Begotten from the Father before all ages
Last week we looked at heresies and errors in how Jesus is the Son of God. Most of these heresies or errors came from not understanding the doctrine of eternal generation. The doctrine of the Trinity is hard for us (fallen and finite creatures) to grasp. When speaking of the uniqueness of the Son as the second person of the Trinity, not the Father and not the Spirit, we talk about his eternal generation, that is, the Father begetting the Son before time began (eternity). One of the moves away from this important doctrine is the modern translations that translate the Greek word ‘monogenēs’ as ‘only’ instead of ‘only-begotten.’
The Westminster Confession of Faith explains,
“In the unity of the Godhead, there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son” (WCF 2.3, emphasis mine).
When we think of the term to ‘beget’ we think of this in human limits within time, I was not a father, but I became a father when we had our first child. However, God is a Spirit and does not have a body like man. When we speak that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, the keyword in this phrase is ‘eternally.’ The generation does not mean the Father is prior to the Son in time because both are eternal. Only the Son is begotten, the Spirit’s procession we will look at later in the creed. Lastly, the Son’s generation is not creation; the Son is not a creature, but God.
One of the key passages that teaches this is John 5:26, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” The Father eternally generates the Son, and the Son is eternally begotten by the Father. This is why they are called ‘Father’ and ‘Son.’ The Doctrine of eternal generation gives us important truths that we need to understand to not fall into error, There is one true and living God, and there is three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. Tri-une (Three in One), hence why we use the word, Trinity. The second specifically is that many errors seek to have Christ as a creature, not as God. We will look at that next week, specifically, God from God, which connects to eternal generation.
A great book that gives a detailed look at Eternal generation is called “Retrieving Eternal Generation” by Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain.