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Throughout scripture Jesus is identified as the “only begotten of the Father”. Is Jesus eternally the Only Begotten of the Father or did He become the Son at His incarnation?

Scripture to me seems clear that Jesus is eternally the begotten of the Father, which imposes an eternal "family" dynamic within the Godhead. Do Christians generally agree with this perspective and if not how do they view the sonship of Christ?

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To be more precise: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” appears only once in the KJV. And with variations in other Bibles. –  Waeshael Aug 7 '13 at 21:36
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6 Answers 6

The Nicene Creed (Wikipedia: "It forms the mainstream definition of Christianity for most Christians.") answers this question (emphasis added):

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;

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Why sure! Thanks –  Rick Aug 7 '13 at 13:19
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I'm just new here so don't have enough reputation score to comment on the previous answer, so even though I start with that I will answer the question too!

The variation of the Nicene Creed that was stated in the answer before mine isn't the one that I'm used to saying in church... the line highlighted, in my version, is "eternally begotten of the Father"

In a course I did at uni last year I read Pannenberg, who said that the Father generates the Son (the meaning of beget) and the two of them collectively spirate the Spirit. Don't ask me to explain what spirate means because I got really confused about it! Basically, he seems to say that the Father can eternally beget the Son but the Spirit is spirated slightly later than the beginning of this eternity. Which I know is a digression from the original question, sorry.

I firmly believe (along with my Anglican tradition) that yes, Jesus is eternally begotten from/by the Father.

The trinitarian relationships are hard to explain since I haven't done much research on them, but yeah I believe that the Son is eternally the Son, rather than becoming the Son at the Incarnation. It was always God's plan from the outset to send His Son to earth to die at Calvary; the main reason this has such an emotional effect on people is that we then think of God as a Father, who sends His Son to die; how many fathers could sit back and watch as their child dies, let alone decree it to happen? If the Son only became the Son at the Incarnation, then there would not have been this Father/Son relationship in heaven which would greatly lessen the Father/Son relationship when Jesus came to earth, lessening the whole impact of the crucifixion and every bit of Jesus' words that state something about "My Father in heaven"

Sorry for such a long and convoluted way of saying "yes," I didn't know I was going to get so many ideas in my head as I was typing!!

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So do you then believe that "family" is of divine origin? –  Rick Aug 7 '13 at 16:19
Yes. I believe that "family" in the sense of God/Jesus Father/Son existed before the world was created. Then, also, Genesis states that God desired for human beings the kind of family that we know today; parents bringing up children who will eventually leave, and start their own family. –  GreekGeek Aug 7 '13 at 16:24
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It is important to note that God is spirit--not physical.

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24 NASB

Thus, in eternity past, Jesus was in relation to the Father as the Son--but this has nothing to do with biology or reproduction, as the Son is co-eternal with the Father. Paul describes Jesus as the creator of all things--thus, Jesus is un-created and eternal.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 NASB

The terms "Father" and "Son" describe the kind of relationship--not reproduction or order of existence. The Bible never speaks of God the Mother, and, indeed, without a Mother, there could be no divine Family. God uses the terms "Father" and "Son" in order for us to understand a relationship that would otherwise be obscured to us. A basic principle of teaching is that you use the known to describe the unknown. God uses concepts with which we are familiar in the physical realm to describe a relationship in the spiritual realm.

The Bible never indicates in any way that there was or ever will be any reproduction in the spiritual realm.

The Only Begotten

A note about the phrase "only begotten"... This comes from the word in Greek "monogenes", which is a compound word--"mono" and "genes". A literal translation of this could be "one kind".

Interestingly enough the term is actually used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) in reference to Isaac--who was not the only son of Abraham, nor was he even the first. Abraham's first son was Ishmael, and he had five sons by Keturah, whom he married after Sarah died. Isaac was then the 2nd of 7 sons.

However, he is still called the "one kind" or "one of a kind" son of Abraham. Why is this? Not because of his uniqueness of being a son, but because of the uniqueness in which he was a son. He became a son from a promised miraculous birth.

God refers to all His followers as "sons (and daughters) of God". Jesus' sonship, however, is what makes Him unique. He is eternal. He always existed. If He always existed, He could never be born and He could never be the product of reproduction. Thus, the eternal nature of Jesus is precisely what invalidates any idea that He was ever conceived or born in the spiritual realm.

His sonship is a "one of a kind" sonship specifically because He is the only eternal Son. His sonship is unlike any other. It describes relationship, but not progression or succession.

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Certainly we must separate our incarnate understanding of reproduction from the spiritual or eternal. However, Jesus cannot be the “only begotten of the Father” unless through reproduction. –  Rick Nov 1 '13 at 11:50
@Rick See updates. Jesus' eternal nature precludes Him from succeeding anyone. Also, "begotten" is probably a poor translation. –  Narnian Nov 1 '13 at 11:59
While we through the biological process understand the time contingencies with physical birth. I do not believe those same contingencies exist in eternity. Eternally Begotten does not necessitate a beginning. –  Rick Nov 1 '13 at 12:03
@Rick That's an interesting belief, but that is also a really big assumption, and one that defies logic. You still don't have any mention of a spiritual mother in all of Scripture. –  Narnian Nov 1 '13 at 12:04
How would you understand "Eternally" other than transcending space and time? –  Rick Nov 1 '13 at 12:05
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I have a little difficulty with the name Jesus attached to the Son when discussing eternal existence. I will have a go at an answer.

ACC: The Son and the Father always existed - "there was never a time when they did not exist." The Son in ACC doctrine is not subordinate to the Father. They are of the same essence, and different hypostases. The Son took on flesh (was born of Mary) and became the God-Man Yeshua (Hebrew pronounced ee-shoe) around 4 BCE, who, by definition of the Councils of Nicea and Nicea/Constantinople 4th. cent., had both human and divine natures, but one divine personality. Later it was declared he had two wills, human and divine. The man part of the Man-God did not exist prior to conception in Mary. You might think of God taking on a human body at the incarnation, like putting on a new "front," without changing the personality. The body by itself had no divine powers, just normal human power. The Master said "I can do nothing by myself." All his divine power came from The Father. And He and the Father are one.

Hope this isn't simplifying things too much. This is a complex subject.

BTW: The 1643 Westminster Confession of the dissenting Protestants spelled ee-shoe’s name as “Jesus”. In 1648 this Confession was adopted by the American Church in New England.

So, AFAIK, The Son (also called God the Word) eternally existed, the man ee-shoe at incarnation.

The name Jesus did not appear in any Bible before the American printing of the NT c. 1645. The man-God was never called anything but Master, Good Master, rabbi, and teacher by the disciples. In the Gospels only the evil spirits called Him by name ee-shoe.

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No. The Son was begotten by the Father before creation. He was begotten in a timeless realm.He's not eternally begotten.

[God is alone doesn’t mean there’s a point when he’s not love but that love is an emotion that cannot stay inactive and hence, because God is fruitful by nature, he naturally desires to beget an offspring of his own. The fact that action is inevitable in love makes God naturally begets]

God is alone and being fruitful by nature he naturally desire to beget and being perfect, only his Wisdom is the offspring that he can beget. He did beget his own Wisdom to be his offspring so that Wisdom is not an inanimate trait but a conscious person exactly as him.

Proverbs 8:21-30 (Septuagint)

God’s wisdom is how he manages his knowledge. God naturally desires to beget Wisdom to be his fellow so that he doesn't need knowledge but his offspring to be his Wisdom ( 1 Cor. 1:24-25).

LOVE SHARED [God cannot stay alone for all eternity although he did at some point but no too long because it is inevitable for him to beget an offspring so that he could share his love to a fellow person]

God begets a Son not dependent in creation. It means that even without creation the Son will be begotten.

The moment Wisdom was begotten (i.e. made person not made God) was the moment God became the “Father” and Wisdom became the “Son”. Hence, God and Wisdom are coeval in getting their natural roles and function yet not coeval in co-existence as personalities. Hence, No eternal Father, no eternal Son but once assumed such roles it will be forever, that is, no ending. The relationship is impossible to destroy once it became existent.

Also, the moment the Son was begotten was the moment he began existing and instantly he gained all knowledge the Father has by the Father’s command and therefore, he is co-equal with the Father in knowledge but not co-equal with him in experiential knowledge.

The Son knows his status as a Son and hence, he knows that he is subordinate to the Father in authority ( functional subordination) and that he is equal to the Father in nature(ontological equality). The Father and the Son shares the same substance but not the same experience.

The Father is without beginning of existence and without ending of existence The Son has beginning of existence without ending of existence

The Son has the following abilities:

--to be present everywhere at the same time

--to know everything absolutely

--to do everything not contradictory to his nature

But all of these abilities the Son cannot use unless he’s given the authority or the right to use it ( Acts 1:7, John 17:2)

LOVE PROVEN God gave Wisdom the very life he has i.e. personality, self-sufficiency and self-existence( John 5:26). Abstract became concrete. This is given in God’s act of begetting Wisdom and in this begetting the Holy Spirit was also made a person through being breathed by the Son. This single breathing is act which produces (the person not the nature) of the Spirit is inevitable because the Son is indeed alive. This Spirit is the same Spirit the Father has for all eternity albeit non-person but became a person at the very moment of the Son’s begetting. Because of this, he is under the Father and the Son (as God and Wisdom they are his one source). The breathe of the Son became a person exactly like him. This means that the Son’s evidence of life is alive (and it also confirms God’s for he’s the begetter of the Son). A living life proves a living love for the Father begets because of love.

At the moment of the Son's existence was the same moment the Spirit became existent and they both instantly

The Holy Spirit has a beginning of existence and without ending of existence.

The Holy Spirit has the following abilities:

--to be present everywhere at the same time

--to know everything absolutely

--to do everything not contradictory to his nature

But all of these abilities the Spirit cannot use unless he’s given the authority or the right to use it.( Mark 13:32, 1 Corinthians 2:10).


Although it’s impossible for the Son and Spirit to cease to exist, eternality is the only thing they don’t possess.

The Son and the Holy Spirit are equal to the Father in all honor, glory, praise and worthiness of worship for they are three persons who shares one single indivisible nature (Matthew 28:19).

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It seems you are saying "No" the Son is not eternally begotten, but then you explain how He is eternally begotten. How would you interpret the word eternal? –  Rick Nov 1 '13 at 11:43
It might help if you specified what denomination/group holds this view. This seems to reject the idea of the Trinity as most Christians understand it, leaving me to wonder if this is a Jehovah's Witness perspective, LDS, or what? –  David Stratton Nov 1 '13 at 12:33
@David Stratton, this is the view of the pioneer Adventists. ( I do not believe in it,,, I am a Trinitarian). I just posted it to show that there is an alternative explanation about the Triad without lessening their one deity. In fact, this is Tertullian's view. For him the Son is not eternal yet of same nature with God. –  Radz Matthew Co Brown Nov 14 '13 at 18:32
Thanks for the clarification! –  David Stratton Nov 14 '13 at 19:32
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Fantastic Bible index of all scriptures by topic. Then click on Jesus Christ, Antemortal Existence of. (pre-earth existence)



John 17:5 - glorify thou me … with the glory which I had with thee before the world was

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