Monday 26 October 2015

The Eternal Generation of the Son: Defending and Upholding this Doctrine

Paul the apostle wrote to the Philippians about his concern for the gospel. He explained that he was committed to the "defence and confirmation of the gospel" (1:7) and that he believed that he was in prison for the "defence of the gospel" (1:16). Gospel truths need constantly defending and to be confirmed in the church by the church.

This is undoubtedly true regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. The trinitarian truth about the Christian God suffers neglect in the Western church for a range of reasons. One of the reasons is the lack of commitment to the historic creeds and confessions of the church. The Nicene Creed is one of the most important creeds for the doctrine of the Trinity. But, how many church members know this creed and ever hear it taught, confessed or explained?

At the heart of this creed is the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. The Nicene Creed States:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

The phrases in this Creed, such as we believe in the "only-begotten .. begotten of the Father before all worlds" is the eternal generation of the Son which explains the relationship between the Father and the Son. This truth is faithful to the teaching of Scripture and it has been carefully worked out and defended against Arians and other heretical teachers in the history of the church. However, it appears that there are fresh contemporary evangelical voices who are challenging this doctrine. By doing so, they reveal their lack of historic understanding of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Robert Letham who is one of the foremost Reformed theologians on the Trinity today, explains that this doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is the "cement" what holds our doctrine of the Trinity together. If we remove the cement what will we be left with? A set of loose bricks or stones which can easily be disregarded, metaphorically speaking. If Bob Letham is right, then the stakes are high with this particular doctrine.
Let me cite the Westminster Confession of Faith on the Trinity on this matter:

"In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God
the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: the Father is of none, neither begotten, not
proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from
the Father and the Son" (WCF 2:3).

Here is the beginning of some biblical proof of this divine mystery:

John 1:14,18 From the New American Standard Version: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth ... No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him".

I very much appreciate the ESV translation, but on this point they have erred in translating the Greek word in the text here as the "only Son" instead of the "only begotten". This obscures this truth and enforces the need for ministers to be trained in Greek and Hebrew.

There will be some people reading this blog post who have never heard of the doctrine I am talking about. However, the eternal generation of the Son needs to be spoken of again and I hope this blog post can stimulate further discussion. A good book to read on this subject is Kevin Giles "The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology" or Robert Letham "The Holy Trinity".

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