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Some scriptural objections to eternal generation

Stuart deals with the use of Heb. 1:5 to attempt to prove the eternal generation of the Son. The author of Hebrews, Stuart notes, is trying to demonstrate Christ's superiority to the angels on the ground of His inheritance of a name superior to theirs. Thus, his argument goes, "to which of the angels did God say "you are my Son, today I have begotten you? And again, I will be to him a Father and he shall be to me a Son." Stuart denies that the word translated "obtained by inheritance" refers to acquisition strictly by inheritance, and argues instead that it is based upon a Hebrew word generically referring to the acquisition of anything.

Stuart notes that the angels are referred to as "sons of God" just as Christ is known as the "Son of God." The difference, however, is that Christ, who is marked out as the unique "Son" of God, is the King of all creation, and the occasion of His formal assumption of this Kingship is upon His ascension to the Davidic throne. We have already seen that the contexts of both Ps. 2:7-9 and 2 Sam. 7:14, to which the author of Hebrews alludes, refer to the assumption of Davidic kingship. It is therefore unsurprising that Christ's superiority would be predicated upon His kingship as Davidic "Son of God."

The language of acquisition is also important, and proves that the text could not possibly have an "eternal" generation - or an "eternal" anything else, for that matter, in mind:

"How could be obtain a better title than the angels? If he were Son eternally, did he obtain a filiation? And could the prophecies quoted, speak of his filiation as future? The angels are all ministering servants" but Christ, the "head of the creation of God, and preeminent over every creature...Christ the Son of God, has a rank and dignity far above them"(Stuart).

Stuart next deals with Proverbs 8:22, a passage commonly adduced in favor of the doctrine of Christ's eternal generation. Indeed, the early church fathers depended upon such a text for their belief in eternal generation. Stuart denies that we ought to think of "wisdom" here as speaking of the Person of Christ, and ought to understand it instead as an attribute or a virtue:

"I will only say, that the preceding and succeeding context shows, that wisodm is an attribute and not a person, a virtue and not a concrete being. A better understanding of the nature of Hebrew poetry and of poetic language in general, would have saved, as I must believe, all the speculations that have been indulged, respecting this celebrated passage"(Stuart).

Stuart's simple point is that the passage speaks of giving birth rather than generation, and so is not compatible with the Nicene Creed's language of generation at all. "Excepting the figurative sense of creating or of forming, the verb in question has no other meaning that classes under this category"(Stuart).

Stuart notes that Turretin appeals to Mal. 5:1 in order to prove the eternal generation of the Son. The text reads that Christ's "goings forth are of old, even from the days of eternity."But the Hebrew language here does not necessarily refer to eternality. Stuart notes that context determines its meaning. Sometimes it simply means "very old." He suggests that the verse could as easily be read as referring to the antiquity of the house of David from which Jesus physically descended. He also suggests that the passage could refer to Christ's eternal pre-existence, such that His incarnation was the incarnation of a Person who had existed from eternity past. Nonetheless, he admits that the meaning of the passage is uncertain, though concludes with a comparison to Isa. 9:6, which refers to Christ as the "Father of eternity", that this is its most probable meaning.

Some appeal to Jhn. 5:18 to argue that the Jews had correctly understood Jesus of speaking of eternal generation and of His own deity. The reason for their correct belief that Jesus was identifying His own divine nature with that of His Father is partially due to the immediately precedent text, where Jesus states that His work is the work of His Father. So Adam Clarke:

Making himself equal with God - This the Jews understood from the preceding verse: nor did they take a wrong meaning out of our Lord's words; for he plainly stated that, whatever was the Father's work, his was the same; thus showing that He and the Father were One. They had now found out two pretenses to take away his life: one was that he had broken the Sabbath - ελυε, dissolved, as they pretended, the obligation of keeping it holy. The other was that he was guilty of blasphemy, in making himself equal to God: for both which crimes, a man, according to the law, must suffer death. See Numbers 15:32; Leviticus 24:11, Leviticus 24:14, Leviticus 24:16(Clarke).

Part of the reason, on the other hand, was Jesus' identification as the Son of God. While as we have seen this is was partially Jewish idiom for the King of David, it is possibly in connection with Jesus' identification of His own work with that of His Father that the Jews had correctly surmised that Jesus was going beyond His self-identification as the Son-of-God-as-King-of-David, which was itself of course not problematic, as the Jews had tried to elevate Him to the throne during His incarnation precisely on these grounds. Rather, in connection with Jesus' self-identification of His work as that of the Father also, the Jews may have realized that Jesus was affirming an identity of nature with the Father. As we have seen in our look at the Semitic usage of the word "Son", this is a perfectly acceptable and well-attested to understanding of the word's usage, and the connection of Jesus' work as that of the Father and of His divine sonship is also evident in John 10:

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,[a] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands"(Jhn. 10:31-39).

That "Son of God" may also refer to Christ's divine nature is evident from Christ's explicit discussion of the definition of "sonship" relative to God in the Gospel of Matthew:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘“The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt 22:41-45 ESV).

Of course, this has nothing to do whatsoever with Christ's eternal generation. At best, it has reference to Christ's nature as the divine Son of God.

Moses Stuart's comments on John 5:18 are illuminating and are worth quoting at length, lest he be misunderstood.:

"John 5:18, it is said, "The Jews sought to kill him (Christ) because he not only violated the Sabbath, but said that God was his own father, making himself equal to God."

The first question arises here, is, Does the Evangelist mean to aver, that saying God was his own Father, was making himself equal to God? Or does he mean to state this, as the conclusion of the Jews from the words of Jesus? Most evidently the latter; for in the very clause before, we find "because that he (Christ) profaned the Sabbath," which surely we are not to understand as the allegation of the Evangelist, but of the Jews.

The Jews, then, said that Christ made himself equal to God, by asserting that he was the Son of God. But did the Jews, in their zeal to ensnare the Saviour by his language, and in their bitter persecuting fury, always act the part of candor, in deducing conclusions from what he said? Nothing can be more unsafe, than to trust such expositors of the Saviour's words.

In the very case under consideration, the context (v. 16) informs us, that the Jewx "persecuted Jesus and sought to kill him," because he had healed the sick man at the pool of Bethesda, on the Sabbath. "Jesus replied, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. On this account the Jews sought still more to kill him, because he not only profaned the sabbath, but said that God was his own Father, making himself equal with God."

Observe now, how they pervert the expression my father, so as to make the intensive accusation, "Said that God was his own Father." And what follows? Why that if he said God was his own Father, he claimed a speciality of Sonship which was supernatural; and therefore made himself equal to God.

The reply of Jesus to this embittered accusation is such as was calculated to abate the force of that conclusion, which they had drawn from his calling God his Father. "Jesus answered, I solemnly assure you, the Son can do no thing of himself but what the Father does." (v. 19). That is, the appellation Son of God does not mean, of course, as you have interpreted it, a claim to full equality with God, you deduce more from my words than they will bear. Your accusation of blasphemy is not well grounded.

That the nature of this reply has been correctly represented here, is very storngly confirmed by a similar passage in John 10:33-39.

The Jews had taken up stones to cast at Jesus, because he had called God his Father. Jesus inqnuired what reason they had for doing so? They replied, "because that th ou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered, Is it not written in your Law, I have said, ye are gods? Now if those are called gods, to whom the words of God was addressed, (and the Scriptures cannot be disannulled,) Say yes of him whom the Father hath consecrated and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said I am the Son of God?"

That is; "If princes, who were addressed in the 82nd Psalm, were called gods, by the inspired writer, (and surely you will not call in question the propriety of what is contained in your own Scriptures;) is it blasphemy for me, who have been consecrated by most special acts on the part of God the Father to the duties of my office, and sent forth among men to fulfil them, as the Messiah, the great Prophet who was to be raised up among you; is it blasphemy for me, to call myself the Son of God? In other words; if worldly rulers and Kings are called gods, with propriety called so, is it then blasphemous for me, who am King of kings, and Lord of lords, the Messiah of whom all the prophets have spoken such things, to call myself the Son of God? Surely i may, without any blasphemy, ascribe to myself a title lower than that which the Scripture bestows upon them?

It is very evident, in this case, as in the parallel one already noticed, that the simplest design of Jesus, in his answer, is to repel the unjust accusation of the Jews; unjust, because that calling God his Father gave them no ground to draw the conclusions which they did. By giving himself the Son of God, he did not, according to the usus loquendi of the Jews, expose himself to any such conclusions as his malignant accusers drew from it. Hence in both cases, he repels the accusation, by alleging that they have deduced more from hsi words, than they had any right ot do; that if rulers may be called gods, with more proriety still may he appropriate to himself the title, Son of God.

In fact, the Jews were not offended that the title Son of God should be given to the Messiah. They surely expected this; as appears from the manner in which they understood the passages in the second Psalm, in 2 Sam. 7:12-14, and idn the 89th Psalm; for they construed these as predictions of the Messiah. But they were offended, that a Galilean, a person of obscure birth, who originated from a despised village, and of a humble appearance, who rejected all claims to worldly splendor and power, and submitted to the Roman despotism which oppressed his country, should arrogate to himself the titles and honors of the Messiah. This was what they could not endure. Their malignity towards Jesus, on account of their disappointed worldly hopes, was so great, that it exhibited itself i every shape; and in no way more frequently than in endeavouring to entrap him in his words, and to deduce from them matter of accusation. Nothing then, can be more hazardous to sound interpretation, than assuming the position, that they construed the langnuage of Jesus in a right and candid manner.

In answering thetm, and repelling the force of their accusations, I regard the Saviour as neither renouncing nor asserting his proper divinity. He simply used such arguments as were founded in truth, and which repelled the attacks of his adversaries. Farther than this prudence would not permit him to go, at such a time. If the Jews were so violently enraged, because he had claimed the character and name of the Messiah, as exhibited in their Scriptures; would they have borne with his advancing claims to a truly divine character; or were they in a condition to hear these claims advanced, and to examine them with candour?"(Stuart)

Just as we know from the Markan "Messianic Secret" passages, there were points in Jesus' ministry where he only gradually revealed His nature to the Jews. There were truths which His audience was not yet ready to hear, and therefore, it was not until later, inscripturated revelation of His coming in the New Testament scriptures, was his full deity fully and Messiahship revealed.

Moses Stuart broaches the notorious question of the meaning of the word "monogenes." He accepts that the word refers to real generation, but argues that it has reference to Christ's incarnational sonship and not eternal generation:

"I cannot help thinking it somewhat singular, that any argument should ever have been drawn from this epithet, to prove the eternal generation of the Son. Is not that generation in the womb of the virgin, by supernatural miraculous power, and on account of which the angel says he eshould be called the Son of God, the only generation of the kind, which has ever taken place? Has God any other Son, who was produced?

Or if you understand the term Son as characterising the incarnate Logos, the Messiah, the supreme King; is there any more than one such King? And is not [monogenes] the very adjunct which may properly be connected with [son] used in either of the above senses?"(Stuart).

Therefore, for the sake of argument, supposing that "monogenes" refers to generation, nothing has been done to prove that the "generation" in mind is that of an eternal generation, since we have ready-at-hand a generation explicitly spoken of, and it is one of a perfectly temporal nature. In any case, Stuart argues that the term itself does not even speak of generation, and instead has a meaning roughly equivalent to "beloved." The word, he argues, has as its Hebrew analogue that used in Gen. 22:2. "Take now your son, your only son." Obviously Isaac was not Abraham's only son, strictly speaking. Ishmael had been born. The Septuagint renders this passage "beloved", and Aquila's text reads "monogene." Both words mean roughly the same, and the Greek word for "beloved" is used of thte same Hebrew word in the LXX reading of Gen. 22:12, 16, Judges 11:34, Jer. 6:26, Amos 8:10, Zech. 12:10, Ps. 22:21. Stuart notes that Hesychius notes of the Greek word for "beloved" is the same in meaning to "monogene." He notes as well that Pollux equates the two in meaning, and that in Homer's "Iliad", Scholiast refers the word "beloved" semantically with "monogene." Stuart concludes this section of his work by arguing that the term of one, as applied to Christ, is one of "special endearment", though reiterates his point that if it does refer to real generation, for the sake of argument, the only real generation spoken of in Scripture is that of the incarnation, both in John (1:14) and elsewhere (Lk. 1:35).

Stuart goes on to address the meaning of the word "firstborn" as used of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:29). He notes that the word is used figuratively, "where we find the meaning to be, chief pre-eminent, first in dignity, command, honour, etc.; a very natural meaning, derived from the rights and privileges of primogeniture among the Hebrews. And now we have the sense of all those passages, where Christ is called the first born: viz, he is the head of all creation; he is Lord over the church; he is the first born from the dead, i.e. the Lord of those who will die no more, etc. But none of all these meanings have any beareing...on the doctrine of eternal generation"(Stuart).

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation"(Col. 1:15)

This text is sometimes adduced to attempt to prove the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. The argument is that since we reject the temporal generation of the Son, the only sense in which Christ might be "firstborn" is from all eternity. Yet noting what Stuart has said here of its figurative use of the Bible, there is a perfectly acceptable alternative interpretation. Christ is the one who inherits all of creation as the one with the birthright and primogeniture(Heb. 1:2), as the Son of David entitled to the Zionic throne. Positively, that this is the most likely meaning of the text is clear from Psalm 89:19-27.

Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one,[c] and said:
“I have granted help to one who is mighty;
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,

21 so that my hand shall be established with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him;
the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him,
and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
and my covenant will stand firm[d] for him.
29 I will establish his offspring forever

and his throne as the days of the heavens.
30 If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my rules,[e]
31 if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with stripes,
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love
or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
36 His offspring shall endure forever,
his throne as long as the sun before me.
37 Like the moon it shall be established forever,
a faithful witness in the skies.”

Stuart goes on to deal with the crucial text of Heb. 1:5, which speak of Christ as the image of the invisible God and the effulgance or radiation of His Father's glory and the express image of His substance, respectively. Stuart insists that the context of Hebrews 1 refers to Christ's work as the incarnate Son of God, and not of the eternally generated Son of God. It is the incarnate Son of God, that is, who is the image and radiance of the Father, and not the pre-incarnate Logos, whether he be considered the eternally pre-existent Logos merely or also the eternally begotten Son of God. To speak of Christ as exhibiting His glory in His incarnation is perfectly consistent with John 1:14: "We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only begotten..." The text does indeed refers to His divine nature, but specifically His divine nature as exhibited in His incarnate state. So also Albert Barnes:

"in what manner does it refer to the Redeemer? To his divine nature? To the mode of his existence before he was incarnate? Or to him as he appeared on earth? Most of the ancient commentators supposed that it referred to his divine dignity before he became incarnate, and proceed to argue on that supposition on the mode of the divine existence. The true solution seems to me to be, that it refers to him as incarnate, but still has reference to him as the incarnate "Son of God." It refers to him as Mediator, but not simply or mainly as a man. It is rather to him as divine - thus, in his incarnation, being the brightness of the divine glory, and the express image of God. That this is the correct view is apparent, I think, from the whole scope of the passage. The drift of the argument is, to show his dignity as "he has spoken to us" Hebrews 1:1, and not in the period antecedent to his incarnation. It is to show his claims to our reverence as sent from God - the last and greatest of the messengers which God bas sent to man. But, then it is a description of him "as he actually is" - the incarnate Son of God; the equal of the Father in human flesh; and this leads the writer to dwell on his divine, character, and to argue from that; Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:10-12. I have no doubt, therefore, that this description refers to his divine nature, but it is the divine nature as it appears in human flesh"(Barnes)

Indeed, the same Greek word is used of the exhibition of His glory as that of John 1:14, namely, His δόξα, or "glory." So Barnes, again:

"It is probably used here, as the word - כבוד kaabowd - is often among the Hebrews, to denote splendor, brightness, and refers to the divine perfections as resembling a bright light, or the sun. The word is applied to the sun and stars, 1 Corinthians 15:40-41; to the light which Paul saw on the way to Damascus, Acts 22:11; to the shining of Moses' face, 2 Corinthians 3:7; to the celestial light which surrounds the angels, Revelation 18:1; and glorified saints, Luke 9:31-32; and to the dazzling splendor or majesty in which God is enthroned; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 1:17; Revelation 15:8; Revelation 21:11, Revelation 21:23. Here there is a comparison of God with the sun; he is encompassed with splendor and majesty; he is a being of light and of infinite perfection. It refers to "all in God" that is bright, splendid, glorious; and the idea is, that the Son of God is the "brightness" of it all.

The word rendered "brightness" - ἀπαύγασμα apaugasma - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means properly "reflected splendor," or the light which emanates from a luminous body. The rays or beams of the sun are its "brightness," or that by which the sun is seen and known. The sun itself we do not see; the beams which flow from it we do see. The meaning here is, that if God be represented under the image of a luminous body, as he is in the Scriptures (see Psalm 84:11; Malachi 4:2), then Christ is the radiance of that light, the brightness of that luminary - Stuart. He is that by which we perceive God, or by which God is made known to us in his real perfections; compare John 1:18; John 14:9. - It is by him only that the true character and glory of God is known to people"(Barnes)

Barnes notes that when Christ is spoken of in this context as the express image or χαρακτὴρ of God, the reference is to the stamp made of an engraving tool:

It properly means a "engraving-tool;" and then something "engraved" or "stamped" - "a character" - as a letter, mark, sign. The image stamped on coins, seals, wax, expresses the idea: and the sense here is, that if God be represented under the idea of a substance, or being, then Christ is the exact resemblance of that - as an image is of the stamp or die(Barnes).

Christ is therefore the "image" of the invisible God, insofar as His divine nature is consubstantial with that of the Father; reference is made here in Hebrews 1 to the exhibition of the nature of His that is consubstantial with the Father, specifically with reference to His incarnate appearance, and not with reference to His eternal generation.

John 3:16, and passages which are similar to it insofar as they refer to Christ as the "monogenes" Son, are sometimes appealed to in favor of eternal generation. To this we simply reiterate our point that Jesus was generated temporally in His incarnation, and that this is the only generation spoken of in the Bible (cf. Jhn. 1:14, Lk. 1:35). Obviously He was the "Son of God" following His incarnate birth, and it was only following this event that He was given up to be crucified. The same is true of passages which also use the word, such as 1 Jhn. 4:9, 14.

Stuart, Moses. "Letters on the Eternal Generation of the Son." Andover. 1822.

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