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Tuesday
Nov162010

Theological Term of the Week

eternal generation of the Son
“That eternal and necessary act of the first person in the Trinity, whereby He, within the divine Being, is the ground of a second personal subsistence like His own, and puts this second person in possession of the whole divine essence, without any division, alienation, or change;“1 the teaching that God the Father generates the person of the Son by an eternal act—a necessary act, not a choice—so that the Son is eternally the “exact imprint” of the Father, possessing the whole substance of the Godhead.

  • From scripture:
    For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:26 ESV)
  • From The Nicene Creed:
    We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen. 

    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father. 
  • From Systematic Theology by Robert L. Dabney:
    [T]here is a general argument for the eternal generation of the Son, in the simple fact the Scripture has chosen this most simple and important pair of words to express a relation between the First and Second Persons. There must have been a reason for the choice, there must be something corresponding to the well–known meaning of this pair of words, else eternal truth would not have employed them. That meaning must of course be compatible with God’s immateriality and eternity, and must be stripped of all the elements arising from man’s corporeal and finite nature and temporal existence. It is not corporeal generation, nor generation in time; but after stripping it of all this, do we not inevitably get this, as the residuum of meaning, that the personal subsistence of the Son is derivative, though eternal, and constitutes His nature the same with the Father’s?
  • From Abstract of Systematic Theology by James Petigru Boyce:
    Arguing from the nature of eternal acts in God, we, therefore, judge that the eternal generation of the Son is not a single act, which was accomplished at a definite moment in the divine nature; but one ever continuing. With God there may be such definitely completed acts, when they are performed outside of himself, as in creation; but, not when they are purely within. Such an act must be ever continuing, and completed only in the sense of its being always perfect, though not ended. Even the expression “continuing” is imperfect so far as it involves the idea of successive moments in God. It is only “ever continuing” as viewed by man. Sonship in God, therefore, does not imply priority of existence. Even in man paternity and filiation are co-existent. One becomes a father, only, when another becomes his son. Priority of existence is necessary, as a mere accident of human birth, because of the necessity of growth, and maturity in a man before he can become a father. But, even here, the sonship and fatherhood exist at the same moment. In God, however, priority, even of the existence of one person before another, can have no place, since he is self-existent, and eternal, who never began to be, and whose perfect maturity is not attained by growth or increase.

Learn more:

  1. Keith Johnson: Is the Eternal Generation of the Son a Biblical Idea?
  2. Sam Shamoun: The Eternal Generation of the Son
  3. Lee Irons: The Eternal Generation of the Son
  4. Louis Berkhof: The Eternal Generation of the Son
  5. Jung S. Rhee: The History of the Doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son and Its Significance in Trinitarianism

Related terms:

1From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof

Filed under Trinity.

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it.

I’m also interested in any suggestions you have for tweaking my definitions or for additional (or better) articles or sermons/lectures for linking. I’ll give you credit and a link back to your blog if I use your suggestion.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms organized in alphabetical order or by topic.

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Reader Comments (1)

Oh, well do I remember the first time I grappled with this concept! Berkhof helped me a lot:

"Generation is an act of the Father; filiation belongs to the Son exclusively; and procession can only be ascribed to the Holy Spirit."

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim from Hiraeth

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