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THE FAMOUS 3:16 AND SPIRIT CHILDREN
One of the most popular verses in the entire Bible is also from St John’s Gospel:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
In this we see a radical concept: Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. CS Lewis explains it quite brilliantly in Mere Christianity:
We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in the modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds.
But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a… statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one…
What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is.
This language of begetting helps us to understand the relationship between Jesus and the Father.
When an earthly father has a son, that son is no less human than his father. In the same way, Jesus is no less God than his Father. A human son imitates his human father in having both a beginning and an ending. In the same manner, Jesus imitates His heavenly Father in having no beginning and no termination. Hence, “In the beginning was the Word…”
So the Orthodox Christian understanding of this passage is that God the Father begets a being that is completely God. Because we think of children having a beginning, this can seem a bit confusing. Blessed Theophylact, an ancient Christian writer, compares it to the sun. What came first: the sun, the light, or the heat? All of them came together. The sun would be no sun if it lacked either light or heat, but these things proceed from the sun. This is a metaphor for the way in which God the Father is the fountainhead of the Trinity from which the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed, all of them being of the same essence, yet also distinct.
BEYOND SPIRIT AND FLESH
God by His nature is beyond nature, beyond time, and even beyond being. The Son, who cannot be any less “God” than His Father – if He truly is begotten – is also beyond nature, beyond time, beyond being.
In Orthodoxy, we understand that there are two things that exist, and One beyond existence. There is the material world that we can see and there is the spiritual world, which we cannot comprehend clearly. Both of these worlds are created. God cannot belong exclusively to a created world. That would place constraints on God’s being, which is not possible.
“God is spirit” (Jn 4:24) and dwells in the spiritual realm; it is a higher reality than our own. Truly though, God is not only spirit, but is also beyond spirit. In this way God participates1 in both created realms through His spiritual presence spoken of above and His fleshly material presence when He became incarnate, yet He is not limited by either of these realms.
The Watchtower offer a strange concept that seems to me to resemble a bit of ancient paganism. My understanding (which may be incorrect and I’m open to correction) of their theology is this:
They say that spirits are similar to people in that they have bodies, only their bodies are invisible and not solid, not composed of flesh and blood. God is a spirit with a body that is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than the others. At some point, he created the angel Michael through whom he created all of the other angels, which are “sons” of God as well. He chose for Michael to have the title of “only begotten son.” However, their doctrine leads me to believe that the title only begotten means that God and this spiritual child are good buddies, but ultimately, there’s nothing inherently significant about this spiritual son. One JW told me God could have picked any other angel for this honorary title and could have sent him to earth to die for our sins.
However, the Bible clearly speaks of Christ as being God’s only begotten son. He could have called him God’s “favored,” “special,” or “highly chosen” son, but to speak of Jesus as only begotten declares that He is “true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made.”2
JOB AND THE SONS OF GOD
As the Witnesses enjoy pointing out, the book of Job refers to “sons of God” (Job 1:6), which they state in their Bible is “A Hebrew idiom that refers to angelic sons of God.” I’m not convinced that’s true when seeing the context in which the Hebrew phrase (הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים בְּנֵ֣י) appears in other Old Testament passages.
Regardless, never does scripture refer to any angel as “only begotten son of God,” and that is because the other “sons of God” were created and not begotten. Their argument serves only to distract us from the fact that John 3:16 uses the word begotten. When I have spoken to them in the past, they had no explanation for this word other than it meaning “special,” which it clearly does not.
There is a significant distinction here. Calling angels “sons of God” was nothing more than a primitive Semitic way of saying that these were spirit creatures and not fleshly creatures. Being a Hebrew himself, the Apostle John likely knew of this passage in the book of Job which is why he drew the sharp distinction between Jesus Christ and angles by speaking of Jesus as only begotten rather than “first created” or “favorite angelic son.”
1 God holds and sustains all things in their being, both material and spirit. Nothing exists except through God being within it and holding it together (cf. Col 1:16-17). That includes every spirit, every human, every star, every planet, and every black hole. So, while I say “God participates” another accurate statement is that the spirit and material worlds exist to the extent at which they participate in the energies of God. We exist due to our participation in God, yet God also condescends to participate in the material and spiritual worlds in order to interact with His creatures.
2 From the Orthodox creed.
2 thoughts on “Assaulting God, Part 2”
I really like your work and stand with Orthodoxy. And would appreciate your studying and figuring out this: What makes Lord Jesus God’s only begotten son is because Lord Jesus was begotten via the Virgin Mariam. Until the incarnation Lord Jesus wasn’t begotten, right?
The fact is there are other sons of God. (Please think about this and research and share what you can learn about the uniqueness of Lord Jesus and if He is not an angel. I really am interested because i have no answers or theories just these texts:
The phrase “sons of God” in the Dead Sea scrolls is a term for angels (Job 1:6). Like so in the Bible’s Gen. 6:2.
The Septuagint Esaias 9:6 For a child was born to us; and a son was given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Angel of Great Counsel, Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty One, Potentiate, Prince of Peace, Father of the age to come.
The Septuagint Deuteronomy 32:8
When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.
Dead Sea scroll 4Q37 Deut J reads “sons of God.”
The Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Michael S. Heiser concludes his 27-page paper titled: Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God with (quote) … there exists no textual or theological justification for preferring the Masoretic Text reading. Deuteronomy 32:8 should read “sons of God” not “sons of Israel.” (end quote.)
You are right that “sons of God” is an Old Testament idiom for angels. If the New Testament only said of our Lord Jesus, “He is a son of God,” then I think you would make an excellent point. However, the NT doesn’t call Jesus “a” son of God but “the” Son of God, emphasizing his only-begottenness.
The angels are “sons of God” in that they are spirits and have a likeness to God in that matter. But our Lord Jesus is “the only begotten Son of God” meaning that He is of God’s divine nature. It is like the difference between a statue of a man and an actual man. One is like a man, the other is man. Angels are “sons of God” to the extent that they are not fleshly creatures like us and live in close proximity to God’s presence. But Jesus Christ is God by nature. To be God is much more than being a spirit anyway.
Additionally, Hebrews 1:5 says it is God who has begotten Jesus, not just the Virgin Mary, and that makes him completely different from the angels. That passage alone overthrows your argument that “begottenness” only relates to our Lord’s humanity.
I can see you’ve studied the Old Testament, or at least this topic in the OT. I would encourage you to also read the New Testament Scriptures, for they bring a greater revelation about who God is and who his Son is. For example, Hebrews chapter one pretty well overthrows your argument that our Lord Jesus is simply an angel. While there are a few tricky places, most of the New Testament quite boldly proclaims the divinity of our Lord Jesus, showing he is not simply an angel or an archangel.
I’ve definitely studied this with an open mind. In fact, I’ve spent about 10 years studying it quite closely, looking into the nuances of the Hebrew and Greek and studying how the ancient Greek Christians interpreted the meaning of these texts. I desire to follow the truth and I’m quite certain that Christians have gotten this one right since the beginning: Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God the Father, born of the Father before all the ages, eternally with and in the Father, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary in order to take on flesh so that he could live among us, die for us, and lead us into the resurrected life.