripture verse, and for Muslims and former Muslims.>>

Me: Agreed.

>>Jesus as the Logos/ Word from eternity past is easier to explain for Muslims and former Muslims.>>

Me: Once again, I agree. As you well know the Qur’an calls Jesus a/the Word (Kalima) from Allah/God.

>>The Father, Son, and Spirit, in eternity past, were pure spirit. (before the word/Son became incarnated)

God (Father), the Word (John 1:1-5; 1:14 - Jesus), the Spirit are more helpful for explaining to Muslims and former Muslims.>>

Me: Agreed.

>>2. What about the word "today" ? in Psalm 2:7, and Hebrews 1:5; 5:5 (seems to be talking about time, the incarnation) and Acts 13:33 (seems to emphasize the resurrection)>>

Me: This is another one of those difficult passages, and I am currently vacillating over whether or not one should understand it “timelessly” or incarnationally (though Hodge argues for the latter, he also states it speaks to divinity of the Person who became incarnate).


Grace and peace,

David

Heather Harris said...

Hi David,

I found this article through a google search of "eternal generation." I've been studying the doctrine of the Trinity lately, and specifically the eternal generation of the Son. My dad wrote a book on the Trinity, with a great focus on eternal generation. He also wrote a more simple article of monogenes, and I thought you might find it interesting: http://www.silicabiblechapel.com/onlybegotten.html

Thanks for bringing this important subject to the light!

David Waltz said...

Hi Heather,

Welcome to AF !!!

I want to thank you for the link to your father's article. I just got home and have not had a chance to read it yet; will hopefully get to it tomorrow.

Hope to see you contributing a good deal in the near future.

God bless,

David

P.S. Your post was number 5,000 !!!