The doctrine of the Trinity can be an intimidating one for Christians. At the same time, it is a teaching that brings extraordinary riches to the Christian life. It helps us to know and worship God truly, and it helps us to understand who we are as those united to Christ by the Holy Spirit.
One element of this doctrine has to do with the identity of God the Son, Jesus Christ. In particular, it has to do with the Son’s relationship to the Father, a relationship that establishes the Son’s identity and his fitness to be our Savior. In order to understand the Son’s identity and his relationship to the Father, it’s important to consider the topic of eternal generation.
Eternal generation is a teaching that might seem unfamiliar at first, but many Christians are already accustomed to speaking about it through reciting the Nicene Creed. The second article of the Creed speaks about the Son’s eternal generation by using the language of “begetting”: the Lord Jesus Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
God the Son is eternally generated or begotten by God the Father. Let’s think about three important questions here: (1) what does this mean?; (2) where is this found in Scripture?; (3) why is this important for our spiritual life?
First, eternal generation means that God the Father has eternally – before the world began – brought forth his Son and shared his divine essence with his Son. We are used to the reality that a human parent produces a child and, in so doing, shares or communicates human nature to the child. The child is a distinct person but still shares the nature of the parent. The child is then the “image” of the parent (see Gen. 5:3). In God’s case, there is no time at which this happened; God the Father is not older than his Son. However, there is still something similar to human generation: God the Father brings forth his Son, who shares his nature and is his perfect image (see, e.g., 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15).
Second, we see this in Scripture in several ways. The very name “Son” attests that he comes from the Father, otherwise it would be meaningless to apply these names in God’s case. In addition, in John 5:26, Jesus teaches that, “Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son to have life in himself.” This “life-in-himself” is a life and power by which Jesus can raise the dead (John 5:25), so it’s a divine life and power that he receives eternally from the Father (since didn’t just recently become God!). Another important passage is Hebrews 1:3, where the Son is the “radiance” of the Father’s glory and the “imprint” of the Father’s substance. The Son is like a beam of light originating from the brightness of the Father, or like wax that has received the impression of a seal.
Third, this has wonderful implications for our spiritual life, two of which I will mention here. First, when Jesus comes to reveal the Father to us, he comes as true God bearing the impression of the Father. He is the perfect image of the Father, so if you want to know what God is like, focus on the person of Christ. Second, when Jesus unites us to himself, he is the example, the template of sonship. He conforms us to himself so that our identity is that of a beloved child made like the original beloved child. When we see these truths, contemplating the Trinity is also a matter of seeing our true home in God.
Did you benefit from this explanation of eternal generation? Then you should attend Sacred Truths: The Person of Christ, Phoenix Seminary’s first annual theology conference. Dr. Duby will be teaching on “Jesus and Divine Attributes” alongside other deep doctrinal teaching from Fred Sanders, Bobby Jamieson, and Brian Arnold. Register today! (And if you are a student or alumnus, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for a discount code on your seat at the event!)