John MacArthur's Position on the Eternal Sonship of Christ
MacArthur's Original Denial of Eternal Sonship in his Official Position Papers and in his Doctrinal Statement
Note: George Zeller's comments are in bold.
MacArthur's Position Papers
Dr. MacArthur wrote a 5 page position paper entitled John MacArthur's views on the eternal Sonship of Christ (which I received on January 23, 1989). In this paper he again denies the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ. Here are some of his statements:
"I take the position that although in the eternal mind and plan of God Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, was to have the role of Son, He did not officially assume both the title and role until His incarnation...When the term `Son' is used in Scripture to refer to Jesus, it is emphasizing both the title and function He assumed at His incarnation. Prior to His incarnation, Scripture does not refer to the Second Member of the Trinity as the Son of God...Jesus' Sonship was anticipated in the Old Testament, but He did not become a Son until He was begotten into time...The term Son has only to do with Jesus Christ in His incarnation and beyond, and not before...the Bible teaches that He officially took on both and title and function of a Son at His incarnation...In His incarnation however, He merely took on the title and role of a Son...He simply acquired that title (Son of God) when He came into the world at His birth...There would be a day in which the Second Person of the Trinity would assume the role of a Son, and I believe Scripture teaches that this was at His incarnation...Christ was not called the Son of God until He was born...After Christ's incarnation, God said, `This is My Son!' but prior to that, the First Person of the Trinity had never referred to the Second Person in that way...I sincerely believe the Bible teaches that Christ did not take on both the title and function of a Son until His incarnation." (This document was obtained from Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412, the underlining is mine).
Please notice the underlined words in the above quote. MacArthur refuses to
recognize Sonship as part of Christ's real and actual and intrinsic Nature.
According to MacArthur, Sonship is merely a title He acquired, a role
He played and a function that He assumed at the time of the incarnation,
and not before. According to this view, Jesus Christ is not the Son of God
because of who He is essentially and ontologically. Bible believers must never
divorce Christ's Sonship from the real and actual Person that He is. The Bible
declares that He has ever existed as the Son in the bosom of the Father (John
1:18, see Greek construction).
Later this official statement was completely revised by John MacArthur. This position paper bears the same title: JOHN MACARTHUR'S VIEWS ON THE ETERNAL SONSHIP OF CHRIST (5 pages) and it was received by this writer on 10/1/91. The following quotes are taken from this document:
"Theologians have debated whether the title ‘Son of God’ applied to Christ throughout all eternity or if He formally took it on at His incarnation. I take the position that although in the eternal mind and plan of God the Second Person of the Trinity was to have the role of Son, He did not officially assume both the title and role until His incarnation. Jesus could be called the Son of God from all eternity in an anticipatory sense--just as He was ‘the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the earth’ (Rev. 13:8). But the term ‘Son’ is primarily tied in Scripture to the title and function Christ assumed at His incarnation. Prior to that, He is only referred to as a Son prophetically, and no passage in the Old or New Testament states that He was considered a Son in eternity past....Likewise the term ‘Son’ became applicable to Jesus Christ in His incarnation and not before....He simply assumed the title and role of Son when He came into the world at His birth....[Philippians 2:5-8] makes it clear that before the incarnation, Christ had complete equality with God (v.6), and that there was no Father-Son submission in their relationship in eternity past....The word ‘today’ in Hebrews 1:5 shows that Christ's Sonship began at a point in time rather than in eternity past....There would be a day in which the Second Person of the Trinity would assume the role of a Son, and I believe Scripture teaches that this was at His incarnation....Christ was not called the Son of God until He was born....The First Person of the Trinity is saying [in 2 Samuel 7:14] that there will be a time when He will be in the role of a Father and when the Second Person will be in the role of a Son....Christ officially became a Son at His incarnation....the Bible teaches that Christ did not take on both the title and function of a Son until His incarnation" [emphasis mine].
MacArthur clearly denies the eternal Sonship of Christ in these statements. MacArthur is saying that there is no passage in the Old or New Testament which presents Christ as the eternal Son. Not only does he deny eternal Sonship, but he also denies the eternal Fatherhood of the First Person [based upon 2 Samuel 7:14].
MacArthur's view is inconsistent with itself. He teaches that "Jesus Christ our Lord is eternally the Second Member of the Trinity" (p.1). But on page 2 he states that "before the incarnation, Christ had complete equality with God and that there was no Father-Son submission in their relationship in eternity past. Jesus had complete equality with God throughout eternity past." If this is so, then how can he speak of First Person and Second Person? Does not "First Person" and "Second Person" indicate a ranking and an order with the Second Person "ranking under" [this is the meaning of the Greek term "submission"] the First Person? If there were "no Father-Son submission" in eternity past then there could have been no First Person-Second Person. Pure equality without any submission cannot allow for a First or Second ranking because somehow and in some way first must come before second and second must rank under or be in submission to first. If MacArthur were to be more consistent with his view, then it seems that he should hold a view similar to that of Dr. Charles Smith who prior to his death served as the Vice President and Dean of The Master's Seminary (MacArthur’s school). Dr. Smith's view was this: "I know that hypotheses are problematic, but I have personally hypothesized that when the divine decision was made with regard to the incarnation, any of the three members of the Trinity could have accepted the various roles" [letter to this writer, dated 12/15/88]. This means that the Father could have been the Son, the Son could have been the Spirit, etc. This view seems more consistent with what MacArthur is teaching because it presents the three Persons of the Trinity in eternity past as unranked and without any kind of order. The numerical ranking of First Person and Second Person becomes a factor only with respect to the incarnational "roles" that they assume. To be consistent, if a person denies the eternal Sonship, then he must also deny "First Person" and "Second Person" with respect to eternity past. The term "Second Person" is a theological term which is actually derived from the doctrine of eternal Sonship.
MACARTHUR'S OFFICIAL CHURCH AND SCHOOL DOCTRINAL STATEMENT
The Official Doctrinal Statement of Grace Community Church entitled What We Teach [dated 1986] makes this statement: "We teach that, in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity laid aside His right to the full prerogatives of coexistence with God, assumed the place of a Son, and took on an existence appropriate to a servant while never divesting Himself of His divine attributes" [pages 5-6]. The official doctrinal statement of The Master's College as found in the 1990-91 Catalog says the very same thing, and so does "The Master's Seminary Doctrinal Statement."
This statement clearly implies that prior to the incarnation, Christ did not have or hold the place of a Son.
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