BIBLE & LIFE

Bible Teaching Newsletter

of Biblical Doctrine & New Testament Assembly Life

Volume 3, No 3 May 1, 1996


The Eternal Sonship of Christ

by David Dunlap

         The nonnegotiable doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ has come under subtle and disturbing opposition in recent years. Suprisingly, a growing number of Charismatic and Baptist church leaders are leading this charge. Yet this controversy is not new, nor is it merely theological semantics; this error is both fundamental and serious. Nearly 100 years ago F.E.Raven, a teacher among early brethren, declared his denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ when he wrote, "Now, 'Son of God' I understand the title of Christ incarnate; I should hardly use 'Son of God' as referring to His eternal person." (1) Nevertheless, the majority of Bible teachers and scholars throughout the history of the church have defended this doctrine and resisted its fiercest opponents.

         Most of those who espouse this false doctrine today teach that the Lord Jesus Christ became the Son of God at His incarnation. One such Christian leader is Dr. John MacArthur, who though sound in much of his teaching, yet in his writings and in public ministry has set aside this fundamental doctrine. MacArthur, a radio Bible teacher and pastor at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California writes, "Christ is and always has been the second member of the Trinity but only became a Son in His incarnation. Nowhere does it say that Jesus has eternally been the Son...from eternity He has been the second person of the Trinity. He assumed the role of a Son in His incarnation." (2) The late Walter Martin, the author of The Kingdom of the Cults, has written, "The scripture nowhere calls Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, and He is never called the Son at all prior to the incarnation...there cannot be any such thing as eternal Sonship...the word 'Son' definitely suggests inferiority." (3) No subject in the word of God needs to be approached with as much care and reverence as the subject of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor is there any subject that is so important to the heart of every serious Christian. J. G. Bellett, unfolding the heart of the matter, explains that Christ's Sonship is not linked to time but existed in past eternity. "Matthew and Mark first notice His sonship of God at His baptism, Luke goes farther back, and notices it at His birth. But John goes back farther still, even to the immeasurable, unspeakable distance of eternity, and declares His Sonship 'in the bosom of the Father'(John 1:18)." (4)

         Despite their doctrinal position, it must be noted that these teachers do not deny the deity of Christ, nor do they deny the eternal existence of Christ, nor the Trinity. However, according to their teaching, only at the birth of Christ did He take on the role, title, and function of Son. Thereby, they deny that Christ is essentially and eternally the Son of God. The error of this unorthodox position is fourfold:

 1. The view that the Scriptures do not teach that Jesus is the Eternal Son
 2. The view that He became the Son at the incarnation.(Ps. 2:7, Lk. 1 :32, 35)
 3. The view that Sonship involves merely taking on a new function, title, and role.
 4. The view that the title "Son" conveys the idea of submission and inferiority.

         Is this the teaching of the word of God? God's word must be the final authority for all we teach and believe. In regard to these errors, do the scriptures teach that the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God before the incarnation? The answer must be a resounding YES. The Old Testament is full of statements which verify His Sonship. Isaiah states, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given..." (Isa. 9:6). In another place Agur writes, "Who has gathered the wind into his fists? 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).

         The Scriptures teach that it was not at the incarnation that Christ became the Son, but that He was always the Son of God. Scripture provides five strands of truth by which this divine tapestry is woven.

* The Son created the world. - Both Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 state that the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son, before His incarnation, when He created the worlds.
* The Father sent the Son. - Time and again the scriptures state that the Father sent the Son. Since the Father sent the Son, it must follow that the Lord Jesus Christ was the eternal Son before He came into the world.
* The Sonship is revealed in parable form. - "Having therefore one Son, his wellbeloved, he sent Him last unto them, saying they will reverence Him..." (Mk. 12:6)
* The Son had a relationship with the Father from eternity past. - "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world;...and go to the Father" (Jn.16:28).
* Christ is compared to Melchizedek as the Eternal Son. - "Neither having beginning of days but made like unto the Son of God" (Heb. 7:3).

         Further, the Scriptures teach that "Son" is not a title but a divine name. The term "Son" is the name of Christ from all eternity. The name reflects what Christ is in His essence and nature. A title refers to His offices. Some of His titles He received when he came into the world. The New Testament reveals that He was "called of God...to be a priest" (Heb. 5:4); He "gave Him to be Head over the church" (Eph. 1:22); and "Him hath He exalted...to be a prince and Saviour" (Acts 5:31). Willem Ouweneel, the Dutch Bible teacher clarifies this, when he writes, "The distinction between a name and a title is this: a name belongs to a person, but a title belongs to an office (King, Priest, Head). A name gives expression of who a person is (Son), but a title expresses what he is. The first is a personal matter and the second is an official one. It is therefore definitely objectionable to refer to the expression 'Son' as a title, as has been done in the past." (5)

         Is the Lord Jesus inferior to the Father as the Son of God? The biblical usage of the term "Son" does not indicate inferiority or subservience but equality and oneness of nature. When the Lord Jesus declared Himself to be the Son of God (Jn. 5: 18), the Jews did not say, "You are making yourself to be inferior to God." No, they said, "You are making yourself equal to God!" No, even in human terms, a son is not merely a submissive servant but an heir (Gal. 4:7). Subjection and inferiority are chamcteristics found in a servant. But in a son these qualities are voluntary and not binding. A son may stoop to be a servant but a servant may never elevate himself to become a son. The scriptures are clear-inferiority and subservience are never linked to the biblical doctrine of Sonship. Christ as Son is the Father's heir, not His servant.

         Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son from all eternity. The scriptures provide ample proof in support of this fundamental doctrine. Mayall who love the Lord and His word earnestly teach and defend this important biblical doctrine.

(1) R.A. Huebner, F.E. Raven's Evil Doctrines, Morganville, NJ: Present Truth, 1980,26
(2) John MacArthur, Bible Studies-Acting on the Good News, Rom. 1, Moody Press, 1987,35
(3) Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis:Bethany House, 1985, 117-118
(4) J. G. Bellett, Son of God, Addison, IL Bible Truth Pub., 1978, II -12 (5) W. J. Ouweneel, What is the Sonship of Christ, Sunbury, Believers Bookshelf, 1976, 16


----- Truth -----
Eternal Sonship of Christ
----- Error -----
Sonship of Christ at Incarnation
1. Christ was always the Son of God; He is the eternal Son

- "In Son... by whom also He made the worlds..." (Heb. 1:2)
- "But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever; a scepter of righteous is the scepter of thy kingdom." (Heb. 1:8)
1. Before the incarnation Christ was not the Son of God.

- Walter Martin - "The scripture nowhere calls Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, and He is never called Son at all prior to the incarnation."
(Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany Pub., p.117)
2. "Son of God" means Christ is equal with the Father and possesses all the attributes of deity.

- "The Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He said...that God was His Father, making Him equal with God." (John 5:18)
- "Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb.13:8)
2. "Son of God" means Christ is subservient to, less than, and inferior to the Father.

- John MacArthur - "Christ has always been the second member of the Trinity but only became a Son in His incarnation. When you think of the word son you probably think of submission, obedience and honor shown to one father. That is the sense in which Jesus is the Son." (John MacArthur Bible Studies, Rom. 1:1-16, Moody Press)
3. "Son of God" is Who He is.

- "But unto the Son He saith... Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth..." (Heb. 1:8-10)
3. Son of God is what He became.

- Finis Dake - "Jesus Christ had no beginning, was not begotten, was not a son and did not come into being but as man." (Acts 13:33 Dake's Annotated Bible)
4. Son of God relates to His relationship to the Father and His inherent deity.

- "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." (John 1:18)
4. "Son of God" relates merely to a title and role Christ assumed at the incarnation.

-F.E. Raven - "Now, 'Son of God' I understand to be the title of Christ incarnate; I should hardly use Son of God as referring to His eternal person." (Evil Doctrines, R.E. Huebner)
5. The Triune God has eternally existed as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

- "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
5. The triune God has eternally existed, but not as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These roles were assumed at a later time.

- Walter Martin - "The term 'Son' itself is a functional term, as is the term 'Father' an has no meaning apart from time... the word 'Son' definitely suggested inferiority." (ibid)
6. The Father and Son relationship existed eternally in the Godhead.

- "Father,... for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world. O, righteous Father, the world has not known Thee but I have known Thee..." (John 17:24-25)
- "Neither having beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God..." (Heb. 7:3)
6. Before the incarnation there was no Father and Son relationship in the Godhead.

- John MacArthur - "Though there were always three persons in the Trinity, there were not the roles Father and Son. Those designations apparently came into being only at the incarnation." (Galatians, Moody Press, p. 108)


Divine Sonship

by J. Sidlow Baxter

         If Christ is not Divine, in the abosolute sense of the word, then God's gift of Christ is not an expression of His love. If Christ is a mere creature, it cost Him nothing to give Him. The whole point of John 3:16, with its "God so loved..." is that God, in giving "His only begotten Son," did that which was unspeakably costly to Himself; but if His gift was a mere creature, it was not the least costly to Himself.

         The very heart is plucked out of the gospel. In fact there is no gospel at all. The one decisive demonstration of the love of God is gone. The difference between a worm and an archangel, between an insect and a seraph, between the lowest of all created beings and the highest, is little, is nothing, compared with the measureless gulf between the highest of all created beings and - God.

         That God should give a mere creature, whether high or low, is no expression of amazing love. It is more like a multi-millionaire's tossing a coin to some poor beggar. Nay, worse; for other than being an expression of love, it is an act of strange cruelty that God should delegate one of his unfallen innocent creatures to the bitter ordeal of that awful Cross and the agony which are now forever identified with human sin. The lustre dies off John 3:16 and its kindred texts. They become pathetically meaningless. "God so loved the world that He gave-an angel, a seraph, a creature of high rank." What does any such gift as these convey of divine love? Nothing? The glory of the gospel lies in the fathomless mystery that for our sakes God gave up, to the shame and suffering of Calvary, One who was eternally the Son of His bosom and the delight of His heart.

Taken from - God So Loved, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,MI, 1960, 51

 


 

"The eternal Sonship is a vital truth, or else we lose the Father sending the Son, and the Son Creating, and we have not Father if we have no Son ... I hold it vital to hold the Sonship before the worlds. It is the truth."

John Nelson Darby

 


 

"The eternal Sonship of Christ is one of the most vital, basic doctrines of the Word of God. It is denied by many heretical cults, but held and valued by all those who know and love our Lord Jesus Christ ... we must be on guard against those who say that He only became the son of God at His incarnation and who deny His eternal Sonship."

T. Ernest Wilson,
Messianic Psalms, Loizaux Bros,. 1978

 


 

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