Is Jesus the Eternal Son of God?
Misunderstandings involving the true nature of Jesus have been common since Christ walked the earth. When the crowds were amazed by Christ’s power to heal and began pondering whether He might be “the Son of David,” the Pharisees protested, alleging, “This man casts out demons by Beelzebul the ruler of demons” (Matthew 12:22-24). Following a return to Nazareth where He astonished the town’s people with His abilities, they questioned His wisdom and miraculous powers, asking, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:53-58). When Jesus healed the paralytic by announcing, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” the Scribes considered Him to be “blaspheming,” stating, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:1-7).
The misunderstanding did not cease following Christ’s ascension, either. Near the end of the apostolic age, the apostle John warned the church against an insidious movement that was developing that denied Jesus as having come in human flesh (2 John). In the second century, an organized group known as the Docetists began teaching that Jesus was a mere spirit being and only seemed or appeared to be human. A century later, a monk named Arius (c. A. D. 250-336) argued that “there was a time when the Son was not,” giving rise to the speculative theories that Christ “originated” from, was “begotten” by, or even “created” by God the Father at some indeterminate time.
Modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses embrace a very similar teaching, presently claiming that Jesus was created first as the highest arch angel – presumably identified with Michael (see Rhodes, p. 218). The United Pentecostal sect argues that Jesus and the Father are the same Person. Some deny the existence of Jesus completely, while others claim He was nothing more than a good man or a wise philosopher. Although these opinions have been commonly asserted throughout Christian history, the broader stream of Christendom has rejected “the empty chatter” surrounding these egregious errors.
However, there is one illogical theory regarding Christ that took root in the evolving apostasy that eventually manifested as Catholicism. Subsequently, a great majority of Protestant reformers retained the idea, spreading the noxious doctrine throughout the Christian movement. It is the theory that Jesus, in eternity past, has always been the Son of God. Phrases such as “eternally begotten” or “eternally generated” are bandied about as if based solidly on the Scriptures. Sadly, the church of Christ has not been immune, and the prevailing view of Christ among many congregations is one of “eternal sonship” – Christ is pictured as the young offspring of a much older Father for all prior eternity.
It is regrettable to admit that this is the view which the author held for many years based upon the common teaching experienced at services of the Lord’s Church throughout life. Fortunately, the writings of sensible men have helped reclaim the original meaning of the term “Son of God” as used in the Scriptures concerning Jesus. Nevertheless, the pervading errant opinion of Christ’s true nature remains firmly in place as all too recently it was sounded forth from the local pulpit that “Jesus has always been the Son of God!” But does this statement actually represent biblically based theology? An examination of the history of the teaching and its scriptural basis is certainly warranted.
The Rise of the Eternal Sonship Theory
The germination of the “Eternal Sonship” theory has been traced to the writings of the Alexandrian scholar, Origen (c. 185-254). He wrote, “Jesus Christ Himself, who came (into the world), was born of the Father before all creatures; that, after He had been the servant of the Father in the creation of all things—“for by Him were all things made”—He in the last times, divesting Himself (of his glory), and became a man, and was incarnate although God” (De Principiis Preface 4). The statement, “was born of the Father before all creatures,” is the earliest known allusion of a theory that obviously propagated very quickly.
It was incorporated in the Nicene Creed in A. D. 325, where Christ is described as “Son, only begotten, Firstborn of all creation, begotten of the Father before all the ages” (Bettenson, p. 35). However, the enormous growth and spread of the vile cancer is credited to Augustine (A. D. 354-430). Church historian, Phillip Schaff, noted, “by his discriminating speculation he exerted more influence upon the scholastic theology and that of the Reformation, than all the Nicene divines.” Not only did Augustine renounce the trinity concept of the Godhead, but he vigorously advocated that the Son was “eternally begotten of the Father.” Schaff points out that Augustine’s view “gradually met universal acceptance in the west” (1981, III, pp. 684-687).
The Illogical Language of the Theory
The notion that Christ is the “eternal Son” of an “eternal Father” is discredited logically by blatant self-contradiction. If language is to retain any discernible meaning at all, it is simply not possible to have both an eternal “son” and an eternal “father,” for in the very nature of language, a “father” is always considered to be anterior to the “son,” and a “son” subsequent to his “father.” If God is actually the “father” of the pre-incarnate Son, the Son cannot be eternal, but must have been created as the heretic Arius alleged and the Jehovah’s Witnesses now insist.
The “eternal Sonship” theory has literally been the catalyst for some of the most outlandish views related to the nature of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to reconcile the language expressing a father/son relationship with eternity, and therefore it is no wonder why various sects have espoused themselves to an equally damnable theory proposing instead that Christ – as the Son of God – is the first being created by God. The unreasonable concept of “eternal generation” or “eternal Sonship” paved the way for the Arian and Witnesses’ views.
If it is the case that the pre-incarnate person of Christ was “begotten,” then he is not “eternal.” To contend that the Son is “eternally begotten” is a manifest contradiction of terms. The two words are not synonyms, but are antonyms. It is equivalent to saying, “Christ had an eternal beginning.” Can a person “begin” and yet not have begun? Such language is nonsensical and ludicrous, conveying nothing remotely associated with truth.
Adam Clarke commented, “The eternal Sonship of Christ is absolutely irreconcilable to reason, and contradictory to itself. ETERNITY is that which has no beginning, nor stands in any reference to time: SON supposes time, generation, and father; and time also antecedent to such generation: therefore the rational conjunction of these two terms, Son and eternity, is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas” (Commentary on the Holy Bible).
This controversial issue demands resolution. Truth concerning the nature of Christ must be derived from what the Bible actually teaches, and not from longstanding beliefs that are based on the whims of man’s imagination and not on a “Thus saith the Lord.”
What Saith the Scriptures?
The eternal nature of Christ is undeniable. Numerous Bible passages affirm the eternality of Christ (e.g., Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 8:58; etc.). His eternal nature is essential to His self-expressed deity. However, if the pre-incarnate Christ had a “beginning” or was “begotten” in any sense, then He is not eternal God as the Scriptures unambiguously affirm (cf. Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1).
Christ is also connected and identified with the term “Jehovah” many times in the Scriptures. “Jehovah” (Yahweh) is descriptive of “the existing one” (Strong, 2001). Several Old Testament passages that relate to activities of Jehovah are applied to Christ in the New Testament (see Isaiah 6:1-5/John 12:38-41; Isaiah 40:3/Matthew 3:3; Malachi 3:1/Mark 1:1-11; Isaiah 44:6/Revelation 1:17; Jeremiah 23:5-6/1 John 1:2; etc.). The inspired testimony equates Jesus with Jehovah.
Thomas confessed Christ as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). The term “Lord” is the Greek kurios – a term used in the Greek Old Testament to replace the sacred name, Yahweh (Jehovah). The apostle Paul referred frequently to Jesus as “Lord,” and as has been stated, “Paul could not have used this word as his almost exclusive title for Jesus without in his mind identifying Jesus as Yahweh” (Cottrell, 1996, I. p. 76). By equating Jesus with Jehovah, the Scriptures characterize Jesus as “(the) self-Existent or Eternal” (Strong, 2009), i.e., the Supreme Being.
Conversely, there is not one Bible text that speaks of Jesus being “eternally begotten” or of an “eternal generation” or “eternal procession” of the pre-incarnate Christ. How is it possible to contrive an entire theological position where the language employed to describe the basic premise is conspicuously absent in the Scriptures? Clarke sagely asked, “Is there any part of the Scriptures in which it is plainly stated that the Divine nature of Jesus was the Son of God? Here, I trust, I may be permitted to say, with all due respect for those who differ from me, that the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is, in my opinion, anti-scriptural, and highly dangerous” (Op. Cit.).
While the Scriptures affirm the eternal nature of Christ, it is the perceived “sonship” for all eternity that is lacking evidentiary support. The theory of “eternal Sonship” has absolutely no basis in Scripture as a review of so-called “proof texts” will demonstrate.
Most Popular Supporting Passage
“He said to me, Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee”
Although commonly employed as a proof text for “eternal Sonship,” the question that must honestly be answered is this one: Does the language of this verse indicate that Christ has always been the “eternal Son of God”? In acute contradistinction, the Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to this same verse as proof that Christ was created by God.
An analysis of Psalm 2:7 will expose both claims as erroneous. The word “today” categorically denies the “eternal Sonship” theory. The Hebrew is hay-yom which simply means “this day” or “today.” This word is never used to express eternity or anything related to eternity. The word “today” confines the event to a portion of earth’s history, but more specifically (as the context shows) to the future arrival of the Messiah (cf. 2:2). And by this fact the Witnesses’ position is demonstrated as flawed on the basis that God could not have spoken these words at any point during the earth’s history and Christ still be accounted as the first creation of God as the Witnesses allege.
Psalm 2:7 is quoted three times in the New Testament (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). The clearest designation as to the time when the words of Psalm 2:7 were spoken appears in the preaching of Paul in Acts 13:33: “And we preach to you good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.” By inspiration, the apostle applies the words of Psalm 2:7 to the resurrection of Christ. This was the day when Christ “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
Kenneth Wuest connected these passages, explaining, “Psalm 2 is a Messianic psalm. The word “begotten” here does not refer to the Son’s eternal generation from God the Father, or to His generation in time as the incarnate Son of Man, but as the context shows, to the act of God the Father establishing in an official sonship-relation, His Son at the resurrection…The idea in the words, ‘I have begotten thee’ are ‘I have begotten thee to kingly dignity.’ The reference is not to entrance into life, but to entrance into an office. The Messianic reference is to the resurrection (Acts 13:33) and to the declaration of the Father with reference to the character of the Son as Son of God, this declaration being substantiated by the resurrection of the Son (Rom. 1:4)” (1997).
Albert Barnes also captured the true meaning of Psalm 2:7, stating, “It is evident that Paul uses the expression here as implying that the Lord Jesus is called the Son of God because he raised him up from the dead…This interpretation of an inspired apostle fixes the meaning of this passage in the psalm; and proves that it is not there used with reference to the doctrine of eternal generation, or to his incarnation, but he is here called his Son because he was raised from the dead” (1962, p. 461).
Jesus Christ was begotten from the dead by God, being officially declared the Son of God by His resurrection. By this He was properly accredited for entrance into His appointed office as King over His kingdom. In an interesting twist, Christians are also declared the sons of God by their resurrection to new life following the burial of the dead body in baptism, gaining entrance into the eternal kingdom of Christ.
Eternal Sonship is not supported by Psalm 2:7. Coffman noted, “‘This day have I begotten thee’ is a statement upon which such things as the so-called “eternal Sonship” and other implications are said to rest. Although widely received, the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is not supported by this epistle, nor by anything else in the scripture. In truth, the scriptures deny such a teaching” (1971, p. 26).
The words, ‘Thou art My Son, this day I have begotten Thee,’ are (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) assigned to the resurrection of Christ from the grave (Acts 13:33). Having been put to death on charges of blasphemy (i.e., making Himself equal with God), the resurrection of Christ from the grave was God’s reversal of the court’s unjust decision to put Him to death, effectively overturning and exonerating Christ in the very city where His true nature had been impugned. Christ was later exalted into heaven where He “was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
Other Proof-Texts for Eternal Sonship
Proverbs 8:22-31; esp. v. 25
“…Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth…”
In defending the eternal Sonship theory, one author asserted, “The scriptural proof of the doctrine may be thus given. Our Lord, the Wisdom of God, is spoken of (Prov. 8:25, LXX) as begotten before the mountains and hills were made” (Blunt, p. 243).
This statement is absent of merit for the following reasons: The context of Proverbs 8 is a discussion concerning God’s wisdom in all matters. Wisdom is personified for emphasis sake. That Christ is not indicated in this passage is made certain by the author’s use of feminine pronouns (i.e., “her” v. 1; “she/her” v. 2; “she” v. 3; “her” v. 11). No Person of the Godhead is ever described in feminine language. God, including Jesus Christ, is always referred to in masculine terms.
Furthermore, 8:22 states, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way…” The term “possessed” (ASV; footnote: ‘formed’) translates the Hebrew qana(h) which is defined: “create, bring forth” (Swanson, 1997, #7865). If Proverbs 8 is appealed to as a proof text for “eternal Sonship,” it would actually prove more than advocates of that theory are willing to endorse. It would then prove there was a time when the Son did not exist; but was “created.” This explains why the Jehovah’s Witnesses also appeal to this passage as a proof-text for their erroneous theory that Christ is the first creation of God.
However, Christ is not the focus of Proverbs 8, but wisdom and understanding as God had bestowed upon Solomon (1 Kings 3:6-14). The Proverbs open with an appeal “to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding…” (1:2). The first seven verses lay the foundation for the book. Ten words or phrases appear in these seven verses that are directly related to wisdom that every God-fearing parent would desire for their child; i.e., “wisdom” (1:2); “discern” (1:2); “instruction” (1:3); “prudence to the naïve” (1:4); “knowledge” (1:4); “discretion” (1:4); “learning” (1:5); “wise counsel” (1:5); “understand” (1:6); “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). The remainder of the book reveals the difference between one who acquires wisdom and understanding with “fools” who “despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).
The Argument from Monogenes
Some contend that the theory of eternal Sonship is supported by the term “only begotten” in John 1:14, 18. The Greek is monogenes, and it has been claimed that this term is “a confirmation of the idea of eternal generation” (Walvoord, p. 44). However, many scholars, including those who support “eternal Sonship,” deny the assessment quoted above. As Morris observed, “Etymologically it is not connected with begetting” (p. 93). The term monogenes is derived from mono (one), and ginomai (kind).
The truest sense of the word relates to the uniqueness of Christ. John is not referencing the origin of Christ, for he opens his Gospel by announcing that the pre-existing “Word was God” (1:1). God, by His very nature, has no origin; hence the Word has no origin. In verse 14 John relates that “the Word became flesh,” and how the apostles “beheld His glory, glory as of the unique one from the Father.” Though unjustly despised by many King James adherents, modern English versions translate monogenes with a more correct sense (i.e., “the One and Only” NIV; “unique, only one of His kind” NASB footnote).
To show the tampering that has occurred in the transmission of the Scriptures, John 1:18 reads dramatically different in the oldest Greek manuscripts than the language found in the half dozen late manuscripts (ca. 10th – 12th century) that were consulted for the Textus Receptus upon which the beloved King James Version is based. Instead of reading “the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father,” the oldest extant manuscripts read, “only begotten God” or “One and Only God, who is in the bosom of the Father.”
The change in wording from “God” to “Son” has been regarded as “scribal assimilation to Jn 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9” (Metzger, 1994, p. 169). However, the reading “monogenes theos” (“One and Only God,” “unique God,” or “one of a kind God”) is attested by the two oldest extant Greek manuscripts: “P66” (c. A. D. 200) and “P75” (c. A. D. 175-225) (Metzger, 2005, pp. 56-59).
Jesus is the unique, one of a kind God who is now at the Father’s side. His uniqueness results from the dual nature He acquired when He who “was God” (John 1:1) became flesh (John 1:14). The Person of Jesus is eternal in His original nature as God, but in becoming man, He gained a human nature, resulting in unparalleled uniqueness.
Son of Man/Son of God
Jesus identified Himself by the title “Son of Man” 82 times in the New Testament. He employed this title to emphasize His human nature. Only one time is the title used without the definite article – John 5:27. In the 81 times where the definite article appears, Jesus identifies Himself as “the Son of Man” to indicate that He is the quintessential human being – the ultimate man. Thayer commented that Christ used the term Son of Man “that he might designate himself as the head of the human race…the one who both furnished the pattern of the perfect man and acted on behalf of all mankind.”
In his book Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, E. W. Bullinger classifies the phrase “son of man” as a common Hebrew idiom. The phrase consists of two nouns joined in the genitive case. Of this particular grammatical arrangement, Bullinger states, “one noun is placed in regimen, i.e., when one governs the other in the genitive case: the latter word (sometimes two words) becomes an adjective” (1968, p. 497).
An example of this arrangement is found in the phrase “son of wickedness” (Psalm 89:22) which is descriptive of a wicked person; not the offspring of wickedness. In John 17:12 the “son of perdition” refers to Judas as a ruined person. And in Jeremiah 49:18, 33, the phrase “son of man” refers to the condition of being human, i.e., a human person. Bullinger further explained that “when the word ‘son’ is qualified by a subsequent noun, the nature or character of the individual is being indicated” (1968, p. 503).
Jesus used the term “Son of Man” to emphasize His human nature. The Greek word translated “Man” is anthropos, meaning “man, mankind, human.” The title “Son of Man” identified Jesus as a human person, i.e., a real flesh and blood man.
The term “Son of God” is used in precisely the same manner. Jesus was unique in that His mother was human, but His father was deity. The Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in the womb of the virgin, Mary (Matthew 1:20). This brought together two distinct natures (human/Divine) in one very unique Individual.
Jesus is that unique Individual who is both God and man; hence the appropriate titles “Son of God”/”Son of Man.” He wore neither of these two titles before His birth in human flesh; neither was His name Jesus. Speaking of the child to be born of Mary, the messenger announced, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
When John penned his Gospel, he knew nothing of an eternal Son named Jesus who was present with God in the beginning, but he spoke freely explaining how “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was the Creator of all that has been created (1:3). Nevertheless, in the most unanticipated move, the Word became flesh (1:14), and only after becoming flesh does John begin ascribing the title “Son of God” to Him (cf. 1:1, 14, 34, 49).
In the New Testament, the title “Son of God” is applied to Christ more than forty times. In not a single case does it refer to the existence of the pre-incarnate Word, but is always descriptive of the unique Person we know as Jesus who was born of Mary.
Eternal Sonship does not Correspond with Scripture
The “eternal Sonship” theory contradicts the explicit testimony of Scripture. Isaiah prophesied that the virgin would “conceive” and “bear a son,” whose name would be called “Immanuel” or “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23). The “son” status is chronologically applied to the time following the conception. Discussing the conception of Jesus in the New Testament, Matthew quoted the angel as saying to Joseph, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (1:20). The Greek word for “conceived” is gennao and Strong says it is used “of God making Christ his Son” (2001, # 1080).
The name “Immanuel” given to the “Son” did not belong to any of the members of the Godhead prior to the conception and birth of Christ who was Divine in all preceding eternity, but who became flesh that He might live with man and die for man according to the scheme of human redemption. Born as a Son by the virgin, Jesus did not appear to humanity as His divinely appointed name Immanuel indicated, i.e., “God with us.” It was only subsequent to His resurrection that He was fully recognized by His friends according to His true identity, i.e., “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28).
Isaiah further prophetically declared, “a child is born, a son is given” (9:6). Does not the language here suggest a connection between the role of being a “son” with the birth of the child? If the “son” in this prophecy literally refers to an “eternal son,” would it not also imply that he existed as an “eternal child”?
John Walvoord conceded that the connection between the Sonship of Jesus with the incarnation “has the advantage of being simple in concept”; but he believes Christ must be the “eternal Son” since “the consensus of the great theologians of the church and the great church councils” have maintained this view for centuries. Particularly, he declares, this has been “the main doctrine of the church, since the Council of Nicaea in 325” (Op. Cit., p. 39). Of course, the “church” he references is apostate Catholicism; not the church established by Christ and instructed by His chosen apostles.
Isaiah further noted that the Son’s “name will be called...everlasting Father” (9:6). This declaration is a patent contradiction to the notion that Christ was eternally a son. Isaiah called Christ “everlasting Father” or “eternal Father” (NASB). The Hebrew verb translated “will be called” does not reflect future tense as the English indicates, but represents an “imperfect waw-consecutive” or “wayyiqtol” form. “This construction commonly conveys past tense/time” (Heiser, 2005).
Christ is known as “…Mighty God, eternal Father…” based upon His true and ever abiding nature as deity. This does not indicate – as Oneness Pentecostals allege – that Christ and the Father are the same person. Christ is the “eternal Father” in that all creation was spoken into existence by Him (cf. Colossians 1:16). Jesus addressed God as Father only after becoming flesh; never before. The various terms denoting deity are commonly used interchangeably among the members of the Godhead (For more information, see article this site: Seven Reasons to Believe Jesus is God).
Another passage contradicted by the “eternal Sonship” theory is Psalm 2:7. As previously discussed, Psalm 2 was quoted as Messianic by the New Testament writers (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). The “Son” that must be worshipped (v. 12) does not refer to an eternal son, but to the Lord’s “anointed” (i.e. Messiah; 2:2). Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 1:1) and Son whom all must worship.
In God’s covenant with David, He promised to “raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom…I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me” (2 Samuel 7:14). The writer of Hebrews quotes the last line, saying these words were spoken by God about Christ (1:5). The preliminary fulfillment of the promise in 2 Samuel 7 involved David’s son Solomon who was not yet born. The primary fulfillment of the promise concerned Jesus Christ, who, likewise, was not at that time born. The promise “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me” clearly relates to a future period. Jesus was not the eternal Son of God, but became such by the incarnation.
Another passage is equally eye-opening: “I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27). The Holy Spirit again passes beyond what was written of the literal king David to the future coming of the Messiah who would be made God’s “firstborn.” The term “firstborn” does not reflect chronology in this verse. The fact that this future kingly One is to be appointed as a “firstborn” is conclusive evidence that a point of origin is not in view.
The future occasion would be the resurrection and exaltation of Christ to the highest position of “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), and “the firstborn from the dead” (1:18; cf. Revelation 1:5). The term ‘“firstborn’ expresses His priority to, and preeminence over, creation, not in the sense of being the “first” to be born” (Vine, p. 240). The term is often used in Scripture to indicate prominence or superiority, not chronology. For example, God called Israel “My Firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). He later called Ephraim “My Firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:9). Christ was made “firstborn” (supplanting Israel and Ephraim) by His victorious rise from the dead and ascension into heaven where He received the kingdom promised in Daniel 7:13-14.
And lastly, the angel Gabriel informed Mary that her miraculously conceived child “shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35) – not that He had always been such. The verb “shall be called” is future tense. The reason for the title is explained lucidly by the messenger: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the Holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”
The phrase “for that reason” (therefore, KJV) translates the Greek dio – a logical inferential conjunction which conveys “a deduction, conclusion, summary, or inference to the preceding discussion” (Heiser, 2005). In other words, Gabriel claims it was because of the miraculous conception that Jesus was called “Son of God,” not because of some inexplicable “eternal Sonship” which defies cogent explanation.
Barnes argued it “is spoken in reference to the human nature of Christ. And this passage proves beyond controversy, that one reason why Jesus was called the Son of God was because he was begotten in a super-natural manner” (1962, p. 184).
Boles agrees, stating: “It is emphatically declared here that Jesus was called the ‘Son of God’ because in his human nature he was begotten of God, and sustained a relation to God such as no one else has ever borne…Christ is the Son of God only in his relation to the redemption of man; he is his ‘Son’ only in that he was born of a woman. He existed with God in eternity and was not the ‘Son of God’ before he came in the flesh; he was ‘in the beginning’ a member of the Godhead; but since he came in the flesh, suffered, died, and was raised from the dead, he is spoken of as ‘the Son’ of God. His divinity and deity are from eternity” (1991, Luke 1:35).
An Unscriptural Hierarchy within the Godhead
The theories proposing that Christ is the “eternal Son of God” or the “created son of God” both result in a perceived hierarchy or chain of command whereby God the Father is presupposed to exercise sovereign rule and authority as “Supreme God,” independently directing the son and holy spirit as subordinates or “little gods.” Even among Christians expressing a core belief in the trinity concept of deity, the Father – alone – is often viewed as worthy of worship and praise through prayer and song as God.
The “eternal Sonship” theory results in a diminished view of both Christ and the Holy Spirit, exalting God the Father to the highest seat of authority. Jesus condemned the practice of attempting to honor only the Father, declaring such to be unacceptable and, in fact, impossible (John 5:22-23; cf. Psalm 2:12).
In contrast to a supposed chain of command, the Genesis account of creation discloses an undeviating equality within the Godhead (1:1; 1:26). The three Persons cooperated in unconditional unity in the decision to create man in the image and likeness of deity. Before condescending to become incarnate as a servant to affect human redemption, the Word enjoyed full and undiminished equality as deity, being in no way inferior to any other Person of the Godhead (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).
Coffman explained, “Christ is called God no less than ten times in the Greek New Testament; and the mind cannot accept an idea of true deity that is tainted with any kind of inferiority” (1971, p. 26). Vine says, “The words of Heb. 1:3, ‘Who being the effulgence of His (God’s) glory, and the very image of His (God’s) substance’ are a definition of what is meant by ‘Son of God.’ Thus absolute Godhead, not Godhead in a secondary or derived sense, is intended in the title” (1996, p. 585).
The “Sonship” of Christ is not eternal, but is predicated upon the supernatural conception when the Word became flesh. Jesus is the Son of God due to the voluntary decision He made to clothe Himself with flesh and walk among men as Messiah. The title “Son of God” is expressive of His eternal nature as deity, i.e., true God (cf. 1 John 5:20).
In becoming flesh, the Divine nature was mated with a human nature, producing the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. There is no instance in Scripture where the designation “Son” (in relation to Christ) is not used with reference to time subsequent to the incarnation.
The virgin birth gave the world the Son of God and the Son of Man in the unique Person we know as Jesus. Neither of these titles applied to the pre-incarnate Word. Although the Second Person of the Godhead is active throughout the Old Testament, not one time does He designate Himself as the “Son of God.” That title is reserved for Jesus who was born of the virgin, dwelt among men, was crucified for claiming to be equal with God, but was gloriously raised as the firstborn from the dead, powerfully demonstrating that He is the magnificent Son of God.
Barnes, Albert (1962), Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications).
Bettenson, Henry (1947), Documents of the Christian Church
(New York: Oxford University Press).
Blunt, John Henry (1891), Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology
(London: Longmans, Green, and Co.).
Boles, H. Leo (1991 – 2nd Ed.), New Testament Commentaries: Luke
(Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Bullinger, E. W. (1968), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Clarke, Adam (n.d.), Commentary on the Holy Bible
(Nashville, TN: Abingdon).
Coffman, Burton (1971), Hebrews
(Abilene, TX: A.C.U. Press).
Cottrell, Jack (1996), Romans
(Joplin, MO: College Press).
Heiser, Michael S. (2005), Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology
(Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software).
Jackson, Wayne (2011), A New Testament Commentary
(Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications).
Metzger, Bruce M., Ehrman, Bart D. (2005 – 4th Ed), The Text of the New Testament
(New York, NY: Oxford University Press).
Morris, Leon (1995), The Gospel According to John – Revised
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Origen (1995), Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Eds.
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Rhodes, Ron (1985), Reasoning from the Scriptures With Jehovah’s Witnesses
(Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers).
Schaff, Philip (1981 – 5th Ed.), History of the Christian Church
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Strong, James (2001), Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon
(Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software).
Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The
Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software).
Swanson, James (1997), Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains:
Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems).
Thayer, J. H. (1958), Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
(Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark).
Vine, W. E., et. al. (1996), Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary
(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).
Walvoord, John (1969), Jesus Christ our Lord
(Chicago, IL: Moody).
Wuest, Kenneth (1997), Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).