THE DOCTRINE OF THE
(An examination of the Scriptural evidence
"For what saith the Scripture" (Romans 4:3)
Let us prayerfully and carefully search the Scriptures to determine if Jesus Christ became the Son of God at some point in history or whether He eternally existed as the Son of God, basking in the sunlight of the Father's love and resting in delight and fellowship of the Father's bosom even before the foundation of the world (John 17:5,24; John 1:18).
"Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of HIS DEAR SON...who is the image of the invisible God...by Him were all things created...and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:13-17).
In Colossians 1:13 the believer is told that he has been translated into the kingdom of His (the Father's) dear Son (literally, "the Son of His love"). The following verses contain a series of pronouns all of which refer back to the Son of the Father's love (v.13). "We note that all the 15 pronouns in verses 15 to 20 inclusive are in apposition with the noun, Son (v.13). Each dependent sentence, therefore, declares some fresh glory of the Son, to Whom they all relate, and in Whom they all combine with a transcendent harmony." [W.J.Hocking, The Son of His Love--Papers on the Eternal Sonship (Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Believers Bookshelf, 1970), p. 87.]
Therefore, in Colossians 1:16 we are told that it was by the Son that all things were created. All things were created by the Son of His love! The Son of God, therefore, must have existed as the Son at the time of creation, long before He became incarnate.
Those who insist that Christ did not become the Son of God until the incarnation must put a strained interpretation on the clear statement of this verse. Perhaps they would explain it as follows:
By the Son all things were created according to this text, but at the time He did His creative work He was not the Son of God. He was the eternal God, but He did not become the Son of God until His birth thousands of years later. Paul refers to the Creator as the "Son of His love" because we now know Him by this title even though He was not the beloved Son of the Father at the time of Creation. Also at the time of creation the First Person of the Trinity was not yet the Father. These were roles that They would assume later. Just as we might refer to the fact that President George Bush played on the baseball team at Yale University (even though he was not actually the President when at Yale), so we could say that the Son of God created all things even though He was not the Son of God when He did His creative work.
Such an involved explanation is very questionable. How much better to simply accept the simple statement of the text which says that the Father created all things by the Son of His love. The most normal and natural meaning of this passage is that at the time of creation He existed as the Father's beloved Son.
"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" (Hebrews 1:2)
This verse is similar to the Colossians passage in that it identifies the Creator as the Son of God. It was by the Son that the Father made the worlds. "Since the Holy Spirit attributes creatorial activity to the Son, His existence must have preceded that of the universe which He called into being" [Ibid., p. 127]. Based on this verse John Darby concluded that "we are therefore justified in speaking of the Son as before the worlds." [John Nelson Darby, from a tract on eternal Sonship (no title) published by Present Truth Publishers, 411 Route 79, Morganville, NJ 07751]
W.E. Vine skillfully shows the bearing of this verse on the doctrine of eternal Sonship, pointing out that "the design in the stress on the word `Son' in verse 2 is not to convey the idea that God has spoken to us in One Who became His Son, but that He has done so in One Whose relationship to Him as Son stands in antecedent existence both to creation and to His incarnation...The passage is itself a testimony to the pre-existent Sonship of Christ; for not only has God spoken to us in Him Who is His Son, but by Him...He `made the worlds' (the ages). The plain implication is that He by Whom God made the worlds stood in relationship to Him in this respect as His Son." [W.E.Vine, The Divine Sonship of Christ (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Inc., 1984 reprint), pp. 38-39.]
"And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14)
John beheld the divine glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, even the unique Son of God. William Hendriksen has concluded that John 1:14 must refer to Christ's trinitarian sonship, that is, "to the fact that He is the Son of God from all eternity." Hendriksen continues, "This is favored by the context (John 1:1,18) and by such passages as 3:16,18, which prove that the Son was already the only begotten before his incarnation...the sonship here indicated was present from eternity (emphasis his)." [William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary--Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p. 87]
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18)
J.G.Bellet has posed this question for those who teach that Christ was not the Son of God until the incarnation: "Had the Father no bosom till the Babe was born in Bethlehem?" He then answers this question: "Indeed, fully sure I am, as that inquiry suggests, He had from all eternity. The bosom of the Father was an eternal habitation, enjoyed by the Son, in the ineffable delight of the Father." [J.G.Bellett, The Son of God (Addison, Illinois: Bible Truth Publishers, 1978 reprint), pp. 11-12.]
"Matthew and Mark first notice His Sonship of God at His baptism (Matt.3:17; Mark 1:11). Luke goes farther back, and notices it at His birth (Luke 1:35). But John goes back farther still, even to the immeasurable, unspeakable distance of eternity, and declares His Sonship `in the bosom of the Father.'" [Ibid., p. 10, Bible references added.]
"Lamb of God, Thy Father's bosom
Ever was Thy dwelling-place!" [Ibid., p. 12, cited by Bellett but no author mentioned]
The Greek construction of John 1:18 is significant with respect to the doctrine of Eternal Sonship. According to Charles Hodge, the present tense of the verb preceded by the article ("the One being" or "the One ever existing") expresses permanent being: "He who is, was, and ever shall be, in the bosom of the Father, i.e., most intimately united with Him." [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979 reprinted), p. 473.]
W.E.Vine, well known for his Greek Expository Dictionary, has written a valuable book in which he defends the eternal Sonship of Christ. His comments on John 1:18 are worthy of note:
The plain implication of the pre-existent Sonship of Christ given in verse 14 is confirmed in verse 18 by the description of the Son as the One Who is "in the bosom of the Father." The phraseology employed is that of the definite article with the present participle of the verb "to be," lit., "the (one) being in the bosom..." This form of phrase provides what is virtually a titular description, and is to be distinguished from the use of the relative pronoun with the present tense of the verb to be ("who is"). Had it been the intention of the writer to state that the Son is at the present time in the bosom of the Father, in contrast to a time in the past when He was not in that position and relationship, the relative clause, that is to say, the relative pronoun with the present tense, would have been used (i.e., hos esti, "who is"). The participial construction (the definite article with the present participle "being") is not thus limited in point of time. Here the construction conveys a timeless description, expressing a condition and relationship characteristic, essential and unoriginal. [W.E.Vine, The Divine Sonship of Christ, pp. 27-28.]
That He is "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father," expresses both His eternal union with the Father in the Godhead, and the ineffable intimacy and love between Them, the Son sharing all the Father's counsels and enjoying all His affections. "The bosom of the Father" ever has been and ever will be the Son's dwelling place. [Ibid., Part 2 (the second part of the book has a different numbering system), p. 12.]
The unmistakable teaching of John 1:18 is that the Son of God is perfectly qualified to be the Revealer of the Invisible Father because from all eternity He has existed in the Father's bosom. He is the One ever being and ever existing in the bosom of the Father. As Matthew Henry has said, "He had laid in his bosom from eternity...In the bosom of his special love, dear to him, in whom he was well pleased, always his delight (emphasis his)." [See Matthew Henry's comments under John 1:18.]
GOD SENT HIS SON
"the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world...He loved us, and sent His Son...As My Father hath sent Me, so send I you...when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son" (1 John 4:14; 4:10; John 20:21; Galatians 4:4)
There are numerous verses which speak of the Father sending the Son into this world (just a few of them are cited above). These passages clearly imply that He was the Son before He was sent into the world. If God "sent His Son," then He must have been the Son even before His mission: "This at least is the most obvious sense of these passages, and the sense which an ordinary reader would doubtless affix to them." [See the editorial comments under Romans 1:4 in Barnes' Notes which involve a lengthy discussion of the doctrine of eternal Sonship. It is from this discussion that this quote is taken (p.17).] Such passages clearly indicate that God sent forth One who was already His Son. These verses do not say that God sent forth One who became His Son at the time of His birth. [See the discussion in Vine, The Divine Sonship, pp. 8-9.] These verses strongly infer that prior to His mission He was really and truly related to His Father as SON.
"But what unprejudiced mind does not see that sending a person to execute a certain task does not make him to be what he was not before? A master sends a servant to do a certain work; or a father bids a son to perform a certain errand; or a husband desires his wife to execute a certain commission which he has not time or opportunity to do himself; the servant does not cease to be a servant, the son to be a son, nor the wife to be a wife by being so sent." [J.C.Philpot, The True, Proper and Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God (England: Gospel Standard Baptist Trust Ltd., Reprinted, 1926), p. 32.]
The wife was a wife before the mission, and she was a wife after the mission. So also the Son of God was the Son of God before His mission (before He came into this world by means of the incarnation) as well as after the mission.
In Galatians 4:4-6 the term "sent forth" is used both of the Son (v.4) and of the Spirit (v.6). The Lord Jesus promised that the Father would send the Comforter (John 14:26). Did He become the Holy Spirit when He was sent or was He already the Holy Spirit prior to His being sent? The answer is obvious. The Holy Spirit did not become the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, even as the Son of God did not become the Son of God at Bethlehem. The Spirit was the Spirit and the Son was the Son prior to Their respective missions. The many verses which speak of God sending His Son make sense only when we understand that He was the Son prior to His being sent.
THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD OWNER
"Having yet, therefore, one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son" (Mark 12:6)
From the parable it is clearly evident that this person was the son of the vineyard owner before he was sent on his mission. He was his father's son before he was sent. This parable was obviously intended to portray the sending of God's well-beloved Son into a world which rejected Him and murdered Him. As we reverently ponder this parable we must conclude that the Lord Jesus was the beloved Son of the Father before he was sent on His mission: "If the parable has any force, or indeed any meaning--and it would be sacrilege to say it has not--God the Father must have had a Son in heaven with Him before He sent Him." [Philpot, p. 34.]
GOD THE FATHER GAVE HIS SON
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16)
How amazing is the love of the Father! What a sacrifice He was willing to make, yielding up the One who was so near and dear to His heart, even His well-beloved, unique Son who ever was in His bosom! God "gave His only begotten Son," and this strongly implies that He was God's Son before He was given. To say that He became His only begotten Son by incarnation would rob this verse of its meaning and force and preciousness: "The value and greatness of the gift lay in the Sonship of Him who was given. His Sonship was not the effect of His being given." [Vine, p. 11]
Now must He not have existed as His Son before He gave Him? If I give a person a thing, my giving it does not change the nature of the object given, does not make it different from what it was before I gave it. So, if God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, He must surely have been His only-begotten Son before He gave Him...His giving Him could not make Him His only-begotten Son, because the wondrous love consisted in this, that though He was God's only-begotten Son, still He gave Him. Any other interpretation quite destroys the meaning and force of the passage. [Philpot, p. 30.]
The measure of God's love of the world is to be seen in His giving the One Who was peculiarly and exclusively the object of His affection--His Only-begotten Son. The stupendous wonder to our faith is that One was along with God in this unique relationship of Son, and God gave that One. This is surely the teaching of the text, not that God's gift was One Who became His Only-begotten Son in manhood, that is, in the process and at the time of giving. If Sonship began in incarnation, why do we not read that God gave the Son of man? But no, the Only-begotten Son of God was given...To think otherwise of Him than as the Eternal Son is to detract from the personal glory of God's incomparable gift. [Hocking, pp. 36-37.]
"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
As we meditate on Romans 8:32 we are reminded of the time when Abraham delivered up his son Isaac (Genesis 22). The patriarch was to take his son, his only son Isaac whom he loved (Gen. 22:2) and bring him to the altar of sacrifice. Surely Isaac, who was a type of Christ (Heb. 11:19), was Abraham's son long before he was delivered up on the altar. It was the loving father/son relationship already existent which made this sacrifice so costly. God the Father took His Son, His unique Son Jesus, the One whom He loved before the foundation of the world, and He delivered Him up for us all. Love so amazing!
If God had spared His Son (and we shudder to even think about this), then there would be no Saviour for sinners. We would be without hope and without help. If the Father had not sent His Son and had not given His Son, then salvation would have been impossible, but He still would have been the Son of God, because this is WHO HE WAS, AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Thanks be unto God that the Son was sent and was given for our sakes, even the One who was with the Father from the very beginning (John 1:1-2; 1 John 1:1-2)!
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
As to His humanity He was a Child who was born. As to His deity He was a Son who was given by the Father (John 3:16). He became a Child but He did not become a Son. He who was God's Son from all eternity was sent forth on a saving mission and was "made of a woman" nearly two thousand years ago (Gal. 4:4). His divine Sonship did not come about by human birth.
A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER PRIOR TO THE INCARNATION
"I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father" (John 16:28)
How could He come "from the Father" if His existence as Son did not begin until the incarnation? This verse clearly implies that He was with the Father before coming into the world. If He did not become the Son until the incarnation, then we might expect this verse to say something like this: "I came forth from God and then I became the Son...I leave the world and go back to God who ever since My birth has been My Father." As it stands the verse indicates that there existed a Father/Son relationship prior to His coming into the world: "His return to the Father was in the reverse order of procedure to that of His coming. He came from Heaven to the world; He returned from the world to Heaven. He speaks of the One from Whom He came as `the Father,' not in the sense that He came out from One Who subsequently became the Father at His birth, but from One Who was the Father when He came out." [Vine, pp. 54-55]
"And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5)
"Father...thou lovest me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24)
We enter upon very holy ground as we listen to the Son praying to His Father. These verses bring us back to the time prior to creation. Before the world ever was, the Father was there and the Son was there, in an intimate, loving relationship. This is the plain and simple and normal sense of these words. Those who hold to the position that Christ was not the Son until the incarnation would need to understand these verses differently: "Father...Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world", but at this time the Father was not yet the Father and the Son was not yet the Son. Instead They were nameless Persons of the Trinity who would not assume the roles of "Father" and "Son" until the incarnation. Such an understanding is forced, irreverent and out of harmony with the clear and simple statements of Scripture. Vine has wisely asked, "If that pre-existent love was not between the Father and the Son, what could have been the relationship in which it was exercised?" [Vine, p. 52.]
"That which was from the beginning...the Word of life...which was with the Father" (1 John 1:1-2)
In John 1:1-2 we learn that the Word was in the beginning and the Word was with God. In 1 John 1:1-2 we learn that the Word was in the beginning and the Word was with the Father. If He was with the Father from the beginning, then He must have been there as the Father's Son. "The term `Father' implies the existence of a Son...He does not here say that He who was the Life was `with God,' but that He was `with the Father.'" [Vine, p. 10] If the Father/Son relationship existed from the very beginning, then He must be the eternal Son.
THE SON OF GOD BECAME THE SON OF DAVID
"Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3-4).
He was David's Son from Bethlehem; He was God's Son from all eternity. He became the Son of David by human birth, but He did not become the Son of God. Benjamin Warfield has said it well:
He who always was and continues to be the Son of God was manifested to men first as the Son of David, and then, after His resurrection, as also the exalted Lord. He always was in the essence of His being the Son of God; this Son of God became of the seed of David and was installed as--what He always was--the Son of God, though now in His proper power, by the resurrection of the dead. [Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970), p. 81]
It is helpful to compare this passage in Romans chapter 1 with what is said of Christ in John chapter 1. "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14). "The Son...was made of the seed of David" (Rom. 1:3). He existed as the Word long before He became flesh (see John 1:1-2). Likewise, He existed as the Son long before He became David's Seed according to the flesh. In John chapter 1 it is said that He who was God became flesh. In Romans chapter 1 it is said that He who was the Son of God became the Son of David. At the incarnation the eternal Word became flesh and the eternal Son became a Man. The eternal God did not become the Son. On the contrary, "we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man, without ceasing to be God." [Taken from the Doctrinal Statement of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America.]
THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SON OF GOD
"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8)
It is one thing to speak of the manifestation of the Son of God. This is biblical. It is quite another thing to speak of the origination of the Son of God. This is heretical. His Sonship had no beginning. The verb "to make manifest" means to make visible or to bring to light what has previously been hidden. "The idea of manifestation is never a transition from a state of non-existence to that of existence...Accordingly, if we would do the honour to the Son that is due Him, we must acknowledge that He was the Son of God before His manifestation...Being Son of God eternally, He has been manifested publicly and visibly in flesh for His mediatorial work." [Hocking, pp. 136-137.] The wondrous manifestation of the Son of God and His entrance into this world is also taught in John 11:27 and 1 John 5:20.
MELCHIZEDEK, A TYPE OF THE SON OF GOD
"Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually" (Hebrews 7:3)
The strong testimony that this verse presents for the eternal Sonship of Christ must not be missed. The blessed Spirit of God guided the pen of Moses in such a way that the biography of Melchizedek says nothing about his parents or his birth or his age or his death. These deliberate omissions were for the purpose of presenting Melchizedek as a type of the Son of God: "He was made 'like unto the Son of God,' and the similarity lay in this, that he had 'neither beginning of days nor end of life.' Accordingly it was as the Son of God that Christ was without beginning of days. His Sonship was therefore unoriginated and eternal." [Vine, (Part 2), pp. 16-17] In His incarnation He was not "without mother." As the "Son of Man" He was "made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4). As the "Son of God" He was "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life." His Sonship has nothing to do with human parents, human lineage, human birth or time measurements. It is eternal.
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May the reader thoughtfully consider the united testimony of the many passages cited in this chapter, forming safe and solid conclusions based upon "Thus saith the Lord!" May we search the Scriptures diligently and daily to see if these things be so!