looking back

“Few researchers feel that they have direct access to all of the truth that is worth seeking. Naturally, one looks to one’s contemporaries for help, but unless we hold with particular rigidity to the view that historical development is a matter of monotonically nondecreasing progress, with the present always ipso facto more enlightened than the past, there is no reason not to treat our intellectual ancestors with similar respect.”

SR Anderson (1985), Phonology in the Twentieth Century: Theories of Rules and Theories of Representations. University of Chicago Press. (p3)

24 thoughts on “looking back

  1. I like that: “monotonically nondecreasing progress.” Sounds like a good name for a blog!

    Under all his expensive language is an important point: in your researches, try to avoid chronological snobbery – that the current generation is automatically more enlightened than its predecessors.


  2. Oldpaths: In this instance, the 20th-century theologians are correct. A divine being who needs to be “generated” is not a divine being, since, by definition, a divine being is uncreated – in all senses. See Chapter 11 of “What is God? An Investigation of the Perfections of God’s Nature” by Robert L. Reymond (Fearn: Mentor, 2007), pp. 295-339. An excellent chapter in an excellent book.


  3. Richard,

    Reymond confuses divine personhood and divine being or essence….a lot of disastrous consequences result.

    Don’t really have time to get into this, but basically, Reymond argues that the Persons in the Godhead (essence) are self-existent with respect to themselves, instead of with respect to the Divine essence (the classic view for over a 1000 years).

    But think about the terms “self-existence” and “independent being.” Self existence means that there is no dependence on anything for existence. The thing is therefore completely independent — dependent on nothing. Obviously such an thing is true of God only. And only one truly self-existent, independent being can exist, for such a being is necessarily infinite in power, and two infinitely powerful beings are mutually exclusive (that’s the classic philosophical argument for monotheism, btw).

    But if each Person of the Godhead is in and of himself self-existent and independent, then there is nothing to unite these three Persons. They would be three self-existent, independent beings — and therefore three Gods. Completely irrational, and more importantly, unscriptural.

    Each Person is therefore self-existent with respect to the Divine essence or Godhead, which is “in and of itself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection” (LC 5?).

    Theologians who deny eternal generation have to come up with curious redefinitions of “Father” and “Son” as well…


  4. Another angle….

    A Person in the Godhead is also called a subsistence, which immediately raises the question, where does the Person subsist? Answer: *In* the Godhead (SC 6 and LC 9), *in* the Divine essence or Godhead, which is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in its being, wisdom, power, etc. Since each Person subsists in the same eternal, self-existent Divine essence, They are One.

    It is thus of vital importance to say that the Persons are self-existent with respect to the Divine essence, and not with respect to themselves.


  5. Just to be clear: there is only one God (monotheism). This God exists in three Persons (trinitarianism). Each Person is not a separate God (tri-theism) nor does the monotheistic God “pretend” to be more than one Person (modalism). So far, so good.

    All I’m saying is that eternal generation would have the Second Person dependent on the First Person for his (the Second Person’s) existence because it is alleged (which I deny) that the Second Person is somehow “generated” by the First Person. However, because all three Persons are fully God, – sharing the same divine essence and all the attributes of the Godhead (and, therefore, are all exactly equal as god), then EG cannot be true. To affirm EG would be to deny the Second Person’s full divinity, since there is no such thing, biblically, as a God who must be generated.

    Sometimes, a similar mistake is made with regard to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it is alleged that, since the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit beting “sent” by the Father and the Son (taking the obviously true Western position), what is meant is that the Spirit was somehow created (or some other term) by the Father and the Son. This is, of course, a gross misunderstanding. What is merely meant is that the Spirit is sent, by the Father and the Son, into the world, post-Resurrection, to perform His economic work in believers.

    But, the full deity of all three Persons must be preserved.


  6. “…there is no such thing, bibically, as a God who must be generated.”

    You have once again missed the distinction between the God’s essence and the Persons in His essence. The classic view says that a Person is generated, not God. The Father and Son are God because of the essence that dwells in Them fully, equally, and eternally, not because they inherently possess the Divine attributes in themselves, independently of one another.

    The key word in eternal generation is “eternal”. The generation here is unlike anything in the natural world — which is no doubt why there is so much confusion about this doctrine. From all eternity the Father communicates the whole of the divine essence to the Son, which means that the Son has always possessed the whole divine essence, just as the Father has always possessed it. Since the Son has always possessed all the Divine attributes from eternity, He was, is, and always will be “equal in power and glory” with the Father. Subordination or inferiority in a Trinity of Persons is not possible in this classic, Reformed view. Thus, the doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit preserve, not just the full deity of the Persons, but also the complete unity of the Persons.

    Now, this view does make clear the *order* of the Persons in the Godhead; namely, the Father is the first Person, the Son is the second, etc. It explains why there has always been a consistent order in the actions of the Persons; for instance, why the Father is the “initiator” of the Covenant made with Christ in a past eternity, why the Father sends His Son into the world to save sinners…

    The denial of eternal generation is another instance of a modern theologian thinking that the Church has “missed it” for millenia, that only he has this “fresh insight” (really an old error in new dress) that the Church has somehow missed out on for many centuries. The church fathers, Reformers, and Puritans thought extensively about the objection that eternal generation somehow introduces subordination into within the Trinity, and wrote much to refute it.

    Oh, modern theologians badly misread what Calvin says on this subject too…


    • a modern theologian thinking that the Church has “missed it” for millenia, that only he has this “fresh insight” (really an old error in new dress) that the Church has somehow missed out on for many centuries. The church fathers, Reformers, and Puritans thought extensively about the objection that eternal generation somehow introduces subordination into within the Trinity, and wrote much to refute it.

      Did you have one of those university philosophy courses that went through the history of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratics to Plato and then to Descartes?



  7. The problem remains the same, then: why must the Person of the Second Person be “generated” – and not that of the Third Person? And to say that such alleged “generation” is eternal doesn’t solve the problem, it just pushes it back into eternity. Also, the Persons DO possess the essence of God inherently (or they wouldn’t be truly divine) – however, due to perichoresis, they don’t possess the essence independently, because, while distinct, the Persons are not independent from each other.

    All three Persons hve existed from all eternaity – not merely as to essence, but also as to their Persons. No generation is involved.

    And: as to the order of Persons, I believe the order is primarily a reflection of the economic Trinity – that is, the Trinity as seen in the division of labor (so to speak) regarding the salvation of the elect. Let’s remember that, in the Covenant of Redemption, the Father sends the Son into the world, but the Son also volunteers to come. It was a mutual decision. This applies to the Holy Spirit, as well. While, economically, the Father is said to initiate the plan of salvation, the other two Persons are fully involved in the decision-making process (to use human language), and all three Persons are fully agreed.


  8. Completely and utterly, but it’s v interesting, so you’re forgiven. I’m with Oldpaths really, but have been unclear about what Reymond’s position is, so happy to keep watching from the sidelines for as long as you feel like going on


  9. The doctrine of eternal generation is undoubtedly a profound mystery, and therefore one that must be approached with great reverence and deep humility. The Church’s longstanding position is a feeble but necessary endeavor to explain three foundational truths of Scripture:

    1) The Holy Spirit in Scripture calls the First Person, “Father”
    2) The Holy Spirit in Scripture calls the second Person, “His Son” (Hebrew 1:1)
    3) The Holy Spirit in Scripture describes the second Person as “begotten of the Father” (John 1:14)

    The Greek words for “only begotten Son” is monogenes hurios, a phrase which, by itself, is such a powerful argument for eternal generation that modern day theologians try to say that the Greeks at the Council of Nicea misunderstood their own language, and that the word really means “only and unique Son”. No further comment needed.

    Finite reason, when it has reached its limits in studying a doctrine so sublime, must here stop, and wonder in adoring humility.


  10. Oh, please. No modern commentator that I’m aware of says that “monogenes” means “only-begotten.” It’s long since been shown that the word does, indeed, mean “unique” or “one and only” due to its actual usage in the Greek of the time. Besides, if eternal generation were true, then why does Paul link “monogenes” language to the resurrection (and the reference just escaped from my 58-year-old brain!). As long ago as the 1930s, Loraine Boettner was complaining that the Bible passages routinely used to prove eternal generation did no such thing (he’s right). And John Murray (no less) commended Calvin for not acceeding to the standard interpretations by the Fathers when he did not look smilingly upon EG in the “Institutes.”

    I’ve long said that, if EG can be proved from the Scriptures, I’ll be more than happy to believe it (an obvious position for a Christian). Since it can’t be done, I’m not required to believe it. You say that EG is “profound mystery.” Oh, it’s a mystery all right…


    • You’re probably corrrect that no modern commentator says that monogenes means “only-begotten”. That’s the problem.

      If Calvin did not agree with the Church Fathers on some aspect on the doctrine of the Trinity, his disagreement would have been noticed long before John Murray (who bypassed a few confessional landmarks himself; e.g., his denial of the Covenant of Works)

      But Calvin speaks for himself: “it is necessary to understand the Word as begotten of the Father before time” (Institutes, 1.13.23), or, as another translation has it: “He is the Son of God, because he is the Word, begotten of the Father before all ages.”


  11. And, while we’re at it – how do you generate a person, anyway? In your case, or mine, or Cath’s, is your “person-ness” separable from your “essence”? When we were conceived, did our “essence” come first, with the “person” coming later (perhaps at birth)? Or are they, in fact, inseparable? Doesn’t being made in the image of God mean, at least in part, that they are, in fact, inseparable? Same with the persons in the Godhead. I think to say that, for the Second Person (and, again, why not the others?), the essence was always there and that the First Person “added” or “generated” the Person to go along with the essence is, quie literally, non-sense.


  12. When it comes to the matter of the Eternal Sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ I believe no compromise is possible. If we have any ‘love of the truth’ then we should be ‘valiant for the truth’ and ‘earnestly contend for the faith.’ Or do we remain lovers of peace at any cost and refrain from speaking out?

    J.C Philpot in his excellent treatise in defence of the Eternal Sonship of Christ stated these words, ‘A storm is sometimes needed to clear the troubled sky, a hot furnace to separate the dross, and a sharp war to settle a lasting peace.’ Further to that I would strongly recommend that Philpot’s writings on this subject be read by all concerned.

    The ‘Exclusive Brethren’ under the teaching of John Taylor Snr. taught that Christ’s Sonship began at His birth, and that He was constituted Son of God at this time because He was begotten by the Holy Spirit. This was a blatant denial of His Eternal Sonship and nothing less than false doctrine.

    They held that the words spoken to Mary before His conception, ‘that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’ proved that He was not the Son of God before His birth. They became purveyors of this heresy which is known as the temporal Sonship of Christ which sadly is with us still unto this day.

    The history of ‘Exclusive Brethrenism’ evidences the fact that they have been blighted and blasted as a result of this particular teaching. It so leavened them that they were riven into dozens of cultic schisms. That Robert Reymond is now pushing this line is nothing more than the modern revival again of what is essentially an ‘old leaven.’

    Those who deny the Eternal Sonship of Christ think themselves loyal to Christ’s deity and further claim that they in no wise desire to detract from His glory. However in reading the Gospels we see that the Jews equated Christ’s claim to Sonship, ‘I and My Father are one’ as a statement equating Himself with God and hence being divine.

    Consequently if there was a time when He became Son of God then that was the time when He became God. If we were to accept this erroneous teaching, we would be robbing Him of His Godhood. I think the Lord’s words in John 8.49 most befit those who hold to this error, ‘Ye do dishonour Me.’

    This denial of the Eternal Sonship of Christ also strikes at another foundational doctrine namely the Eternal Fatherhood of God. 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. Such a denial should grieve our souls.

    Equally painful is the notion that the person given to be our Redeemer knew nothing of a Son’s relationship and enjoyed nothing of a Father’s love in a bygone Eternity and further to this, that in Christ’s coming to Earth no parting with an only begotten Son was involved in His condescension.

    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. That is an accepted fact, yet neither are the words ‘Trinity’ or ‘Substitution’ for that matter. To such I would say that there is much in scripture that is inferential.

    If we turn to Isaiah 9.6- ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given’ the ‘child born’ has to do with the humanity of Christ and the ‘Son is given’ has to do with His Deity. The Psalmist in Psalm 2.7 also clearly speaks prophetically of the coming Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed King as ‘My Son.’

    In Proverbs 30.4 Agur in his oracle refers to the creator and asks, ‘What is His Name, and what is His Son’s Name?’ Daniel in his prophecy in 3.25 writes in unmistakable terms of the presence of ‘the Son of God’ in the midst of the burning fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

    These inspired penmen believed that God had a Son and that at a long time before the incarnation of our Lord. Now in the light of the New Testament we have declared to us exactly the nature of the persons and the relations that existed twixt the persons of the Godhead, namely, Father, Son and Holy Ghost from all Eternity.

    In Mark 12 the Lord gives the parable of the vineyard. He tells us the owner had yet one well beloved Son whom He sent last unto the husbandmen. The owner is God – there was a relationship between the sender and the sent who was a beloved Son. His hearers had no doubt in their minds that here He claimed to be the Son of God.

    The Son had indeed been sent from the ‘far country’ and that sending was from Heaven. He was the only beloved Son with the Father before He was ever seen as a man. Words have no meaning if He did not claim by this and many other occasions that He was the Eternal Son of God. This alone should settle the matter!

    In John 1 the Apostle sets forth Christ’s diety, that He is co-essential, co-eternal and co-equal with the Godhead. In verse18 we read of the ‘only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.’ Surely this speaks of that timeless filial relationship which existed between them from all Eternity.

    Read John 16.28, ‘I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world, again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.’ Nothing could be more straightforward. No amount of pontificating and theological posturing can detract from the fact the Son was was eternally pre-existent.

    In Galatians 4.4 the Apostle Paul states three facts about Christ. His being sent forth, His birth and His being made under the law. 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 Holy Spirit of God was sent into the world so too was the Son of God.

    In Hebrews 1 we read that God has spoken to us in His Son. There can be no doubt that Sonship must precede heirship. Note the order here in verse 2 – first His Sonship, second His heirship, and third His creative work. Those who deny our Lord’s Eternal Sonship would reverse this order and overturn divine revelation.

    Later in Hebrews we are told that Melchisedec was ‘made like unto the Son of God.’ In its Genesis context this statement relates to Christ in His pre-existence. Melchisedec was made like the Son of God in the sense of never having beginning of days, in that he (Melchisedec) had no recorded beginning of days, nor end of life.

    I am no theologian, but just read and consider the words of 1 John 1.2 simply and slowly, ‘For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.’ If ever a verse knocked the error of temporal Sonship on the head then this is it!

    Again read 1 John 4.9 in like manner, ‘In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world.’ Note the sequence – it is not difficult, rather it something so plain and simple that the reader should be able to grasp the order of events. He was Son before His being sent.

    As regards the word ‘monogenes’ which is translated ‘only-begotten’ in our KJV if we examine the references to it in the NT it becomes evident that it relates to a unique relationship. In the French it is translated, ‘Fils, son unique’ which I believe conveys the thought ‘His unique dear Son’ – one for whom there is the deepest affection.

    WE Vine’s in his exposition of NT Words states, ‘We can only rightly understand the term ‘only begotten’ when used of the Son in the sense of unoriginated relationship. The begetting is not an event in time, however remote, but a fact irrespective of time. Christ did not become, but necessarily was and eternally is the Son.’

    ‘It expresses both His eternal union with the Father in the Godhead and the ineffable intimacy and love between them, the Son sharing all the Father’s counsels and enjoying all His affections.’ I trust that I have made my point on this subject as graciously and honestly as I can.


  13. Seceder,

    It is very nice to read your defense of the eternal Sonship of Christ, but it may be a separate issue from the eternal generation of the Son. As far as I know, Reymond does not dispute Christ’s eternal sonship; only that he disagrees that He was begotten of the Father. That is why he and others try to redefine “monogenes” to mean “only and unique” instead of “only-begotten”.

    But there are other Greek words that indisputably mean “to beget”. For example, in Proverbs 8, where Christ, speaking as “Wisdom”, says, “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was…Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I **brought forth**.” The Greek Septuagint uses a word derived from “gennaw”, which everyone, including modern scholars, agrees it means “to beget”.

    But modern theologians would probably say that Proverbs 8 does not apply to Christ…


  14. Oldpaths / Richard,

    Well, I’m glad we all are agreed as to the Eternity of Lords’ Sonship.

    With respect to the theological term ‘eternal generation’ I appreciate that some persons may not be too keen on its use as they shy away (and rightly so) from any thought of Christ being ‘begotten’ as in the sense of being created, derived or originated.

    Now we know and are of one mind as regards the truth that He is the creator God, being pre-eminent over and prior to all that He called into being and absolutely underived and unoriginated as to His person.

    Might it be that this Greek word ‘monogenes’ translated “only begotten” has to do with both lines of truth that Oldpaths and Richard are presenting in that the Son of God is of the very same essence as the Father and yet utterly unique?

    ‘Great is the mystery of godliness.’ 1 Timothy 3.16


  15. Yes. As God, He shares the same essence as the Father, or He wouldn’t be divine. As the Son, He is unique in that He is neither the Father nor the Spirit. And neither the essence nor the person is generated.


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