Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jesus the True and Proper SON of God

This blogpost should be read in conjunction with my blogpost: The Meaning of the Term "Son of Man"

[[[UPDATE: My views on the meaning of "Son of God" have changed. I think the following argument might be true in reference to Jesus' being called Son of God in the Gospel of John (cf. John 19:7). Especially if the traditional understanding of monogen─ôs is true. However, in the Synoptics, "Son of God" might refer to the aspect of His human messiahship, just as Jewish kings were termed "sons" of God. See also Bart Ehrman's book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee on how the term "son(s) of God" was used by non-Jews. Though, I do still think the term "Son of Man" does teach Jesus' deity, as I argued HERE.]]]

In this blogpost I argue that unless Jesus is fully God, then Jesus cannot truly be God's Son.

In Jewish understanding being the "son" of someone or some thing is to possess the same nature as that thing or person. This understanding and concept that kind begets kind and like begets like in the Jewish mind finds its partial yet primary origin in Genesis chapter one where each species produces offspring with its own nature.

11 And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.- Gen. 1:11-12

So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.- Gen. 1:21

24    And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds---livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so.25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.- Gen. 1:24-25

Notice the Old Testament phrase "sons of the prophets" (e.g. 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1; 9:1). It meant that such persons were considered to be prophets themselves. To be called a "son of man" in the Old Testament meant to be a man (i.e. a human being). Only after the revelation of Dan. 7:13ff. did the term "son of man" take on a new secondary eschatological meaning (as I explained in the comments of ANOTHER BLOGPOST where "Son of Man" applied to Christ actually implies Christ's full divinity).

It might be pointed out that the Old Testament also makes statements that contradict the above point. For example, it is true that in the Old Testament angels in general (or a specific loftier species of angels) are called "sons of God" without them being the actual sons and offspring of God by nature (i.e. possessing the same nature as Almighty God). It is also true that Israelite kings are sometimes called the sons of God. Even Luke refers to Adam as a son of God (Luke 3:38). However, it was an understood given that neither angels nor humans are sons of God by nature. But this is unlike many of the descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament. Not in every context, but in many contexts the New Testament over and over and repeatedly implies the true sonship of Christ. That when "sonship" is connected with Christ it is because Jesus is the true offspring of God the Father.

This is why the Jews were often offended by Christ's claim to be God's Son. This is also why many translations capitalize the word "son" as "Son" in reference to Christ. Because the translators understand that Jesus is the "son of God" in an unique and special way like no other. Notice how the Jews interpreted Jesus' claim to being God's Son as blasphemy.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.- John 5:18
In this passage the Jews interpreted Jesus' teaching that He was the Son of God and that God was His Father as blasphemy because it was equivalent to "making himself equal with God." Thus showing how genuine sonship/progeny implied possessing the same nature as the parent. It is argued by non-Trinitarians that this passage cannot be teaching Jesus' equality with the Father because the Jews also thought Jesus broke the sabbath. They argue that either both are true or both are false. Since Jesus could not have broken the Sabbath, therefore Jesus couldn't be equal with God. However, Jesus could have "broken" the Sabbath not by violating it, but by superseding it precisely because Jesus is God. Jesus said He was able to perform miracles on the Sabbath because His Father was working on the Sabbath. "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). Jesus was saying that as the Son of God, He like the Father was able to work on (and so "break") the Sabbath. So, rather than disproving Christ's divinity, this actually supports it. This ability of Jesus to supersede some Old Testament ceremonial laws is also why Jesus remained ritually pure even though the unclean woman with the issue of blood touched Him (Mark 5:25ff.). Also why Jesus could touch a leper (Mark 1:40ff.) and remain ritually clean. Moreover, Jesus appealed to how the Law has different priorities so that some laws take precedence over others (like the command to circumcise on the 8th day even if it is on the Sabbath; John 7:21-24) and how there are "weightier matters of the law" (Matt. 23:23).

I address John 5:18 in fuller depth in another blogpost:

Jesus' "Breaking" the Sabbath as Evidence of His Equality with the Father

60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?"62 And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, "What further witnesses do we need?64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?" And they all condemned him as deserving death.- Mark 14:60-64

62 And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."64 Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.66 What is your judgment?" They answered, "He deserves death."- Matt. 26:62-66

67 "If you are the Christ, tell us." But he said to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe,68 and if I ask you, you will not answer.69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God."70 So they all said, "Are you the Son of God, then?" And he said to them, "You say that I am."71 Then they said, "What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips."- Luke 22:67-71

29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.30 I and the Father are one."
31    The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.32 Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?"33 The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."- John 10:29-33 [ Admittedly, some non-Trinitarians interpret this passage and the following verses in the opposite direction of Trinitarianism. See my blogpost titled: God, gods and Jesus in John 10:30-39]

This is also why the author of the book of Hebrews goes out of his way to distinguish Jesus from the angels and to deny Jesus' being an angel. Notice the CONTRASTS being made by the author when he compares the Sonship of Christ with the nature or status of angels.

4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5    For to which of the angels did God ever say,
    "You are my Son,
        today I have begotten you"?
    Or again,
    "I will be to him a father,
        and he shall be to me a son"?
6    And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
    "Let all God's angels worship him."
7    Of the angels he says,
    "He makes his angels winds,
        and his ministers a flame of fire."
8    But of the Son he says,
    "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
        the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.- Heb. 1:4-8

13    And to which of the angels has he ever said,
    "Sit at my right hand
        until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"?
14    Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?- Heb. 1:13-14
Clearly, the author wants to contrast Jesus to the angels, and so deny that Jesus is an angel. The author DOES NOT say to which of the "other angels..." Nor does the author say, let "most of God's angels worship Him." It says, "Let all God's angels worship him." Therefore, Jesus cannot be an incarnate angel.

I could discuss the places in the New Testament where Jesus is referred to as "the only begotten" to argue for Christ being the true offspring of God the Father. However, the meaning of the underlying Greek word "monogenes" is disputed by Greek scholars. Some interpret it to mean something like "only" or "unique" rather than the traditional understanding of "only begotten." Nevertheless, what I've written so far in this blogpost should be enough to demonstrate, at the very least, that Jesus is God's Son in a unique way.

But is Jesus really and truly Almighty God's offspring? If so, wouldn't that actually undermine the doctrine of the Trinity and the full deity of Christ? This is the conclusion of many non-Trinitarians. They argue that in human experience offspring have existence in a point in time after the existence of their parents. Therefore, (as Arius of old inferred) there was a time when Christ was not (i.e. didn't exist). By this point in this blogpost's exploration of the nature of God and of Christ we necessarily must deal with various options and alternatives. Where we have to admit (even if not explore) the distinctions between Arianism, Semi-Arianism, Nicene Monarchism and the various Trinitarian positions. Also, issues regarding the eternal generation or filiation of the Son, and the eternal procession or spiration of the Holy Spirit, the nature of the incarnation et cetera and whether such concepts are true.

 For myself, I'm convinced of some sort of Trinitarianism or possibly Nicene Monarchism.  There are various (sometimes conflicting) ways Trinitarians explain the doctrine of the Trinity. Some are more appealing to me than others.

As I continue studying the early church on the Christological controversies I've found many of the comments by (non-Trinitarian) David Waltz informative. He holds to what he has termed Nicene Monarchism and I find it appealing. Though, for the meantime I remain a Trinitarian. I do so while admitting the open secret that there are various types of Trinitarianisms (even among Evangelicals).

As David Waltz put it:

Now, when we look at “the” Evangelical doctrine of the Trinty, one is forced to conclude that it is “doctrines”, not “the doctrine”, for the following are but a few examples of the different forms of Trinitarianism held within Evangelicalism. 1.) The Son and the Spirit are generated from the Father’s essence, who is the source, fountain-head of the Trinity (Melanchthon, Jonathan Edwards). 2.) It is the person alone, not the essence which is generated from the Father (John Calvin, Francis Turrettin, and most Reformed theologians). 3.) There is no generation of persons within the Godhead; the Logos became the Son at the incarnation (Oliver Buswell, Walter Martin, early writings of John MacArthur). 4.) The Godhead is one person, and within the being of this one person there are three personal subsistences (Cornelius Van Til). 5.) The Trinity is not composed of persons in the modern sense (i.e. three distinct centers of conscious personal beings), but rather of three modes of existence (Donald Bloesch). 6.) Social Trinitarianism (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Millard Erickson, Edward Wierenga).
 I don't take a dogmatic stand on any one Trinitarian view. However, I find #2 (maybe in conjunction with #4) attractive. It's the default position I defend and tentatively/provisionally hold to for the sake of argument and because it seems better in 1. affirming the unity of God, 2. affirming the plurality of God, 3. affirming the full deity of the Son and Holy Spirit, 4. preserving the genuine and eternal generation/filiation of the Son and the procession/spiration of the Holy Spirit.

I argued for Option #2 in another blogpost. It was Argument Two at that blogpost. I've reproduced the argument below.

Argument Two

- Some Trinitarians like Jonathan Edwards have argued that God's eternal self-knowledge is so clear, so intense, so glorious and infinite that His mental self-conception or idea of Himself literally conceives, eternally, the person of the Son. Analogously, as a mirror reflects the one standing in front of it, so God's mental self-reflection eternally begets a second divine person, viz. the Son of God. Might it be that God's self-imagination is the Son who Scripture repeatedly states is the image of the invisible God? Furthermore, the love between the Father and the Son, the two divine persons, is itself so intense, so glorious and infinite that that love also eternally produces a third divine person, namely the Holy Spirit. And so, we have here a possible explanation of the eternal generation (or filiation) of the Son, along with the eternal procession (or spiration) of the Holy Spirit as historically understood by Trinitarians. And one that especially makes sense if the filioque clause is factored in. Since the Holy Spirit would proceed from the Father and the Son or the Father through the Son. This explanation would entail that each person of the Trinity is eternal (since the Father never began to have self-knowledge nor ever began to love that self-knowledge), while at the same time explain how the person of the Son is dependent on the person of the Father for His existence, along with the Holy Spirit depending on the Father and the Son for His existence (as the New Testament seems to imply). Yet, all three persons would be truly and fully God without subordination of ontology, even if there might be functional/complementarian subordination among the persons.

This argument is essentially that of Jonathan Edwards in his, An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity. Jonathan Edwards' argument may be an adaptation and modification of traditional arguments he inherited from the past history of Christian theology and philosophy (e.g. from Thomas Aquinas).

As an avid follower of Edwards, John Piper argues this in the first chapter of his book The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that that first chapter has been posted online HERE.

Piper also explored this idea in a sermon he gave years before the publication of his book. The sermon is, The Pleasure of God In His Son (preached Jan. 25, 1987).

Piper states it this way in his sermon:

We are on the brink of the ineffable here, but perhaps we may dare to say this much: as long as God has been God, he has been conscious of himself, and the image that he has of himself is so perfect and so complete and full as to be the living, personal reproduction (or begetting) of himself. And this living, personal image or reflection or form of God is God, namely, God the Son. And therefore God the Son is co-eternal with God the Father and equal in essence and glory.

Thomas Aquinas argues similarly (though not exactly) in his Summa Theologica, Part 1, Treatise on The Most Holy Trinity, Question 27 (or look it up Here)

Consider what Tertullian wrote:

And that you may the more readily understand this, consider first of all, from your own self, who are made “in the image and likeness of God,” for what purpose it is that you also possess reason in yourself, who are a rational creature, as being not only made by a rational Artificer, but actually animated out of His substance. Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you with a word at every movement of your thought, at every impulse of your conception. Whatever you think, there is a word; whatever you conceive, there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind; and while you are speaking, you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which there is this very reason, whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are (by reciprocal action) producing thought by means of that converse with your word. Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech, and through which also, (by reciprocity of process,) in uttering speech you generate thought. The word is itself a different thing from yourself. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word! I may therefore without rashness first lay this down (as a fixed principle) that even then before the creation of the universe God was not alone, since He had within Himself both Reason, and, inherent in Reason, His Word, which He made second to Himself by agitating it within Himself. - Tertullian in Against Praxeas [trans. by Dr. Holmes]

The two arguments above (#1 & #2) [referring to the other blogpost from which I've copied and pasted this. So, argument #1 isn't in this blogpost] could be seen as contradictory. Since, the first argument implies that a divine person can't exist apart from at least one other divine person. The second argument implies that the others (i.e. Son and Spirit) can't exist apart from the Father.

That's why I wrote, "If one doesn't like that argument, here's another...." Nevertheless, I don't think they are necessarily contradictory. Also, they are two different types of arguments. The first part of Argument One is a hypothetical thought experiment. The second part is pure speculation. As a whole, the first argument is an argument based on natural theology. That is, on what can be gleaned and inferred from general revelation using reason. While Argument Two attempts to explain Trinitarian theology by freely using Biblical data and so appeals to and depends on special revelation. The first argument moves from the many to the one. The second argument moves from the one to the many.

Here's a link to J.C. Philpot's classic work: The True, Proper, and Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ The Only Begotten Son of God 

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