Arianism Refuted

Arianism was a major problem for the church of the fourth century. Arius’s heretical teaching led many astray, and caused much controversy and division in the church. The effects of Arius’s teaching are enormous, having drastically altered church history down to our own time; both in respect to Arianism itself, and even more so perhaps in the reaction of the church against it.

The central tenants of Arianism are its teaching that the Son of God is a creature, and not eternal with the Father. Arius taught that the Son of God was of a created and changeable nature, and that ‘there was when he was not’. These ideas were condemned as heresy by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, which wrote:

“But as for those who say, “There was when He was not”, and, “Before being born He was not”, and that “He came into existence out of nothing”, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or essence, or created, or is subject to alteration or change – these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.”

The Council of Nicea was right in rejecting these teachings as error- and by affirming the biblical doctrine of eternal generation in the Nicene Creed, the Council refuted Arius’s error. This is possible because eternal generation and Arianism are mutually exclusive; in order for one to fully embrace what eternal generation teaches, they must reject all the distinctives of Arianism.

The doctrine of the Son’s eternal generation was articulated by the Council of Nicea in these words:

“…begotten from the Father, only-begotten,
that is, from the essence of the Father,
God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of the same essence as the Father…”

This doctrine that the Son was begotten of the Father “before the ages” as the Nicene Creed of 381 says, is in many ways central to the doctrine of the Trinity. Its implications fully refute Arianism. Let us briefly examine each tenet of Arianism in light of eternal generation:

“There was a time when the Son was not”: This cannot be true in light of eternal generation, since it teaches that the Son was begotten of the Father *before the ages*, that is, before the very existence of time (which was created through the Son (Hebrews 1:2)). This means that the Son “was” before the ages; it is impossible then that there “was a time when he was not”.

“Before being born He was not”: This idea sounds logical, until we recall that the Son was begotten of the Father before and outside of time (hence its not just called “generation”, but “eternal generation”). The idea of an event which occurred outside of time is beyond our human comprehension; we are creatures created in time, and have no experiential concept of what “prior to time” is like (a phrase which in itself demonstrates our inability to even speak of before the creation of time without using chronological language like “prior” and “before”). But without time, there is no change, and no time “before” the Son’s generation we can conceive of in which He could have not existed; the whole Arian proposition assumes the generation (or in Arian thought, creation) of the Son to have taken place in time. When that false assumption is removed, the Arian proposition fails. The atemporal nature of generation of the Son from the Father assures us that there was never a time when the Son was not, nor a time when the Father was without the Son.

“He came into existence out of nothing”: To be brought into existence by God out of nothing is to be created; but to be begotten inherently implies that the origin of the Son is not from anything external to the Father, but from the Father Himself. The Son, then, cannot be “from nothing” if He is from the Father Himself. Rather than being created out of nothing, the Son was caused by the Father by being begotten of Him.

In the case of all begetting, the thing begotten and the one it is begotten from are necessarily of the same nature. We see this throughout creation; every creature begets after its own kind. Never does something beget something of another kind. In the very idea of generation we see that there is implicitly the teachings that the Son is from the Father in such a way that He is a distinct person from Him, and of the same nature as Him, as having both His person and nature from the person of His Father. The mode of the Father’s generation of the Son, however, is something left a mystery to us, not revealed by scripture. What we can know is that generation is different than creation, and that it involves the subject being from the one who begat it.

“subject to alteration or change”: The doctrine of eternal generation presents the inescapable logical conclusion that the Son is of the same divine nature as the Father. As was said above, that is because it is proper to the very nature and idea of generation that the one begotten is necessarily of the same nature as the begetter. Therefore, the Son cannot have been begotten of the only true God before the ages and be of any other nature than that of His Father. The divinity of the Son, then, is identical to that of the Father. It will therefore follow that just as the Father is unchangeable in the perfection of His divine nature, so the Son is unchangeable as well, as He has that same divine nature.

We see then, that all the special tenets of Arianism are destroyed by the the scriptural doctrine of the Son’s eternal generation from the Father.

 

See also:

Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures

Begotten Vs Created

Did Origen Invent The Doctrine of Eternal Generation?

 

Begotten Vs Created

The Nicene Creed specifies that the Son of God is “begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made”. The distinction between “begetting” and “creating”, then, can be seen to have been a matter of great importance to the fathers of the Nicene Council.

But for some contemporary Christians, any talk of the Son being caused at all sounds unorthodox; usually because in the thinking of such persons, a subject which is caused is by definition a creature, and thus, not divine. Since the Son is divine with the same divine nature as the Father, such a statement is repugnant to the truth, they reason.

This line of reasoning is shown to be flawed when we observe that a subject being caused does not make it a creature. It is because of such arguments being made by the Arians, in order to argue that the Son was a creature, that the orthodox fathers recognized a need to articulate clearly between two different sorts of causality: creating, and begetting.

Begetting, after all, just as much implies causality as creating does; yet scripture frequently speaks of the divine Son of God as “only-begotten” (see: Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures). In doing so scripture reveals that the Son is indeed caused- while at the same time holding this truth in congruence with the fact that the Son is of the same divine nature as the Father. How can that be?

The answer lies in the distinction between these two different types of causality: begetting, and creating. Begetting involves the causing of one individual from another, in such a way that the caused individual and the original are distinct persons of the same nature; the begotten individual has its person and essence from the begetter, and thus, has the same essence. With God, to create, on the other hand, is not simply as man does -a reforming and reshaping of what already exists- but causing subjects to exist from, or out of, nothing.

This distinction can be seen in human affairs as well. A man makes a house, or a car, or a statue. But he begets a son. The things he makes are never of the same nature as he; but that which he begets will always be of the same nature as he. So in the case of the Son of God, the fact that He is begotten of the Father means He is necessarily of the same divine nature as the Father; such is implied in sonship by generation itself.

That the Son of God, then, is caused by the Father, ought not make anyone think that it is possible that He be less than truly God in nature. And thus we see highlighted the important historical distinction between begetting and creating.

The Pre-existence of the Son

God’s Son is eternal, as He is. By this, we don’t mean that the Son has no cause or origin, like the Father, but that, as the Nicene Creed articulates it, “there was never a time when the Son was not”, and “there was never a time when the Father was without the Son”. That’s because the Son was begotten of the Father before and outside of time. Thus, there can be no difference in time between the persons on account of the Son’s eternal generation by the Father.

In John 1, and Proverbs 8, we see that the Son already existed at the time of creation. Scripture tells us all things were created through Him -even time itself, as Hebrews 2:1 tells us. The Son’s eternal existence is an important point of trinitarian doctrine, and something scripture emphasizes in several places.

Here a several such passages:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:1-3 NKJV)

“in these last days did speak to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He did make the ages;” (Hebrews 1:2 YLT)

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NKJV)

““Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 NKJV)

“The Lord acquired me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I begotten:” (Proverbs 8:22-25)

From these passages of scripture, we can clearly understand that God’s Son not only pre-existed prior to the incarnation, but that He was even with the Father before the creation of the world.

Certainly even a cursory examination of the church fathers makes clear their belief in the Son’s pre-existence before the incarnation as well. For example:

“And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God’s ordering all things through Him” (Justin Martyr, Second Apology, Chapter 6)

“But this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with Him; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whom Solomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 62)

 

Did Origen Invent The Doctrine of Eternal Generation?

I have heard various people mention Origen as being the one who “invented” eternal generation. Often those saying this are opponents of the doctrine, and the design is to discredit the doctrine on the merits of its founder. But I have even seen those seemingly defending eternal generation seeming to give credence to the notion that Origen was the first to articulate the doctrine.

One example of this point being brought up as a negative is Walter R. Martin in The Kingdom of the Cults, in the chapter on the “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower”, where he says:

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

This simply is not true, and it is somewhat amazing that it is necessary to point out. Are people on both sides of the debate so illiterate respecting the theology of the early church that they are unaware of earlier articulations of the doctrine of eternal generation? Or is the general understanding of the doctrine so shallow that it is only recognized when called by its name, and invisible when mentioned without the label “eternal generation”?

Of first importance is the question of whether eternal generation is demonstrable from the holy scriptures, for the answer to that question only will let us know if the doctrine is true and worthy of being believed. For my treatment of that subject, see Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures. For our purposes in this post, I will seek to demonstrate from the writings of those fathers who taught prior to Origen that he can by no means be fairly deemed to have “invented” the doctrine.

Since the label “eternal generation” is not used commonly, it is important to be able to recognize the doctrine in substance in the following quotes. The doctrine in a nutshell is that prior to creation, and therefore, prior to time itself, the Son was begotten from the Father in such a manner that He has both His person and essence from the Father. The important implications of this doctrine are that the Son is genuinely a distinct person from the Father, caused by Him, of the same divine nature as Him, and co-eternal with Him, inasmuch as there can be no difference between the Father and Son in time or chronology caused by an event which occurred outside of time. The Nicene Creed sums up the doctrine nicely as follows, when it declares that the Son is “begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made”. That in mind, lets examine several instances of this doctrine being taught prior to Origen.

Ignatius of Antioch.

Ignatius of Antioch is a noteworthy church father of the generation following the apostles. The man probably interacted personally with Paul, and perhaps with other apostles as well. There are seven letters of his that are considered by scholars to perhaps be authentic, but issues with interpolations abound. There are also additional letters ascribed to him widely agreed to be spurious. Scholars disagree over the validity and purity of the potentially-authentic seven letters. With that in mind, it is difficult to cite anything found in his letters as genuine proof of a given doctrine having been taught by him. However, treating the seven letters as potentially being authentic, let us examine a few quotes in Ignatius’s letters which clearly speak of eternal generation:

“But our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began,57 but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.””(Chapter VII, Epistle to the Ephesians, Longer Version)

“For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began,131 and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost.” (Chapter XVIII, Epistle to the Ephesians, Longer Version)

“…your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ. He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time,192 was God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and remains the same for ever; for “of His kingdom there shall be no end,”193 says Daniel the prophet.” (Chapter VI, Epistle to the Magnesians, Longer Version)

“On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, the Almighty, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word, not spoken, but essential. For He is not the voice of an articulate utterance, but a substance begotten by divine power, who has in all things pleased Him that sent Him.”(Chapter VIII, Epistle to the Magnesians, Longer Version)

“These things [I address to you], my beloved, not that I know any of you to be in such a state;228 but, as less than any of you, I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that you may rather attain to a full assurance in Christ, who was begotten by the Father before all ages, but was afterwards born of the Virgin Mary…” (Chapter XI,Epistle to the Magnesians, Longer Version)

“How could such a one be a mere man, receiving the beginning of His existence from Mary, and not rather God the Word, and the only-begottenSon? For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,722 and the Word was God.”723 And in another place, “The Lord created Me, the beginning of His ways, for His ways, for His works. Before the world did He found Me, and before all the hills did He beget Me.”724” (Chapter VI, Epistle to the Tarsians)

Justin Martyr.

Justin Martyr’s writings are ripe with explicit references to the Son’s eternal generation from the Father. What’s more, Justin, acting in the role of an apologist for Christianity at large, can fairly be said to represent not only his own personal beliefs but the beliefs of the church at large in his time, in the following statements:

“And that you will not succeed is declared by the Word, than whom, after God who begat Him, we know there is no ruler more kingly and just.” (Chapter XII, First Apology)

“And that this may now become evident to you—(firstly50) that whatever we assert in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed; that we claim to be acknowledged, not because we say the same things as these writers said, but because we say true things: and (secondly) that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to 171 His will…” (Chapter XXIII, First Apology)

“For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign,140 having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe on Him, He endured both to be set at nought and to suffer, that by dying and rising againHe might conquer death.” (Chapter LXIII, First Apology)

““I shall give you another testimony, my friends,” said I, “from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning,403 [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the HolySpirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will;404 just as we see405 happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word406 [which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled [another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. The Word ofWisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, andWord, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following:

‘If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and228 review them. The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me. God made the country, and the desert, and the highest inhabited places under the sky. When He made ready the heavens, I was along with Him, and when He set up His throne on the winds: when He made the high clouds strong, and the springs of the deep safe, when He made the foundations of the earth, I was with Him arranging. I was that in which He rejoiced; daily and at all times I delighted in His countenance, because He delighted in the finishing of the habitable world, and delighted in the sons of men. Now, therefore, O son, hear me. Blessed is the man who shall listen tome, and the mortal who shall keep my ways, watching407 daily at my doors, observing the posts of my in goings. For my outgoings are the outgoings of life, and [my] will has been prepared by the Lord. But they who sin against me, trespass against their own souls; and they who hate me love death.’” (Chapter LXI, Dialogue With Trypho)

“But this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed withHim; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whomSolomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God, who has also declared this same thing in the revelation made by Joshua the son of Nave (Nun).” (Chapter LXII, DialogueWith Trypho)

“For I have already proved that He was the only-begotten of the Father of all things, being begotten in a peculiar manner Word and Power byHim, and having afterwards become man through the Virgin, as we have learned from the memoirs.” (Chapter CV, Dialogue With Trypho)

“And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun, but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same. “And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says,‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and ofHis being Lord and God. Again, when the Scripture records that God said in the beginning, ‘Behold, Adam has become like one of Us,’692 this phrase, ‘like one of Us,’ is also indicative of number; and the words do not admit of a figurative meaning, as the sophists endeavour to affix on them, who are able neither to tell nor to understand the truth. And it is written in the book of Wisdom: ‘If I should tell you daily events, I would be mindful to enumerate them from the beginning. The Lord created me the beginning of His ways forHis works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He formed the earth, and before He made the depths, and before the springs of waters came forth, before the mountains were settled; He begets me before all the hills.’ ” 693 When I repeated these words, I added: “You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.”” (Chapters CXXVIII and CXXIX, Dialogue With Trypho)

Irenaeus of Lyons.

Second-century church father Irenaeus of Lyons is another witness to the fact that the doctrine of the Son’s eternal generation was a doctrine already taught and believed by the church prior to Origen:

“If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers [possess this knowledge], but the Father only who begat, and the Son who was begotten. Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable.” (Chapter XXVIII, Against Heresies, Book II)

“So then the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God.” (The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

We see then, that there is no reasonable way to argue that the doctrine has its origin in Origen. The testimony of two of the most influential church fathers of the second century, Justin Marytr and Irenaeus, serves sufficiently to put this odd historical inaccuracy to rest. And if any of the quotes provided from Ignatius be regarded as genuine, one will be hard pressed to argue there is a single generation prior to Origen that we do not see the church’s belief in the doctrine of eternal generation stated in some historical document or another.

Subordination and Equality in the Trinity

With many things, error accompanies oversimplification; distinction is necessary to accurately articulate the truth, and without careful distinction error is practically ensured.

One such issue is subordination in respect to the Trinity, particularly in respect to the relationship between the Father and the Son. In some circles, “equality” without further specification is held at a premium, and any talk of the subordination of the Son is deemed heretical, or even Arian. On the other hand, it must be noted that among the spectrum of all mainstream schools of trinitarian thought some subordination of the Son to the Father is acknowledged in the incarnation, when the Son humbled Himself and took on a human nature.

When we look at equality and subordination in respect to the Son’s relation to the Father, I would argue that we must distinguish carefully between the three different categories of nature, headship, and causality in order to avoid falling into one sort of error or another.

Firstly, I will state my view on subordination and equality in each of these three categories, and then seek to demonstrate the truthfulness of these positions from scripture, and support the validity of these interpretations with the historical testimony of the orthodox church fathers.

In the category of nature we are dealing with essence, or substance, or genus; the broad elements that are common among many individuals. Basil of Caesarea puts it well: “The distinction between οὐσία [essence] and ὑπόστασις [person] is the same as that between the general and the particular ; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man.” (Letter 236) In respect to nature, the Father and Son are entirely equal; this is what the Nicene Creed confesses when it say that the Son is co-essential with the Father; He has an exactly identical nature with the Father, admitting of no difference whatsoever.

We see this exegetically from scripture in two main ways. Firstly, the Son is called “God” when it says in John 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the Word was God.” This is not saying that the Word is the same person as “the God” Whom He is “with”, and thus distinguished from, but rather indicates His nature. There is, however, only one divine nature, since if there were multiple there could no longer truly be said to be only one God, as scripture clearly teaches. So when scripture makes known that Christ is of a divine nature, we know that it can be no other than that of the Father, exactly identical with no difference whatsoever, or else it would constitute a second divine nature.

Secondly the Son’s co-essentiality is irrefutably proven from scripture’s teaching eternal generation. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6 NKJV) Everything which begets, begets after its own kind. What is created by God from nothing, as all creation, is of a different nature than He; but that which is begotten from God’s own nature is of no other nature than He Who begat Him. As the Nicene Creed says “begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of the same essence as the Father”. That the Son is begotten of the Father is expressly indicated several times by scripture calling the Son the “only-begotten” of the Father (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).

The Son then, as having been begotten of the Father as His true and eternal Son before the creation of the world (“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NAS)) is therefore necessarily of the same divine nature as the Father. His nature is exactly identical without any inequality whatsoever. In fact, to say that the Son were subordinate to the Father in respect to His nature would be to deny His true divinity, and would be a variant of the Arian heresy.

Having looked at the first category of ‘nature’, and seeing there that the Son is equal to the Father in nature, we come to the category of headship. By headship, I mean authority. The Son eternally is subordinate to the Father as His head; this subordination is not grounded in a difference in nature, but in the personal properties of the Father and Son. The Son, as we have said, is equal to the Father in nature, having the same divine nature as He; yet inasmuch as the Son is Son and the Father is Father, the Son is subordinate to the Father as His head.

Scripture is explicit in teaching that the Father is the head of the Son: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor 11:3 NKJV) We see the Father’s headship over the Son again referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (NKJV)

The Son’s subordination to the Father’s headship can also be seen apart from the incarnation entirely; God sends the Son, and the Son is sent; God creates through His Son, not His Son through Him; and throughout the Old Testament we read of Christ as the “Angel (that is, Messenger) of the LORD”, bringing messages from the Father to men, ministering to the Father’s will.

On this point, there is abundant testimony from the church fathers:

““I shall give you another testimony, my friends,” said I, “from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning,403 [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 61)

“XVI. “If any man does not understand The Lord rained from the Lord to be spoken of the Father and the Son, but says that the Father rained from Himself: let him be anathema. For the Lord the Son rained from the Lord the Father.”…

XVII. If any man says that the Lord and the Lord, the Father and the Son, are two Gods because of the aforesaid words: let him be anathema. For we do not make the Son the equal or peer of the Father, but understand the Son to be subject. For He did not come down to Sodom without the Father’s will, nor rain from Himself but from the Lord, to wit, by the Father’s authority; nor does He sit at the Father’s right hand by His own authority, but because He hears the Father saying, Sit on My right hand.

51. The foregoing and the following statements utterly remove any ground for suspecting that this definition asserts a diversity of different deities in the Lord and the Lord. No comparison is made because it was seen to be impious to say that there are two Gods: not that they refrain from making the Son equal and peer of the Father in order to deny that He is God. For, since he is anathema who denies that Christ is God, it is not on that score that it is profane to speak of two equal Gods. God is One on account of the true character of His natural essence and because from the Unborn God the Father, who is the one God, the Only-begotten God the Son is born, and draws His divine Being only from God; and since the essence of Him who is begotten is exactly similar to the essence of Him who begot Him, there must be one name for the exactly similar nature. That the Son is not on a level with the Father and is not equal to Him is chiefly shown in the fact that He was subjected to Him to render obedience, in that the Lord rained from the Lord and that the Father did not, as Photinus and Sabellius say, rain from Himself, as the Lord from the Lord; in that He then sat down at the right hand of God when it was told Him to seat Himself; in that He is sent, in that He receives, in that He submits in all things to the will of Him who sent Him. But the subordination of filial love is not a diminution of essence, nor does pious duty cause a degeneration of nature, since in spite of the fact that both the Unborn Father is God and the Only-begotten Son of God is God, God is nevertheless One, and the subjection and dignity of the Son are both taught in that by being called Son He is made subject to that name which because it implies that God is His Father is yet a name which denotes His nature. Having a name which belongs to Him whose Son He is, He is subject to the Father both in service and name; yet in such a way that the subordination of His name bears witness to the true character of His natural and exactly similar essence.” (Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis; Therein quoting the Council of Sirmium Against Photinius)

We see then that in reference to headship, the Son, as Son, is subordinate to the Father in “the obedience of filial love”, and yet as we have said above, is equal to the Father in respect to His divinity.

Having then addressed the categories of nature and headship, we come to the third category of ‘causality’.

The Son is subordinate to the Father as His Cause. In having begotten the Son before the ages, the Father Himself is the Cause of the Son, as the Son has both His person and essence from the Father in eternal generation. This is closely related to the other two categories; because the Father is the Origin of the Son by eternal generation, the Son is both equal to the Father in respect to nature, as having the Father’s nature communicated to Him in eternal generation, and yet subordinate to the Father as His Head because the Father is truly ontologically His Father, and therefore the Cause of His being.

That the Father is the origin and cause of the Son is obvious from the doctrine of eternal generation, which as we have noted above, teaches that the Son was begotten of the Father before the ages (that is, before and outside of time, which as part of creation (Heb 1:2), was created through the Son). Begetting by definition indicates causality; as do the very names “Father” and “Son”. The Father is unbegotten, uncaused, and unoriginate, while the Son is begotten of the Father, and thus has the Father as His cause and origin.

We have express testimony in scripture that the Son is begotten of the Father, in that the Son is called “only-begotten”, as is mentioned above. John 5:26 also says “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (NASB). Here we clearly see the communication of the Father’s nature to the Son taught.

As in the two previous categories, there is much patristic support for this reading of scripture.

“II. “And if any one hearing the Son say, As the Father has life in Himself, so also has He given to the Son to have life in Himself John 5:26, shall say that He who has received life from the Father, and who also declares, I live by the Father , is the same as He who gave life: let him be anathema.

14. The person of the recipient and of the giver are distinguished so that the same should not be made one and sole. For since he is under anathema who has believed that, when recipient and giver are mentioned one solitary and unique person is implied, we may not suppose that the selfsame person who gave received from Himself. For He who lives and He through whom He lives are not identical, for one lives to Himself, the other declares that He lives through the Author of His life, and no one will declare that He who enjoys life and He through whom His life is caused are personally identical.” (Hilary of Poitier, De Synodis)

““Is not the meaning here of the word ὁμοούσιον that the Son is produced of the Father’s nature, the essence of the Son having no other origin, and that both, therefore, have one unvarying essence? As the Son’s essence has no other origin, we may rightly believe that both are of one essence, since the Son could be born with no substance but that derived from the Father’s nature which was its source.”” (Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis)

“But now, whatever He is, He is not of Himself, because He is not unborn; but He is of the Father, because He is begotten, whether as being the Word, whether as being the Power, or as being the Wisdom, or as being the Light, or as being the Son; and whatever of these He is, in that He is not from any other source, as we have already said before, than from the Father, owing His origin to His Father, He could not make a disagreement in the divinity by the number of two Gods, since He gathered His beginning by being born of Him who is one God.” (Novatian, A Treatise Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXXI.)

““11. And thus there appeared another beside Himself. But when I say another, I do not mean that there are two Gods, but that it is only as light of light, or as water from a fountain, or as a ray from the sun. For there is but one power, which is from the All; and the Father is the All, from whom comes this Power, the Word. And this is the mind which came forth into the world, and was manifested as the Son of God. All things, then, are by Him, and He alone is of the Father. Who then adduces a multitude of gods brought in, time after time? For all are shut up, however unwillingly, to admit this fact, that the All runs up into one. If, then, all things run up into one, even according to Valentinus, and Marcion, and Cerinthus, and all their fooleries, they are also reduced, however unwillingly, to this position, that they must acknowledge that the One is the cause of all things. Thus, then, these too, though they wish it not, fall in with the truth, and admit that one God made all things according to His good pleasure. And He gave the law and the prophets; and in giving them, He made them speak by the Holy Ghost, in order that, being gifted with the inspiration of the Father’s power, they might declare the Father’s counsel and will.”” (Hippolytus of Rome, Against the Heresy of One Noetus)

“And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129)

“For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Monad of the Godhead is indivisible and inseparable. And thus too we preserve One Beginning of Godhead and not two Beginnings, whence there is strictly a Monarchy. And of this very Beginning the Word is by nature Son, not as if another beginning, subsisting by Himself, nor having come into being externally to that Beginning, lest from that diversity a Dyarchy and Polyarchy should ensue; but of the one Beginning He is own Son, own Wisdom, own Word, existing from It.” (Athanasius, Against the Arians, Discourse 4)

“We believe then In the Only-Begotten Son of God, Who Was Begotten of the Father Very God. For the True God begets not a false god, as we have said, nor did He deliberate and afterwards beget ; but He begot eternally, and much more swiftly than our words or thoughts: for we speaking in time, consume time; but in the case of the Divine Power, the generation is timeless. And as I have often said, He did not bring forth the Son from non-existence into being, nor take the non-existent into sonship : but the Father, being Eternal, eternally and ineffably begot One Only Son, who has no brother. Nor are there two first principles; but the Father is the head of the Son 1 Corinthians 11:3; the beginning is One… Suffer none to speak of a beginning of the Son in time, but as a timeless Beginning acknowledge the Father. For the Father is the Beginning of the Son, timeless, incomprehensible, without beginning. The fountain of the river of righteousness, even of the Only-begotten, is the Father, who begot Him as Himself only knows.” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 11)

So we see the testimony of the orthodox fathers of the ante-nicene and nicene eras is that the Son has the Father as His origin and cause, in agreement with the teaching of scripture.

We see then, that the scriptures teach the Son to be equal with the Father in respect to His nature, as having the same divine nature, yet they also teach that the Son is subordinate to the Father as His Head and Cause. It is neither sufficient nor helpful to speak of the relationship of the Son to the Father simply as one either of ‘equality’ or ‘subordination’ without further distinction.

For if we say only that the Son is subordinate we may be taken to deny the Son’s equality with the Father in respect to His divinity, which is to blaspheme the Son greatly; yet if we deny the Son’s subordination to the Father as to His Head and His Origin by only calling Him “equal” without qualification, we will have blasphemously declared the Son to be a second God, by making there out to be two equal heads over all, and two first causes and unoriginate origins. But there are not two gods, but “yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” (1 Cor 8:6 NKJV) There is one alone Who is Head of all, yet Himself without a head; one Who is alone unbegotten and without origin, the one First Cause; the Father of one only-begotten Son, Who together with the Father is head over all creation, the Word of Whom scripture says “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. ” (John 1:3 NKJV).

Let us then seek to be careful in distinguishing between these various categories, lest we fall into error one way or another by making broad and unqualified statements.

 

Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures

It is important for the sake a sure knowledge of the truth to really see every point of doctrine proved from scripture. Our beliefs, after all, must rest in something greater than the mere opinions of men.

It is for that reason that I’ve decided it would be good to put together a brief demonstration of the doctrine of eternal generation from the scriptures below.

The doctrine of eternal generation states that the Son was begotten of the Father before and outside of time, and is therefore a distinct and inseparable person from the Father, eternally of the same divine nature as He. Now lets see each part of this definition proved from the infallible scriptures:

The Son was begotten of the Father:

“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 1:14 KJV)

“ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 KJV)

“The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me.” (Proverbs 8:22-25)

The Son was with the Father prior to creation:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NAS)

Time is created (thus the begetting of the Son is atemporal, having taken place before time):

“in these last days did speak to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He did make the ages;” (Hebrews 1:2 YLT)

The Father communicated His divine nature to the Son while Himself remaining unchanged:

“for, as the Father hath life in himself, so He gave also to the Son to have life in himself,” (John 5:26 YLT)

The Son is a distinct person from the Father:

“And God saith, `Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that is creeping on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26 YLT)

“Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;” (Genesis 19:24 KJV)

“If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.””And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.” (John 5:31, 37 KJV)

The Son is inseparable from the Father:

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21 KJV)

“But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” (John 10:38 KJV)

Does teaching the Father is the one God undermine the divinity of Christ?

A potential misunderstanding of the matter easily leads a person to think at first glance that teaching the doctrine that the one God is the Father somehow undermines the doctrinal truth of the Son’s full divinity. While I hope to show below that this is absolutely not the case, I first want to acknowledge that the objection can be brought up with a certain amount of apparent validity.

Many heretical sects teach that the Father is the one God to the denial of the Son’s divinity. The most notorious of these would be Arians and others who follow variations of Arius’s teachings, such as modern JWs. The various sects of the Jews and Muslims also tend to make use of passages in the scriptures that teach the identicality of the one God with the Father to argue against the fact that the scriptures teach the divinity of the Jesus Christ. These false teachers’ misuse of the biblical data to argue against the truth gives an understandable reason for some to be hesitant when they hear a trinitarian speaking the same way.

But we must also remember that it is the ordinary tactic of false teachers to blend their errors with truth, as one might hide poison in something sweet, in order to make their error seem palatable. There is a danger then to be acknowledged in disregarding everything that a given heretic believes as automatically being false. Were we to take this to an extreme, in most cases we would even be required to reject the scriptures because the heretics make use of them in addition to true Christians.

We must not, then, throw out the baby with the bathwater. The truth that the Father is the one God does not in truth undermine the doctrine of the Son’s divinity at all: rather, when properly understood, it implies it and serves as a doctrinal support for it.

That reasoning goes something like this: The Father is the one God. Therefore, the Son is the Son of the one God. Therefore, the Son must be God in nature just as the Father is, eternally of the same divine nature as He.

Now allow me to break that down a little more. Here we are dealing with the historic trinitarian doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, the implications of which are enormous. In plain English it is the doctrine that Christ is the Son of God, not in name only, nor as a figurative “Son”, nor because He has been adopted by the Father, but because He was begotten of the Father before creation. This is what scripture is referring to when it speaks of Jesus Christ as the “only-begotten” Son of God. Its telling you what kind of Son Jesus is: an only-begotten one.

That stands in contrast to us as creatures. Believers are indeed called children of God by the scriptures, which reveal Him as our adoptive Father. But we remain of a creaturely, human nature. We aren’t somehow of the same divine nature as God because we are adopted as God’s children. But Christ isn’t adopted; He is Son because He was begotten by God, before and outside of time (this should remove all thought of chronological sequence from our understanding of this event). The fact that He is begotten logically necessitates that we understand Christ to be of exactly the same divine nature as the Father.

To prove this point, let us merely consider fatherhood in creation, which scripture tells us is modeled after God’s own fatherhood of the Son (Eph 3:14-15). Everything begets after its own kind. Birds beget birds. Men beget men. There is always necessarily an identically of nature between that which is begotten and that which begets. “What is begotten of spirit is spirit and what is begotten of flesh is flesh” Jesus taught in John 3:6.

This concept has historically been referred to by theologians using the philosophical language of “consubstantiality”, or “co-essentiality”, which each mean the same thing. The Greek word behind this term, “homoousias”, was used by the Nicene Council in the Creed they composed to indicate the exact identically and sameness of the divine nature of the Son with that of the Father (Who they call the one God). They grounded that teaching in the eternal generation of the Son:

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before the ages; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of the same essence [homoousias] as the Father, by whom all things were made.”

This doctrine of eternal generation is crucial to rightly understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. This is in large part because it teaches us that if the Son is truly begotten of the Father, He must necessarily be of the same divine nature as Him. This is certain proof for the Son’s eternal Godhood. So let’s bring this back to the one God being the Father: according to this paradigm, the Son being the Son of the one God, by means of eternal generation, logically necessitates that we understand the Son to be of the exact same divine nature as the one God Who begat Him.

This doesn’t then undermine the Son’s divinity at all. In fact if the one God is eternally Father, which He is, then He must eternally have a Son. And the fact that this Son was eternally begotten of Him proves that He is eternally of the very same divine nature. The real question to ask the one who believes that the one God is the Father and yet denies the divinity of the Son is this: in what sense do you really believe that the one God is Father? In name only? Or is He really, eternally Father because He begat the Son before the ages, as the Nicene Creed teaches? If this is so (and it is), then His Son must necessarily be divine, of no other nature than that of the one God Who begat Him. The fact is, you cannot reasonably believe that the one God is the Father without also believing the full and eternal divinity of the Son as well.