Perverse Evangelical Interpretation, Univocal Language, and Idolatry

..."perverse" evangelical interpretations of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son not only disclose a profound ignorance of doctrinal history but also a profound misunderstanding of what theology is and how all theological language works. They assume that the meaning of words used of God must be derived from their use in everyday speech, referring to created realities, particularly words related to human birth. For the Nicene fathers, as we have shown, giving meaning to words used of God in this way only leads to error and heresy. To do so is to depict God in human terms, which is idolatry. Words used theologically are not to be given content or definition on the basis of human experience but are to be adapted to the proper object of reference-namely, God. No word can be used of God in exactly (univocally) the same way as it is used of creation since God is not a creature. This means specifically that the Son's begetting cannot be understood in terms of human begetting, nor can the divine names Father and Son be understood in terms of human fathers and sons.

 


Calvin and the Full Equality of the Divine Three

Calvin's insistence that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son spoke not of the Father deifying the Son and thus of his subordination but rather of the full equality of the divine three in being and power and of their eternal divine self-differentiation became a characteristic of Reformed orthodoxy, maintained by Beza and by most Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century.

 


Common Statements of the Emanation of the Divine Essence

The common statements in the patristic trinitarianism respecting this emanation of the essence are the following: The Son is from the Father, not as an effect from a cause; not as an inferior from a superior; not as created finite substance from uncreated infinite substance; but as intelligence is from intellect, the river from the spring, the ray from the sun.

 

William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 246.

The Word 'Begotten'

...the word begotten, when used of the divine Son, cannot be understood in terms of human begetting, most obviously because, although he had an earthly birth and a human mother, he also existed before his human birth and incarnation, yet he had no divine mother. The early theologians settled on the term "begotten" (gennao) to speak of the eternal generation of the Son because they found it repeatedly in Scripture...

 


God's actions in the world are not self-explanatory

...what God does in the world does not establish in any sure way what is true in eternity. God may appear in the world as three persons who do different things but this in itself does not tell us God is eternally triune and it could suggest the three divine persons are not in fact one God. We believe that God is one yet three persons not because of God's actions in the world but because Scripture says God is one and three persons. God's actions in the world are not self-explanatory. We need Scripture to tell us what they mean and imply.

 


Nothing that takes place in history determines God's life in eternity

...nothing that takes place in history determines God's life in eternity, God is free. God's actions in the world should be understood strictly in terms of what God reveals in his Word. God's revelation of himself in historical acts in the economy is certainly to be trusted-God is not other than he reveals himself-but what we conclude about God in eternity from his acts in the economy should not be based on human experience, ideas and agendas but on what God reveals in Scripture.

 


Summary of Eternal Begetting

  • The eternal begetting of the Son does not involve a change in God. God is eternally triune; he does not become a Trinity in time. There never was a time when the Son (or the Spirit) was not.

  • The eternal begetting of the Son cannot be likened to human generation, except on one matter: like produces like, and thus fathers and their offspring are of the same nature. Divine begetting is "immaterial," "spiritual," like the unceasing light coming from the sun, or "light from light," or the utterance of the divine Word.

  • The eternal begetting of the Son is not to be understood in terms of temporal, contingent causation or as human begetting in the created order. The eternal generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit are necessary divine acts ad intra. Nothing is produced outside of God.

  • The Son, on the basis of his eternal begetting, is to be confessed as "true God from true God, one in being [homoousios] with the Father."

  • The eternal begetting of the Son eternally and indelibly differentiates the Father and the Son as "unbegotten God" and "begotten God." It does not differentiate or separate them in being or power, or as underived deity (the Father) and derived deity (the Son and the Spirit), or as contingent and noncontingent God. The Father, the Son and the Spirit all possess aseity. They are each "true God," each self-existent God.

 


Cappadocian Fathers and Knowing God Christologically

[The Cappadocian fathers] would not allow that logic or rational arguments are ways of knowing God, which for them is what theo-logy is all about, or that human analogies or the meaning of words as they apply to creation can tell us anything about God. For them the path to knowing God is prayerful reflection on the Scriptures read holistically and christologically.