Sonship of Christ

Sonship of Christ.

The Creed of Nice declares, "We believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Feather." These sentiments have been the faith of the Church in every age, but they have been in many instances explained by unjustifiable imagery and language, often taken in the earlier centuries from the Platonic ontology, and drawn in later times from material sources. The two constituent elements of the divine sonship are, the Son's consubstantiality with the Father, and his peculiar ante-mundane origin in the Father.

1. Dependence of the Son. — The name implies the Son's dependence: on the Father, and this relation of dependence lies also at the basis of other scriptural expressions relating to Father and Son, e.g. "Image of the invisible God," "Word of God," etc. The dependence of Jesus on the Father is expressly taught in 1Co 3:23; 1Co 11:3: "Ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's;" "The head of Christ is God." But it would be opposed to the central idea of Christian doctrine to maintain a dependence of the Son on the Father inconsistent with his true divinity. By "dependence" in this relation is only meant that relation by which the second Person in the Trinity derives his godhead in virtue of his unity of nature with the Father. It is because he is the Son of God that he is himself likewise fully and truly God. There is no inequality or inferiority implied in this expression. The dependence is one of essence, of nature, and not of creation, production, or emanation. Precisely in the same way the Holy Spirit is said to "proceed" from the Father and the Son; i.e. he is an outflow of the same essential being, but a different personality. The language employed on this subject must necessarily be mysterious, as the theme itself transcends human thought. SEE PERSON.

2. Consubstantiality. — Here we set out with the words of Christ himself, "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" (1Jo 5:21). As the fountain of life, as the independent dispenser of life, the Son is entitled to the appellation of Lord in conjunction with the Father. The world has its existence only in him who upholds and fills it with his gifts; in God only man lives, moves, and has his being (Ac 17:28). But the world has its being in the son. He is not only living, but the fountain of life. Sonship we understand to mean similarity of essence, and not a procreation as among men. Not only is the Son of the same essence with the Father, but he is also αὐτόθεος God in and from himself. Sonship appears to mean not a distinction of essence, but of existence — not of being in itself, but of being in its relations. The term does not characterize a separation of nature so much as personality.

But such difference of position is not inequality of essence, and when rightly understood will be found as remote from the calumnious imputation of Tritheism as from the heresy of Modalism or Sabellianism.

3. Eternity of Sonship. — This element in the substance of the Son is expressed in Christ's own words: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (Joh 17:5). These words evidently imply that Christ was conscious of having a life that had no beginning, and the self designation of Jesus, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending" (Re 1:8), teaches the same truth. The Son, as superior to time, is distinct from the world in a threefold sense: (a) he is above the necessity of change, while the world is in a constant change; (b) he knows no end, while the world will come to an end; (c) his existence has not been preceded by a state of. non-existence, as has been the case with the world. The life of the Son is exalted above time, without beginning, exempt from subjection to change and decay.

4. Begetting of the Son. — A misconception of the eternal generation of the Son must be guarded against. According to our present mode of thinking, generation seems to be identical with calling into existence what did not exist before. But how is it with the thoughts and self consciousness of God? They are called forth by God, and yet there never was a time when God was without self consciousness and without thoughts. Hence it must be evident that there must be in God a producing not subject to time, and productions which have no beginning; and, if so, the eternal generation of God offers no insurmountable difficulties. That Jesus Christ was not called the "Son of God" because of the miraculous conception seems to be clearly shown by Watson (Exposition, at Lu 1:35): "First, we have the act of the Holy Ghost, producing that Holy Thing which was to be born of the Virgin, and we have the distinct act of the power of the Highest uniting himself, the eternal Word, to that which was so formed in the womb of the Virgin. From these two acts all that the angel mention followed. It followed that that should be Holy Thing which should be born of Mary, as being produced immediately by the Holy Ghost;. and it followed that this Holy Thing should be called the Son of God. That power of the Highest which overshadowed, exerted his influence upon the Virgin, took the Holy Thing into personal union with himself, who was in his divine nature the Son of God, and this became the appellation of the one undivided Christ, but wholly by Virtue of the hypostatical union. The mode of expression by which the concluding clause is introduced leads also to the same conclusion. The particle διό, therefore, is consequential, and is not to be understood as if the angel were giving a reason why Christ should become the Son of God, but why he should be owned and acknowledged as such. We have also the addition of καί in the sense of also; 'Therefore, also, that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God; it shall not merely be called holy, which would follow from its being the immediate production of the Holy Ghost, but, more than that, it shall be called the Son of God, because of another and an additional circumstance — the union of the two natures. For since human nature was united to the Son of God, it was to bear the same name as being in indissoluble union with him." It is the eternal Logos, and not merely the human Jesus, that is and ever was the Son of God. See Gess, Person of Christ (transl. by J.A. Reubelt, Andover, 1870); Kidd, Christophany (Lond. 1852, 8vo); Sartorius, Lehre von Christi Person und Wort (Hamb. 1841, 8vo; Engl. transl. Boston, 1849, 12mo). SEE TRINITY.

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