Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father – from “Te Deum Laudamus”, the Latin original, and the English rendition in the Book of Common Prayer. (1)
This is a heresy that is tailor made for the day and age in which we live, for the initial reaction of many evangelicals, upon hearing of this new doctrine, will probably be to think that it is not important, that it is a semantic argument. If these leaders accept the deity and humanity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, many will reason, why quibble about something like this? If we agree that Jesus is God from eternity past why is it important that He was also eternally the Son of God?
Sadly, the first of these points, that Incarnational Sonship involves a contradiction of the Creed will be dismissed by many evangelicals as unimportant and irrelevant. This is because the Reformers’ doctrine of Sola Scriptura, by which they meant that the Word of God is the final authority over Church doctrine, discipline, and tradition, has degenerated in much of evangelicalism into Bible-onlyism, a kind of ultra-individualistic approach to doctrine in which the understanding and interpreting of the Word of God is a private matter between the individual believer and the Holy Spirit, into which Church Creeds, history, doctrines, and tradition must not intrude.
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Lk. 1:35)
The Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity Includes the Relationships Between the Three Persons
The Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity Includes the Relationships Between the Three Persons
What this means for our understanding of the Father’s generation of the Son is that it is not a reproduction of one’s own essence in another new being as it is among human beings or any other created living being.
So what is left to the concept of generation if we remove from it the necessity of a mother’s cooperation, the father’s having existed prior to the son at a time when the son did not exist, and the duplication of essence?
What is left is the idea that the Father is the source of the Son, that the Son comes from the Father, and that the Son obtains His essence, from the Father. Since the Son’s essence is not a duplicate of the Father’s essence but literally the same divine essence, this means that the Father’s generation of the Son is a communication or sharing of His divine essence rather than a reproduction of it. Since the Father and Son are co-eternal, so that there never was a moment in which the Father existed but the Son did not, the generation of the Son is not an event, with a before and after, but an eternal relationship. This is the doctrine of the eternal generation or filiation of the Son. (24)
The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ are two sides to the same coin, despite the efforts of some theologians to separate them. (25) Both doctrines are Scriptural. If Jesus’ being the Son of God meant only that He had no human father, that it was by the power of the Holy Ghost that He was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, then the title Son of God would describe Him in His humanity. The New Testament, however, constantly links His Sonship to His deity.
Note, however, that the Son has life in Himself, because the Father has given to the Son to have life in Himself. Only God has life in Himself. All other life, created and resurrected, has life as a gift from God. The Son has life from the Father, but the life He has from the Father, He has in Himself. The only way to understand this is that the quality of having life in One’s Self is a property of the divine essence, never passed on to created beings, but eternally shared by the Father with the Son. So, the basic meaning of γένος is “race, lineage, stock”, categories whose members are connected to each other by means of common descent, i.e., through birth or begetting, and the root verb of γένος is γίνομαι the basic meaning of which is “to become”, of which one of the first connotations is “to be born or begotten”. The argument against “only begotten” as the meaning of μονογενῆς requires the basic, lexical, meanings of both γένος and γίνομαι to be ignored and secondary meanings to be substituted as the primary meanings. Our third observation is that μονογενῆς is not the only word to use γενῆς as a suffix. If this suffix does not have any connotations of birth and begetting due to its etymology, a conclusion which we have just seen is based upon rather dubious grounds, then it would not be likely to have these connotations in other compounds that use it either. In fact, however, all of the other compounds have connotations of birth or begetting. (49) Our fourth observation is that μονογενῆς itself, is generally used to modify nouns like παῖς (child, boy, girl) or υἱός (son) and that when the adjective is used substantively, i.e., on its own with an implied noun it typically implies the meaning of one of these words. This strongly suggests that μονογενῆς is not just a word denoting a generic uniqueness, the idea of being the only member of a category, but that it denotes a specific kind of uniqueness, one which is connected to the idea of the generation of children. (50) On the basis of these observations, a strong case can be made that in verses like John 1:18 and John 3:16, the Scriptures do indeed explicitly state that Jesus was the “only begotten” Son of God. Even in the unlikely chance that those who say μονογενῆς means “unique, one of a kind” rather than “only begotten” are right, these verses do still point to the eternal generation of the Son because it is His being eternally begotten of the Father, and thus eternally God as the Father is eternally God, that makes His Sonship unique. Now it might be argued that that reasoning does not hold because it depends upon the translation of λόγος as “Word”. The word λόγος, despite its direct correspondence to the verb for speaking, λέγω, has a wide range of meanings, and can express rational thought or wisdom as well as its verbal expression in speech. (51) St. John’s use of the term in reference to Christ refers back to its use in Greek philosophy, in which it referred to reason as the divine order underlying reality. (52)
Note, however, that the Son has life in Himself, because the Father has given to the Son to have life in Himself. Only God has life in Himself. All other life, created and resurrected, has life as a gift from God. The Son has life from the Father, but the life He has from the Father, He has in Himself. The only way to understand this is that the quality of having life in One’s Self is a property of the divine essence, never passed on to created beings, but eternally shared by the Father with the Son.
So, the basic meaning of γένος is “race, lineage, stock”, categories whose members are connected to each other by means of common descent, i.e., through birth or begetting, and the root verb of γένος is γίνομαι the basic meaning of which is “to become”, of which one of the first connotations is “to be born or begotten”. The argument against “only begotten” as the meaning of μονογενῆς requires the basic, lexical, meanings of both γένος and γίνομαι to be ignored and secondary meanings to be substituted as the primary meanings.
Our third observation is that μονογενῆς is not the only word to use γενῆς as a suffix. If this suffix does not have any connotations of birth and begetting due to its etymology, a conclusion which we have just seen is based upon rather dubious grounds, then it would not be likely to have these connotations in other compounds that use it either. In fact, however, all of the other compounds have connotations of birth or begetting. (49)
Our fourth observation is that μονογενῆς itself, is generally used to modify nouns like παῖς (child, boy, girl) or υἱός (son) and that when the adjective is used substantively, i.e., on its own with an implied noun it typically implies the meaning of one of these words. This strongly suggests that μονογενῆς is not just a word denoting a generic uniqueness, the idea of being the only member of a category, but that it denotes a specific kind of uniqueness, one which is connected to the idea of the generation of children. (50)
On the basis of these observations, a strong case can be made that in verses like John 1:18 and John 3:16, the Scriptures do indeed explicitly state that Jesus was the “only begotten” Son of God. Even in the unlikely chance that those who say μονογενῆς means “unique, one of a kind” rather than “only begotten” are right, these verses do still point to the eternal generation of the Son because it is His being eternally begotten of the Father, and thus eternally God as the Father is eternally God, that makes His Sonship unique.
Now it might be argued that that reasoning does not hold because it depends upon the translation of λόγος as “Word”. The word λόγος, despite its direct correspondence to the verb for speaking, λέγω, has a wide range of meanings, and can express rational thought or wisdom as well as its verbal expression in speech. (51) St. John’s use of the term in reference to Christ refers back to its use in Greek philosophy, in which it referred to reason as the divine order underlying reality. (52)
It also, however, points back to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. When John 1:1 begins by saying Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, “in the beginning was the Word” this is a direct reference to Genesis 1:1: וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. A couple of verses later St. John writes that πάντα δι’αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν, “all things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made.” The words δι’αὐτοῦ which are rendered “by him” in English, express agency or instrumentality. It is “through” the Word that God created all things, St. John is saying, and this too points back to the first chapter of Genesis. The words וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים are found at the start of verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and 26, beginning each of the six days of creation, and occurring twice on the third and sixth days. The English translation of these words is, of course, “And God said”. St. John’s declaration that it was through the λόγος that all things were created is clearly referring to this. This means that in John 1:1-14 the meaning of speech in the word λόγος is actually emphasized, although it clearly has other connotations here as well. The word λόγος as used of Jesus, therefore, does establish a Speaker-Word relationship that is as much a source relationship as Father-Son. The eternal generation and Sonship cannot be escaped by the fact that Jesus is the eternal λόγος as well as the eternal Son. (53)
What Day is This Day?
There is one last potential argument against the eternal generation and Sonship of Christ that we will consider. The Second Psalm speaks of the enmity between the heathen nations on the one hand, and God and His king on Mount Zion, on the other hand. It begins with the heathen nations and their rulers raging against God and conspiring against Him. God’s response is to laugh, to hold them in contempt, and then to pour out His wrath upon them. He declares that He has set His king on His holy hill, that He has given him the nations of the world as an inheritance, and that all the kings and nations of the world had better serve the Lord and pay homage to His king or else they will face His wrath and perish.
So what does this have to do with the matter we are discussing?
In this Psalm, the Lord proclaims the king to be His Son. The king says
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (v. 7)
King David, in writing these words, presumably was referring to himself, but, as with many other verses in the Psalms, there is a dual application. We know this, because St. Paul, in his first recorded sermon in the Book of Acts and the author of the Book of Hebrews both quote this very verse, and attribute it to Jesus. The author of the book of Hebrews does not tie the verse to any specific event, but rather uses it to demonstrate the superiority of the Son over the angels, writing:
For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? (1:5)
The Apostle Paul, however, preaching at the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, quotes this verse and ties it to the Resurrection:
God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Acts 13:33)
Does this mean that the begetting of Jesus as the Son of God was an event that took place in time after all?
It does not, because if St. Paul’s application of Psalm 2:7 to Jesus means that He was begotten as the Son of God at a time and place in history, it therefore means that He was begotten as the Son of God on Easter Sunday. Yet the Gospels are quite clear that Jesus was God’s Son long before that. God the Father spoke from heaven and identified Jesus as His Son at His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:22). He did so again at the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). Throughout His ministry, Jesus referred to God as “My Father” that indicated that He had a special Son-Father relationship with God that no one else had.
When King David wrote the Second Psalm, and originally applied to himself the words that the Holy Spirit through St. Paul applied to Jesus, it is widely, although not universally, (54) believed that the occasion was his coronation as king of Israel. It was therefore a declaration that his kingship was endorsed by God, Who had acknowledged David as His own, and that those who looked to stir up trouble against the newly crowned king had better beware, for they risked the ire of God. The statement “thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee” as applied to David, would not mean that God had literally begotten David, in the sense of having brought him forth as the fruit of His seed, much less that He would have done so on the very day that David was crowned. The declaration was, then, an emphatic way of saying that God claimed David as His very own.
We would expect, therefore, that the same words, when applied to Christ in the New Testament, would have a similar meaning, that they would be a public acknowledgement of Christ by God. This is, in fact, the way they are used. St. Paul himself gives this very interpretation to the event. The key to understanding his use of the Second Psalm is found in his Epistle to the Church in Rome. In the introduction to that epistle, he writes that the Gospel of God, of which he is an apostle, concerned:
His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh: And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness; by the resurrection from the dead. (1:3-4, bold indicating italics in the Authorized Version)
It is not that Jesus became the Son of God or was made the Son of God by the Resurrection. By the Resurrection, God declared Jesus to be His Son. It is the third time God did so – the first two being at His Baptism, and Transfiguration, but on both those occasions God was speaking to a select audience. In the Resurrection He speaks to the whole world.
Furthermore, the Resurrection, in which God declares before the whole world that Jesus is His Son, is also the answer, or the beginning of the answer at any rate, to Jesus’ request of John 17:5 “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” With the Resurrection, His Humiliation was over and His Exaltation, in which He would ascend to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty had begun. Thus, Jesus having glorified the Father in the world, the Father was now glorifying the Son, with the glory they had shared together, in eternity past.
Hence, therefore, what God declares of His Son in the Resurrection, is what has been true of the Son, from eternity past. Far from being a declaration that Jesus was begotten as God’s Son on a particular day in time, it is a declaration of His eternal filiation. The final word on the subject, with which we close this essay, we will give to St. Augustine of Hippo, whose commentary on Psalm 2:7 declares:
Although that day may also seem to be prophetically spoken of, on which Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh; and in eternity there is nothing past as if it had ceased to be, nor future as if it were not yet, but present only, since whatever is eternal, always is; yet as
todayintimates presentiality, a divine interpretation is given to that expression,
Today have I begotten You,whereby the uncorrupt and Catholic faith proclaims the eternal generation of the power and Wisdom of God, who is the Only-begotten Son. (55)
(1) Traditionally, the writing of this ancient hymn is ascribed to St. Ambrose of Milan. The English version in the Order for Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer was translated by Thomas Cranmer.
(2) Traditionally, the composition of the Fourth Gospel, the three Johannine epistles, and the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine, are attributed to the Apostle John. While there are early dissenting voices to this tradition, the modern critical attitude which takes as its starting point that tradition must be assumed to be wrong unless there is overwhelming evidence that it is correct, is unjustifiable folly. The opposite attitude, that tradition should be assumed to be right except in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is far more reasonable. This is the attitude we will take, towards Johannine authorship, as well as other matters.
(3) The discussion at the Council of Nicaea concerned the Father and the Son, the question being whether the Son was equal to the Father , of one substance or essence with the Father, and thus fully God. Thus the original Nicene Creed contained only the sections pertaining to the Father and the Son. The Second Council of Constantinople revised the original Nicene Creed and expanded it to include the third section on the Holy Spirit that is in the Creed as it has come down to us,
(4) Docetism is the name given to his heresy by Serapion, a second century Bishop of Antioch. He coined it from the word δόκησις which means “opinion, fancy, apparition, phantom, appearance”. He was writing to the Church of Rhossos to condemn the non-canonical, pseudepigraphical Gospel of Peter, which taught the doctrine. Serapion’s epistle is only known to us through a reference to it in Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica, although fragments of the Gnostic pseudogospel were rediscovered in Egypt in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The heresy predates both Serapion and the Gospel of Peter, being condemned by St. John in his epistles in the New Testament.
(5) Mani, born in 216 AD, borrowed elements from Buddhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of his homeland Persia, which he joined into a new religion. One of the key elements of his religion, taken from Zoroastrianism, was the idea of dualism. Today, the name of his sect, Manichæism is virtually synonymous with dualism. He taught that there are two eternal beings, the Father of Light and the King of Darkness, whose realms are infinite except where they border on each other. At one point, Mani taught, the Kingdom of Darkness tried to invade the Kingdom of Light, and the children of Light who were sent to fight the archons of Darkness, were swallowed by their enemies. As the war continued, the physical universe was fashioned out the fallen bodies of the archons of Darkness. Some of the swallowed Light was released to form the heavenly lights, but sparks of light remained as the spirits of men. The physical world is doomed to destruction, he taught, but human spirits can be saved from the destruction, and reunited with the kingdom of Light, through attaining gnosis or knowledge. To help men achieve this salvation, he taught, Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus had been sent, and now he, Mani, was come. About Jesus, he taught the Docetist heresy, that Jesus was pure light, who took on the appearance of man, and the appearance of suffering and death. About himself, he made the less-than-modest claim to be the Paraclete which Jesus had promised to send. A century after Mani was put to death by the Persian Emperor, the man who would become St. Augustine of Hippo, joined the Manichæan religion while studying rhetoric at the University of Carthage. He turned away from Manichæism prior to his conversion and baptism into the Christian Church. Later, as a Christian bishop, he wrote and preached extensively against Manichæism, including his Contra Faustum Manichaeum, written against the Manichæan bishop Faustus of Mileve.
(6) Marcion, born sometime late in the first or early in the second century AD, was the son of the bishop of Sinope in Pontus, now Sinop in Turkey. Consecrated a bishop by his father, he was later excommunicated by him, and fled Asia Minor for Rome. Arriving just after the death of Pope Hyginus around 142 AD, he donated a large sum to the Roman Diocese, presumably in expectation of becoming the next Pope. He did not receive the position, and the money was returned to him when he was put out of the Church in Rome over his heresy. He believed, despite Jesus’ warnings against this very error (Matthew 5:17-19) that the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with those of the Hebrew Scriptures. He believed that Jesus was the Son of a God of love, and that YHWH, the God of the Tanakh, was a God of severe justice and wrath. He taught, therefore, YHWH, the God who created the world in the Book of Genesis, was the Demiurge, and not the supreme God and Father of Jesus Christ. The latter was not known, Marcion taught, until Christ revealed Him. Like Mani, Marcion taught the docetist view that Christ only manifested Himself in the flesh, but did not actually become incarnate. He founded a rival episcopal hierarchy to that of the orthodox Church and his rejection of the Old Testament in its entirety and most of the New Testament prompted the orthodox Church to discuss and determine the matter of the canon of Scriptures. According to Tertullian, he recanted prior to his death (De Praescriptione Haereticorum, chapter XXX). His followers were absorbed by other Gnostic sects, especially that of Mani. The most thorough still-extent rebuttal of Marcionism by a Patristic author is the five book Adversus Macionem by Tertullian.
(7) Also known as Dynamists and Adoptionists, the Theodotians are named after their founder, Theodotus of Byzantium, a tanner who came to Rome towards the end of the second century, and taught that Jesus was merely a pious man until His baptism, at which point the Spirit descended upon Him and He was adopted as the Son of God. Variations of the heresy have popped up from time to time, some arguing that the adoption took place at the Resurrection, some that it took place at the Ascension.
(8) Arius, who studied under St. Lucian in Antioch, was ordained a deacon by Peter bishop of Alexandria, then excommunicated by the same bishop, then readmitted and ordained a priest by the next bishop of Alexandria, Achillas, only to shortly thereafter get into the most famous theological controversy of all time. He taught that the Son was of a different essence or substance from that of the Father. This had previously been taught by Origen of Alexandria, from whom Arius probably learned it, but he took it one step further and taught that the Son was a created being Who had a beginning. The controversy over his teachings began in the Diocese of Alexandria, where Arius had been placed in an influential position y Achillas. Arius provoked the controversy, by denouncing Alexander, who had succeeded Achillas as bishop, as a Sabellian for teaching the unity of the Godhead. Alexander called a local synod at which Arius was denounced and excommunicated. The controversy did not end there, however, for Arius found supporters among ecclesiastical leaders elsewhere in the region. At a regional council, Arius was anathematized, and finally the controversy came to the attention of Emperor Constantine who summoned Arius and Alexander to appear before an ecumenical Council of the Church at Nicaea in 325 AD, which Council was be charged with dealing with the matter. Although Alexander was present, the charges against Arius were made primarily by his deacon deputy, St. Athanasius. The Council condemned Arius, upheld his excommunication, and produced the Creed that declares the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son.
(9) Sabellius, who was excommunicated by Pope Callistus early in the third century, was not the first to teach the heresy that bears his name. It was taught first – that we know of – by Noetus, then by Cleomenes, then by Sabellius.
(10) Examples of evangelical leaders who taught or who teach this doctrine include Walter Martin, John F. MacArthur Jr., and Millard Erickson. Martin was the founder of the apologetics organization the Christian Research Institute and of the radio problem the Bible Answer Man, on which he was the host/speaker until his death in 1989. He was the author of The Kingdom of the Cults, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Books, 1965, 1977, 1985), a book consisting of profiles of sects that defected from orthodox Christian teaching regarding the Trinity, Jesus Christ, and eternal salvation. Ironically, it is in this book, that he disavowed the orthodox Christian doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ. John F. MacArthur Jr., a minister in the IFCA International (formerly the Independent Fundamental Churches of America), is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, the president of The Master’s College and Seminary, the Bible teacher on the radio program Grace To You, and the author of a large number of Christian books. He has caused controversy by espousing a number of less-than-orthodox views over the years, including Incarnational Sonship, but to give him due credit, he has recanted this heresy. His recantation can be read here: http://www.gty.org/Resources/articles/593 Millard J. Erickson, who currently teaches theology at Western Seminary (formerly Western Baptist Theological Seminary) in Portland, Oregon, espoused the Incarnational Sonship view in his God In Three Persons (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995).
(11) The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
(12) A related question is the question of whether the indwelling of the Holy Spirit referred to in the New Testament is an indwelling of individual believers, an indwelling of the Church as an organic body, or both.
(14) The heresy is called Patripassionism because it teaches that the Father suffered on the Cross. Note carefully the reason that this is a heresy. God is both One and Three. He is not One in the same way He is Three, or Three in the same way He is One. He is One in Essence and Three in Person. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity eternally share the same One Divine Essence. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, from the Incarnation on, is One in Person, Two in Essence. In the Incarnation, the Son took unto Himself a human essence so that in His One Person, the Divine Essence and the human essence are united (but not mixed). It is only in the Person of the Son that the Divine Essence and the human essence are united. Since, in the One Person, the two natures are united, what can be predicated of the Son as man, can be predicated of Him as God, because He is One in Person. Therefore, when we say that the Son underwent terrible physical agony, shed His blood, and died on the Cross, we can say that God underwent terrible physical agony, shed His blood, and died on the Cross. If however, in saying that God underwent terrible physical agony, shed His blood, and died on the Cross, we were to mean that the Father underwent terrible physical agony, shed His blood, and died on the Cross, we would be in error. It is only in the Person of the Son, not in the Persons of the Father and the Holy Ghost, that Deity and humanity are united. It is in this sense that the condemnation of Patripassionism, “the Father suffering”, as a heresy, should be understood. It does not mean that orthodoxy teaches that the Father was hard-heartedly indifferent to the agony which the Eternal Object of His Eternal Love underwent on our behalf.
(15) Variously called “Oneness”, Unity, or Apostolic, this kind of Pentecostalism is also known as “Jesus Only” Pentecostalism because of its insistence that only the name “Jesus” be invoked in the baptismal formula, its assertion that baptisms in which the formula “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” is used are invalid, and that only those baptized in the name of Jesus alone are saved.
(16) He also says in this discourse that the Father is greater than Him (14:28). Since this comes towards the end of a Gospel that began by asserting that He was in the beginning with God and was God, throughout which Jesus repeatedly asserts His deity, His oneness with His Father, His doing the works of His Father, His sharing the same glory as His Father, and basically His equality with the Father, this requires some explanation. The first part of the explanation, is the doctrine of the hypostatic union as explained in endnote 14. In the One Person of Jesus Christ, the Son, the Divine and human natures are united so that what can be said of either of the two essences can be said of the Person in Whom they are united. In the Divine Essence He shares with His Father, He is, of course, equal with His Father. In His human nature, He is less than His Father, for humanity is less than God. Uniting these two natures in His One Person, Jesus can both declare both His equality with His Father in His Divine Essence and, in His humanity, that the Father is greater. Note also, that in this verse, Jesus connects the thought of the Father being greater than Him, to His going to be with the Father. This points us to the second part of the explanation, that when Jesus made this statement, He was still undergoing His Humiliation. In His prayer, immediately after the discourse, He asks the Father to glorify Him, with the glory He had with the Father, before the world was made. The idea here is that in some way, the Son left behind the glory He had shared with the Father from eternity past (the Humiliation) in order to accomplish the work the Father had set for Him, and with that work completed would resume the glory (the Exaltation). Compare Jesus’ prayer in John 17, to the Christ-hymn quoted or composed by St. Paul in the second chapter of his epistle to the Philippians, which also speaks of the Humiliation and Exaltations of Christ, offering the Humiliation as a model of humility to be followed. The exact nature of the Humiliation is a bone of theological contention, but it makes sense that Jesus would speak of this aspect of His human nature in a context where He was anticipating His Exaltation and thus speaking from a standpoint within the Humiliation. At any rate, the Quicumque Vult, or Athanasian Creed, the third of the great Ecumenical Creeds of the undivided Church, declares both the co-equality of the Persons of the Trinity, and the two natures of Christ. Of the first it says “And in this Trinity there is no before or after, no greater or less: But all three Persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal.” Of the second it says “Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, less than the Father as touching his Manhood.”
(17) Charles Hodge, the 19th Century Presbyterian theologian and president of Princeton Theological Seminary, put it this way:
The Scriptural facts are, (a) The Father says I; the Son says I; the Spirit says I. (b) The Father says Thou to the Son, and the Son says Thou to the Father; and in like manner the Father and the Son use the pronouns He and Him in reference to the Spirit. (c) The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Spirit testifies of the Son. The Father, Son, and Spirit are severally subject and object. They act and are acted upon, or are the objects of action. Nothing is added to these facts when it is said that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons; for a person is an intelligent subject who can say I, who can be addressed as Thou, and who can act and can be the object of action. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995 reprint of 1872 original). p. 444.
(18) Of this, John Theodore Mueller, early 20th Century Lutheran theologian and Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary wrote:
The name Father is sometimes used essentially (οὐσιωδῶς), referring to the divine Persons equally (Jas. 1, 7; 2 Cor. 6, 17. 18; Luke 12, 32), and sometimes personally (ὑποστατιχῶς), referring alone to the first Person of the Godhead, John 10, 30; 14, 9; 1 John 2, 23. Christian Dogmatics: A Handbook of Doctrinal Theology for Pastors, Teachers, and Laymen (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934), p. 157. Bold indicates italics in original.
(19) Cf. John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
(20) Jesus, in John 15:26 says “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me”. The Eastern Orthodox position is derived from the words ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, “which proceedeth from the Father”. Conversely, the Western position is based upon the words ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω, “whom I will send”. If this verse were the sole factor in the debate, the Eastern position would seem to be the strongest. When the Second Council of Constantinople added the section about the Holy Spirit to the Nicene Creed, the words τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον which were adapted from John 15:26, were placed in the Creed to describe the Spirit’s eternal relationship to the Father. By adding the filioque, the Third Synod of Toledo seems to have equated the Spirit’s proceeding from the Father with His being sent by the Son from the Father. The latter, however, clearly refers to a temporal act, which was yet future when the words were uttered. From the Eastern perspective, therefore, the Western position must look something like Incarnational Sonship looks to orthodox believers, Eastern and Western, in the Eternal Generation and Sonship of Christ, i.e., the confusion of the temporal with the eternal. The Western position is strengthened, however, by other New Testament verses which place the Son in a genitive relationship to the Spirit, such as Romans 8:9 and Galatians 4:6 .
(21) The need for another term to express the way in which the Spirit proceeds from the Father – or from the Father and the Son – is evident from the fact that the Son also proceeds from the Father (John 8:42), although it could be argued that the latter is a reference to Son’s entry into the world rather than His eternal generation. Both the Son and the Spirit come from the Father. In both cases it is the Person Who comes from the Father, with the whole divine essence communicated to Him. There must, however, be a difference, because otherwise, there would be two Sons. Hence the need for the term spiration, or “breathing forth”, to signify that the procession of the Spirit, spiration, is different from that of the Son, generation. According to Methodist theologian Justo L. Gonzalez :
It was the Cappadocians – Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa – who first sought to establish this distinction, claiming that while the Son is begotten directly by the Father, the Spirit proceeds “from the Father, through the Son” by spiration. Essential Theological Terms (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005) p. 141.
Gonzalez went on to say that:
In the West, however, Augustine understood this procession in a different way. For him the Spirit was the bond of love joining Father and Son.
This, he added, “lies at the root of the controversy surrounding the Filioque”.
The Augustinian understanding can be seen in Western liturgical traditions, such as the phrase “in the unity of the Holy Spirit” that is typically found in the Trinitarian formula that closes Anglican Collects and the Prayer of Consecration over the elements of the Eucharist. Nevertheless, the West also uses the language of spiration to describe the Spirit’s procession. At the Second Council of Lyons in 1262, called for the purpose of reunifying the Western and the Eastern Churches, it was declared that the “Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, yet, not as from two origins, but as from one origin, not by two breathings but by a single breathing”, quoted by Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperOne, 1992), p. 521.
(22) In Greek this word is πνεῦμα. In Hebrew it is רוּחַ.
(23) “If God is one indivisible unity, any distinction referred to must not divide God into two, three, or more separable parts…God is one. Father , Son, and Spirit are three. God’s unity is not a unity of separable parts but of distinguishable persons.” – Thomas C. Oden, op. cit., p. 109.
(24) Origen of Alexandria was among the first to use this terminology. As he was not exactly the most orthodox of the Church Fathers, and taught like the Arians that the Son was not of the same substance or essence as the Father, some, for this reason, consider the doctrine of eternal generation to be suspect. The Fathers at Nicaea, however, rejected the Christological heresies of both Origen and Arius, and affirmed both the eternal generation of the Son and the cosubstantiality of the Father and the Son.
(25) J. Oliver Buswell, a past president of Wheaton College, for example, affirmed the eternal Sonship of Christ, while denying the doctrine of eternal generation. A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion , Vol. 1,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962) pp. 106-112. Charles Hodge, while not denying the doctrine as taught in the Nicene Creed, questioned the larger explanation of it given by the Nicene Fathers, i.e., the communication of the divine essence. Hodge, op. cit., pp. 468-471.
(26) It is the Person of the Son not the divine essence that is generated, but that generation involves the communication of the divine essence which, because it includes the attributes of eternality and unity, means that the generation had no beginning but always was, and hence is eternal.
(27) Ontology is the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being or existence.
(28) That God alone has being or existence, in Himself, is part of the metaphysical concept of God, which is human reasoning derived from natural revelation, such as that St. Paul writes about in Romans 1:20. All things are either causes or effects, and the causes we see are themselves the effects of previous causes. Ultimately, however, there must be a First Cause, which is itself Uncaused, a Prime Mover, an Unmade Maker. The Uncaused Cause of all other causes, the Unmoved Mover, the Unmade Maker, by definition is, in and of itself, rather than by derivation from anything else. While the metaphysical concept of God falls far short of the divine revelation of Who, as opposed to What, God is, beginning in the Old Testament and culminating in the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ, note that when asked by Moses for His name, the God of the Patriarchs of Israel answered I AM that I AM.
(29) Theories as to their identity include the angels (presumably the fallen ones) and men of Seth’s lineage (as opposed to Cain’s, from whom the “daughters of men” would have sprung in this interpretation).
(30) A similar phrase with the same meaning is also used by Cleanthes in his Hymn to Zeus, but St. Paul’s quotation is closer to Aratus’ wording, the only difference being that the Apostle uses the indicative form of the verb instead of the optative.
(31) Newer translations that have retained the use of “only begotten” include those whose translators were consciously trying to stay in the tradition of the Authorized Version, such as the New King James Version, the King James II, and the Twentieth Century King James Version, and the American Standard Version family of translations, although the New American Standard Version offers “unique” as an alternative in its notes.
(32) Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart James, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th Revised Edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1843, 1925, 1996) is to ancient Greek, what the Oxford English Dictionary is to our language. This work will be referred to in the body of this essay as Liddell-Scott, and cited in the references as LSJ. Citations will appear as LSJ, followed by the word being defined, which will be a hyperlink to the entry for that word in the online edition of the lexicon. Here, the reference is to LSJ, μόνος
(33) LSJ, γένος
(34) LSJ, γεννάω
(35) Liddell and Scott originally defined μονογενῆς as “only begotten”. The online entry, based upon the current print edition of the 9th revised edition of their work that came out in 1925, defines it as as “the only member of a kin or kind: hence, generally, only, single” LSJ, μονογενῆς . In 1889, an intermediate lexicon based upon the 7th revised edition of the original was published entitled An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. The online version of this, which is usually referred to as Middle Liddell, still gives the definitions “only-begotten, single” and “one and the same blood.” Middle Liddell, μονογενῆς. The change made to the basic definition in LSJ, reflects the fact that since Liddell and Scott first put out their lexicon in the middle of the 19th Century, scholars have concluded that it means “unique” rather than “only begotten”. Since I will be calling into question the line of reasoning by which this conclusion was derived in the body of the essay – and LSJ remains an invaluable resource for calling this reasoning into question – I will not dwell on it further in this note, but wish simply to point out that the idea of “only begotten” has not really been eliminated from the current edition of LSJ. If someone is the “only member of a kin” he has no siblings – in which case he is an “only-begotten” son.
(36) Fenton John Anthony Hort, who along with Brooke Foss Westcott put out the critical edition of The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881) that was the antecedent of later critical editions such as the Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies, and served on the revision committee that produced the Revised Version, the New Testament of which came out the same year and was largely based upon the Westcott-Hort text, was one of the first proponents of the school of Textual Criticism in which the Alexandrian text type of the New Testament was considered to be superior to the Byzantine text type due to the earlier dates of the Alexandrian manuscripts. I disagree with that school, but for the purposes of this essay that is neither here nor there. In the first of his Two Dissertations, published in Cambridge by MacMillan and Company in 1876, he defended the Alexandrian reading of the last verse in the prologue to the Gospel of John, in which the words μονογενῆς θεός appear instead of μονογενῆς υἱός as appear in the Byzantine text (which in this case as in most cases is also the Majority Text). His Note D to this dissertation begins on page 48 and is entitled “Unicus and unigenitus among the Latins.” He first lists the various readings for μονογενῆς in “Passages referring to our Lord”, then for “Other passages”. The first list includes John 1:14, 1:18, 3:16, 3:18, and 1 John 4:19. For each of these, there are both unicus and unigenitus readings, and for John 1:14 there are four different variations that use unici. For each of these verses except John 3:16 and the 1 John reading, in which it is basically even, unigenitus is the most often used. In the other New Testament references, where μονογενῆς is used of someone other than Jesus, such as the widow’s only son in Luke 7:12, unicus is almost universally used. Hort also notes that יָחִיד is the only one word in Hebrew that is translated μονογενῆς in Greek, and that it is “uniformly rendered by ungenitus in the Vulgate where an only son or daughter is meant.” He then points out that the LXX, in all but one of these instances, uses a different Greek word, although “μονογενῆς was used by one or more of the other translators in at least five of the other places.” He then identifies witnesses to a no longer extent LXX reference to Isaac that must have used μονογενῆς and notes that the majority of remaining Latin references use unicus. His conclusion from all of this, is that “unicus is the earliest Old Latin representative of μονογενῆς; and unigenitus the Vulgate rendering of יָחִיד, however translated in Greek, except in St. Luke and the Apocrypha, where Jerome left unicus untouched, and the four peculiar verses from the Psalter…where he substituted other words”. He concludes that in the verses where μονογενῆς refers to Jesus “unicus had been previously supplanted by unigenitus”, i.e, before Jerome, and that “in the Prologue of the Gospel the change took place very early”. It is not obvious, however, that the conclusion that unigenitus supplanted unicus, however early, is demanded by the evidence cited.
(37) The reasoning of those who say that γένος means “kind” or “class” seems to be that even if γένος has clear implications of the idea of blood descent in the vast majority of its uses, if one or two instances can be shown where this idea is unclear or does not seem to be present, then the idea of “category” must be the primary thought.
(38) It is also a blatantly false assumption. Both γένος and γεννάω are derivatives of γίνομαι, as can be found in their entries in Liddell-Scott (see endnotes 34 and 35) and for that matter any competent lexicon that includes etymological references.
(39) Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries, for example, makes this argument in a footnote in his The Forgotten Trinity (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), p. 201. He also makes the argument that the suffix may not impart much meaning to the compound as a whole, but rather intensify the meaning of μόνος.
(40) See previous footnote. E. F. Harrison also argues for “only” or “unique” over “only begotten” as the meaning of μονογενῆς in his entry under “Only Begotten” in Walter A. Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001) without making these basic mistakes, correctly defining γένος as “origin, race, stock”, and noting that:
the old rendering, “only begotten” is not entirely without justification when the context in John 1:14 is considered. The verb genesthai occurs at the end of 1:13 (“born of God”) and ginesthai in 1:14. These words ultimately go back to the same root as the second half of monogenes. Especially important is 1 John 5:8, where the second “born of God” must refer to Christ according to the superior Greek text.
(41) One of the most basic rules with regards to searching for a verb’s root stem, in ancient Greek, is that the root stem can often be found, by simplifying a doubled consonant. To say that two words do not have the same source because of a difference which may occur in the inflected forms of a single word is absurd.
(42) LSJ, γενεά
(43) LSJ, γενεαλογία
(44) LSJ, γενέθλιος
(45) LSJ, γένεσις
(46) LSJ, γενετή
(47) William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition translated and adapted from Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 157.
(48) LSJ, γίνομαι
(49) Examples include εὐγενής means “well born”, γηγενής means “earth born”, μεταγενής means “born after”, οἰκογενής means “born in the house, homebred”, πρωτογενής means “first born, primeval”. Hyperlinks to the online LSJ entries are included in each word.
(50) F. J. A. Hort remarks: “The sense of μονογενῆς is fixed by its association with υἱός in the other passages, especially v. 14, by the original and always dominant usage in Greek literature, and by the prevailing consent of the Greek Fathers. It is applied properly to an only child or offspring; and a reference to this special kind of unicity is latent in most of the few cases when it does not lie on the surface, as of the Phoenix in various authors” Hort, op. cit., p. 16-17.
(51) LSJ, λόγος
(52) In pre-Socratic philosophy, the composition of reality was the major subject of discussion. The famous four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, was the answer Empedocles of Agrigentum gave to the question of what substance the universe is made up of. About a century before Empedocles, however, Heraclitus of Ephesus, had identified fire as the basic element of reality. Other elements were formed out of fire, and to fire they returned, he argued, and in the meantime were always moving and changing, thus the universe could be described as being in a constant state of flux. “You never step in the same river twice” he famously put it. Although a constant state of flux may seem to be the epitome of disorder, this was not how Heraclitus saw it. Beneath the flux, there was a principle which ordered all things. This principle was λόγος – reason, wisdom, word. From Heraclitus, this concept spread throughout other schools of philosophy. The school of Stoicism, for example, adopted it, regarding the λόγος as soul to which the physical universe was the body. Obviously not all of the connotations of the pagan concept were carried over into the Christian concept, but see the next note.
(53) It should be noted, that in addition to the reference to God speaking in Creation, which St. John is obviously alluding to with his use of λόγος, the Old Testament frequently speaks of “The Word of the Lord” in a personalized sense. Examples of this include, but are by no means limited to, Genesis 15:1, Isaiah 55:11, Ezekiel 27:1, Psalm 33:4,6, 107:20, and 147:15). Thus in the Targum, the Aramaic translation of and commentary on the Tanakh, and other rabbinic literature, the concept of the “memra”, developed parallel to that of the λόγος in Greek . Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenized Jewish philosopher who lived in the first centuries BC and AD, used the similarities between these two concepts to attempt a synthesis between Hebrew thought and Greek philosophy. See The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906), memra
(54) Derek Kidner, who was Warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge, acknowledged the usual understanding, but suggested that it might have been written for a later time of trouble, such as that described in 2 Samuel 10, because “At David’s own accession there were no subject peoples to grow mutinous”. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction & Commentary (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), p. 50.