Shortly after I became a Christian I was doing door to door evangelism with Campus Crusade for Christ. One of my first visits introduced me to a Jehovah’s Witness. This encounter led me to read the classic work by Walter Martin The Kingdom of the Cults. I developed a respect for Martin and the work he was doing. In his chapter on Jehovah’s Witnesses he discusses the issue of the eternal Sonship of Christ. For the longest time I thought Martin had settled the debate for me. For some years now I have come to question his conclusions. D.A. Carson in his recent book, Jesus The Son of God, nicely summarizes the case for the eternal Sonship of Christ. I want to offer first Martin’s case against the proposal followed by a quote from Carson.
The case against eternal Sonship by Walter Martin:
(a) “The doctrine of ‘eternal generation’ or the eternal Sonship of Christ which springs from the Roman Catholic doctrine first conceived by Origen in A.D. 230, is a theory which opened the door theologically to the Arian and Sabellian heresies which today still plague the Christian Church in the realms of Christology.
(b) The Scripture nowhere calls Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, and He is never called Son at all prior to the incarnation, except in prophetic passages in the Old Testament.
(c) The term ‘Son’ itself is a functional term, as is the term ‘Father’ and has no meaning apart from time. The term ‘Father’ incidentally never carries the descriptive adjective ‘eternal’ in Scripture; as a matter of fact, only the Spirit is called eternal (‘the eternal Spirit’—Hebrews 9:14), emphasizing the fact that the words Father and Son are purely functional as previously stated.
(d) Many heresies have seized upon the confusion created by the illogical ‘eternal Sonship’ or ‘eternal generation’ theory of Roman Catholic theology, unfortunately carried over to some aspects of Protestant theology.
(e) Finally, there cannot be any such thing as eternal Sonship, for there is a logical contradiction of terminology due to the fact that the word ‘Son’ predicates time and the involvement of creativity. Christ, the Scripture tells us as the Logos, is timeless, ‘. . . the Word was in the beginning’ not the Son!” (p. 103 My page reference is to the fifteenth printing, January 1974 edition. The same material can be found in the current edition (October 2003) on page 139.)
The case for eternal Sonship by D.A. Carson:
“It is not that this eternal Word became the Son by means of the incarnation, so that it is appropriate to speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit only after the incarnation, whereas before the incarnation it would be more appropriate to speak of the Father, the Word, and the Sprit. No, for as we have seen in Hebrews, the Son is the one by whom God made the universe. In John 3:17, we are told, ‘God did not send his Son into the word to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ It is fanciful to suppose this means that God sent into the world someone who became the Son after he arrived. ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. . . . He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . . For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’; indeed, ‘all things have been created through him and for him’ (Col. 1:15-19), making him not only God’s agent in creation but creation’s master and goal. In these and numerous other passages (e.g., Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 14:9; 17:1-8; 1 John 5:20), Jesus is not the Son of God by virtue of being the ultimate Israel, nor is he the Son of God by virtue of being the Messiah, the ultimate Davidic king, nor is he the Son of God by virtue of being a perfect human being. Rather, he is the Son of God from eternity, simultaneously distinguishable from his heavenly Father yet one with him, the perfect Revealer of the living God.” (41)
No doubt both men could have said more. Here they are providing mere summaries of the larger case that can be made for both sides. Those looking for a more extensive treatment of this issue I would recommend Kevin Giles’ book The Eternal Generation of the Son.