Jesus Christ: begotten or created?
by Dr 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 out of context, removing or inserting words and phrases, attributing new or inaccurate meanings to words or by re-translating the Bible. This is claimed to be done in the name of clarification and improved scholarship.
One such group is the Jehovah's Witnesses. In their book, 'Aid to Bible Understanding' (1971, p918), they have a section on the deity of Jesus Christ. Part of their article addresses the concept of Jesus as the "only-begotten Son." In it, the author makes his position clear by declaring that Jesus is God's "sole direct creation of his Father," with Jesus being "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 between Jesus being 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). - Heb. 11:17; Gen. 16:15." To those with a limited appreciation of the Scriptures, this all seems plausible and logical. For those who decide to take The Watchtower (the organisation of the Jehovah's Witnesses) up on its offer of a free Bible course, they will be shown the booklet, "What does God require of you." When the uninitiated student gets to lesson 3, they find that the Watchtower teaches, "Jesus is the only Son that God created by Himself," (a clear contradiction of John 1:3; Colossians 1:16, 17) referring to Jesus as God's "master worker." Slowly we see a picture emerging of a Saviour who was created, not fully God, restricted in what He can and can't do and who has a limited effectiveness in our lives. One of the expressions that the Watchtower 'dumbs down' or re-translates to support their theological viewpoint is the word 'begotten' or 'only-begotten Son' with reference to the Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Watchtower teaches that the word 'begotten' or 'only-begotten' means a physical birth or creation; therefore, whilst Jesus is 'god' in a lesser or mighty sense, He isn't God in the greater or Almighty sense (see the Watchtower translation of John 1:1, where Jesus is reduced to a lesser "god").
Their teachings reflect the ideas of Arianism in the fourth century AD, where there was a dispute over the concept of Jesus being 'begotten'. Arianism, like the Watchtower, teaches that Jesus is a second, inferior, 'created first in line' god who stands between the First Cause (God the Father) as the Father's instrument of creation and His creatures. Jesus is not seen as co-equal, co-eternal or in the highest sense God, nor is Jesus consubstantial (of the same essence, nature or substance) with the Father, but as pre-existent, a creature (a 'demi-god' type).
However, is this a fair appreciation of the concept of 'begotten' in terms of Watchtower theology?
If we examine their comparison between the Father ("Jehovah" for the Watchtower, as they don't support the idea of the Trinity) and Jesus with Abraham and Isaac we find that their explanation begins to slowly unravel.
· Scientifically: we know that 'like begets like' - Law of Biogenesis. This means that if Jesus were 'a god', then Isaac would have had to have been 'a god'. All members of the Watchtower believe that Jesus was 'a god'; they don't believe that Isaac was one. Conversely, if Isaac wasn't a god, then it follows that Jesus who, according to their reasoning, was equally 'begotten' should also not be a god. Which rule should we follow?
· Culturally: this reference to Isaac being begotten of Abraham isn't about physical birth (although this is what happened) but about Abraham's bloodline or descendancy (birth) rights being passed on to Isaac. The Watchtower's own article from "Aid to…" demonstrates this by stating that Isaac became his "only-begotten son" by virtue of the fact that Abraham's other son was "not by his wife Sarah". The word begotten here concerns itself with culture, tradition, clan rights and property - not with creation per se.
The Greek word for '(only) begotten' is 'monogenes'.
'Mono' translates 'single, unique, sole, singular' and speaks of nature, not birth.
'Genes' (genos) translates clan, offspring, house, genus, class, kind, family, progeny, sort, species, direct/collateral descent, tribe, race, stock, kin, and speaks of nature, not source.
In both words, we see that reference is to nature. Jesus was God in nature (homoousios - being of one substance); not to be confused with the Watchtower idea of 'homoiousious' (being of a similar substance; being like the Father in substance only, 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 wasn't 'only-begotten' since he wouldn't have been born. Jesus never became because Jesus had always been - Jesus IS. We have only to read of Jesus identifying Himself with the Godhead in John 8:58 where He speaks of Himself as the "I am"; a direct reference to Exodus 3:14, identifying Himself totally with God in substance and nature. Benjamin Warfield, stated in his work "The Person and Work of Christ" (p56) that, "The adjective 'only-begotten' conveys the ideas, not of derivation and subordination, but of uniqueness and consubstantiality: Jesus is all that God is, and He alone is this."
This is reinforced in John 10:30, making it very clear that the Father and the Son are a 'monad' Who have been there from the very beginning, Micah 5:2; John 1:1, 18; 17:5. Jesus has been set up from "everlasting" Proverbs 8:23, with His belief in the total unity and uniformity of Himself and the Father. John Walvoord (Theologian) in his work, "Jesus Christ Our Lord" (p44) stated that, "the thought is clearly that Christ is the Begotten of God in the sense that no other is".
John Calvin said that, "We justly represent him as originating from the father". Institutes, I, xiii, 19.
We have only to look at expressions such as, "Alpha and Omega", "First and Last" and "Beginning and End" to realise that Isaac couldn't be compared with Jesus. It would be like comparing apples and pears; or, more to the point, the Creator with the creature! In terms of the use of the expression 'Son' in "only-begotten Son", we note that, unlike Isaac, this doesn't speak of a second-generation essence, which has been generated in the form of a 'son', since there wasn't a time that Jesus wasn't the Son as the Father had always been the Father. Could this be said of Isaac, or any others for that matter? We become 'sons' through adoption; Isaac became Abraham's 'only-begotten son' through birth and familial inheritance. Jesus had always been so couldn't become. His Sonship was natural (an affirmation of His deity or 'God' nature). This relationship is referred to as 'anthropomorphic', where the God nature is represented in human terms and characteristics. Charles C Ryrie (Basic Theology) refers to the Orientals and Ancient Semitics who saw in the term 'son' the idea of likeness and sameness of nature and equality of being. James Oliver Buswell in his, "A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 1:105", showed that the Ancients looked upon the use of the word 'son' not in the sense of subordination or inferiority but 'of the order of' - "sons (of the order) of the prophets" (1 Kings 20:35), "sons (of the order) of the singers" (Nehemiah 12:28). Therefore, when one takes into account the differences between the examples of the Watchtower and their explanation of Jesus as "only-begotten Son" with Isaac as "only-begotten son" and that of the true nature of the eternal God, we can see that there can never be any realistic comparison between the two. The Christian God isn't a demi-god who partially bridged the gap between God and sinner, but God and Saviour Who was able to confidently proclaim in John 19:30, "It is finished" (Gr. 'tetelestai'- paid in full), after speaking to His Father and telling Him in John 17:4 that He (Jesus) had completed His task here for us, His creatures. If He were not fully God, then how was one sacrifice sufficient (Hebrews 10:10-13, 14)? What of our salvation through an imperfect and inferior 'god'?
Jesus never became, but IS. 'IS' in terms of His eternity; His sameness with the Father but as two forms of presentation; His Godness; His identical, indivisible monadic, begotten Deity; both within Each Other as an inherent dwelling as both Brightness and Light, as the Father is to the Son and as the Son is to the Father. Jesus is truly the "only-begotten Son" and true God; both the Son of God and God the Son.
Dr Thaddeus Irvine
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