The doctrine of the personal pre-existence of Christ as a Person of the Godhead prior to His Incarnation, has been taken for granted by most that hold to the orthodox faith as found in the Holy Scriptures. However, in some circles, over the last one hundred years there has been a lessening in adherence to it as a fundamental doctrine; and some errors have re-emerged that were rampant in the days immediately after the apostles. Some deny completely the eternal pre-existence of the Person of Christ, and their error is usually easily identified and readily rejected as a blasphemous heresy. However, there is a more subtle blasphemy against the Godhead that is not always recognised. It is the specious idea that Christ existed prior to His Incarnation as the Eternal Word, but became the Son only at His Incarnation. Those who advance this error claim to accept His absolute deity and will quote John ch.1 in seeming support. They will even go so far as to state that their denial of His eternal Sonship is to protect the doctrine of Christ from error!
The purpose of this chapter, then, is to show from the Holy Scriptures that the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ existed eternally as the Son of God, and became flesh at His birth. The Incarnation did not affect the un-originated relationship of Christ as Son with His Father nor His essential deity which is in every respect absolute. As with any doctrine, our only authority is the written Word of God and that will be our final court of appeal in these vital matters.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE
The sad thing is that there are some who, while they do not hold to either of these errors, will say that it is not really such an important matter, and that any dispute is only an exercise in insignificant and peripheral theological niceties. This is probably a greater danger to the integrity of sound doctrine than an open and recognisable assault upon the truth concerning the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus.
There are many matters about which brethren can differ, but this is one doctrine that is vital to the faith as it touches upon the reality of the Person of Christ and how we understand that reality. The doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is not the result of intellectual curiosity; it is the result of serious consideration of what the Holy Scriptures teach about the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Only a Christ Who was fully divine and fully human could provide the salvation that sinful man needed. The doctrine of salvation demands a Saviour Who not only existed in eternity, but one Whose existence was in the relationship of the Son to the Father. If the doctrine of His eternal Sonship is diminished, a chain reaction is set in motion that attacks several cardinal doctrines:
The inerrancy of the Word of God in which the Father clearly speaks of Jesus Christ as His Son prior to the Incarnation. (Later in the chapter we will examine the clear testimony of passages such as John ch.1, Colossians ch.1 and Hebrews ch.1.)
The essential nature of Christ as one of the Persons of the Godhead, which then relegates His Sonship to a mere office or role. (Later we will look at Scriptures which teach the essential nature of the Son of God Who personally has the complete and total attributes of deity.)
The teaching of Holy Scripture and the Saviour’s own understanding in relation to the term Son of God. When Christ claimed to be the Son of God the Jews understood Him to be claiming equality with God, and thus were enraged and sought to kill Him, Jn.5.17-23. These verses show that when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, it was not a claim to inferiority but rather to equality with the Father.
The eternal Fatherhood of God; for if Christ was not always the Son then the Father was not always the Father. This presents great difficulty then in explaining the truth that "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" 1 Jn.4.14.
The precious doctrine of salvation, as found in the Son Who came at the bidding of the Father; for salvation must be found in the Son Whom God gave to die.
The eternal Sonship of Christ is therefore an important matter. It is a non-negotiable fundamental of the Christian faith. We must use great caution in our language and take as much care as possible in addressing our minds to anything that relates to the Person of the Son of God. We must neither be careless in language nor inconsistent in reasoning.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE DOCTRINE
Our considerations will help us to grasp the implications of the doctrine and understand why the apostle John speaks so earnestly about it in his second epistle. We do well to heed his warning: "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" 2 Jn.9-11. John stresses the importance of taking a firm stand on these doctrines by highlighting three stages involved in the denial of the truth.
"Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ" 2 Jn.9.
"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine" 2 Jn.10.
"For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" 2 Jn.11.
V.9 clearly refers to those who have accepted error in relation to the doctrine of the Person of Christ and have moved away from what the Holy Scriptures teach. John says this is sin. The doctrine of Christ includes everything revealed about Him in the Word of God. Listing these doctrines should not be thought of as making a Creed; but it is evident that we must include His essential deity, His virgin birth, His impeccable humanity, His equality within the Godhead, His eternal Sonship, His atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension, and His glorious return. The doctrine of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures is vital and fundamental to the Christian faith, and must be confirmed and guarded as such.
V.10 seems to go a stage further. John identifies, not those who propagate erroneous teaching about Christ, but those who "bring not this doctrine". That is, those who neither affirm nor deny the doctrine of Christ, but who try to hold a middle path. They do not adhere to what John taught concerning Christ, leaving the door wide open for the spread of corrupting evil. There can be no neutrality regarding the doctrine of Christ: It is central to the Christian faith and fellowship. In v.9 the error is to go too far – beyond that which is written. In v.10 the error is not to go far enough – refusing to hold what is written.
V.11 takes things another stage further. Not only is it wrong to teach error and to sit on the fence, John makes it clear that it is wrong to "bid God speed" to those who do these things. To "bid God speed" is to wish God’s blessing upon a person’s journey and its aims. John’s teaching is clear: A Christian is to have no fellowship with (receive into your home), nor show favour towards (bid God speed), anyone who goes beyond or does not hold fully what the Scriptures teach about the Person of Christ.
The injunction in 2 Jn.9-11 applies to those who have deliberately departed from the truth of the doctrine of Christ, or who adopt a middle course with evil intent. We must be careful to remember the counsel of Jude in his epistle, vv.22,23. Jude differentiates between those who propagate error, and those who have unwittingly been swept along in the tide of error or have become so confused by the debate that they do not know what to believe. On such we are to "have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire …". If some who read this book have been exposed to these errors, we hope that your consideration of these great truths will help you to understand what God teaches in His Word concerning His eternal Son.
As we consider the eternal Sonship of Christ, let us remember that we need to admit our human inadequacy to scale such lofty heights. Although the Scriptures encourage us to survey these majestic peaks of truth with reverence, we cannot hope to fully understand Him Who is eternal and Divine. Our restricted minds can never compass the infinitude of God. Nevertheless, whilst we can never comprehend Deity to the extent of full understanding, we can apprehend the doctrine of Christ to the point of faith and trust in what God says.
THE HISTORY OF THE DEBATE
The title "Only Begotten Son of God" or "Son" in any aspect, as applied to our Lord Jesus, has been a source of controversy since the early Church Fathers. Some of them held a wide variety of erroneous views that over the centuries have led to many theories and counter theories. Origen taught that Christ is from God, but not God Himself. He was generated not in time but eternity. Arius taught that God had not always been the Father. At some stage in eternity He was alone, but before creation the Eternal God made the Son and adopted Him as His Son. In later centuries the Reformers vigorously rejected the error of Arius, but in trying to escape his error some of them invented the concept of "eternal generation." However, the doctrine of eternal generation cannot be sustained as Scriptural either. All it does is push the when of Christ’s Sonship further into the past beyond the Incarnation, but without cogent explanation. Thankfully, some of the Reformers adopted the view of other Church Fathers before them, and taught that, when the word ‘begotten’ is used of the Son of God, it means an inexplicable relationship and not an event. W. E. Vine puts it succinctly, "that the word begotten should be used of the Son’s relationship to the Father does not imply any beginning to His Sonship. It suggests relationship indeed, but must be distinguished from generation as applied to man. To endeavour to shape our ideas of Divine relationship according to our knowledge of human relationships is simply to betray our ignorance. The finite mind cannot conceive that which is infinite, our limitations of time and sense forbid our full apprehension of the eternal."
In the last century the debate has been easier to follow. The main, or significant views are classed under two headings: "Eternal Sonship" and "Temporal Sonship." The Temporal Sonship view denies the teaching of the Scriptures and is based on the false premise that the Eternal Word became the Son of God at His birth. Some who hold this view may not be fully aware of the error it contains nor the further error emanating from it. A slight deviation from Scriptural language leads to a deviation from Scriptural truth. It is necessary for the people of God to be acquainted with the serious errors involved and where they may lead.
In Exclusive assemblies in Great Britain, F. E. Raven raised the errors of "Temporal Sonship" in the late 1800’s. He was an English gentleman who held an honourable post in Government service and spent his life in the study and teaching of the Word of God. Raven first came to unfavourable notice among his brethren in London by teaching that eternal life is a state, and not a new life imparted by God. He further taught that new birth, or being born again, was in order to believe and not through believing. That error has nothing to do with the error of Temporal Sonship, but it is pointed out here for this salutary lesson: Here was a man who persisted in one sort of error, who was soon found imbibing and circulating something much more serious. The first error will be recognised by all who have been exposed to the writings of Reformed teachers who taught that, because sinners are dead in trespasses and sins, they need to be "quickened" before they can exercise faith in Christ for salvation. To persist in the propagation of any error requires the mind to be deliberately closed to patent truth; but to close the mind to truth leaves a believer susceptible to other forms of erroneous teaching. Raven came to attention again when he taught that in Incarnation our Lord was not personally man. These views also caused dreadful division and controversy. The fellowship of assemblies that followed Raven was further divided by the emergence of a teaching which denied outright the eternal Sonship of Christ. Sadly it caught the minds of many, who assisted in its circulation. Mr. William Kelly wrote an excellent paper exposing Raven as "heterodox as to eternal life, but above all, as to Christ’s person." In 1929 James Taylor Snr. brought the same teaching to light in a more public manner. He was supported by the well known teacher and prolific writer, C. A. Coates. As before, this doctrinal error caused widespread division and gave rise to ill feeling among brethren.
The sad thing is that each of these men repeatedly stated that his doctrine would preserve the purity of what the Scriptures taught about Christ! They had convinced themselves and many others that they were defending the character of Christ, and their sincerity is not questioned. The writings of these three men, Raven, Taylor, and Coates, should be avoided by any who want to avoid their error. The error of Temporal Sonship arises from time to time, and on each occasion it provokes controversy. Generally it is wiser to conceal the history of division; but to be wise in the present, and make adjustment for the future, we must be aware of the past. A sense of history is important. There are at least three obvious lessons from this sad account. Firstly, the forceful propagation of a doctrine that does not find ready acceptance with wise and godly men causes division. Secondly, error tolerated in the mind develops into outright rejection of fundamental truths. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, to close the mind to the clearly revealed truth of God and propagate an erroneous doctrine will lead to other more serious errors.
A common objection raised to the doctrine of Eternal Sonship is that nowhere in the Bible are the words ‘eternal Son’ to be found; nor is there a specific verse that says Christ is the eternal Son of God. To adopt this reasoning is to implement the faulty rationale by which false cults arrive at some of their erroneous teaching. For instance, some cults tell us that nowhere in the Bible is Christ called ‘God the Son,’ and therefore He is not God. Surely, objective and inductive study of the Word of God should produce a more sensible conclusion than that? Does the absence of the words Trinity, Substitution, Rapture, or Millennium affect our acceptance of these doctrines? Surely not! We will see that The Scriptures provide adequate and clear testimony to the fact that Christ is the Son of God and is eternal in His Person. Indeed, the uniqueness of the title "The Son of God" indicates His eternal pre-existence; for as the Son He has all the attributes of deity, which includes eternality.
We will now look briefly at a number of passages of Scripture that provide sufficient evidence of the eternal Sonship of Christ. It would be impossible in the scope of a single chapter to include every Biblical proof, but enough will be provided to satisfy a reasonable mind.
"Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended?
Who hath gathered the wind in His fists?
Who hath bound the waters in a garment?
Who hath established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if thou canst tell?"
The answers to the first four questions are, without doubt, God. The last question, "what is His Son’s name?" displays the existence of the Son of God at least 700 years before the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus.
"For unto us a child is born … unto us a Son is given …".
It is vital to notice the distinction in the terms used here by the Holy Spirit; a child "is born," and a Son "is given." The Son of God was not born. The birth of the child Jesus was the giving of the Son of God to earth. He was already the Son, and was given as such.
Speaking of Bethlehem the Spirit of God records,
"… yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."
The future Messiah, Jesus Christ the Son of God, is "from everlasting."
Gospel of John
John 1.1-5, 9-18.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not …That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of Him, and cried, saying, ‘This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for He was before me.’ And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. 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 first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel deal with the Person and work of Christ, and contain irrefutable evidence of two truths: His eternal pre-existence, and His Sonship.
Firstly, John shows that the Word Who is eternal and is God, v.1, is the one Who "was made flesh and dwelt among us" v.14. V.14 explains that Jesus, the eternal Word in flesh, is actually the "only begotten of the Father". V.18 goes on to explain that the expression "the only begotten of the Father" means that He is "the only begotten Son". This presents the obvious truth that Jesus, Who lived among men, is the eternal Word; and the eternal Word is the only begotten Son of God. "The Word" and "The Son" are one and the same eternal Person.
Secondly, as to His work John explains that the Eternal Word mediated the entire creation. "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made" v.3. Inside the scope of these eighteen verses there are truths relating to the eternal Sonship of Christ which are of eternal magnitude. The Word is eternal; the Word is God but not the Father; the Word was the Creator of all things; The Word became flesh and dwelt among men; the Word is the only begotten Son of God. We should bow in adoring worship as we contemplate the beauty and glory of the truths presented here. He was the Son while here on earth, He was the Son at creation, and He was the Son in eternity before creation. The Son of God became Jesus of Nazareth without ceasing to be what He always was, the eternal God! Along with the testimony of heaven concerning the Son, v.15 records the testimony of the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist: "This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for He was before me." John was born before Jesus, but Jesus already existed before his birth and John’s.
John 6.33 and 6.62
"For the Bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven …" 6.33.
"What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?" 6.62.
On a number of occasions John records the Saviour as saying that He had come from heaven, Jn.6.33, and that He was going back there, Jn.6.62; at least eighteen times He describes Himself as having been sent by the Father. In John’s Gospel it is important to grasp the significance of the statements where the Saviour speaks about His coming from and going to the Father. His origin as the Son of God from heaven is vital, otherwise He could not be our Saviour. It was "the Son" Whom the Father sent "to be the Saviour of the world" 1 Jn.4.14. His heavenly destination is also important, for the ascension is heaven’s seal of approval on the Son’s sacrificial work for salvation. The Lord Jesus says that He is returning to where He was before His earthly sojourn began.
"Then Jesus cried in the temple as He taught, saying, ye both know Me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of Myself, but He that sent Me is true, whom ye know not. But I know Him: for I am from Him, and He hath sent Me."
In these verses Christ clearly states that He is the One Who was sent by the Father; and when we turn to 1 Jn.4.14 we read that the One Whom the Father sent was the Son, "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world". The Father sent One Who already existed as the Son; He did not become the Son for the purpose of the mission on which He was being sent.
"Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was I am.’"
The precise language of the Lord Jesus should be observed here. "Before Abraham was, I AM." He did not say, "Before Abraham was, I was," but "I am." In Old Testament days God used this expression to reveal Himself as Jehovah, the everlasting God, and the Son of God uses it in the same sense. The Son of God is Jehovah, the everlasting God. Irrespective of time, He exists. This verse teaches His deity and His eternity.
"These thing said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him."
John has just recorded the Saviour’s discourse in response to the question, "Who is this Son of Man?" Jn 12.20-34. Then, in 12.37, John records the darkness of their unbelief. The Lord Jesus had performed many miracles before their eyes, yet they did not believe on Him. Quoting from Isaiah ch.6, John adds a commentary on that discourse in which he says that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ. By quoting from Isaiah ch.6, John says in 12.38,39 that the Jews did not believe on Christ because their eyes had been blinded and their hearts hardened. What the Jews of John’s day did not see, is precisely what Isaiah did see in his day – the glory of Christ as the eternal Jehovah! Isaiah saw the glory of the Son of God more than 700 years before the Incarnation.
"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee … And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was … I come to Thee."
Here, in vv.1 and 5, we note the words of the Saviour Himself as He addressed the Father. This sets the context for all that He says in John chapter 17. It is the Son addressing the Father, and the conversation is in the context of that Father and Son relationship. "O Father, glorify Thou me [The Son] with Thine own self with the glory that I [The Son] had with Thee [The Father] before the world was." The Lord Jesus is speaking about the glory He had, as Son with the Father, before the creation of the world. Again the testimony of Scripture is that He was the Son of God before creation.
In v.11, as the Son anticipates the ascension and His return to heaven, He says to the Father, "… I come to Thee". To refuse that the context of vv.1-5 is the Father and Son relationship, one would have to equally refuse the Father and Son relationship when the Saviour speaks in v.11 about His Ascension and returning to the Father. To do so implies that the Son was not returning to the Father as the Son; but His Sonship terminated at the ascension and He is returning to heaven in some other relationship! These are only a few selected passages from the Gospel of John that teach the eternal Sonship of Christ. In meditating upon them and the other occasions in John’s Gospel when the Saviour speaks about coming from the Father or going to the Father, remember that the One Who spoke those words is presented by John as "Jesus the Christ, the Son of God" Jn. 20.31.
"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son …".
The word translated ‘sent’ is the aorist tense of exapostello, which means to send out from, or forth, to send away, or to dispatch on a mission. The stem stello, has two interesting prefixes. Stello means to dispatch, apo means from, and ek means out of. The compound word means that the Son was sent out of and away from heaven to execute a particular mission upon earth. The idea is clearly that the One sent out of and from heaven previously existed in heaven before being sent. The One Whom God sent forth was His Son. He did not become the Son at the time of sending.
"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist."
The reasoning of Scripture is plain: The Son of v.13, is the Son of the Father of v.12, and the creator of all things in v.16. The relationship of the Father and the Son predates creation. He was the Son before creation, which was thousands of years before His Incarnation.
"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high."
Here is a resounding declaration of the eternal Sonship of Christ. Four verbs are used of the One described in v.2 as the Son of God:
The Son appointed heir of all things
The Son made the worlds
The Son purged our sins
The Son sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.
There is no reason to believe that these events are not listed in their chronological order. The Son was appointed heir, then He created the worlds, after that He purged our sins, then finally He sat down in exalted glory in heaven. That takes us right back into heaven before creation. We see that the Person Who as the Son, sat down in glory after His Ascension had in fact been the Son before creation. His past work of atonement and His present work of mediation are both connected to the pre-existence of the Son based upon His role in the creation of "the worlds". "Let all the angels of God worship Him" Heb.1.6, means that we should understand The Son in terms of deity.
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death …".
For Jesus to have been made lower than the angels, He had to begin in a position at least equal to them. As God, of course, He had a position higher than the angels; but the argument is that to be made lower than the angels He must have existed prior to that humbled position. That takes us back to "the Son" of 1.2, Who, in fact, is Jesus of 2.9. This passage teaches His pre-existence as the Son.
"Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life: but made like unto the Son of God …".
We read of Melchisedec in Genesis ch.14, around 2000 years before the Incarnation. The argument is simple: If the Son of God did not exist at that time, was Melchisedec "made like unto" a non-entity?
1 John 4.2
"Hereby we know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world."
As John recalls the Saviour Whom he loved, he writes with clarity and simplicity about his experience of accompanying Him in His public ministry. In the first chapter of his Epistle, John says that he heard Him, saw Him, looked upon Him and touched Him. The Him was the Word of life, Who was from eternity. John’s point is that He was a real man with Whom John communicated as with other men. John wrote his Epistle because some were denying His Incarnation. In 1 Jn.4.2, he declares that everyone who denies these real truths is not of God and has imbibed the lawless spirit of antichrist. The Incarnation is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith; to deny it is to deny God and His written Word. Real Incarnation is a Divine Person taking human flesh, and requires a real pre-existence. When John spoke about "that which was from the beginning … concerning the Word of Life," 1 Jn.1.1, he was referring to Christ and saying that before John’s experience of the incarnate Christ He had an existence in eternity. Then in 1 Jn.4.3 he speaks about "Jesus Christ come in the flesh." By His name, Jesus Christ, John identifies the Person of the Trinity Who became incarnate. The next link in the chain of John’s argument is found in 1 Jn.3.23, where John says "His Son Jesus Christ". Jesus Christ is the Son of God: The same Jesus Christ Whom John served in His public ministry, and that Jesus Christ, Who is the Son of God, existed from eternity.
Those who deny the eternal Sonship of Christ usually base their rejection upon, among others, two passages of the Word of God – Lk.1.35 and
Psalm 2. We will examine these verses and see if, as some claim, they present Temporal Sonship.
"… Therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
These are the words of the angel spoken to Mary concerning the birth of Christ. Those who reject the eternal Sonship of Christ use this announcement from the angel to state that Christ did not become the Son of God until His birth. The words "shall be called" are from the Greek future tense of the verb kaleo, meaning simply ‘to call.’ There is a wide difference between ‘will begin to be the Son of God’ and "shall be called the Son of God". If He began to be the Son of God at birth, then He would have had no existence prior to birth. In this case "shall be called" means that He Who formerly existed in eternity is manifested among men as the Person Who had been promised as "her seed" Gen.3.15. There is another rendering of the phrase which throws light on the meaning: "That which shall be born shall be called holy, the Son of God". The angel’s announcement was emphasising that the Son of God Who would be born of Mary will be known upon earth as holy. This corresponds beautifully with the inbuilt emphasis of Luke’s gospel on the perfect Man. It also parallels Matthew’s record of the Old Testament prediction, that He would be marked by Nazarite holiness, Matt.2.23.
"Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee."
This phrase is quoted in Acts 13.33; Heb.1.5, 5.5. First of all we should notice that the quotations in the Epistle to the Hebrews do nothing to identify the ‘when’ of His Sonship. In Heb.1.5 it serves only to show that our Lord Jesus Christ is superior to angels by the fact that He is the Son of God, and angels were never called ‘Son’ by God. In Heb.5.5 the writer simply says that no man assumes the role of priest of his own accord. Likewise Christ was officially given the position of High Priest by the Father.
In Ps.2.7, two expressions are of great interest: "this day", and "have I begotten thee."
"This day." In Hebrew and Greek thought, a day could refer to a period of twenty four hours, Dan.6.10; daylight, as opposed to night, Gen.1.5; a specific point of time, Ezek.20.31; any prolonged and unspecified period of time, Heb.3.8; 1 Pet.2.12: 2 Pet.3.10 etc. The use of the word ‘day’ does not help us to identify the ‘when’ of His Sonship. The day referred to in Ps.2.7, as variously quoted in the New Testament, is not the day of commencement of His Sonship, but the day of its manifestation. As we shall see later, His eternal Sonship was manifested at different times.
"Begotten." The word used in Ps.2.7 does not always refer to a natural conception and birth as we know it. It is used throughout Scripture in two senses. Firstly, to speak of natural generation which results in a son being brought into being. Secondly, it is used of an existing special relationship between the Son and His Father. For instance, in Prov.27.1 it is used like this, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." The word translated in our English Bible as "bring forth" has the idea of a day begetting the events that take place within it. But careful consideration shows that it is not saying that this specific day is responsible for begetting the events that are experienced today, in the normal sense of the word. It is saying that there is a relationship between the day and the events that take place within it. In Deut.32.18 the same word is used of God begetting the nation of Israel. God did not give birth to the nation in the normal sense of the word, but God brought the nation about by Divine power and therefore placed Israel in a special relationship to Him. The word "begotten" does not refer to an event whereby the Son was begotten of the Father in the normal way that we would understand the word. It is using it in the sense of the special and intimate relationship that existed between the Father and the Son. It is obvious, when speaking of the Lord Jesus, that it cannot be used in the sense of natural generation. At Incarnation He received a body of flesh and blood; and if the expression was used in that natural sense, the begetter would also have had a body of flesh and blood. When used of the Lord Jesus, then, the word must have its other meaning of a special relationship. Additionally, just as "begotten" does not apply to the birth of the Saviour, neither does it apply to the time of His relationship with the Father. The Father did not pass on His Divine essence to the Son, for the Son was God. The Son possessed all the attributes of Deity, one of which is eternality – He was always with the Father, and equal to the Father in every respect.
In Acts 13.33, the quotation refers to His resurrection./ The resurrection is one of those occasions in His life that manifested Christ as the eternal Son of God./ Ps.2.7 was a victory song for a king in Israel who had defeated his enemies./ The defeat of Israel’s enemies manifested the king to be the man of God’s choosing and indicating God’s special pleasure in him. So in a higher sense, Paul saw the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead as the defeat of principalities, powers, death and hell. Thus when
Paul refers to His resurrection in Acts chapter 13, he quotes Ps.2.7 to show that Christ in pre-existing sonship is that One of God’s choice and special pleasure.
The term "only begotten" means the only one of a kind, or unique. His relationship to the Father was as the unique Son, the only one of a kind. Christ became the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of Mary when He came into a relationship with them, which was at His birth. If He became the Son of God at His birth, it means that He had no connection or relationship to the Father beforehand. To follow this line of reasoning means that if the Son had no relationship to the Father before the Incarnation, then He had no relationship to God before His birth. Such a view must be rejected in the strongest possible way.
To deny the eternal Sonship of Christ is to deny the eternal Fatherhood of God. If the Son became a Son only at birth, then the Father became the Father only at the birth of Jesus Christ. How then was the Trinity composed before the Incarnation? This is a subject where there is no room for intellectual reasoning or speculation. We must approach it with a prayerful attitude of dependence upon God lest we err in how we speak of His Son, Who is so dear to Him. The doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ leads us into the great depths of grace and mercy that lie in the very heart of God, for when it came to doing something about the plight of sinful man God did not send an agent to fix the problem – He came Himself. God entered into our circumstances to restore and redeem fallen mankind. This fact is what gives meaning and affirmation to the truth that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" for it, Jn.3.16. The language of Incarnation presupposes the personal and real pre-existence of Christ; otherwise there was no one to become incarnate. The Eternal Sonship of Christ effects the great doctrines of creation and salvation. This sublime truth should elicit from our hearts real worship and true commitment to our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.