In the Trinity doctrine, Jesus is God, but Jesus is not God.

INTRODUCTION

The Trinity Doctrine

In the traditional Trinity theory, God is one Being with one single rational capacity (one single mind) but three co-equal and co-eternal Persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this view, Jesus, together with the Father and the Spirit, is the Ultimate Reality; the uncaused Cause.

Purpose of this article

The Bible indeed has a very high view of Jesus. For example, through Him, God created and maintains all things (e.g., Heb 1:2-3). The Son, therefore, has ‘always’ existed. The Father gave Him to have “life in Himself” (John 5:26), “all judgment” (John 5:22), and “all authority … in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). The Son is “He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev 2:23). The Son, in other words, shares in the divine attributes of God.

However, this article shows:

(1) The Bible always maintains a distinction between God Almighty and Jesus Christ (e.g., Rev 21:22). All of Paul’s letters, for example, begin with phrases that make that distinction. For instance:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7).

This is not merely a distinction between the Father and the Son; it is a distinction between ‘God’ and the Son, meaning that the Son is not God.

(2) The Bible presents the Son as a distinct rational capacity (a distinct mind), in contrast to the single rational capacity in the Trinity doctrine. For example, Jesus talks to His Father and prays to His Father. When He was scared before the crucifixion, He asked the Father to not let Him suffer, but, in the end, He said to His Father, ‘Let you will be done, not mine’.

(3) The Bible also presents the Son as subordinate to His Father (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3). For example, even 60 years after His ascension, in John’s visions, Jesus referred to His Father as His God (Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12).

We cannot understand God.

Understanding the relationship between God and His Son is probably impossible because we are trying to understand the infinite and the one Being who exists without cause. That should scare us. Compared to the infinite God and His infinite creation, our world is like a one-cellular organism in a drop of water floating around in the oceans of the world; not knowing where it came from or where it is going. Compared to the Eternal, our existence is fleeting. How could we hope to understand the One who exists without cause?

However, the observant reader will notice that people sometimes use our inability to understand God to justify un-Biblical doctrines. That we must not do.

THE FATHER

Is the Only God.

The Bible is clear that only one God exists. This is stated in both:

      • The Old Testament (e.g., Deut 6:4; Is 44:6; 45:21-22; 43:10-11) and
      • The New Testament (e.g., James 2:19; cf. Mark 12:28-30; Gal 3:20);

In modern languages, the term “God” identifies one single Being; the Ultimate Reality; the One who exists without cause. That concept did not exist in the ancient Greek language and culture. They only had the word theos, which is equivalent to our word “god.” The basic meaning of the term theos is an immortal being with supernatural powers, and the Greek culture had many of those, such as Zeus, the god of the sky and thunder, and Hades, the god of the underworld. The New Testament, written in that same ancient Greek, had to use that same term theos. Therefore, to identify the one single ultimate Reality of Judaism and Christianity, the authors of the New Testament added words to theos, for example:

    • The ‘only theos’, (Jude 1:25; 1 Tim 1:17),
    • The ‘one and only theos’ (John 5:44), and
    • The ‘one theos’ (1 Cor 8:6; 1 Tim 2:5; Eph 4:4-6);
    • The ‘only true theos’ (John 17:3).

The important point is, in all such instances where the one theos is identified through the addition of further words, that that one theos is the Father alone, in contrast to Jesus Christ, who is identified as “Lord.” For example:

“There is but one God, the Father …
and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 8:6).

Please take time to study the verses listed to make sure of this conclusion. Many texts in the Bible refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but these verses specifically define God and must, therefore, be regarded as critically important when we ask who God is.

Of course, once the disciples had realized that Jesus had been resurrected and was alive, they could refer to Him as theos as well. For example, after Thomas for the first time saw Jesus alive after His resurrection, said to Him: “my theos and my Lord.” (John 20:28) But the Father remains the only true theos; the only true god (John 17:3). 1To say that the Father is the ‘only true God’ is saying the same thing twice because, in modern culture, there is only one God. To retain the meaning of the ancient Greek, John 17:3 should be translated as referring to the Father as the “only true god.”

The translation of theos as ‘God’, when it refers to Jesus, is based on the assumption that He is one with the Father and equal with the Father. Such a translation, therefore, is an application of the Trinity doctrine and must not be taken as proof of the Trinity doctrine.

Alone exists without Cause.

The Bible identifies the Father alone as the uncaused Cause of all things. For example:

“There is but one God, the Father,
from whom are all things
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
BY whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6). 

All things are from God,
who reconciled us to Himself through Christ”
(2 Cor 5:18-19; cf. Heb 1:1; John 1:3; Rev 4:11).

He is the ultimate Source of life:

“In the presence of God,
who gives life to all things,
and of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 6:13).

Note that these verses identify God as the Father and contrast God with Christ. The Son, therefore, is not the Cause who exists without cause, as the Trinity doctrine claims. The words “through” and “by” in these verses indicate that God works “through” His Son. God always and in all things works through His Son.

Is alone Immortal.

The Father alone is immortal. For example:

“The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17)

“The King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality … whom no man has seen or can see.” (1 Tim 6:16)

Only the Father exists without cause is, therefore, essentially immortal.
All other beings derive their immortality from that one Uncaused Cause. They are conditionally immortal. Since the Son was begotten by the Father, He exists because God exists.

THE SON

Is distinct from God

The New Testament maintains a consistent distinction between God and the Lord Jesus, which means that Jesus is not God. For example, all letters of the New Testament begin by making a distinction between God and Jesus, such as:

“Peace from God our Father,
and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7-8).

“Grace be unto you … from God our Father,
and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:3-4).

“Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:3; cf. Gal 1:3, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2, Col 1:2, Philemon 1:3, 1 Thess 1:1, James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:2; 2 John 1:3; and Eph 6:23).

Many, many other such passages may be quoted. For example, the book of Revelation contains phrases such as “to God and to the Lamb” and “of God and of the lamb” (Rev 14:4; 11:15; 21:22-23; 22:1, 3).

Trinitarian apologists may argue that this only makes the obvious distinction between the Father and the Son but that is not so. It is a distinction between God and the Son, meaning that the Son is not God in the ultimate sense.

Is a Distinct Rational Capacity.

In the traditional Trinity doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are one single rational capacity (literally one mind and will). The Bible, in contrast, depicts Father and Son as distinct rational capacities. For example:

Jesus often prayed to His Father.

Before He had to suffer and die on the Cross, Jesus pleaded with His Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me;
yet NOT AS I WILL, BUT AS YOU WILL.” (Matt 26:39)

Is the visible Image of God.

God is invisible.

God “dwells in unapproachable light,
whom no man has seen or can see
(1 Tim 6:16-17).

No one has seen God at any time
(1 John 4:12; cf. John 1:18; John 6:46; Col 1:15; John 4:24).

God is invisible because He exists outside our physical realm of time, space, and matter. Nevertheless, that Invisible God is the Source of all things (Heb 11:3).

Jesus is His visible image.

Jesus “is the (visible) image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His (God’s) nature” (Heb 1:1, 3; cf. 2 Cor 4:4).

God is invisible, unknowable, and incomprehensible. Human beings are unable to comprehend a Being that is not limited in space or time and Who exists without cause. But in His Son, appearing in a form that we can understand, God becomes knowable, visible, and audible to the material creatures of the universe.

If God is invisible, while Jesus is His visible image, then Jesus is distinct from God and, therefore, not God.

Is at God’s Right Hand.

The New Testament often mentions that Jesus, at His ascension, “was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). Stephen, just before he was stoned, said, “I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56; cf. Mt 26:62; Acts 2:33; 7:55; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20.)

His position at God’s right hand is the position of power over the entire universe but still subject to God. That confirms that Jesus is both DISTINCT from God and SUBORDINATE to God.

Considers the Father as His God.

Jesus referred to the Father as His God. For example:

“I ascend to My Father and to your Father,
to My God and to your God” (John 20:17; cf. Matt 27:46).

Even 60 years after His resurrection, when Christ gave to John the Book of Revelation, He identified the Father as His God (Rev 3:2, 12; cf. 1:6). Paul also described the Father as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:17; cf. Heb 1:8-9).

Since God is also His God, Jesus prayed to God while on earth (John 17:1; Luke 6:16; Heb 5:7). The entire John 17 is a record of Jesus’ prayer to “the only true God” (John 17:1, 3). “He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:16).

POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

Various articles are available on this website that address possible objections to the view that Jesus is not God.

Jesus is called God.

Of the about 1300 times that the word Greek theos appears in the New Testament, it refers to Jesus about 7 times. So why is Jesus called “God” in those instances?

Firstly, as discussed above, the word theos does not mean ‘God’. The modern concept ‘God’ refers to the one Ultimate Reality. There was no word in the ancient Greek exactly equivalent to ‘God’.

When the Bible uses the word theos for the Father, it is appropriately translated as “God” because the Father is the Ultimate Reality.

When theos describes Jesus, since He is not the Ultimate Reality, it may perhaps be translated as “divine.” To translate such instances of theos as “God” is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof there-of. (For a further discussion, see, for example, the article on Hebrews 1:8 or on the word theos.) 

I and the Father are one.

In John 10:30, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” Trinitarians interpret this verse as that Jesus and the Father are literally one and the same Being. However, to be “one” does not mean to be literally one Person. Jesus, in His prayer for His followers, defined the term to “be one”:

“That they may be one as we are one“ (John 17:21-23).

To “be one,” therefore, means to be united in purpose and will. It describes a relationship between distinct beings. For example, Jesus said that He did the works of the Father (John 10:32) and He only did what pleased the Father (John 8:28-29). See – I and the Father are one.

He who has seen me has seen the Father.

When Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father,” Jesus responded:

“He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9)

Trinitarians also use this statement to argue that Jesus and the Father are one single Being. However, given the verses quoted above, we should rather conclude that Jesus said here that He is THE EXACT IMAGE of the Father. For a further discussion, see – Seen the Father. 

John 1

Both John 1:1 and 1:18 refer to Jesus as God. However, these same two verses also make a distinction between God and Jesus by saying:

    • “The Word was with God” (John 1:1) and
    • “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). 

Why is He called God if He is distinct from God? As already stated, translators ASSUME that Jesus is the Almighty and, based on that assumption, they translate theos here as “God.” But theos, ar argued, when referring to Jesus, should preferably translated as “divine.”

Furthermore, the article series on John 1:1 concludes that this verse uses theos in a qualitative sense which requires John 1:1c to be translated as:

‘The Word was like God.’

John 1:1 then has the same meaning as Philippians 2:5, which says that Jesus, before His birth, “existed in the form of God” and had equality with God.

The article on John 1:18 shows further that the original text of that verse is disputed. Many ancient manuscripts refer to Jesus as huios (son) and not as theos (god). But even if John originally did describe Jesus as theos, it remains up to the translator to decide whether to translate theos as ‘God’, ‘god’, or ‘divine’.

WHO IS JESUS?

Given how the Bible describes Jesus, for example, that God created all things through Him and that Jesus upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:2-3), finite minds find it difficult to distinguish between God and Jesus. But consider the following thoughts:

Since things exist, and not nothing, something must exist without a cause and, therefore, without a beginning.

Since everything that BEGINS to exist must have a cause, and since our universe had a beginning, our universe was caused by something.

Since the energy and intelligence that formed our universe came from outside our universe, the true but completely incomprehensible Infinity which is the true reality, exists beyond the time, space, and mass of our universe.

Since God created “all things” through Him (e.g., Heb 1:2), the Son has always existed. However, since time is limited to our universe, to say that the Son ‘always’ existed describes the Son only in terms of our little universe. How the Son relates to the incomprehensible Reality beyond our universe is beyond human understanding.

When we say that God created “all things” through the Son, that refers only to our universe. For example, “all things” do not include God or the Son Himself.

So, the Son is the alfa and omega of our existence, but of what exists beyond our universe, namely, the true Reality, we can say about nothing. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us” (Deut 29:29).

ORIGIN OF THE TRINITY DOCTRINE

A series of articles on this website discusses the origin of the Trinity doctrine. In particular, they show that the decision to adopt the Trinity doctrine was not taken by independent Church Councils, but by the Roman Emperors:

During the first three centuries, while Christianity still was persecuted by the Roman authorities, church fathers such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus described Jesus as theos but always as subordinate to the Father, who they identified as the only true and almighty theos (e.g., Origen).

In the fourth century, after the Roman emperors legalized Christianity, they became the de facto head of the church and the final arbiter in doctrinal disputes:

“If we ask the question, what was considered to constitute the ultimate authority in doctrine during the period reviewed in these pages, there can be only one answer. The will of the Emperor was the final authority” (RH, 849). 2Hanson RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381. 1988

Different emperors had different views, but the emperor’s preference always determined the doctrine of the church. For example, very briefly:

Emperor Constantine forced the Nicene Council in AD 325 to include the term homoousios (same substance) in the Creed. Constantine, however, later accept an anti-Nicene view, and recalled the exiled anti-Nicenes.

His successor Constantius and his successor Valens preferred one of the anti-Nicene views (Homoianism) and ensured the dominance of Homoianism in the church.

When Theodosius became emperor, Homoianism dominated but he was convinced of the Trinity doctrine and did something which no emperor has done before him: Through the edict of Thessalonica in AD 380, he made Trinitarian Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and outlawed all other forms of Christianity. Through severe persecution, he eradicated non-Trinitarian Christianity from within the Roman Empire.

One can say that the Arian Controversy began when persecution ceased and the Controversy ended when persecution resumed.

During the fifth century, Germanic tribes, who previously migrated into the Empire, reached such large numbers and such high positions in the Roman army that they, in reality, controlled the Western Roman Empire. They divided the territory of the Western Empire into Germanic kingdoms. Since these Germanic peoples became Christian in the fourth century while ‘Arianism’ still dominated the church, the Western Empire was ‘Arian’ once again! In the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire), with Constantinople as its capital, Nicene Christianity remained dominant.

In the sixth century, Emperor Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire purposed to free the Roman Church in the west from Arian domination. He sent troops and significantly weakened the Arian nations. He dispersed the Vandals to the fringes of the empire, forced the Ostrogoths back north to South Austria, and barricaded the Visigoths with the new province of Spania.

Some Arian nations remained, but after Justinian had liberated the Roman Church from Arian domination, the Byzantine Empire continued to protect, strengthen, and reign over the west through the Roman Church. Two centuries of Byzantine rule over the Papacy (known as the Byzantine Papacy) converted the remaining Arian kingdoms, one after the other, to Trinitarian Christianity.

The Roman Church that subsequently became the church of the Middle Ages was the continuation of the Trinitarian state religion or Church of the Roman Empire. As stated in Revelation 13:2, the dragon (the Roman Empire), gave the beast from the sea (the Church of the Middle Ages) “his power and his throne and great authority.” Through her control over civil authorities, she put people to death who opposed her teachings.

It is impossible to deny the decisive influence of emperors on the church’s acceptance of the Trinity doctrine.

THE END-TIME PERSECUTION

All Christians agree that the doctrine of God is the most important doctrine of the church. Therefore, for the mainstream church, the Trinity doctrine is the most important doctrine and the identifying mark of true Christianity. People who reject it are regarded and treated as outsiders and heretics. During the Middle Ages, such people were even killed.

Opposition to the Trinity doctrine has been subdued by various means, including by important sounding but vague terms making it very difficult to understand what the issues are.

But the opposition to the Trinity doctrine has not been fully exterminated. The Trinity doctrine distorts the Bible and, in the end-time, the truth of the Bible will be revealed and the first great controversy in the church will again erupt to become the last Great Controversy.

OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

The Eternal Generation of the Son – Is it Biblical?

Summary

According to the Bible, the Son has been begotten by the Father. In analogy to how humans beget children, this implies that the Father generated the Son from His being. This further implies that the Son is dependent on and subordinate to the Father.

The theory of Eternal Generation, however, explains “begotten” and “generated” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. Eternal Generation is a key part of the Trinity doctrine.

Key Concepts

Eternal Generation may be summarized into two main concepts:

1. While the idea of begetting or generation implies a creation in time, Eternal Generation proposes that that generation is ‘eternal’, meaning that it is a process with no beginning or end so that the Son is co-eternal with the Father.

2. While the idea of begetting or generation implies that the Son is dependent on His Father for His existence and power, Eternal Generation proposes that that generation is not the result of the Father’s will but “by necessity of nature.” In other words, it is an essential part of what God is. In consequence, the Son is not dependent on the Father but co-equal with Him.

Objections

The objections that can be raised to Eternal Generation include:

No Scriptural Support – The Bible does not attest to a generation that is without beginning or end, or for the notion that this generation is “by necessity of nature.”

Not an act of the Father – If the generation is “by necessity of nature,” and if that nature is shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then it is no longer an act by the Father alone.

Not the generation of the Son – In the Eternal Generation, neither the substance nor the mind or will of the Son is generated because the three ‘Persons’ share one single substance, mind, and will. What is generated is not a Person as envisaged by the Bible, but merely a mode of being.

– END OF SUMMARY – 


The Father generated the Son.

According to the Bible, the Son has been begotten by the Father. In analogy to how humans beget children, this implies that the Father generated the Son from His being:

This is explicitly stated by verses that describe the Son as the only being begotten by the Father (e.g., John 1:14, 18; 3:16). (Many modern translations render monogenēs not as “only-begotten” but as “unique.” However, another article argues that the traditional translation “only-begotten” is correct.)

In support of the concept that the Son was begotten by the Father, the Bible also describes the Son as the “Son of God,” “born of God” (1 John 5:18), and as living “because of the Father” (John 6:57). 

This principle is also indirectly stated by verses that say that the Father gave the Son His being and authority, for example:

        • “To have life in Himself” (John 5:26);
        • “All the fullness of Deity” (Col 2:9; 1:19);
        • “All authority … in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18); and
        • To be worshiped (Phil 2:9-10; Heb 1:6).

Eternal Generation

However, if the Father generated the Son, then the Son is dependent on and subordinate to the Father:

“The language of ‘generation’ suggests that the Son is not equally God, but in some sense comes into being – which is ontological subordinationism.” (Theopedia)

In response, the theory of Eternal Generation explains “begotten” or “generated” in such a way that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father:

“The church fathers turned to the doctrine of eternal generation … to ensure that the Son is understood to be equal with the Father.” (Tabletalk)

“The eternal generation of the Son must be understood to mean that the Father did not bring the Son into existence, which would deny the full immutability and deity of the Son.” (Carm.org)

As such, Eternal Generation is a key part of the Trinity doctrine:

“This doctrine, along with the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, form the basis for the complete doctrine of the Trinity.” (GotQuestions)

“One of the most essential doctrines for a Christian understanding of the Trinity is eternal generation.” (Tabletalk)

Definition

I will use Hodge’s definition of Eternal Generation as the basis for this discussion:

      1. “An eternal, personal act of the Father,
      2. wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will,
      3. He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead,
      4. without division, alienation, or change,
      5. so that the Son is the express image of His Father’s person,
      6. and eternally continues,
      7. not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son.”
        (A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 182.)

This definition is used by both Theopedia and Carm.org.

GotQuestions summarizes this definition into three main points:

“The doctrine of eternal generation essentially teaches that God the Father eternally and by necessity generates or begets God the Son in such a way that the substance (divine essence) of God is not divided.”

I would like to discuss this definition under the following headings:

      1. Continues Eternally
      2. Personal Act of the Father
      3. Generates the Son
      4. Without Division, Alienation, or Change.
      5. The Express Image of His Father.
      6. Scriptural Support
      7. Conclusions

1. Continues Eternally

Hodge’s definition says that it is an “eternal” act that “eternally continues.” In other words, it is a process without beginning or end. GotQuestions says, for example:

“There was no beginning, nor will there be an end to the generation of the Son from the Father.”

Scriptural Support

So, where we would find this in the Bible? The Bible does describe the Son as the One through whom God created all things (e.g., Heb 1:2), “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev 3:14), and as “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17). We can conclude that the Son has ‘always’ existed.

On the other hand, if the Father generated the Son, then the Father alone is the Ultimate Reality, alone exists without cause, and preceded the Son in existence.

The fourth-century Arians used to reconcile these concepts by arguing that the Father exists outside our time-bound universe and has begotten the Son in that timeless infinity. Therefore, from the perspective of beings existing within time, the Son has always existed, but from God’s perspective, so to speak, the Father pre-existed the Son.

But there is no support in the Bible for the idea that the generation of the Son is a never-ending process.

Need for this Teaching

GotQuestions explains:

“The idea of begetting or generation implies a creation in time … (but) the qualifier ‘eternal’ removes this relationship from the constraints of time and space; there was no beginning, nor will there be an end to the generation of the Son from the Father.”

In other words, this teaching is required to describe the Son as co-eternal with the Father, meaning that He has always existed along with the Father, even in the timeless infinity beyond time.

2. Personal Act of the Father

Hodge’s definition says that the Son’s generation is the “personal act of the Father,” which is entirely Biblical, but then it contradicts that same statement by saying that it is “by necessity of nature, not by choice of will.” To explain:

Firstly, if it is “by necessity of nature,” so that there is no intention or personal purpose involved, it is no longer a “personal act of the Father.”

Secondly, in the Trinity doctrine, the Son is, in all respects, co-equal and co-eternal to the Father. But, to avoid the criticism that it teaches two or three Gods, it argues that the three Persons (Realities) share one single being and “nature” with one single will and mind. Since there is but one “nature,” if it is “by necessity of nature,” it is the being of God that generates the Son; not the Father.

To explain this slightly differently, in the Trinity doctrine, the Father, Son, and Spirit are “not three parts of God” (Theopedia) but each of them is the entire God Almighty. So, how can the Son be excluded from generating Himself if He is the entire God? It can only be done by a verbal denial, but verbal denials are meaningless if the substance of the thing contradicts such denials.

Need for this Teaching

GotQuestions explains why the Trinity doctrine denies that the begetting of the Son is “by choice of will:”

“The idea of begetting or generation … implies an ontological dependence … (but) the qualifier ‘necessarily’ removes any ontological dependence between the Father and the Son; the Son must be generated from the Father and the Father must generate the Son.”

In other words, if it is “by choice of will,” then the Father empowers or upholds the Son, meaning that the Son is dependent on the Father for His existence and power and, therefore, subordinate to the Father, something which the New Testament continually asserts but the Trinity doctrine denies. As Carm.Org explains, in Eternal Generation:

“Neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit is dependent upon the Father … for existence” 

3. Generates the Son

The Bible says that the Father has begotten the Son. By implication, the Father has generated the entire being of the Son. In contrast, Hodge’s definition says that the Father “generates the person (not the essence) of the Son.” To explain this, the definition adds:

“By communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead.”

To appreciate what this means one must realize that, in the Trinity doctrine, the Persons are not “persons” in the usual sense of the word because each does not have His own mind or will. For that reason, scholars prefer to refer to hypostases or Realities, rather than to ‘Persons’.

But the point, for our discussion, is that, while the Bible teaches that the Father has begotten (generated) the Son, in the theory of Eternal Generation, the Father generates merely a mode of being; not a Person with His own mind and will.

“The eternal generation of the Son must be understood to mean that the Father did not bring the Son into existence, which would deny the full immutability and deity of the Son.” (Carm.org)

Trinitarians will object that the term “mode of being” equates the Trinity doctrine to Modalism but, if we go beyond verbal denials, it is very difficult to see the difference. See – What is the difference between the Trinity doctrine and Modalism? Note also that Basil of Caesarea, in the years 360-380, was “decisively influential in bringing about the final form of the doctrine of the Trinity” (RH, 676)1Bishop R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 198 and he explained a hypostasis as a “mode of subsistence” (RH, 692) or a “mode of being” (LA, 210)2Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004.

4. Without Division, Alienation, or Change

The definition continues and says that the begetting of the Son is “without division, alienation, or change” (in God). In other words, the begetting of the Son, which is so important in the New Testament, does not change anything. This supports the point above that the generation of the Son in the theory of Eternal Generation is not the begetting of the Son envisaged by the New Testament.

5. The express image of His Father

The definition adds that, in consequence of the Son’s begetting, “the Son is the express image of His Father’s person.”

In normal usage, the word “image” implies that the image and the original are different types of things, for example, “a representation of the external form of a person or thing in art”. When the Bible describes the Son as an image of the Father, it also describes them as two different kinds of beings:

In Colossians 1:15, the Son “is the image of the invisible God.” By implication, He is the ‘visible’ image of the invisible God.

In Hebrews 1:3, the Son is “the exact representation of” God’s hypostasis. Hebrews 1:1-3 makes a clear distinction between Him and God and in at least 5 ways describes Him as subordinate to God:

        • He is God’s Son
        • It is God who has spoken to us in His Son.
        • God appointed Him heir of all things.
        • God “made the world” through His Son.
        • He is the radiance of God’s glory.

The point is that Hebrews 1:1-3 describes the Son as very different from the Father.

In both these verses that describe the Son as an image of God, therefore, the Son’s being is different from the Father’s. In contrast, in the Trinity doctrine, the being of the Son is in all respects the same as the Father’s. Both are the entire Almighty God. Therefore, to say that Eternal Generation teaches that the Son is an “image” of the Father distorts how the Bible uses that concept.

6. Scriptural Support

GotQuestions lists a number of verses in support of Eternal Generation. However, not even one of them says that this generation is a never-ending process or that it is an involuntary process. GotQuestions lists the following, to which I add comments:

The Word was God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Comment: Another article argues that this is better translated as “the Word was LIKE God,” similar to Philippians 2, which said that, before His incarnation, “He existed in the form of God” (Phil 2:6).

Only Son

The Word’s glory is “as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). “God … gave his only Son.” (John 3:16)

Comment: These statements merely support the idea that the Son was generated by the Father.

Made God known

“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18)

Comment: This even implies that the substance of the Son is different from the Father’s for, while the Father is invisible, the Son is visible. Colossians 1:15 is a similar verse.

Life in Himself

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” (John 5:26)

Comment: While the Son has received “life” from the Father, the Father has received “life” from no one.

The implication is also that only the Father and Son have “life in himself.”

“How, Augustine asks, did the Son receive “life in himself”? His answer is both simple and profound: the Father “begat” the Son.” (The Gospel Coalition)

This is one of several statements in the Bible indicating that everything the Son has, He has received from the Father, which supports the idea that the Son was generated by the Father and is subordinate to the Father.

I and the Father are one.

“I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11) “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” (John 17:21)

Comment: These verses explain themselves: To be “in” another is the same as to be “one” with another. The Father and Son are “one” and “in” one another just like Christians are supposed to be “one” and “in” one another. It does not mean that they are literally one being. For a further discussion, see – I and the Father are one.

Upholds the Universe

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Comment: Read in isolation, this seems to say that the Son upholds the universe by His own power. However, the pronoun “his” is used twice in this quote and four times in Hebrews 1:1-3. In the other instances, “His” always refers to God. Since these verses contrast “God” and “His Son” (Heb 1:1-2), the Son upholds the universe by the word of God’s power.

That does mean that He has existed for as long as this universe has existed. However, God exists beyond this universe. Consequently, there is an incomprehensible infinity beyond our universe about which we know nothing. The Son has been begotten in that infinity. Time, as we know it, is only part of our universe. But if time of some kind exists in that infinity, that the Son exists when this universe was brought into being by no means means that He has ‘always’ existed in the infinity beyond time.

Conclusions

After listing these verses, Gotquestions vaguely concludes that “these verses … suggest that the relationship between Father and Son is one that has existed for all eternity and that the relationship depicts one of ontological equality.” In my view, neither of these points have even remotely been proven.

7. Conclusions

Contradicts the Bible

The Bible is clear that the Father generated the Son and that the Son is subordinate to the Father but the theory of Eternal Generation attempts to explain “begotten” in such a way that the Son is independent from and equal to the Father.

Human Speculation

As the discussion above shows, Eternal Generation is largely based on extra-Biblical speculation. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut 29:29) but theologians insist on explaining the unexplainable. The theory of the Eternal Generation reveals the arrogance of man.


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    Bishop R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 198
  • 2
    Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004