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Jesus Christ:begotten or created?

November 1999 | by Thaddeus Irvine

One of the issues which continually surfaces when dealing with the cults is that of the deity of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. They attempt to deny his deity by twisting Scripture, reading it out of context. removing or inserting words and phrases, attributing new or inaccurate meanings to words, or by retranslating the Bible. They claim to do this in the name of ‘clarification’ and ‘improved scholarship’.

Free Bible course

One such group is the Watchtower movement (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Their book, Aid to Bible Understanding, contains a section on the deity of Jesus Christ which addresses the concept of Jesus as the ‘only-begotten Son’. Jesus, they claim, is the ‘sole direct creation of his Father’. He is ‘unique, different from all the others of God’s sons, all of whom were created or begotten by Jehovah through that firstborn Son’.

The article then makes a comparison. Jesus is God’s ‘only-begotten Son’ in much the same way as ‘Isaac was Abraham’s “only-begotten son” in a particular sense (his father already having another son but not by his wife Sarah) Hebrews 11:17; Genesis 16:15’. To those with a limited appreciation of the Scriptures, this all seems plausible and logical.

Furthermore, those who decide to take up the Watchtower’s offer of a free Bible course will be shown the booklet, What does God require of you? When the uninitiated student gets to lesson 3, he is told that Jesus is God’s ‘master worker’ and ‘the only Son that God created by Himself’.

Slowly we see a picture emerging of a Christ who was created, who is not fully God, who is restricted in what he can and cannot do, and who has a limited impact on our lives.

Arian beliefs

Among the expressions that the Watchtower ‘dumbs down’, or re-translates to support its theology, is the term ‘begotten’ or ‘only-begotten Son’ as applied to Jesus Christ. The Watchtower teaches that these terms refer to a physical birth or creation. Therefore, while Jesus is ‘god’ and thus ‘mighty’, he is not God in the greater or Almighty sense (see the Watchtower translation of John 1:1, where Jesus is reduced to a lesser ‘god’).

Their teaching reflects the Arianism of the fourth century AD, when there was a dispute over the concept of Jesus being ‘begotten’. Arianism, like the Watchtower, taught that Jesus is a second, inferior, god who was ‘created first in line’ and stands (as the Father’s instrument of creation) between the ‘First Cause’ (God the Father) and his creation. According to this view, Jesus is not co-equal or co-eternal with the Father. Nor is he consubstantial (of the same essence, nature, or substance) with the Father. Instead, he is a pre-existent creature, a ‘demi-god’ who attained the glory of ‘God-hood’ by his own efforts.

Unravelled

If we examine their comparison between Abraham and Isaac on the one hand, and the Father (‘Jehovah’ for the Watchtower, since they do not accept the idea of the Trinity) and Jesus on the other, their position begins to slowly unravel.

Firstly, the Watchtower view cannot be sustained scientifically. We know that ‘like begets like’ — sometimes known as the law of biogenesis. Abraham’s sons were fully human. Men do not ‘beget’ monkeys, nor birds butterflies! If the analogy with Abraham and Isaac proves anything, it shows that any Son begotten by God is fully God. God can (and did) create lesser beings than himself. But he did not beget them.

Secondly, looking at the matter culturally, the reference to Isaac being the only-begotten of Abraham in Hebrews 11:17 is not about physical birth or origin, but about Abraham’s bloodline or right of descent (birthright) being passed on to Isaac. The Watchtower’s own article demonstrates this by stating that Isaac was his ‘only-begotten son’ because Abraham’s other son was ‘not by his wife Sarah’. The term ‘only begotten’ here is concerned with status — culture, tradition, clan rights and property — not with origination or physical generation.

Jesus Christ, the ‘I am’

The Greek word for ‘only begotten’ is monogenes. Mono signifies ‘single, unique, sole, singular’ and speaks of nature, not birth, while genes (genos) translates ‘clan, offspring, house, genus, class, kind, family, progeny, sort, species, direct/collateral descent, tribe, race, stock, kin’. It speaks of nature, not origin.

In both words, therefore, we see that the reference is to the nature of a person or thing. Jesus was God by nature — of one substance with the Father. This is not to be confused with the Watchtower idea of his being of a similar substance; being like Jehovah in substance but not in nature.

If we look again at the example of Abraham and Isaac, we see that Isaac became Abraham’s ‘only-begotten son’ through birth. This means that, at some time, Isaac was not ‘only-begotten’ since he was still unborn. By contrast, Jesus never became anything, because he had always been – Jesus IS.

To see this, we have only to read how Jesus identified himself with the Godhead in John 8:58. He speaks of himself there as the ‘I am’, a direct reference to Exodus 3:14 where Jehovah told Moses; ‘I am who I am … you shall say to the children of Israel “I am” has sent me to you’. When Jesus applied these words to himself, he identified himself totally with God, in both substance and in nature.

From everlasting

In his work The Person and Work of Christ, Benjamin Warfield summed it up in this way. ‘The adjective “only-begotten” conveys the ideas, not of derivation and subordination, but of uniqueness and con-substantiality: Jesus is all that God is, and He alone is this’.

The rightness of this view is evidenced by John 10:30, where Jesus says, ‘I and my Father are one’. This makes it very clear that the Father and the Son are a unity, who have been there from the very beginning (see Micah 5:2; John 1:1, 18; 17:5 for scriptural testimony to the eternity of Christ).

Not like Isaac

Returning to Isaac, he is certainly a ‘type’ or picture of Christ. But that is as far as it goes. We have only to look at some of the expressions the Bible applies to Christ, such as, ‘Alpha and Omega’, ‘First and Last’, and ‘Beginning and End’, to realise that Isaac cannot really be compared with Jesus. It would be like comparing apples and pears; or, more to the point, the Creator with the creature!

When applied to Jesus, unlike Isaac, the expression ‘Son’ in ‘only-begotten Son’ does not refer to a second generation essence, created in the form of a ‘son’, since there was never a time when Jesus was not the Son. He was the Son from all eternity, just as the Father had always been the Father. Could this be said of Isaac, or anyone else for that matter?

Christians become ‘sons’ of God through spiritual adoption; Isaac became Abraham’s ‘only-begotten son’ through birth and familial inheritance. But Jesus had always been the Son of God, so he could not become a Son. His Sonship is an affirmation of his deity.

Of course, the idea of a Father-Son relationship, when applied to the Godhead, is to some extent ‘anthropomorphic’, that is, the God-nature is represented in terms comprehensible to us as humans. Otherwise we would understand even less about the nature of the infinite God than we do now.

For example, Charles C. Ryrie, in his Basic Theology, refers to the Orientals and Ancient Semitics, who saw in the term ‘son’ the idea of likeness, sameness of nature, and equality of being. Again, in A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, James Oliver Buswell showed that the Ancients used the word ‘son’ not to denote subordination or inferiority but to mean ‘of the order of’. Examples from Scripture are ‘sons (of the order) of the prophets’ (1 Kings 20:35), and ‘sons (of the order) of the singers’ (Nehemiah 12:28).

A clear conclusion

All of this leads us to a clear conclusion. Jesus Christ is ‘very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father’. He is not a demi-god who bridges the gap between God and sinner, but rather the God and Saviour who was able to say to his Father that he (Jesus) had completed his task on earth (John 17:4).

Later, from the cross itself, he would proclaim confidently, ‘It is finished’, so declaring that his work of redeeming sinners was complete (John 19:30). If Christ were not fully God, how could one sacrifice be sufficient (Hebrews 10:10-13, 14)? What becomes of our salvation if Jesus is an imperfect and inferior ‘god’?

Jesus never became, but IS. He IS in terms of his eternity; his sameness with the Father; his God-ness; and his identical, indivisible monadic, begotten deity. Father and Son dwell within each other, inherently and mutually (John 14:11). As the Father is to the Son, so is the Son to the Father. Jesus is the ‘only-begotten Son’ and truly God.