Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Of the Father's Love Begotten
The above song celebrates, among other things, the "eternal generation of the Son." In other words the relationship of God the Father to God the Son is an eternal one. A human father can engender a son in a moment of time, and from that point on, he is the father of that child.
It is different with God the Father and God the Son. Yes, the Son of God was born on this earth at a specific moment in time, but that was not the beginning of His existence. Yes, it was the beginning of His taking on a human body, but He Himself is from all eternity.
Since God the Father is eternal, His Son is also eternal. Hence the term "eternal generation of the Son." The Son of God did take on human flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, but that was not the beginning of the existence of the Son of God. He is eternal, as is the Father and the Holy Spirit - God in three persons.
The early church in the 4th century needed to clarify Biblical teaching about the person of Jesus Christ, since there were some who were teaching that the Son of God was not eternal. That is, He did not exist until He was born on the earth. However, the Bible teaches that the Son of God left Heaven in order to be our Savior. Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the clearest texts supporting the fact of Christ's pre-existence - that is, He was already God and Lord before He took on bodily form, even before time began.
So, Christians have from time to time needed to clarify the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit - the Triune God. There is only one God, existing eternally in three persons.
From the 4th century we have the Nicene creed.:
The Nicene Creed
I 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 only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
More recent theologians have also addressed this issue of the "eternal generation of the Son." Here is what A.A. Hodge had to say as quoted in a Wikkipedia entry.:
"The eternal generation of the Son is defined as 'an eternal personal act of the Father, wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, without division, alienation, or change, so that the Son is the express image of His Father's person, and eternally continues, not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son.'"
- A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 182
Then, way back in the 4th century about the same time the Nicene Creed was being forged, the hymn Of the Father's Love Begotten was written. It expresses eloquently this concept of the eternal generation of the Son. He was begotten - speaking of relationship and representation - not made. Yes, the Son took on bodily form and showed us the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, but He has always been and always will be the eternal Son of God.
The melody of this song is also called Divinum Mysterium - Divine Mystery. There is a mystery about the eternal generation of the Son that some would like to ignore. However, the One who was in the bosom of the Father has been revealed - Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior.
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 only God has been made known.
John 1:18 (English Standard Version)
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Notice that in the Greek NT, the words translated "only begotten Son" in the KJV and "the only God" in the ESV are "μονογενης θεος" - "only begotten God." Begotten, not made, very God of very God. The Nicene Creed got it right. Our English, IMO, does not properly express the nuance that the ancient Greek and Latin fathers understood, and I think we are poorer for it, myself - especially when some modern day theologians, I have noticed, argue from the English! Weird...
ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 1:18 (1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament)
18θεον ουδεις εωρακεν πωποτε μονογενης θεος ο ων εις τον κολπον του πατρος εκεινος εξηγησατο