The Person of Christ - 07 - The Eternal Sonship

Chapter 7 - The Eternal Sonship of Christ

Albert McShane


There are minor points of interpretation of Scripture about which we may “agree to differ” with our brethren, but in the vital matter of Christ’s Eternal Sonship, no compromise is possible. For centuries it was held by all theologians, who believed in the Deity of Christ, that He was the Eternal Son of God. In more recent years, however, the so called “Exclusives” have taught that His Sonship began at His birth, so in their thinking, the Babe born to Mary was constituted both Son of Man and Son of God at the same time. They claim that He became Son of Man because He was born of woman, and that He likewise became Son of God because He was begotten by the Holy Spirit. The words spoken to Mary before His conception. “That holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”, are thought by them to show that until His birth He was not the Son of God.


Those who deny the Eternal Sonship of Christ would feign believe that they are loyal to His Deity, and that they in no wise desire to detract from His glory, but if we look at the Gospels we learn, that those who heard Christ claim to be the Son of God understood that he was claiming to be God. By His claim He was to them blaspheming, and so deserved to be stoned. It follows that if there was a time, when He became Son of God, that was the time when He became God. If we were to accept this erroneous teaching, we would be robbing Him of His Godhood. ‘However, if we insist on holding on to His Deity, and yet deny His Eternal Sonship, we become believers in a form of “Tritheism”; i.e. three persons equally God yet not related to each other as Father, Son and Spirit.


This denial of the Eternal Sonship of Christ strikes at another fundamental doctrine - the Eternal Fatherhood of God, for if there is no eternal Son there can be no eternal Father. If Christ became Son at His birth, then at the same time, the first Person of the Godhead became Father. How grieving to our souls is the idea that the One given to be our Saviour knew nothing of a Son’s relationship, and enjoyed nothing of a Father’s love! Equally painful to our thinking is the thought that when Christ came to earth, the parting with an only Son was not involved.

The principal argument used by those who deny the Eternal Sonship of Christ is that nowhere in Scripture does it speak of Him as “Eternal Son”. We might reply that the words ‘Trinity’, ‘Substitution’ and ‘Christendom’ are likewise absent from Scripture, yet few would doubt that the ideas represented by these words are present in it. It is the Divine wisdom to so present truths, that they cannot be justly gainsaid even by the most rationalistic critic, for they depend on whole passages rather than on a single statement. Almost all the Scriptures that speak directly of Christ’s Deity have been so translated by those who do not believe in it that they appear to say something entirely different. While we believe that passages such as Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13 and II Peter 1:1 directly call Christ “God”, yet these are not the main passages to which we would turn to prove His Deity. Likewise, in the matter of His Eternal Sonship, the passages where it is implied are as convincing, if not more so, than if it had been stated in so many words. We shall now look at some of these passages.


In the Old Testament, the words of Isaiah 9:6 - “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given”, have settled the matter for most Christians. Obviously, the “child born” has to do with the humanity of Christ, and the “Son given” has to do with His Deity. We must note, that there was not only to be a birth, but also a gift, and that of a Son. The words that follow cannot be applied to a mere man, so the Son given must be the Son of God. There is another O.T. passage, perhaps not so well known, but equally clear in its testimony. In Proverbs 30:4 Augur in his oracle, refers to the great Establisher of the ends of the earth and asks, “What is His Name, and what is His Son’s Name”’? He too must have believed that God had a Son, and that at a long time before the incarnation.


Without dwelling on other O.T. passages that lead to the same conclusion, we shall now look at some N.T. references, which have, we are thankful to say, been sufficient to settle the matter to the satisfaction of the vast majority of believers down through the ages.

One passage that deserves close attention, when dealing with this subject, is John 1:1-18. The Evangelist, in this paragraph, sets forth Christ in His eternal existence, distinct personality, Deity, unchanging relationship with God, creatorial power, condescension and Manhood. In v.18 he tells us, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He bath declared Him”. The words “which is” cannot be limited to His present position at God’s right hand, for Christ revealed the Father while here below; nor can they be confined to His Manhood, for God was revealed in His Son before He became Man; they must therefore be understood to imply a timeless relationship. Indeed they show us (contrary to what is often sung or heard) that there never was a time when this relationship began, nor was there ever a moment, when it ceased to be. Just as Christ could say to Nicodemus, “Even the Son of Man, which is in Heaven”, implying essential truth without regard to time, so also in John 1:18 “only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father”, denotes His nearness and relationship to the Father - a relationship that is timeless.


A parallel passage to the one we have just considered is Hebrews 1:1-5. In these verses much the same ground is covered, only here the writer is showing that Christ’s divine nature qualifies Him to be High Priest. In v.2 we learn that God has spoken to us in (His) Son. A description of the Glories of the Son follows, and then we are told that He is heir of all things and that He has made the worlds. There can be no doubt that Sonship must precede heirship (Rom. 8:17, Gal. 4:7). We might ask, when was Christ appointed heir? Was it at His birth, or was it, as the verses show, before the worlds were made? Those who deny the Eternal Sonship would reverse the order here and say He was appointed heir before He was Son. Note how the facts concerning Him are set down in proper order; first His Sonship, second His heirship, and third His creative work. No man has a right to tamper with this order, and if he should attempt to do so he is tampering with Divine revelation.


In this same epistle, we are told that Melchisedec was “made like unto the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3). This statement is the climax to a number of clauses that could not be applied to Christ in His humanity. For example - Christ as a Man had a mother, had a genealogy, had beginning of days (for He was born in Bethlehem), had an end of life (for He died on Calvary). It is evident then, that Melchisedec was made like the Son of God (as regards the Genesis record) in quite a different sense, namely, that the “Son of God” never had beginning of days, never had a mother, because He was Son before He was born of Mary; nor was His Sonship terminated by His death.

Another passage that leads to the same conclusion is Galatians 4:4. Here Paul states three facts about Christ: first, His being sent forth; second, His birth; and third, His being made under the law. Note it was the Son that was “sent forth” and this sending forth of the Son was not from Bethlehem, but from Heaven. Just as the Spirit was sent into the world (v.6) so too was the Son.

There is one more passage in the New Testament to which we shall call attention. In Mark 12:1-9 the Lord Himself is the Speaker, so if we can learn His mind on this matter it will settle the argument for all time. The subject of this portion is the parable of the vineyard and in v.6 He tells us that the Owner “had yet One, a beloved Son; He sent Him last unto them” (R.V.). Again note the three facts: (I) The Owner who must be God, had “One”; (2) the relationship between the Sender and the Sent - “a beloved Son”; (3) this beloved Son was sent unto the husbandmen and was expected to be shown respect because of His relationship to the Owner. Those who listened to this story had no doubts in their minds that here He claimed to be the Son of God. It was from the “Other Country” that He was sent, and this can only be Heaven. The Lord had no doubts about the fact that He was the only beloved Son with the Father, before He was ever seen as a Man amongst men. Words have no meaning if He did not claim on this and many other occasions that He was the Eternal Son of God.