What is the Eternal Sonship?
Why should you care?
Why do some deny the Eternal Sonship?
Why have I written this article?
Christ’s Sonship Further Described
- His Sonship is eternal as opposed to temporal. Christ never became the Son of God; rather, He always was. His Sonship has no beginning and no ending. Sometimes the term “pre-temporal” is used, in that His sonship existed before time.
- His Sonship is intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic. Christ’s being the Son is part of His very nature, not a quality conveyed to Him by an outside source or person. He is not the Son merely because of an office or service He fulfills.
- His Sonship is ontological as opposed to epistemological. In other words, the Sonship of Christ has to do His very existence, not merely how we know Him. He is not merely the Son to us; rather, He is the Son, period. How we come to know Him is important, but His Sonship doesn’t depend on that.
- His Sonship is intra-Trinitarian as opposed to official. In other words, His Sonship has to do with His relationships and identity in the Godhead, and not dependent on God’s dispensational ways. The names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit derive their meaning from the Trinitarian relationships, which are eternal.
Proofs of the Eternal Sonship
Proof #1: The Old Testament Scriptures
“Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?” (Prov. 30:4)
Proof #2: His being Son in the Work of Creation
“God… at the end of these days has spoken to us in the person of the Son, whom he has established heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2)
“By him [the Son of His love] were created all things, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or principalities, or authorities: all things have been created by him and for him.” (Col. 1:16)
Proof #3: Sonship is His Intrinsic Identity
Only-begotten. The expression "only-begotten" is one word in the Greek; 'monoganes'. It is an expression that confers the thought of uniqueness. A modern English equivalent is “one and only”. Most notably, "only-begotten" is used to convey the special place that the Son has in relation to God the Father.1 It is often coupled with the name "Son" or "Son of God", as in John 1:18, which shows that Sonship is our Lord’s unique identity. 'Monoganes' is used only a few other times in the New Testament. It is used three times in Luke for individuals healed by the Lord who were only children of their parents (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38). It is used in Hebrews 11:17 with regard to Isaac. The other occurrences refer to Christ as the Son of God; e.g. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9. The usage of this expression in connection with Isaac shows us that the term "only-begotten" does not infer temporal existence; i.e. it does not mean that the Son of God began to exist at a certain time, like how human children begin to exist when they are begotten of their parents. Similar to the term "firstborn", which is also applied to the Son, and has also been falsely used to deny His eternal existence, the term "only-begotten" has a special significance. The use of the term in Hebrews 11:17 and its equivalent in Gen. 22:2 helps us to see this. Abraham had another son, Ishmael. But Isaac was his only-begotten. The term "only-begotten" has the sense of 'one of a kind', and it is used in this way with regard to Isaac. There was only one Isaac. It has to do with the son's place of affection in the heart of the father. In what sense is Christ the "only begotten" or unique One? We do not need to speculate, the scripture says; “the only begotten Son of God”. It is in His eternal identity as the Son of God that He is the Only-Begotten. We can conclude that this term, which has been used to deny the Eternal Sonship, as if He had a beginning in time, in fact it strengthens that truth, because it emphasizes that His Sonship is what makes the Son unique at the most fundamental level!Since Christ’s sonship is in respect to God the Father, the same is true of His being the Only-begotten. He is the “only-begotten of the Father” and the “only-begotten Son of God”.
“No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him].” (John 1:18)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal. … He that believes on him is not judged: but he that believes not has been already judged, because he has not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16, 18)
“Herein as to us has been manifested the love of God, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
His claim to God as “His own Father”. In the Lord’s words in John 5:17-18 there was a note of exclusiveness in the Lord’s claim. Critical translations read; Jesus “said that God was his own Father”. We have a complementary expression in Rom. 8:3, 32, where it speaks of “His [God’s] own Son”. It was not “a son” or even “His Son”, but “His own Son”. Again, God claims the Son has His exclusively, and emphasizes the cost to Himself of the One He delivered up. In Matt. 11:27 and Luke 10:22, it is clear that the Father and the Son have a special and exclusive knowledge of each other. It is also clear that the Son’s special knowledge of the Father is in His condition of being the Son. An also, the Father’s special knowledge of the Son is in His condition of being the Father. This is a proof of the eternal relationships in the Godhead because the Father/Son relationship was true of them only. If these relationships constitute the Father and Son’s respective intrinsic identities, the relationships must be eternal, because the Persons are eternal.
“All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son but the Father, nor does any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son may be pleased to reveal [him].” (Matt. 11:27, see Luke 10:22)
Proof #4: His being “With the Father”
There are a number of scriptures that speak of the Son as being “with the Father”. This confirms the eternal Fatherhood and the eternal Sonship. If the Son was “with the Father” before the incarnation, the Father must have been the Father and the Son must have been the Son. In the Lord’s prayer to His Father (John 17:5) we find that His personal glory in the future is the same as His pre-temporal glory. That glory is connected with His being “with” the Father before time began, and His anticipation of being “with” the Father (as His Father) in the future. The Lord clearly identifies His future glory with His pre-temporal glory. If you affirm the anticipated (present) Fatherhood/Sonship, you cannot deny the pre-temporal (eternal) Fatherhood/Sonship.
“And now glorify me, thou Father, along with thyself, with the glory which I had along with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5)
Furthermore, this state of being “with the Father” was not something that came be in the course of time. John 17:5 says that it was “before the world was”. Another verse that, while it does not expressly infer sonship, still presents the same truth is Prov. 8:30; “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him” (Prov. 8:30). Again, this was the state of the Father and Son was “before his works of old… from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Pro 8:22-23).
Proof #5: His being “Given” or “Sent” by the Father
There are a number of scriptures that speak of the Son being “sent by the Father”. The fact that the Father sent the Son confirms the eternal Fatherhood and Sonship. The same is true of the expression “God… gave His only-begotten Son”. It could not be said that God gave the Son if it were true that He gave Him to BE the Son. It is perfectly clear that the Person of the Son existed in the unique relationship of Son prior to the incarnation. Another way to say it is; when Christ came into the world, He came as the Son, whom He always was.
“And we have seen, and testify, that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world.” (1 John 4:14)
“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law…” (Gal. 4:4)
The above-quoted two passages would suffice, but we have the same truth repeated on numerous occasions in our Lord’s own words; John 5:30, 37; John 6:29; John 8:16, 18; John 10:36; John 12:49; John 14:24. We see this in the types of the Son in the Old Testament. Whether it be Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, or Jesse and David, the son was always the son before he was sent. So it is with the Son of God; He was the Son from a past eternity, and “sent” by the Father in time.
Proof #6: His “Coming forth from the Father”
In John 16:28 we have a beautiful statement by Jesus, that “I came out (exerkomai) from the Father and have come into the world”. This expression confirms three profound realities about the Father and the Son:
- It confirms the eternal Fatherhood and the eternal Sonship. The Father had to be His Father before the incarnation or it could not say He came from the Father. He had come from a Person (the Father) to a place (the world), and was leaving that place to return to that Person.
- But more than that, the expression “I came out (exerkomai) from the Father” characterizes the Son’s relationship as a man in this world. Coming forth from the side of the Father, the Son came into the world enjoying the full communion of the Father’s deep affection. He always had that relationship of love (John 1:18), but it was declared when the Son came forth.
- Finally, the expression “and have come into the world“ complements and strengthens the previous clause, showing that Sonship is His transcendent identity. The mere sending of a person to execute a mission or fill an office does not require transcendent identity; e.g. “there was a man sent from God whose name was John” (John 1:6). John was ‘apestalmenos’, or commissioned. But the sending of the Son was different. Not only was the Son “sent by the Father” but He “came into the world”. The coming of the Son is the counterpart to the sending of His Father. He did not merely arrive here. He came. That purposeful “coming” proves that He is not only a servant, but God Himself.
“I came out (exerkomai) from the Father and have come into the world; again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” (John 16:28)
“For the Father himself has affection for you, because ye have had affection for me, and have believed that I came out (exerkomai) from God. I came out (exerkomai) from the Father and have come into the world, etc.” (John 16:27-28)
“Jesus said to them, If God were your father ye would have loved me, for I came forth from God and am come [from him]…” (John 8:42)
“For the words which thou hast given me I have given them, and they have received [them], and have known truly that I came out from thee, and have believed that thou sentest me.” (John 17:8)
“Jesus said to them, If God were your father ye would have loved me, for I came forth from God and am come [from him]; for neither am I come of myself, but he has sent me.” (John 8:42)
Proof #7: Sonship not Weakened, but Strengthened in Incarnation
“For unto which of the angels said he at any time, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?”And again, “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” (Heb. 1:5)
“So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, “Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee?” (Heb 5:5)
Debunking the Sonship-Inferiority Theory
“My previous view was that Scripture employed Father-Son terminology anthropomorphically—accommodating unfathomable heavenly truths to our finite minds by casting them in human terms. Now I am inclined to think that the opposite is true: Human father-son relationships are merely earthly pictures of an infinitely greater heavenly reality. The one true, archetypical Father-Son relationship exists eternally within the Trinity. All others are merely earthly replicas, imperfect because they are bound up in our finiteness, yet illustrating a vital eternal reality.”
Implications of the Eternal Sonship
Point #1: Christ’s Personal Glory is Linked to it
In His prayer to the Father, Jesus linked His Personal glory to His relationship in a past eternity; “And now glorify me, thou Father, along with thyself, with the glory which I had along with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). His personal glory was perhaps twofold: (1) His glory as a Divine person, and (2) His relationship as the Son of the Father. This glory was veiled at the incarnation, and only at times were glimpses seen, such as in the raising of Lazarus. But for those who walked with Jesus, they “contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father” (John 1:14). This was His personal glory – the glory of His relationship with the Father – and it was hidden from the public eye when Jesus was here below. To deny that the Son’s relationship is eternal is an injury against the Person of Christ, because it touches His glory.
Point #2: All Trinitarian Relationships are linked to it
The Fatherhood of the Father is not to be confused with His other types of paternity; the Father of Spirits (Heb. 12:9), the Father of Lights (James 1:17), the Father of creation (Acts 17:29), of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:15), and "your heavenly Father" (Matt. 6:32). These other types of paternity alone are not the reason He is called "God the Father". He is "God the Father" because of His eternal relationship to the Son. First, Jesus spoke of God as "My Father" (John 5:17; 10:17). Second, Paul speaks of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:3), showing that God the Father is the Father of the Son. We can conclude that the term "the Father", which is frequently used without additional qualification or specification in the New Testament, is in relationship to the Son. Third, the other types of paternity are neither intrinsic nor eternal. Whether they pertain to creation or redemption, the other types of paternity relate to things or persons that were conceived and ordered from the eternal counsels of God, and accomplished in time. "They cannot themselves be placed in the eternal and pre-temporal realm."6 We cannot conceive of relationships between God and His creatures as constituting an intrinsic Fatherhood. To do so would be to confuse who the Father is in His being with what comes from the counsel of His will; i.e. who He is and what He does. This shows that God is "the Father" in relation to the Son.Therefore, if you deny the eternal sonship of Christ, you also deny the eternal fatherhood of God. “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2:23). Note that when we come to John 20, we find the Lord bringing us into relationship with His Father as our Father!
Point #3: Our individual faith is vitally linked to it
As believers, our faith must be directed to Divine Persons in their true relationships, as revealed in the Word of God. We believe in the Father as the only Father of the Son. We believe in the Son as the only Son of the Father. The same is true of worship. We do not worship Christ as the Father, nor the Father as the Son, but each in His particular place. We have both identification and distinction with each Person. The Person of the Son is identified as God, and distinguished from God. The following points will highlight the centrality of the Son’s identity to our faith:
- The confession of Jesus as Son of God is normal to Christian faith (1 John 4:15).
- To deny the Son is anti-christian (1 John 2:22-23).
- Christ as Son of God is the focal point of our faith (Gal. 2:20).
- The Christian fellowship centers around Jesus as the Son of God (1 Cor. 1:9).
Point #4: The foundation of the Church is vitally linked to it
Point #5: The Depth of His Humiliation is accentuated by it
The mention of divine Sonship in connection with the Lord’s suffering serves to bring out the contrast between what He is eternally and intrinsically, with the place He stooped to in His humiliation. As we have already shown, the dignity of Christ’s sonship is not suppressed by His learning obedience or by His being fully dependent on the Father. But now we show that the dignity of His Sonship serves to accentuate the reality of His humiliation. Several examples follow:
- “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). It was the eternal Son pleading with His Father whose bosom He enjoyed from all eternity. How much deeper the sorrow, having to take the cup from the hand of an eternal Father. See also Matt. 26:53.
- “Though he were Son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8-9). His being Son gives special significance to His humiliation as a man. The reality of His dignity as the Son accentuates all that He suffered in manhood.
Point #6: The Certainty of Continued Grace to the Believer is vitally linked to it
Point #7: The Intensity of the Father’s Love is linked to it
“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)
- "First-begotten", used in Hebrews 1, conveys more the thought of preeminence, while "only-begotten" conveys uniqueness in affection.
- The quotation here from Psalm 2, “This day have I begotten thee,” does not refer to His eternal Sonship, but to His being born into the world in humiliation. He is called to be high priest. He has this calling as a man, not as being taken from men. The glory of His Person comes first. Looked at in the flesh He was begotten of God; with us, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” But He in His very nature is associated with God, and associated with man. He is the “daysman that can lay his hand upon us both,” Job 9. – Darby, J.N. Notes from Lectures on Hebrews.
- But it is of all moment for the truth and His own personal dignity, to remember that His Sonship when incarnate as well as in resurrection is based on His eternal relationship as Son, the great theme of the apostle John, without which the other two could not have been. Here too many Christians have fallen short. – Kelly, W. Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews.
- Another example is Peter’s confession. In Matt. 16:16, Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. It was as a man on earth that the Sonship of Christ is confirmed. His Sonship did not cease to be, even in incarnation.
- His Person giving Him absolute supremacy. — Hocking, William John. The Son of His Love. Ch. 16
- Murray, John. Eternal Sonship. Princeton Theological Seminary.