Was the doctrine of eternal sonship biblical
Renewed examination of the eternal sonship of Christ
1 Bible and Congregation Bible Studies & Sermons Re-Examining Christ's Eternal Sonship John F. MacArthur It can only be of use to reconsider the eternal sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ with John MacArthur. With such a difficult yet important subject, it is good to understand the thoughts of serious scriptwriters to see how they came to their conclusions and why they changed their minds. For this reason, we have left the defense of the doctrine that Jesus Christ was only Son at his incarnation in the last issue (99-4) and now bring the revocation, which is worth reading. Towards the end of his life, Augustine of Hippo had conscientiously looked through everything he had ever published. He wrote a full catalog of his own works - an meticulously annotated bibliography with hundreds of revisions and corrections to correct errors he saw in his earlier material. The book Retractations ("Revocation") is powerful evidence of Augustine's humility and zeal for the truth. Not one of his earlier publications escaped the scrutiny of the more mature theologian. And Augustine revoked the errors he had perceived in his work with the same audacity with which he had once refuted the heresies of his theological opponents. As Augustine reviewed his work in chronological order, "Retractations" became a wonderful record of his relentless lifelong pursuit of spiritual maturity and theological accuracy. The sincerity with which he addresses his own shortcomings is a good illustration of why Augustine is valued as a rare example of piety and learning. I have often wished for the opportunity to review and modify all of my own published material, but I doubt I will ever have the time and energy to undertake this task. In our electronic record age, my publications consist not only of the books I have written, but almost every sermon I have given - over 3000 so far. This is far too much material to be subjected to a full review for the best of me. That doesn't mean that I would turn everything upside down in a general overhaul. Throughout my ministry, my theological view has remained fundamentally unchanged. The basic doctrinal statements that I approve of today are the same as those I held when I was ordained to the service nearly 40 years ago. I am not a person of easily changing convictions. I am sure that I am not a pipe that blows away from the wind.
2 is moved, or belongs to the people who are tossed to and fro by the winds of various doctrines. But at the same time, I don't want to resist the growth and correction, especially if it can sharpen my understanding of the Scriptures. If a deeper understanding of an important teaching topic requires a change in my thinking, I want to willingly make the necessary changes - even if that means changes and corrections to my already published material. Over the years I have initiated many such revisions and steps to remove erroneous or confusing statements from my own tapes. Sometimes I have even preached about such scriptures again with a better understanding of the text. Whenever I have changed my mind on any significant teaching topic, I have sought to make my change and the reasons for it as clear as possible. To this end, I want to publicly declare that I have given up the doctrine of "Sonship in the Incarnation". Careful study and reflection led me to understand that Scripture actually presents the relationship between God the Father and Christ the Son as an eternal Father-Son relationship. I no longer view the sonship of Christ as a role that he assumed in his incarnation. I no longer view the sonship of Christ as a role that he assumed in his incarnation. My previous position arose from my study of Hebrews 1: 5, which apparently speaks of the father's conception of the Son as an event that leads to one Time takes place: "I have fathered you today"; "I want him to be a father and he should be my son" (emphasis added). There are some very difficult terms in this verse. "Procreation" usually means a person's origin. Furthermore, sons are generally subordinate to their fathers, so I found it difficult to see how an eternal father-son relationship could be compatible with perfect equality and eternity among the persons of the Trinity. "Sonship", I concluded, speaks in advance of the voluntary submission to which Christ condescended to be incarnate (cf. Phil 2: 5-8; Jn 5:19). My goal was to defend the absolute deity and eternity of Christ and not to undermine it in any way. And from the start I tried to be as clear as possible. Still, when I first published my views on the subject (in my 1983 Commentary on Letter to the Hebrews), a few outspoken critics accused me of attacking the deity of Christ or of questioning his eternal existence, and I responded to such accusations in a plenary session of the annual convention of the Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America (the denomination that ordained me). Shortly after this session, I wrote an article entitled "The Sons of Christ" (published in pamphlet in 1991) to explain my point of view in more detail.
3 Both times I reiterated my unconditional and irrevocable commitment to the biblical truth that Jesus is Eternal God. The "Sonship in the Incarnation" view, admittedly a minority opinion, is by no means bad heresy. At the heart of my defense of this view were statements that, as clearly as possible, affirmed my absolute commitment to the fundamentals of all evangelicals, namely the divinity and eternal existence of Christ. The "Sonship in the Incarnation" view is a minority view, not a heresy. However, the controversy surrounding my views on "Sonship in the Incarnation" continued to stir and prompt me to review and reconsider the relevant scriptures. Through this course of study, I have come to appreciate the importance and complexity of this topic anew. More importantly, my views on this matter have changed. Here are two main reasons for my change of opinion: 1. I am now convinced that the title "Son of God", when applied to Christ in Scripture, always speaks of his divine nature and absolute likeness to God, and not of his voluntary submission . The Jewish leaders of Jesus' day understood this very well. John 5:18 says that they wanted the death penalty for Jesus and accused him of blasphemy "because he not only abolished the Sabbath, but also called God his own Father and thus made himself equal to God." In this culture, the adult son of a dignitary was equated in position and authority with his father. The same respect a king demanded was shown to his adult son. After all, the son was essentially the same as his father, heir to all the rights and privileges of the father - and therefore the same in every important respect. When Jesus was called "Son of God", everyone understood this as the title of deity, which equated him with God and (more importantly) made him identical in essence with the Father. This is precisely why the Jewish leaders viewed the title "Son of God" as a great blasphemy. If the sonship of Jesus denotes his divinity and complete equality with the Father, then that cannot be a title associated only with his incarnation. Indeed, the main idea of what is meant by "sonship" (and that would involve the divine nature of Jesus) must have to do with the eternal attributes of Christ, not just the humanity that he assumed. 2. It is now my conviction that the procreation spoken of in Psalm 2 and in Hebrews 1 is not an event that occurred at a particular time. Although at first glance the Scriptures appear to use terminology with a temporal undertone ("I made you today"), the context of Psalm 2: 7 seems to be a reference to God's eternal ordinance. From this one can reasonably conclude that the procreation of which we are speaking is also related to eternity, and not to a point in time. The temporal language should therefore be understood figuratively and not literally.
4 Most theologians acknowledge this, and when they speak of the sonship of Christ, they use the term "eternal procreation" to mean "eternal procreation". I don't like this expression. With the one expression, the words of Spurgeon, this is an "expression that has no great meaning for us, it just covers our ignorance." And ignorance covers, yet the very thought of which I am now convinced is biblical. The scriptures designate Christ as "the only one of the Father" (Jn 1:14; cf. V.18; 3:16, 18; Heb 11:17). The Greek word translated "native" is monogenic. The ostensible meaning has something to do with the utter uniqueness of Christ. Taken literally, it may be translated as "unique" - and yet it clearly indicates that he is of the same essence as the father. This, I believe, is at the heart of what is meant by the term "native". To say that Christ was "begotten" is difficult to imagine on its own. In the realm of creation, the term "begotten" means origin, descent from someone. The procreation of a son marks his conception - the point at which he begins to exist. Hence, some assume that "native" refers to the conception of the human Jesus in the body of the Virgin Mary. But Matthew 1:20 attributes the conception of the incarnate Christ to the Holy Spirit and not to God the Father. The procreation mentioned in Psalm 2 and John 1:14 seems to be much more than the reception of the human Jesus in Mary's body. Indeed, there is another, even more important, meaning to the idea of "procreation" than just the origin of an offspring. According to God's plan, every creature begets offspring "according to its kind" (Gen 1: 11-12; 21-25). The offspring are completely similar to the parents. The fact that a son is begotten by the Father guarantees that the Son is of the same nature as the Father. I believe this in the sense that Scripture seeks to convey it when it speaks of the begetting of Christ through the Father. Christ is not a created being (Jn 1: 1-3). It had no beginning and is every bit as timeless as God himself. Hence the word "testify" mentioned in Psalm 2 and its cross-references has nothing to do with its origin. Christ had no beginning and is just as timeless as God himself. But it is entirely related to the fact that he is identical with the Father. Expressions such as "eternal procreation," "only begotten Son," and others associated with the descent of Christ must all be understood in this sense: Scripture uses them to underline the absolute essential unity between Father and Son. In other words, such labels are not intended to evoke the thought of a previous creation; they are intended to convey the truth about the essential unity among the members of the Trinity. In my earlier view, Scripture used the father-son terminology anthropomorphic - to put heavenly truths incomprehensible to our limited minds into human terms. Now I tend to take the opposite to be true: Human father-son relationships are only earthly images of an infinitely greater heavenly truth. The one, true, archetypal father-son relationship exists forever within the Trinity. All others are just earthly copies,
5 imperfect because they are tied to our finitude and yet illustrate an essential eternal reality. If sonship was all about his deity, one might ask why this is only true of the second member of the Trinity and not also of the third. After all, we don't refer to the Holy Spirit as God's Son, do we? And yet he is also of the same nature as the Father, isn't he? All earthly father-son relationships are only imperfect copies of the one true relationship within the divine trinity. Of course it is. The full, unadulterated, undivided essence of God belongs to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit alike. God is only one being and yet he exists in three persons. The three people are the same, but personally different. And the main distinguishing marks between persons are clothed in the qualities conveyed by the names Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Theologians have called these peculiarities "fatherhood", "sonship" and "spirituality" (Engl. Spiration). Scripture clearly shows that such distinctions are important to our understanding of the Trinity. How to fully explain them remains a mystery. Indeed, many aspects of these truths may forever remain unfathomable, but this basic understanding of the eternal relationship within the Trinity still presents the best consensus of Christian understanding through many centuries of church history. I therefore affirm the doctrine of the eternal sonship of Christ while recognizing it as a mystery on which we should not expect too deep a penetration. Dr. John F. MacArthur is pastor and teacher of the Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California Address: Grace to You Germany, Christburger Str. 14, Berlin All texts may only be copied FOR PERSONAL USE. Any further copy or reproduction requires the express permission of the Bible Association. Bible Association e.v. Office & Publishing House Friedrichsgrüner Str. 83 D Hammerbrücke Tel / 44455 Fax: / Internet:
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