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Eternally Begotten Son

Some Evangelicals, such as the late Walter Martin, John MacArthur, and J. Oliver Buswell, have been abandoning the faith of Nicaea by claiming that the Second Person of the Trinity became the Son of God only by virtue of his Incarnation. They say that apart from the Incarnation he was still God, but not the Son of God.

The Church Fathers who wrote the creeds had a different view—the view of today’s Catholic Church. They pictured the Son as the eternal Word (Logos) of God, proceeding from him outside of time much as speech proceeds from a speaker.

Justin Martyr

“God begot before all creatures a beginning, who was a certain rational power from himself and whom the Holy Spirit calls . . . sometimes the Son, . . . sometimes Lord and Word… We see things happen similarly among ourselves, for whenever we utter some word, we beget a word–yet, not by any cutting of, which would diminish the word in us when we utter it. We see a similar occurrence when one fire enkindles another. It is not diminished through the enkindling of the other, but remains as it was” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 61 [ca. A.D. 155]).


“[The Gnostics] transfer the generation of the uttered word of men to the eternal Word of God, attributing to him a beginning of utterance and a coming into being . . . In what manner, then, would the word of God–indeed, the great God himself, since he is the Word–differ from the word of men?” (Against Heresies2:13:8 [ca. A.D. 185]).


“[W]hen God says, `Let there be light’ [Gen. 1:3], this is the perfect nativity of the Word, while he is proceeding from God. . . . Thus, the Father makes him equal to himself, and the Son, by proceeding from him, was made the first-begotten, since he was begotten before all things, and the only-begotten, because he alone was begotten of God, in a manner peculiar to himself, from the womb of his own heart, to which even the Father himself gives witness: `My heart has poured forth my finest Word’ [Ps. 45:1-2]” (Against Praxeas 7:1 [ca. A.D. 220]).


“Therefore, this sole and universal God, by reflecting, first brought forth the Word–not a word as in speech, but as a mental word, the reason for everything. . . . The Word was the cause of those things which came into existence, carrying out in himself the will of him by whom he was begotten. . . . Only [God’s] Word is from himself and is therefore also God, becoming the substance of God” (Philosophoumena or Refutation of All Heresies 10:33 [ca. A.D. 225]).


“So also Wisdom, since he proceeds from God, is generated from the very substance of God” (Commentaries on Hebrews [ca. A.D. 240]).

Council of Nicaea

“We believe . . . in our one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, the only-begotten born of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, born, not made . . .” (The Creed of Nicaea [A.D. 325]).

Cyril of Jerusalem

“Believe also in the Son of God, the one and only, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God begotten of God, who is life begotten of life, who is light begotten of light, who is in all things like unto the begetter, and who did not come to exist in time but was before all the ages, eternally and incomprehensibly begotten of the Father. He is the Wisdom of God. (Catechetical Lectures 4:7 [ca. A.D. 350]).


“When these points have been demonstrated, then they [the Arians] speak even more impudently: `If there never was a time when the Son was not, and if he is eternal and co-exists with the Father, then you are saying that he is not a Son at all, but the Father’s brother.’ O dull and contentious men! Indeed, if we said only that he co-existed eternally and had not called him Son, their pretended difficulty would have some plausibility. But if while saying that he is eternal, we confess him as Son of Father, how were it possible for him that is begotten to be called a brother of him that begets? . . . For the Father and the Son were not generated from some pre-existing source, so that they might be accounted as brothers. Rather, the Father is the source and begetter of the Son. . . . And if he is called the eternal offspring of the Father, he is rightly so called . . . It is proper for men to beget in time, because of he imperfections of their nature; but the offspring of God is eternal because God’s nature is ever perfect” (Discourses against the Arians 1:14 [A.D. 358]).

Gregory of Elvira

“[In Genesis 49:9 the Son] is called a [lion’s] whelp so as to show that it refers not to the Father, but to the Son of God. For when both a lion and the whelp of a lion are named, both the Father and the Son are indicated. Their nature is not divided, but distinct Persons are manifested. For just as a lion is born of a lion, so too it is said that God proceeds from God and light from light” (Homilies on the Books of Sacred Scripture 6 [ca. A.D. 375]).


“What was in the beginning? `The Word,’ he says . . . Why the Word? So that we might know that he proceeded from the mind. Why the Word? Because he was begotten without passion. Why the Word? Because he is image of the Father who begets him, showing forth the Father fully, in no way separated from him, and subsisting perfectly in himself, just as our word entirely befits our thought” (Eulogies and Sermons 16:3 [A.D. 379]).

“When I speak of one essence, do not think as two separated from one, but of a Son subsisting from the Father from the beginning, not of Father and Son emerging from one essence. Indeed, do not speak of brothers; we confess Father and Son. There is identity of essence because the Son is from the Father; not made by his decree, but born of his nature; not separated from the Father, but the entire shining forth while abiding still in the entire” (ibid. 24:4 [A.D. 379]).

Gregory of Nazianz

“He is called Son because he is identical to the Father in essence; and not only this, but also because he is of him. He is called only-begotten not because He is singular Son . . . but because he is Son in a singular fashion and not in a corporeal way. He is called Word because he is to the Father what a word is to the mind … because of his union and because of his conveying information” (Orations 30:20 [A.D. 380]).


“[The Arians] think that they must posit the objection of his [Christ] having said, `I live on account of the Father.’ Certainly if they refer the saying to his divinity, the Son lives on account of the Father, because the Son is from the Father; on account of the Father, because he is of one substance with the Father; on account of the Father, because he is the Word given forth from the heart of the Father; because he proceeds from the Father, because he is generated in the paternal bowels, because the Father is the source of the Son, because the Father is the root of the Son” (On the Christian Faith 4:10:132 [A.D. 380]).

Council of Constantinople I

“We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” (The Nicaean-Constantinopolitan or “Nicene” Creed [A.D. 381]) .

Council of Rome

“If anyone does not say that the Son was begotten of the Father, that is, of the divine substance of him himself, he is a heretic” (Tome of Damasus, canon 11 [A.D. 382]).


“In the way that you speak a word that you have in your heart and it is with you . . . that is how God issued the Word, that is to say, how he begot the Son. And you, indeed, beget a word too in your heart, without temporal preparation; God begot the Son outside of time, the Son through whom he created all things” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 14:7 [A.D. 416]).

Athanasian Creed

“The Father is not made nor created nor begotten by anyone. The Son is from the Father alone, not made or created, but begotten. . . . Let him who wishes to be saved, think thus concerning the Trinity. But it is necessary for eternal salvation that he faithfully believe also in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly it is the right faith, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. He is God begotten of the substance of the Father before time, and he is man born of the substance of his mother in time. This is the Catholic faith; unless everyone believes this faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved” (ca. A.D. 475).

Council of Constantinople II

“If anyone does not confess that there are two generations of the Word of God, one from the Father before all ages, without time and incorporeally, the other in the last days when the same came down from heaven and was incarnate . . . let such a one be anathema” (Concerning the Three Chapters, canon 2 [A.D. 553]).

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