What is the eternal generation of the Son?

by Matt Slick

The eternal generation of the Son, also known as the eternal begetting of the Son, is the teaching that the Son is eternally begotten by the necessary will of the Father, but that the Son is not created or caused, and that neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit are dependent upon the Father or any other member of the Godhead for existence.  The eternal generation of the Son is a statement on the relationship within the Trinity between the Father and the Son before the incarnation.  Therefore, the term is not in reference to causation but to nature and relationship.  The eternal generation of the Son must be understood to mean that the Father did not bring the Son into existence, which would deny the full immutability and deity of the Son.

The term "eternal generation of the Son" can be misunderstood to suggest that there is a qualitative difference between the Father and the Son, and that somehow, someway, the Son came into existence.  This is not what the term means.

  • "The eternal generation of the Son is commonly defined to be 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."1
  • In order to guard their doctrine of derivation and eternal generation from all gross anthropomorphic conceptions they carefully maintained that it was—(1) αχρονοςtimeless, eternal; (2)ασωματωςnot bodily, spiritual; (3)αορατοςinvisible; (4)αχωριστωςnot a local transference, a communication not without but within the Godhead ; (5)απαθωςwithout passion or change; (6)παντελως ακαταληπτος, altogether incomprehensible."ibid., p. 183
  • " . . . the personal subsistence of the Son is derivative, though eternal, and constitutes His nature the same with the Father’s?"2
  • "The Word was Himself the cause of all created things; Himself increate; His eternal generation implied in the eternity of His existence and His distinct personality."3

Following are some of the verses used in discussion of the eternal generation issue.

  • John 1:1-4, 14, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
  • John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
  • John 5:26, "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself."
  • John 6:57-58, "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. 58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever."
  • 1. Hodge, A. A. Outlines of Theology. Simpsonville, SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1998. p. 183
  • 2. Dabney, Robert L. Systematic Theology. electronic ed. based on the Banner of Truth 1985 ed. Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1996.
  • 3. Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix. Vol. 5. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886.

 

 

 

 
 
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