The only Son of God
Today we come to a new line of the Nicene Creed. We are still discussing Jesus Christ (it is about 58% of the creed). The line is “The only Son of God.” This week we look at an issue that has come up frequently in history. Three significant heresies that have been taught regarding the sonship of Jesus are 1) Adoptionism, 2) Islamic understanding of the Son, and 3) Eternal subordination of the Son. Due to the length of this, we will not be able to go into detail about these three errors, but I will briefly explain the heresies. Adoptionism states that Jesus was adopted by God the Father at his baptism, resurrection, or ascension. Ultimately, they deny the pre-existence of Christ (John 1:1-2, 8:58, Col 1:17). Secondly, Islamic teaching says that because Jesus is the Son of God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then God the Father must have had sexual relations with Mary. This gross perspective misunderstands Father and Son’s relationship, but Muslims also believe that this is the Trinity (Father, Son and Mary cf Quran 5:116). Although this is not within the bounds of Christianity, many Christians might not defend or even question this heretical view.
Thirdly is the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ETS). Although this is not on the same level as listed above, it is an error taught in many Christian circles and is not noticed as a severe error of belief. ETS states that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is eternally subordinate to the Father because he is the Son. This is a slight variation of the Arian heresy, which the creed was written to address, but proponents of ETS would say that Jesus always was (hence the eternal), therefore not as heretical in regards to the pre-existence of Christ. The supporters of ETS misunderstand statements of Christ in his humiliation, coming to earth in the form of a servant (Phil 2). In Trinitarian writings, there has been a distinction between Ontological and Economical. Studying the Trinity’s Ontological aspects looks at the Triune God without God’s works of creation and providence. Studying economical aspects of the Trinity looks at the Triune God with God’s activity and the roles of the three persons with regard to creation and providence. ETS seeks to place those two categories together and blends theological categories that produce unbiblical thought.
Studying the Trinity and the Natures of Christ is one of the most challenging fields of study. However, we often go for views that are easy for us to wrap our head around and that is easy to explain. This seeks to make in incomprehensible God (Deut 29:29) that we worship understandable to the minds of men. However, we also have been given the Word to be able to study difficult theology. This is another great reason we need to have creeds but also should study the creeds. Many of these heresies/errors that arise come from reinterpreting historical phrases and words without understanding the reasoning or definitions that have been used throughout church history.
Next week we will unpack more of what it means for Jesus to be the only begotten Son of God. However, understanding Jesus as the Son is essential for the gospel. The book of John explains that the gospel is written so that people might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 20:31).