Eternally begotten of the Father?

Peter Leithart quoted this on his blog:

“‘Begotten and not created’ makes exactly that distinction between two ways of being originated from God, the lack of which enabled the subordinationist glissando from God himself, who is unoriginated, to us, who are originated, through the Son, who is a bit of each.  On the contrary, we are ‘created,’ the Son is ‘begotten,’ and these are just two different things.  Nobody claimed to know exactly what ‘begotten’ meant in this connection, and yet a tremendous assertion is made: there is a way of being begun, of receiving one’s being, which is proper to Godhead itself.  To be God is not only to give being, it is also to receive being.  And there went the rest of Plato.”

Here I go again.  If no-one knows what begotten means in this connection it is a meaningless assertion, exactly like Lewis Carrol’s nonsense verse.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

Then the quote informs us that the Second Person received his being from the Father, but within the Godhead.  So begotten means begotten after all.

The Fathers taught that the essence of the Second Person is unbegotten, and that it is the Personhood that is begotten.  He received his identity from the Father, but without a beginning, so that there was no time that the Second Person did not exist as such.

Where is that written again?

Why not stick to the Biblical data and assert that the Lord Jesus was the eternal Word prior to his incarnation, one God with the Father, and refrain from speculation about the unbegottenness of substance as opposed to the begetting of Person?

That way we still stick it to the Arians without opening a can of worms about subordinationism within the ontological Trinity.  Do not go beyond what is written.

Doctor Leithart says that the Lord is both originated and unoriginated, and explains this in terms of the divine person only.  My explanation satisfies me much more, but then it would, wouldn’t it?  The Lord is entirely unoriginated regarding his divinity, and entirely originated regarding his humanity.  

Simple and uncomplicated, and most of all, Biblical.


12 thoughts on “Eternally begotten of the Father?

  1. Roger, you said in an earlier post that monophysites were part of the council who wrote the Nicene creed. So up until the Nicene creed, one could be either a mono- diphysite and be orthodox. Just so long as you don’t deny Jesus’ diety or his manhood.

    After the Nicene Creed, however, the creeds seem to have gotten more specific in making sure to distinguish between Christ’s two natures after his incarnation. They were also much more specific by saying that he was both eternally begotten by the Father in terms of his diety, and begotten by the Virgin Mary in terms of his manhood. I think the Chalcedon and Athanasius creeds go to these lengths.

    I know that some people believe that orthodoxy is defined by not only the Apostles and Nicene creeds, but also the Chalcedon and Athanasius.

    Do you subscribe personally to the latter two creeds? Do you think that they should be thought of as defining orthodoxy?

  2. The Creeds do not define orthodoxy. They are considered to be binding because they can be proven by most certain warrants of scripture, scripture being the final authority above every other authority.

    I personally dissent from the eternally begotten clause because it has no warrant in scripture at all. Scripture does not address the origins of the Second Person. The clause had dragged the idea of origins and beginnings into the Godhead itself, which to my simple mind calls into question the very idea of God.

    That was not the intention of the Nicene Fathers at all, but I suspect that they were more influenced by Arianism than they realized. Also, they completely misread the title Son of God, missing its Messianic reference and making it into a title of divinity.

    Most ministers simply take the clause eternally begotten to mean that there always was a Second Person within the Trinity. I am fine with that, but more was meant by the authors of the term.

    It is not vital for Trinitarianism, since it is enough to believe that there are three Persons and one substance comprising the one God.

  3. I can see that the Apostles and Nicene creeds could be seen as defining orthodoxy because they simply state who we place our faith in. The “I believe” does not mean “this is what I think,” but it means “I trust” or “I have faith in” God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are simply stating our faith in God. However, the later creeds seem to become less of this type of statement and turn into a more complex articulation of the Trinity.

    I have a few more questions. I hope I’m not irritating you with them. First, do you think statements about the Holy Spirit “proceed” from both the Father and the Son have biblical warrant?

    Second, do you think that “Son of God” is exclusively a Messianic term? I know its a Messianic term, but in some contexts it seems to refer specifically to the Persons of the Trinity, such as in Baptism.

  4. The Bible defines orthodoxy, and the Creeds restate it, and are thus subordinate to the Bible. Having said that, many people treat them as if they were on the same level as scripture.

    The Apostles Creed has no errors at all, it was the first and the best of the Creeds. The Reformers Calvin and Knox used it in preference to the Nicene Creed in their Communion Services.

  5. *First, do you think statements about the Holy Spirit “proceed” from both the Father and the Son have biblical warrant?*

    None whatsoever. It means that within the Trinity the Father breathes out the Spirit to the Son, who then breathes out the Spirit in turn. Where is that written?

    The Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, and continues to be poured out in Baptism.

    These are all historical events, never eternal ones.

  6. *Second, do you think that “Son of God” is exclusively a Messianic term? I know its a Messianic term, but in some contexts it seems to refer specifically to the Persons of the Trinity, such as in Baptism.*

    Yes I do. I have looked up every single reference in the Bible many times, and there isn’t a single occurrence where it is applied to God.

    Now that God has become flesh and added humanity to his deity in a perfect union, we may speak of the Son of God as divine because of the union, so that what is true of one nature is true of the other as well.

    However, there is no warrant of scripture to apply it to the divine nature of Christ without reference to his humanity.

  7. Whilst discussing the trinity, I hope I can ask a question which directly relates but isn’t covered in the discussion. What would your view be of the nature of the hierarchy within the Trinity?

  8. There has historically been a lot of debate about that. The consensus of the early church was to define it two ways – in terms of their actions and in terms of who they are.

    In terms of their activity within history, the Father is first in authority, then the Son, then the Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son, he gave the Spirit to the Son, and now the Son has given the Spirit to the church.

    In terms of their being there has been far too much speculation unsupported by clear biblical warrants. The theory, which is presented as settled orthodoxy, is that the person of the Father is unbegotten. He begat the Son in eternity, but without there ever having been a time when he did not exist. The Father also breathed out the Holy Spirit from himself in eternity, but with the same caveat that there has never been a time when the HS has not been.

    This is all supposed to be either revealed in scripture, or found by necessary inference.

    I personally believe that the ontological theories are entirely unsupported by scripture, are pure speculation, and should be set aside.

    The truth is that we know nothing about the internal relationship between the persons of the Trinity ontologically speaking, and it is an area where we should consequently keep a reverent silence.

    There is a Trinity, they are three persons in one substance, and there we should stop.

    Hope that helps.

  9. I think it might have been Socrates who observed that if someone is begotten there must logically be a time when that person ‘was not’.

    The supposition that ‘without there being a time when he did not exist’ is just nonsense – and certainly not supported by scripture.

    What you describe as “The Trinty’ is exactly that (the Trinity) – but it is not God
    Why could they not have left F +S+ HS sharing one substance as “The Godhead” and left it at that!
    Best Wishes

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