Part III: When the Word Became Flesh
When He Bringeth
The First Begotten Into The World
Thou art my Son ,
this day have I begotten Thee. . . .
I will be to Him a Father
and He shall be to Me a Son. . . .
When did the
Lord Jesus Christ become a Son to the Father? In eternity?
Or in time? Before the Incarnation or after it?
Was He not "the beginning
of the creation of God" (Revelation 3:14) and the very "firstborn
of all creation" (Colossians l:15) and yet did there not
come a time when the Father said, "Thou art my Son, this
day have I begotten Thee" (Hebrews 1:5)?
We ask, with the disciples, How
can these things be? And throughout the centuries the people
of God have wondered how a Son was begotten before all worlds
and yet one day also begotten in time. Was He twice begotten
of God or are there two Sons?
The answer is, No, there
are not two Sons but One: not two Sons, but two Sonships.
The Son was twice begotten ‹ once in eternity, once in
time, the Son of God and the Son of Man: the Son of God for the
Father's sake and the Son of Man for our sake.
When did these things take place?
The time has
come to examine closely what the Scriptures have to say on this
matter, to sort out some of the truly amazing things revealed
in the Word of God, and to attempt a synthesis of statements
often seem contradictory.
Once ordered and arranged, their reconciliation both increases
our wonder at the condescension of God and clarifies our understanding
of the most extraordinary event in the whole history of God's
dealings with mankind.
2 of 11
The mystery remains: and yet enough
becomes clear to enable us to piece together the wonderful works
of God so that we can say, "Once I was blind, now I see"
. . . though it is but through a glass darkly.
We have, in this Chapter, to turn
our thoughts to two things that have occupied men of God and
exercised their minds to the limits of human capacity: the meaning
of the Sonship of Christ, and the moment of Incarnation
when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us ‹ and we
beheld his glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father.
We have spoken of one Son, but
of two Sonships. This is what Scripture reveals to us. The Lord
Jesus Christ was Son of God and Son of Man. Because the first
relationship was established "before all creation"
(Colossians 1:15), it does not seem possible to reduce the nature
of such a begetting within the boundaries of human language.
All our begettings are beginnings: His was not.
For centuries men have struggled
to encompass a begetting that was timeless within a framework
of the boundaried comprehension of events which always have a
before and an after to them. Eternity, though set in the heart
of man, is still entirely beyond our understanding. The best
we can do is to cast the mystery into an anomalous phrase, the
Eternal Generation, and pretend that it expresses the
incomprehensible in a comprehensible way. It doesn't, of course!
It only appears to. . . . And there we seem forced to leave
it as an article of faith not reconcilable with reason but to
be accepted for what it is: a mystery.
Arius, determining to apply reason,
simply destroyed the truth he sought to formulate. He accepted
the Scriptures which spoke of the Son as begotten before all
worlds and argued (logically enough) that what is begotten is
brought into being and that what is brought into being must have
been non-existent until then. And so he made the Son of God a
creature, and said there was a time when He was not. But since
we also know that the Son was always with the Father, eternally
present with Him, present before time began because present before
the world began, Arius had to deny what we now speak of as his
"eternal generation." In fact, he denied his deity.
Arius took only part of the truth
and, by extending it to its logical conclusion, he ended up with
a heresy that denied the very thing he wished to prove. The fact
is that there is no way to reduce such a truth to rational argument.
It is understood ‹ in so far as a mystery
can ever be anything
else ‹ only by being believed. By faith we understand. What
illumination our minds are capable of results from acceptance
of the mystery and worship of the One who is its subject.
The Son of God was, then, always
a Son. The begetting was not like a human begetting which necessarily
involves a beginning. The terms used in Scripture (in Colossians
1:15 and Revelation 3:14) are an accommodation to our limitations.
The limitation lies with us ‹ not with God. We should never
cease to wonder, nor presume to say we understand.
But what about
the term, Son of Man? Here we are on firmer ground. We recognize
that it is a title expressing a relationship far more intelligible
to us, because the events which led up to its realization sufficiently
partook of our experience of life and of what begetting a son
means ‹ humanly speaking.
What we have to accept is that
any Mediator between God and man must be both God and Man in
one Person. This one Person therefore stands not in some kind
of middle relationship that is neither one or the other ‹
but is both. The Son of God is, by Sonship, the express image
of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). But to be a mediator between God
and man, He must also be in the express image of man, a
second Adam, truly a Son of Man. He must therefore be both Son
of God and of Man.
One who is not "begotten of
God" could not be a mediator merely by being "begotten
of a woman"
(Galatians 4:4). And thus the fact of the mystery of the first
begetting is as vital a part of Christian Faith as the
fact of the mystery of the second begetting. The first
begetting by its very nature must be in eternity: the second
begetting must be in time. The only logic that is sufficient
for these mysteries is the logic of necessity.
It does not seem likely that we
can advance our understanding of the first begetting beyond what
has already been stated in the great Confessions of Faith which
deal with it. * But we do have considerable light from Scripture
on the mystery of the second begetting. Indeed even the
events themselves which transpired at the very moment when that
begetting became an amazing reality, are illuminated for us.
It is a remarkable
thing that it is in the Old Testament we find most of the light
we have on the manner in which the Lord Jesus Christ achieved
his title "Son of Man": whereas it is in the New Testament
that we find the most light we have on the manner in which He
* The Belgic Confession says simply
and faithfully: "He is the Son of God not only from the
time that He assumed our nature but from all eternity, as these
testimonies, when compared together, teach us."
his title "Son of
God." It is a remarkable circumstance because it reverses
what might be expected. While the Old Testament was being written,
He was already Son of God, but his relationship as Son of Man
was future. It is strange that the older revelation should be
our chief source of light upon what was to be in the future,
while the New should be almost our only source of what had happened
in the past. But this is so often God's way ‹ to surprise
Let us review
what we have of light from the New Testament first on that relationship
which is encompassed in the title "Son of God." We
do not have very much to go on and it is not altogether clear
what is meant. Essentially, only two verses are relevant. The
first is Colossians 1:15 and 16 which speak of the Lord Jesus
Christ as "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn
of every creature . . . by whom were all things created that
are in heaven and that are in the earth." The second is
Revelation 3:14 where we read, "These things saith the faithful
and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God."
From these two passages, it is revealed that the Lord Jesus was
not only the firstborn of all creatures, but also the first creation
of God. We can do little more than acknowledge that the concept
of "eternal begetting" or "eternal generation"
is about the only way to speak of what is here revealed, admitting
that although it does little more than cover our ignorance, it
does express our faith.
The begetting of which the Old
Testament speaks was at that time still in the future. This prior
begetting was already a fait accomplis, finished before
the creation of anything else. It was, as Augustine rightly said,
before the beginning of time itself. For time began with creation:
creation was not in time but with time. *
This was a begetting in eternity
and therefore a begetting fundamentally different from our concept
of begetting; and yet the relationship of the First Person of
the Trinity to the Second Person of the Trinity cannot be expressed
in any clearer way than by our term Sonship.†
* Augustine, De Civitate Dei, Bk. XI.
† It has been observed that some form of hierarchy
within the Trinity was necessary to the plan of redemption because
it necessitated one member of the Trinity being incarnated as
man and therefore made, for a season, a little lower than the
other members. It was appropriate for the Son to assume an "inferiority"
to the Father, but it would never have seemed appropriate for
the Father to assume an inferior position to the Son. This principle,
clearly implied in Matthew 22:41-45, forms the basis of the Lord's
challenge to the Pharisees regarding his own identity.
The "inferiority" of
the Son to the Father spoken of in John 14:28 ("My Father
is greater than I") has always rightly been viewed as having
reference only to Jesus Christ in his role as Son of Man, not
as the Son of God. As the Athanasian Creed in one rendering states
the matter: "[The Son is] equal to the Father as touching
his Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood."
It coincided with the laying aside of his equality with his Father,
for the more perfect expression of true manhood (Philippians
2:6-8). But even in his now glorified state, it appears that
his manhood remains a reality. It will never be relinquished
and the relationship to the Father will remain one of subjection
as Man throughout eternity (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Yet in his time of humiliation
on earth, He by no means wholly laid aside his equality. For
as Frank Weston rightly observed, such a laying aside even for
an instant would still require the force of deity to sustain
it [The One Christ, London, Longmans, Green, 1907]. The
Son of Man must have continued to exercise his powers as the
Son of God to allow his manhood to be expressed. His powers of
mind were limited by the circumstance of his humanity, and whenever
they were, it was his divine power which prevented these limitations
from being overwhelmed.
His glory was never diminished
in any way by the assumption of human nature. It was enhanced
by the acquisition of a new relationship with God and a new relationship
with man. He became what He had not been without ceasing to be
what He was.
are passages which unequivocally state the fact of the pre-existence
of the Son of God before He assumed human nature and became also
the Son of Man. He Himself said that He was "before Abraham"
(John 8:55) and that He shared his Father's glory before the
world was (John 17:5). But these verses do not speak of a unique
Sonship, except by implication. They do assure us of this,
namely, that though the Lord Jesus was born in time, his goings
forth had been from everlasting (Micah 5:2). W. G. T. Shedd observed
that when the Son of God was begotten in eternity, there was
no creation of a new essence, "but a modification of an
existing one: and this modification is a kind of issue. . . ."
* The issue was very God of very God, God of the very substance
or essence (ek tes ousias) of the Father, as the Athanasian
Creed has it.
So we have
One who was the only begotten Son of God, whose begetting is
a mystery indeed, begotten in eternity, begotten before all worlds,
God with God. This has been the Faith of the Church of God and
is the first essential relationship for One who is to be a Mediator
between God and man.
But there is, as we have said,
a second necessary relationship for a Mediator between God and
man ‹ that He be also Son of Man.
The steps whereby this was to be
accomplished are first intimated in the Old Testament. Here we
find three prophetic utterances, all of which relate to the promise
of the Messiah and each of which contains a recurrent phrase,
"I will be to Him a Father and He shall be to Me a Son."
It is never stated as a present fact, i.e., "I am his
Father and He is my Son"; because what is in view
is not the Son of God in that relationship which was already
established, but the relationship as the Son of Man ‹ which
was yet to be realized in the Incarnation.
* Shedd, W. G. T., Dogmatic Theology, Grand
Rapids, Zondervan, reprint 1969, * Shedd, W. G. T., Dogmatic
Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, reprint 1969, Vol. 1,
p. 294, vol.1, p.294.
three passages are the following:
2 Samuel 7:12‹14, 16
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt
sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which
shall proceed out of thy loins, and I will establish his kingdom.
He shall build an house for my name, and I
will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
I will be his father, and he shall be my
son . . . and thy house and thy kingdom shall be established
for ever before thee: and thy throne shall be established for
1 Chronicles 17:10‹14
Furthermore I tell thee that the Lord
will build thee an house. And it shall come to pass, when thy
days be expired that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that
I will raise up for thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy
sons; and I will establish his kingdom.
He shall build me an house and I will establish
his throne for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be
my son . . . and his throne shall be established for evermore.
1 Chronicles 22:10
He shall build an house for my name.
and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and
I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever.
Now it may be
asked why so much is being made of the fact that this relationship
of Father to Son is spoken of as in the future. Since these are
prophetic utterances and therefore looking to the future, how
else could they have been written except by using the future
tense throughout? The answer is that the italicized words could
well have been written in the present tense without making the
utterance any less a prophetic one. One merely re-reads the passages,
changing the italicized words to "I am his Father, and He
is my Son."
By this means there would have
been no implication of a Sonship yet to be established. The
use of the future tense in the italicized words must therefore
be taken to refer to a relationship that was a future one, a
Sonship relation clearly associated with Messiahship. *
There is no doubt that these prophetic
statements had a measure of immediate historical fulfillment
in the crowning of Solomon. Yet it is equally clear that a much
more distant perspective was the real intent of the Lord's promise
and that the Son whose kingdom was to have no end was not really
Solomon but the Son of Man (Matthew 12:40)
* The Hebrew scholar will know that these
future tenses could just as well have been translated as present
tenses. However, the New Testament in quoting the italicized
words settles the issue for us, for here the future tense is
used. The Septuagint of these passages is also set in the future
tense, indicating how the Jews understood it.
who was a greater than
Solomon (Matthew 12:42).
Let me summarize the position being
presented here. Jesus Christ had two titles ‹ Son of God
and Son of Man. These two titles represent in one Person two
Sonships: one by reason of his deity and the other by reason
of his humanity. The first is the result of an eternal generation
and always existed ‹ it is never spoken of as a future relationship.
The latter was acquired by incarnation and is properly referred
to as future until the Incarnation became a reality. The promise
made by the Father in the Old Testament that the Messiah would
be his Son in the future has therefore to do with the acquisition
of a new kind of Sonship relation, which was to be additional
to the eternal Sonship that already existed. When we enter the
New Testament we see the fulfillment of this acquisition of a
new relationship set forth in very explicit terms.
However, right at the outset we
appear to meet with an apparent challenge to this position. In
Luke 1:35 the angel announces to Mary that the Holy Spirit will
overshadow her and she will conceive and bear a son, and "that
holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son
of God." Note that the title accorded is not Son of Man
but Son of God. Now if the relationship of the Logos as the Son
of God has always existed, how does it come about that the angel
appears to be speaking of that relationship as yet to be established
only by the bringing into the world of Mary's firstborn child?
What is the significance of the angel's words "shall be
Clearly it must mean only that when her
Son is born, He will not simply become the Son of Man but He
will be recognized as the Son of God also. In proof of which,
many would acknowledge Him to be so by publicly calling Him so.
It should be realized that the title Son of Man never was man's
title for the Lord, but his own title for Himself. The angel
did not say to Mary "shall be called 'Son of Man" for
the simple reason that He never was so called by others ‹
save on one occasion and that was only indirectly and seemingly
in scorn (John 12:34). Why this was so is not clear but it is
a fact ‹ and the angel's prediction was therefore a simple
statement of fact, which it would not otherwise have been. *
By contrast, He
was time and again, by all classes of people, to be called the
Son of God. Among the first to call Him Son of God was John the
Baptist (John 1:34). In the wilderness, Satan acknowledged the
fact (Luke 4:9). Unclean spirits added their testimony, unwanted
* The angel could not tell her that
the Son of God would be begotten of her, nor that her child would
be called the Son of Man. Both would be contrary to fact. The
Son of God was begotten before all worlds: her child was never
actually addressed as Son of Man.
as it was by the Lord
Himself (Mark 3:11). Nathaniel, perceptive of the truth, recognized
it at once (John 1:49). The man born blind had every reason to
acknowledge it (John 9:35‹38). The centurion, overwhelmed
by the events of the crucifixion, confessed it almost despite
himself (Matt. 27:54). And John wrote his Gospel to confirm it
Thus by the circumstances of his
second begetting He became the Son of Man, but it was very soon
to become apparent that He had never ceased to be what He had
always been ‹ the Son of God.
we now wish to answer is, At what precise moment in time did
the Son of God become also Son of Man? When did an event always
spoken of in the future in the Old Testament become an event
that could be spoken of as now fulfilled? Was it at the time
of conception, sometime during foetal development, or at the
time of Mary's full term when the child had been delivered? Do
we have any information in Scripture with which to answer this
question precisely? In short, is there a passage of Scripture
which changes the "shall be my Son" to "now is
my Son"? I believe the answer is in the affirmative, and
it provides us with a wonderful behind-the-scenes picture of
events which would be hidden from us but for the fact of revelation.
In Hebrews 10:4‹7 and in Hebrews
1:5 and 6 we find the words we seek. They are as follows:
For it is not possible that the blood
of bulls and goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he the
Son of God cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering
thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt-offerings
and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I,
Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me), to
do thy will, O God.
Hebrews 1:5 (New International Version)
For to which of the angels did
God ever say, You are my son, today have I become your father?
Or again, I will be his father and he will be my son?
The first part
of Hebrews 1:5 is a quotation from Psalm 2:7. The Hebrew word
in Psalm 2:7 rendered "begotten" (yaladh) has
reference normally to "bringing forth." When it refers
to the time of conception it is always used in a special tense
form which gives it the meaning of "causing to beget"
rather than actually bringing forth. This is how it is used throughout
Genesis 5 in the long list of 'begats.' After all, the man does
not "bring forth." In Psalm 2:7 (and thus in Hebrews
1:5) it is not used in a "causative" form and therefore
refers not to conception but to birth. So here the meaning is
"This day have I brought thee forth," as the New International
Version has correctly rendered it.
the Greek of Hebrews 1:5 where this Old Testament passage is
quoted, the word gennao is used and it, too, has a double
meaning ‹ to conceive and to actually bring forth. In the
Greek, only the context can determine which meaning is intended
in any particular case.
We do have a further clue I believe
in the next verse, as to which sense must be attached to gennao.
Hebrews 1:6 reads as follows: "When He bringeth in the
first begotten into the world, He saith, Let all the angels of
God worship Him." And this was precisely fulfilled at the
day of his birth (as shown in Luke 2:9-14), while there
is no evidence whatever that the angels rejoiced at the time
of conception. The conception was, as it were, a secret matter
‹ perhaps guarded against because Satan might otherwise have
sought to interrupt the divine program, even as he later sought
to do so and brought about much weeping at Ramah.
This, then, would seem clearly
to indicate that the Father only sent his Son when the vehicle
through which He was to assume human nature was fully formed
and ready to receive Him. That day, when Mary's firstborn drew
the first breath of independent life, the Son of God said, "Lo,
I come, a body hast Thou prepared * Me" ‹ becoming at
that moment also the Son of Man.
Carl Bernard Moll,
who contributed the commentary on Hebrews in Lange's Commentary
on the Holy Scriptures,†
wrote in this connection:
We are naturally led to look
back to that prophecy (Psa. 2:7) and to refer the "today"
in its historical import to that day in which that "seed"
was promised to David, who was to stand to God in the relation
of Son and who on that day received . . . his birth (yaladh
rarely meaning "beget" but generally "to be
born") . . . .
Luther, it seems
to me, was very clear on this matter, holding that Sonship was
assumed at the time of birth. In the Book of Concord
(page 608) his position is stated as follows: "In his
Tract Concerning the Last Words of David which he wrote
shortly before his death, Dr. Luther states: 'According to the
second, temporal, human birth, the eternal power of God is also
given to him ‹ in a temporal way however, and not from eternity.
For the humanity of Christ has not, like his deity, existed from
eternity, but according to our calendar Jesus the Son of Mary
is 1543 years old this year'."
We thus have
a series of statements that can be placed together to rovide
us with a
* On the word "prepared," see footnote, chapter
21, pg. 6.
† Moll, Carl Bernard, Languages Commentary on the Holy
Scriptures, Grand Rapids, Zondervan reprint, vol.II, p. 57.
beautiful scenario that
begins with the announcement in heaven that Mary has given birth
to her firstborn, and ends with the assumption of that little
body by the Son of God to become also the Son of Man, while the
angelic hosts break forth into exultation. The "scenes"
are as follows:
- A child is supernaturally conceived (Luke 1:35).
- Gestation being completed, the nativity is announced in heaven
The Son of God descends
and, as a new-born child, becomes the Son of Man (Hebrews 10:7).
- The Father that day announces this new Sonship (Hebrews 1:5).
- The angels are commanded to worship Him (Hebrews 1:6) and
the shepherds become witnesses
to their exultation
And, lo, the angel of the Lord
came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round
about them; and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear
not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this
day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you;
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the
angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and
saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
good will toward men.
Scriptures conspire to reinforce the view that the Son of God
became Man not at the time of conception, nor sometime during
foetal development, but only when Mary's firstborn had achieved
independent existence. When the angel announced to the shepherds
that unto them was born that very day a Saviour who is
Christ the Lord, then the angelic hosts of heaven burst forth
into praise. The nativity, not the conception, was the day of
angelic exultation, for it was then that God became Man.
It is a remarkable fact that both
in Matthew's account of the period of Mary's pregnancy and in
Luke's, particular care seems to have been taken to ensure that
the time of preparation was a time of preparation of a body and
not the actual fulfillment of Sonship. In Matthew 1:20 the angel
tells Joseph that "that which" (neuter) was conceived
in Mary was of the Holy Spirit; and Luke 1:35 reinforces this
restraint as the angel speaks to Mary of "that holy thing"
(again neuter) which shall be born of her. Warfield said, rightly
I believe, "There is no reduction of the Godhead to the
level of a human embryo."* And as far as Mary's part is
* Warfield, Benjamin B., Biblical and Theological
Studies, Philadelphia, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing
Co., 1968, p.165.
I think W. G. T. Shedd
was equally correct when he observed: "The substance of
the virgin had no active, but only a passive disposition to this
work; the matter of the body was earthly, the substance of the
virgin."† As Augustine said, the Lord created for Himself a
human soul to complete that body.‡
Then He entered it, in his own Person as the Son of God,
to become the centre of consciousness of a complete human nature.
Thus He acquired
a new and added relationship to his Father as the Son of Man
and to man as the Son of God.
All these wonderful events are
set forth for us in such a way that their immediate connectedness
can hardly be questioned. In every way a hedge is placed about
the circumstances. Even when Mary visited Elizabeth, we find
the latter saying (under inspiration), "Whence is this to
me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke
1:43). She did not say, "that my Lord should come to me,"
but only that his mother should come to her.
matters not what the precise words are, then clearly this method
of studying Scripture is a waste of time. But surely we are right
to adopt the Lord's own attitude towards the very minute details
of the Word of God. He said that even the jot (its smallest letter)
and the tittle (the smallest distinguishing mark) are worthy
of scrutiny because they will not be lost until they have fulfilled
their role as necessary to revelation. In that case, the words
we have examined are not being excessively scrutinized. We are
not worshipping the letter and neglecting the spirit. The tense
is important; the gender does matter; the meaning
is crucial. Attention to small cues in the Word of God
is fundamental to understanding its message.
And what a wonderful insight this
all provides into the moment of the Lord's acquisition of a second
mode of Sonship to his Father, and of an entirely new relationship
to us whom He is not ashamed to call his brethren! Here is the
one Son, twice begotten of the Father: first by an eternal generation
that was before all worlds, and now by a divine begetting entering
into the world of time. Through channels clearly designed to
work as they do in the natural order, the Word who created them
becomes flesh and dwells among us: and his glory is not dimmed
in the process.
† Shedd: Dogmatic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan
reprint, 1969, Vol. III, p. 385.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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‡ Augustine: Letter #164, chapter VII. 19.