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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus

Don Stewart :: Was Jesus Always the Son of God?

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Was Jesus Always the Son of God? (The Eternal Generation of the Son)

What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus – Question 15

There is a question as to whether Jesus was always the eternal Son of God or that He became the Son of God only when He came to earth. This is technically called the “eternal generation of the Son.”

The Bible says that God the Father had all things handed over to Jesus, God the Son. Jesus Himself said,

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27 NRSV)

Does this imply that Jesus had always been in a subordinate role to the Father as God the Son? Or does it mean that at a certain time Jesus willingly became subordinate to God the Father? What does the Bible say? Two issues are involved in this question.

  1. The relationship between the nature of the Father and the Son.
  2. The relationship between the ways they carry out their respective roles as members of the Trinity.

Option 1: Did Jesus Become the Son at Some Time in the Past?

Some Bible teacher’s believe that Jesus became the Son of God at a certain time in history. There is an Old Testament passage that seems to teach that Jesus did indeed become the Son at some point in time. The psalmist wrote,

I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (Psalm 2:7 NKJV)

The Lord said to the Son, “Today” I have begotten you. To many, this indicates that He was not the Son until this particular day when He was “begotten” of the Father. If this is true, then when did it occur? When did the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus, become “the Son?”

There are five particular times that are suggested. They include His coming into the world, His baptism, His resurrection, His ascension, or before He came to earth. The arguments for each can basically be summed up as follows.

1. Did He Become the Son at His Birth?

It is argued that Jesus became the Son of God when He became a human being. At the announcement of His birth the angel said to Mary,

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35 NRSV)

Previously to this, Jesus was not the Son of God. It was not until His conception as a human being that He took a subordinate role to God the Father.

2. Did Jesus Become The Son At His Baptism?

Another view has Jesus becoming God’s Son at His baptism. When He was baptized, God the Father announced,

And there came a voice from heaven: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him. (Matthew 3:17 HCSB)

When Jesus Christ was about to begin His public ministry, He became the Son at this particular time.

3. Was It at His Resurrection That Jesus Became the Son?

It is also held that Jesus became the Son of God at His resurrection from the dead. Paul wrote the following to the church at Rome:

Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news—which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures—concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh and was established as the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness. (Romans 1:1-4 HCSB)

Paul’s statement is understood to declare that Jesus became God’s Son at His resurrection. Previously He had not been.

4. Did Jesus Become the Son at His Ascension?

A fourth view has Jesus becoming the Son of God at His ascension. The writer to the Hebrews says,

He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:3, 4 NRSV)

Only when He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand or place of authority, of God the Father did He become the Son.

5. Did Jesus Become the Son before He Came to Earth

A fifth view has Jesus as the Son of God before He came to earth. At some point in time in the distant past He became the Son. While He was always the eternal God He became “the Son” sometime before His appearance on the earth.

This is a brief summation of the various views as to when Jesus became the “Son.”

Option 2: Jesus Has Been the Eternal Son of God

While it is possible that Jesus became the Son at some point in time, the best evidence from Scripture seems to be that Jesus has always been the Son of God. Indeed, since God is also an unchanging God, He has always existed as a Trinity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Jesus has always been the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son.

A. He Has Always Been Subordinate to the Father

Therefore God the Son has always been in a subordinate role to God the Father. However, this subordinate role says nothing about His character for the Bible stresses the fact that He is equal to the Father in His substance or His nature. Indeed, God the Son is fully God.

We may wonder in what sense is the Son subordinate. A possible example of His subordinate role may be found in the creation of the universe. God the Father spoke, the words that brought the universe into existence while God the Son was the agent who brought them to pass. The Bible says of Jesus,

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being. (John 1:3 NRSV)

Jesus is the One who brought all things into being as the agent of God the Father. Again, He is equal in His character or nature, but subordinate in position or His mission.

B. This Is Not the Same as Subordinationism

Saying that God the Son was eternally subordinate to God the Father is not the same as the ancient heresy known as “subordinationism.” This false doctrine says the Son was an inferior being to the Father.

Indeed, while it taught that Jesus was the eternal uncreated Son, He was still not equal to the Father in His being or attributes. The early church father Origen held to a form of Subordinationism. When the doctrine of the Trinity was clearly formulated at the council of Nicea, this heresy along with others was rejected.

Jesus Is Equal but Subordinate

Therefore, the biblical position is that God the Son is equal in His being or character to God the Father but He is subordinate in His role. We know that when Jesus Christ returns He will give all things back to God the Father and submit Himself to the Father. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians:

>And when everything is subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who subjected everything to Him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28 HCSB)

This seems to be a further example of God the Son taking a position of subordination to God the Father.

In sum, while there are those who believe that Jesus Christ became the Son of God at some point in time, it seems more consistent with the teaching of Scripture that He has always been God the Son.

Summary – Question 15
Was Jesus Always the Son of God? (The Eternal Generation of the Son)

There has been a debate in the church as to whether Jesus Christ was the eternal Son of God or that He became the Son of God at some point in time. The issue is not His nature or character. Indeed, everyone who believes the Bible understands that Jesus always has been the eternal God. This is not at issue. The question is when did He assume a submissive role with God the Father?

Those who advocate Jesus became the Son of God at some certain point in time. They do not all agree as exactly when this happened. Arguments have been made for His birth, baptism, resurrection and ascension. Some argue that it was sometime before He came to earth. While there is no agreement as to when He became the Son, it is agreed that this was not His eternal relationship with God the Father. The Son placed Himself in a submissive role to God to the Father at some specific point in time.

Scriptures, however, seem to teach that God the Son has always been in a subordinate role to God the Father while still being equal in character. While God the Son, Jesus, has always been the eternal God, it appears that He has forever been in this subordinate position. We again stress that subordination does not mean inferiority.

This is not to be confused with the ancient heresy of subordinationism. This doctrine taught that Jesus was the eternal God but that He was inferior in His attributes to God the Father. This is why He was in a subordinate position to the Father. This false doctrine was quickly dispensed with when the exact relationship between the Father and Son was more clearly understood.

Therefore, we can conclude that the best position to take on this issue is one which assumes that the Son, while equal to the Father in all of His attributes, has assumed a position of subordination within the Trinity. However, we must be careful not to draw too many conclusions on this matter because there are so many things about God and His workings, which have not been revealed to us.

If Others Are Called "the Son of God" in Scripture, in What Sense Is Jesus Different? ← Prior Section
In What Sense Was Jesus Christ God and Man Simultaneously? Next Section →
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