Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity? Part 1: Jesus the ‘Monogenes’

Share It :

google+
More
Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity? Part 1: Jesus the ‘Monogenes’

Throughout the centuries, the subject of the divinity of Christ, within the context of Christendom, has been much investigated. Just within the context of Adventism itself, the topic has been a subject of major contemplation. The reason that I have chosen to join the conversation, is not for the purpose of argument, but because of a deeper, more pressing understanding of how we view the foundation of evangelism and unity. The major message that God wants us to be unified in, is the message of a Savior, who died, rose again, and is intensely interested in dispensing his own righteous life to us. This same message, upon which we should be unified, is the same message that we are to give to the world. Concerning this message, we read

“All power is given into His [Christ’s] hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.”[1]

 

Notice, according to the statement, the salvation of man hangs upon Jesus, and the life which He imparts to the human agent. The centrality of the message that we are to bring before the world then, is Christ and His righteousness. Now for the pressing question, addressing the popular idea that “We don’t have to be flustered about the issue of what we believe about Christ, let’s not get caught up in these issues, but instead, let us go out and do evangelism.” The question is “if the centrality of our message is Christ, how can we bring before the world, a Christ, upon whom we are divided?” Therefore, in order to do evangelism correctly, and in unity, we must understand and be unified on who the Son of Man is.

 

In this article, it would be good to keep in the mind the reality, that there are aspects of the divine, that the human will never understand, especially on this side of heaven. On the other hand, that which God has revealed, was revealed, so that men and women may study and understand God’s revelations, as far as our finite minds can understand the eternal. Moses summarized this point well by saying “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) In light of this reality, this series will touch on three major points: Christ’s divinity and eternal salvation, Christ’s divinity in the context of the great controversy, and what it means for Christ to be the “Only begotten of God.”

 

Christ’s Divinity in Light of Eternal Salvation

There is a growing movement within Adventism (whose ideas by no means represent the official stance of the Adventist movement), that purports to believe in the divinity of Christ, while disregarding or misinterpreting the counsel of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. Some of the ideas purported by this movement, are that while Jesus is surely divine, His divinity was contingent on His connection with His Father. They argue that Jesus definitely has the attributes of divinity, but that they originated in the Father. Going further, the idea is given, that Jesus, while being God, was either created, “begotten” at some point in eternity past, or eternally generated. While to believe or not to believe these ideas, may seem like trivial issues, I have come to realize that what we believe concerning the divinity of Christ is essential. How essential is it? The subject is so essential that it is connected to our assurance of eternal life. Ellen White succinctly puts it this way, “The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life.”[2] If that statement is true, then it necessitates that the follower of Christ, should understand correctly, what it means for Christ to be divine.

 

Christ’s Divinity in Light of the Great Controversy

In our understanding of Christ’s divinity, we must remember that the reality of His position was questioned from the very inception of the great controversy. This has always been the plan of the enemy throughout the schema of the great conflict between good and evil. The moment that Satan began to entertain a desire for self-exaltation, is when he began to attack the Father, and the prerogatives of the Son. Speaking of Lucifer, we read from the pen of inspiration, that “…coveting the glory with which the infinite Father had invested His Son, this prince of angels aspired to the power that was the prerogative of Christ alone.”[3]Not only did he desire the power and position of Christ, but Ellen White continues, by saying

“To dispute the supremacy of the Son of God, thus impeaching the wisdom and love of the Creator, had become the purpose of this prince of angels. To this object he was about to bend the energies of that master mind, which, next to Christ’s, was first among the hosts of God. But He who would have the will of all His creatures free, left none unguarded to the bewildering sophistry by which rebellion would seek to justify itself. Before the great contest should open, all were to have a clear presentation of His will, whose wisdom and goodness were the spring of all their joy.”[4]

Now we see clearly, the juxtaposing of two purposes, as it concerns Lucifer’s existence. God had a plan for Lucifer, and that was for the prince of angels to find joy in glorifying his Creator. On the other hand, we see sin’s purpose for the prince of angels. This purpose was to attack the exalted supremacy of the Son of God, the very place that Christ held in the Godhead. Therefore, the issue of attacking Christ’s divinity, or even a misconstruing of what it means for Him to be divine, is nothing new. This attack found its genesis in the father of lies, at the very commencement of the great controversy. From the beginning to the end of time, this battle over who Christ is, in his essence, will continue. In the book Great Controversy, we read that part of Satan’s end-time plan, is to deceive the people of the world, through a misunderstanding of the what happens at death. Due to the widely spread belief in the immortality of the soul, evil angels will appear to men, as their departed loved ones, and among the many truths that they will attack, can you guess what one of them will be? When the spirits of the dead appear, they “deny the divinity of Christ, and place even the Creator on a level with themselves. Thus under a new disguise the great rebel still carries on his warfare against God, begun in heaven and for nearly six thousand years continued upon the earth.”[5] We see that the divine nature of Christ is attacked from all sides. Either the enemy gives men and women the idea that Christ is divine, but that His divinity is borrowed, or that Christ is not divine at all. The deception is multi-faceted in its nature.

 

The Only Begotten of God

We will now look at one of the issues within the controversy over Christ’s divine nature. One of the major words that is used to “prove” that Christ was either created or eternally generated, is the word “begotten.” The Bible states “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 14) In the same gospel of John, Jesus even uses the word “begotten” concerning his relation to God, by saying “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.” (John 3:16) The same John the apostle, also said in the book of Revelation “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth…” (Revelation 1:5) The word “begotten” is used fifteen times throughout the New Testament, nine times referring to Christ.

 

The English word “begotten” is translated from different Greek words in New Testament. In John 3:16, the word used is “monogenes.” We can say then, that Christ, is the “monogenes” of God, the only-begotten of the Father. “The Greek monogenes can means “of sole descent,” i.e., without brothers or sisters; hence the KJV’s “only-begotten” (from the Latin unigenitus). It is also used in the more general sense of “unique,” “the only one of its kind.” Jesus is the sole Son of God the Father. John refers to believers as “children of God”, but Jesus is the only Son.”[6] It is vital to say at this moment, that to study the word of God topically is a powerful thing. Going from text to text, to see what the entire Bible has to say on a certain subject is vital. Along with this method of studying however, we must study the bible contextually. We must ask ourselves, what is the text saying, not only in its wider context, but in its immediate context? Therefore, in light of seeing the meaning of the word “monogenes,” let us now look at the context in which the word is used.

 

Notice, that in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus does not primarily focus on His pre-existence, but on His incarnation for the purpose of death. In other words, His “being begotten” into the world, for the unique purpose of becoming man’s substitutionary sacrifice. The Wesleyan Bible Commentary puts it this way, concerning John 3:16, “All manifestations of life result from birth, the perpetuation of life already in existence. John does not speak of the Virgin Birth as such, but, in the present context, it is reasonable to affirm that he had it in mind.” [7] This does not defeat the reality of Jesus’ pre-existence, but rather, focuses on the fact that, while Jesus is indeed God, in order to accomplish the unique work of dying for man, He must be begotten or born into the world, like every other man. Was God the Father involved? The angel says to Mary, concerning the birth of Jesus “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest [The Father] will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Hence Jesus was called the Son of God, in the context of the incarnation, because the Father was involved in the process of the virgin birth. This is why, John 3:16 cannot be used to substantiate the idea that Jesus is called the “only begotten Son” due to being “begotten” at some point in eternity past. The reason being, that the context of the passage deals primarily with His unique sacrifice, made possible through the incarnation. The passage, does not deal with Jesus’ creation, or eternal generation, but rather, that He is the ultimate and unique revelation of the Father’s love, from the incarnation to the cross.

 

The next passage that we will look at is Colossians 1:15. Speaking of Jesus as Creator, the text states, that He “…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature…” Some Bible translations translate the word “firstborn” as “first-begotten” in Revelation 1:5. Now this passage definitely speaks, in context, to Jesus pre-existence. “More literally expressed this [the word firstborn] would be, “firstborn of all creation.” Firstborn can mean “first created within the creation” (as the firstborn child) or “preeminent over the creation” (referring to the position of the firstborn son as future leader of the family or clan) … Paul may be using this image to show that the Son is the bridge between the unseen Father and the visible creation, although the next verse will make it clear that, like Wisdom, the Son is also the agent of creation. Thus, taking the thought of the two verses [Prov. 8:22; Ps. 104: 24] together, the NLT is correct in avoiding the English connotations of the word “firstborn” (i.e., temporal priority among created things) and choosing to put the emphasis on Christ’s supremacy where Paul will put his.”[8] For this reason it would be correct to translate the verse as the New Living Translation says it “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.”

 

In conclusion, what we are seeing here, is that the emphasis of Colossians 1:15, is not on Christ being “created or eternally begotten,” in human terms, but on His pre-existence and supremacy over all creation, as the Creator. We must ever remember, as we read earlier, that it is Satan’s goal to attack Christ’s supremacy, even Jesus’ fullness as God. John 3:16,18; Colossians 1:15; and Revelation 1:5, all point to two great realities. The first reality is that Jesus was unique, not in creation or eternal generation, but in revelation, even the revelation of who His Father was and is. No one before Christ time on earth, or since that time, has ever revealed the Father’s love, like Christ has. Secondly, we see that Jesus, like His Father, existed before all things, and is preeminent over all things.

Read the rest of Akeem’s series on the Trinity

______

Notes.

[1] Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, Ellen G. White Estate, INC., 1923), 90,91.

 

[2] Ellen White, The Desire of Ages(Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, Ellen G. White Estate, INC., 1898), 530.

[3] Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, Ellen G. White Estate, INC., 1890), 35.

[4] Ibid, 36.

[5] Ellen White, The Great Controversy(Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, Ellen G. White Estate, INC., 1888), 552.

[6] Tremper Longman III, David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke-Acts Vol.10(Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2007), 400.

[7] Ralph Earle, Harvey J. S. Blaney, Charles W. Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary Vol. 4, Matthew –Acts(Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 389.

[8] Harold W. Hoehner, Philip W. Comfort, Peter H. Davids, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Ephesians, Philippians, 1&2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Philemon(Carol Stream IL: Tyndale House Publishers, INC., 2008), 254.

Share It :

google+
More

About the author

Akeem James

Akeem James is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and has lived in the United States since 2001. At the age of 16, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, and became a Seventh-day Adventist. Currently, he obtained his Masters in Divinity degree from Andrews University and is the director of Ultimate Cry Ministries.

  • Phillip Brantley

    I did not know that the eternal generation of the Son theory has been making remarkable inroads in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The anti-Trinitarian heresy that has swept through our faith community like an uncontrollable inferno is Eternal Functional Subordinationism, the popularity of which has been catalyzed by opposition to women’s ordination. I would be interested in learning more about what the author of this essay has observed. Thank you for this insightful essay.

    • Phillip, you are now very well aware that several passages in the New Testament demonstrate that Jesus is subordinate to the Father for the future eternity. Why do you keep insisting that Eternal Functional Subordinationism theology is a “heresy” without first making it clear that there needs to be a differentiation between subordination in past eternity and subordination in future eternity?

      • Phillip Brantley

        I note your premise and reject it. Scripture does not teach that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father for the future eternity. 1 Cor. 15, properly interpreted, holds that the Kingdom Christ hands over to the Father is accepted on behalf of the immanent Trinity, which includes the Son.