According to those who say that there was when the Son was not, 'eternal
generation' is an oxymoron; if the Son is "begotten" — and He is without doubt so described
in scripture — then He was begotten at a point in time, not in eternity:
"1. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine
Nature, then he cannot be eternal, for Son implies a Father; and Father implies, in reference to Son,
precedence in time, if not in nature too. Father and Son imply the notion of
generation, and generation implies a time in which it was effected; and time also antecedent to such
"2. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine nature,
then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently, in Godhead superior to him.
"3. Again, if this Divine nature were begotten of the Father,
then it must have been in time, i.e. there must have been a period in which it did not exist; and a
period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at
once of his Godhead.
"4. To say that he was begotten from all eternity is absurd;
and the phrase Eternal Son is a positive self contradiction. Eternity is that which had no
beginning, and stands in no reference to TIME. SON supposes time, generation, and father,
and time also antecedent to such generation; therefore, the theologic conjunction of these two
terms, son and eternity, is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite
ideas." (Adam Clarke, Autobiography, Book 2, p. 103).
The logic here is that if the Word is called "the Son", all the
disabilities of creaturely Sonship must be piled upon Him. After all, all earthly sons came
into existence at a point in time, from having been non-existent; musn't the same be true of the Son of
God? He couldn't differ in any respect from them, could He? Applying the same logic, one
must surmise that "the Father" lives in sorrowful expectation of growing senescent and dying, His
place to be taken by His Son, as the birth rate struggles to keep pace with the death rate.
After all, isn't that the case with all earthly fathers? Or wait — maybe the
implications of 'Sonship' and 'Fatherhood' are not just exactly for God what they are for the
creaturely imitators who borrow the name 'Father' from the original title-holder: "For this reason I
bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and
earth is named..." (Ephesians 3:14-15).
Can it be that God the Father, who according to Paul holds the patent on
'Fatherhood', does not perform the task as well as His most humble barn-yard creations? Pigs
beget pigs and sheep beget sheep; yet we are told the mighty eternal Creator labors and begets...a
temporal created being! How could this be? Musn't an offspring be of the same nature as
the Father, unless one speaks of 'Fatherhood' in metaphor? Jesus' hearers thought so; they
realized that in speaking of Himself as the "Son of God", Jesus was making Himself "equal" to God the
Father, not 'subordinate': "Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not
only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God." (John 5:18).
In scripture, "His Son" is called "the brightness of His [God the Father's]
glory" (Hebrews 1:3); "And He is the radiance of His glory..." (NASB). Was there ever a time
when the sun was fired up, yet unaccompanied by his radiance? Our fellow-creature the sun itself
had a beginning in time; yet an uncreated sun, who ever was, could never be without His co-eternal
radiance and splendor. The Son is of the same nature as His Father; like Father, like Son, the
"express image"; eternal from eternal.
"And lest anyone, on hearing Father and Son mentioned, should have any
notion of carnal generation, by which among us men father and son receive their designation, John the
Evangelist, to whom were revealed heavenly mysteries, substitutes 'Word' for 'Son,' so that we
may understand that the generation is intellectual...There can be no difference according
to time. The divine Word is present in God for the reason that God understands Himself,
thereby conceiving His intelligible Word. Hence, if at any time there were no Word of
God, during that period God would not understand Himself. But God always understood Himself
during His whole existence, for His understanding is His existence. Therefore His Word, also,
existed always...Consequently the representation of the divine intellect, which is God's Word, is
distinct from Him who produces the Word, not with respect to substantial existence, but only
according to the procession of one from the other." (Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, Part One,
Chapter 40 - Chapter 52).
In becoming man, the Word revealed God's nature to us. If God is
Father, Son and Holy Spirit to us and something else to Himself, then His self-revelation is not true. Instead
of 'explaining away' the Bible teaching of the "only-begotten" and "first-born"
Son, those who love the Lord should consider that, in revealing Himself
to men as the Son, Jesus lifted the veil on God's very nature. Basil
likened a heresy-hunter of his own day to "a woodman trying to straighten
some ill-grown sapling, pulling so immoderately in the opposite direction
as to exceed the mean, and so dragging the plant awry on the other side."
(Basil, Letter 9:2). Some do this with the "only-begotten Son,"
throwing out the baby of Bible truth along with the bath-water of the bad use Arius made of it.
Christians should embrace, not push away, the Bible teaching of the
"only-begotten" and "first-born" Son, words which have always been used: "Proceeding from the Father,
the Son, in so far as he is born before all, is called primogenitus, and unigenitus in so far as he alone is
engendered of God." (Tertullian, quoted p. 142, The Doctrine of the Trinity, Felix Klein) —
understanding these epithets in a reverent way, proportionate to God's majesty and eternity.
Or if they must translate "only-begotten" as 'one of a kind', at least take a moment to look up
what 'kind' actually means: "kind...[A.Sax. cynde, gecynde, nature, kind, race,
generation, from same root as cyn, offspring. KIN.]..." (Webster's International, 1965).