The Person of Christ (2): His Underived Eternal Sonship
Having introduced the subject last month, we now begin to consider the glorious Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this opening study, we will look together at Who He is: His essential, eternal being; that which is true of Him even if there never was time, or space, or human history.
He is presented in the Bible as the Son of God; this is a unique relationship. That titles such as “Son of God,” “Son of the living God,” “the Son,” “His Son,” “His only begotten Son,” and “His own Son” are used of Him is indisputable. To supply a list of Scripture references for these titles would use up most of the word count for this article. But what is their significance?
The answer is that they point to a unique relationship. There are others referred to in the Bible as “sons of God.” For example, we (believers in Him) are called this (Rom 8:14, 19). But this term is always in the plural when used of us, or of any other beings. Never is the title “son of God” used of anyone other than Himself. The fact that Adam is called “the son of God” in Luke 3:38 is no exception. In versions (such as the KJV) that italicize words that have been added by the translators, the words “the son” are in italics, showing that they were not there in the original. The singular title, “Son of God,” belongs solely to the Lord Jesus Christ.
One reference that highlights this distinction is the message of the Lord Jesus to Mary in John 20:17: “Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.” He does not say, “I ascend unto our Father.” God is His Father, and God is our Father too, but in a different way. His Sonship is unique; altogether different from ours. By spelling out the message to the disciples in that way, the exclusive nature of His Sonship is highlighted.
An interesting comparison with the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” emphasizes the point. He tells His disciples (Luke 11:2): “When ye pray, say, Our Father …” That He Himself is not included in those praying is abundantly clear, not only from the fact that He is telling them how to pray, but also because the prayer includes the request for the sins of the persons praying to be forgiven (v4), something He would never have to do. Often He refers to “My Father;” never does He use the term “our Father” when including Himself with anyone else. His Sonship is an exclusive relationship.
The beauty of this relationship is set before us in many verses, but surely one of the most sublime is that presented in John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” The phrase “only begotten,” monogenes, does not refer to the act of begetting, but to the uniqueness of the relationship. Reference to the use of this word even in relation to normal human beings makes this clear. It is used of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:12), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:42), and the demon-possessed boy (Luke 9:38). In each case, the point being made is that the person is an “only child.” It is not the birth of the child that is the issue, but the uniqueness of the relationship. The same word is used of Isaac in Hebrews 11:17: “He that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.” Isaac was not Abraham’s only son, nor was he the first to be born. Thus it is not Isaac’s birth that is in view, but his unique status. Likewise, and supremely, when the term “only begotten Son” is used of our Lord Jesus in John 1:18 (and when used elsewhere, most famously in John 3:16), His unique position as the Son is brought before us.
In John 1:18, the uniqueness of His Sonship is further emphasized in the phrase “which is in the bosom of the Father.” This denotes the closeness, the intimacy and the affection that exists between the Father and the Son. This is a unique phrase, used of Him alone.
Moreover, John tells us in the same verse that “He [the Son] hath declared Him [the Father].” This is in light of the first phrase of the verse: “No man hath seen God at any time.” God, in His essence, is invisible. How then can human beings see God? The answer is in the Son, and in Him alone. He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15); He is “the express image of His person” (Heb 1:3). Thus He could say, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). This was certainly true when He was here on earth, but it was also true before He came. Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne” (Isa 6:1). In John 12:41, it is explained for us that it was the Lord Jesus Whom Isaiah saw.
Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God; uniquely so. He stands in relation to the Father as none other does, and He alone declares, shows forth, expresses, reveals fully, Who God is – His Person and His character.
The Person of Christ (02 Pt2): Underived Eternal Sonship
Last month, we saw that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, uniquely so. This month, our purpose is to show that this relationship is eternal. In other words, with regard to the title of this opening study – “His Underived Eternal Sonship” – the emphasis last month was on “Sonship.” This month it is “eternal” that is stressed.
That He is referred to often as the Son of God when here on earth is undisputed. In association with major events, including His birth (Luke 1:35), His baptism (Luke 3:22), His transfiguration (Luke 9:35), and His resurrection (Rom 1:4), He is explicitly stated to be the Son of God.
But did He become the Son at His birth? Many Scriptures show that the answer to this question is “No.” He was already the Son when He came into the world. In Isaiah 9:6 we read: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” This is explained more fully in Galatians chapter 4:4: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son.” For the Son to have been “given” and “sent forth,” He had to be the Son already. The Lord Himself says: “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world” (John 16:28). To have come forth from the Father He must already have been with the Father, and already the Son.
We can go back further, and see that He was already the Son in Old Testament days. Reference was made in last month’s article to the fact that Isaiah saw Him (Isa 6:1 with John 12:41). We also observe that Melchizedek (who appears in the very first book of the Bible, Gen 14:18-20) is said to be “made like unto the Son of God” (Heb 7:3). It is not that the Son of God was made like unto Melchizedek – clearly the Son of God was already so when Melchizedek appeared.
Going further back to the time of the creation, Scripture provides conclusive proof that He was already there. In John 1:1 we read: “In the beginning … the Word was with God.” The word “was” is in the imperfect tense, indicating a state already in existence at that time. In the beautiful prayer in John 17, hours before going to the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of “the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (v5) and also says, “Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world” (v24).
When, then, did He become the Son of God? The answer is that He never did become the Son of God; He is eternally so. It is an underived, timeless relationship.
Even before we start to examine specific Scriptures, this fact is apparent from what we have already seen. The creation is the first event in history: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen 1:1). He was already there, and, as we shall see, He was active in the act of creating (Col 1:16). Since He was there at the beginning, He could never have had a beginning; He is eternal.
Prophecies regarding His coming also point to His eternal Sonship. Reference has already been made to Isaiah 9 verse 6, which shows Him to be the Son Who would be given. Later in that verse He is called the “Everlasting Father,” or “Father of Eternity” (JND). The full meaning of this is beyond our comprehension, but one thing is certain: it could only be said of One Who is Himself eternal.
In another prophecy, telling that He would be born in Bethlehem, we read that His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). The phrase “from everlasting” is translated by Darby as “from the days of eternity.” Again, this is beyond our finite minds, but it shows that He, the Son, is eternal, just as the Father is.
Turning to the New Testament, the very grammar used is indicative of His eternal Sonship. Take, for example, John 1:18: “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.” The term translated “which is in” is a present participle. The phrase could be translated “being in the bosom of the Father” indicating not only the uniqueness of the relationship, but also its timelessness: it is ever and eternally true.
The words of the Lord in John chapter 8:58 could not be clearer: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” Note that it proves conclusively that our Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son. Repeatedly in this chapter He has been speaking of God as “My Father.” Now this climactic statement of the chapter shows that this is eternally so. If there was a time when He came into being, He would have said, “Before Abraham was, I was.” The verbs translated “was” and “am” are not the same, and they show that the meaning of the statement is “Before Abraham came to be, I exist.” His use of “I am,” which would make the statement ungrammatical under normal usage, shows that He never came into being. Moreover, His use of “I am” immediately reminds us that this is what God called Himself when speaking to Moses at the burning bush (Exo 3:14). It is highly expressive of His eternity and His deity.
In a later article, we shall see clear evidence for the deity of the Lord Jesus – that He is God. Eternity is an essential attribute of deity, and so proving His deity also proves His eternity.
But what about the verses that some use to try to counter the doctrine of Christ’s eternal Sonship? We will consider them in next month’s article, Lord willing.
The Person of Christ (02 Pt3): Underived Eternal Sonship
In the previous article, we saw that the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. However, despite the clear evidence from Scripture, some deny this great truth. We now consider the main “proof texts” they use to support their views.
One of their arguments runs like this: In Proverbs 8 and 9, wisdom is portrayed as a person, who has been “brought forth” (8:24, 25), that is, who had a beginning. This person is identified in 1 Corinthians 1:24: “Christ … the wisdom of God.” Ergo Christ had a beginning.
On the surface, this sounds plausible, but it is a monumental error. It confuses two very different things: personification (Proverbs) and the description of a real Person (1Cor).
Personification is defined as: “A figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.” The writer of Proverbs uses poetic language, and depicts wisdom as a person. For example, wisdom is said to “cry,” to “stand” (8:1, 2), and to have “builded her house” (9:1). Indeed, in the previous chapter, there is the exhortation to “Say unto wisdom, ‘Thou art my sister'” (7:4). It is evident that, in describing wisdom in this way, Solomon is not describing an actual person, but using a literary device, personification.
When he writes, “When there were no depths, I was brought forth … before the hills was I brought forth” (8:24, 25), he is not describing the coming into existence of a real person; it is part of the personification of wisdom. Thus, it is unwarranted to transplant the phrase “the wisdom of God” (1Cor 1:24) into Proverbs, and deduce that everything said of wisdom in Proverbs is a description of Christ.
A couple of further points show the illogicality of such a position. First, in Proverbs wisdom is presented as a woman. If these verses were talking about the Lord Jesus, surely the character would have been presented as male. Moreover, if Proverbs 8:24, 25 refers to Christ, and shows that He had a beginning, it would also mean that there was a time when wisdom had a beginning, and thus there was a time when Jehovah did not have wisdom, the period before it was “brought forth” by Him. The absurdity of such a suggestion should be apparent to all.
A word of clarification: we are not denying that the things said of wisdom in Proverbs 8 and 9 are true of our Lord. Indeed He is the One, the only One, Who exemplifies them fully. And it is entirely appropriate to apply words from this passage to Him. Most of us have heard the words of 8:30 quoted at the Breaking of Bread: “Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight.” This is a valid application of the passage, and perfectly true of Him; but it does not annul the fact that, in its original setting, the writer is personifying wisdom.
Another passage used to teach that our Lord Jesus had a beginning is the phrase: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col 1:15). This, they assert, shows that He is the first created being.
This deduction makes the (unwarranted) assumption that “firstborn” means “first in time.” This is not always so; for example Exodus 4:22, where God refers to “Israel … My firstborn.” Israel was not the first nation in time, but it certainly was so in rank, and this is the sense in which it is used of the Son in Colossians 1:15.
Indeed, if those teaching this error would honestly consider the next verse, it would save them from a lot of trouble. Verse 16 begins with the word “For.” It is explaining the phrase at the end of verse 15. It gives us three ways in which He relates to creation: all things were created “in Him,” “through Him,” and “unto Him” (the RV brings out the distinction in the three prepositions): He is the cause of all that was made, the agency through Whom it was made, and the One for Whom it was made. This is the explanation of the term “firstborn of all creation,” and, rather than teaching that He is a created being, it teaches the very opposite; He was there before anything was, He made it, and it is all for Him.
Then there are the words of Psalm 2:7, “Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. These words are quoted three times in the NT: Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5. Surely, they say, this shows there was a day when He became the Son. But this conclusion results from the wrong idea that the second part of the phrase explains the first, i.e., that He is the Son because of a day when God begat Him. Regrettably, the NIV, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father,” perpetuates this misunderstanding. However, if we see the second part of the phrase, not as an explanation of the first part, but as a demonstration and acknowledgment of it, the difficulty disappears. The first part, “Thou art My Son,” is eternally true. The second part, “this day have I begotten Thee,” refers to an event in time, not when He became the Son, but when He was declared and demonstrated to be so; when He was shown (in time) to be Who He (eternally) is.
What is the event referred to here? The incarnation (when He was begotten into humanity)? His resurrection (when He was begotten from the dead)? His ascension and entering into His priesthood? The writer will refrain from stating his opinion, as the purpose here is not to determine to which event it refers, but to show that it does not disprove His eternal Sonship. Whichever of these events is in view, the doctrine of His eternal Sonship is unaffected.