How can Jesus be both eternal and begotten?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: How can eternal generation be true when Jesus claimed to be the I AM (the self-existing one) which sounds like it means he doesn't need generation. He also claimed to be the first and the last. If he is truly the self-existing one, how does that not contradict eternal generation/eternal sonship which says He is eternally begotten from the Father and was eternally the Son?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries — and congratulations! You have asked what is arguably the most difficult question about Jesus Christ: how is it that he is both begotten and eternal? And — as you should expect with a question of this difficulty — there is no simple answer.

That being said, there are answers… and I recommend that you spend some time with a few articles which our friends at Got Questions Ministries have written about how Jesus was begotten. Please read (or listen to… because there is also a YouTube version) their article on what it means that Jesus is God’s “only begotten Son.” Find it at the following link: https://www.gotquestions.org/only-begotten-son.html.

They also have a more advanced article on how his eternal generation relates to him being begotten. Find it at the following link: https://www.gotquestions.org/eternal-generation.html.

I also recommend that you read (or listen to) William Lane Craig’s discussion of Arianism in Reasonable Faith’s teaching on the Trinity in their Defenders series 3, Doctrine of the Trinity, part 7. Find it at https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-god-trinity/doctrine-of-god-trinity-part-7/.

So, although I will offer a few remarks, there is nothing that I can say that the Got Questions Ministries articles haven’t already said… but they have said it exactly and in a well-organized manner. The thing is, I don’t want to merely repeat the ideas that those articles have already covered… but I cannot help but repeat some of their ideas as I comment. Nevertheless, I’m going to keep going.

A single issue is driving your question: you are confounding the begetting of Jesus (which did occur [Hebrews 1:5]) with the creation of Jesus (which did not occur). This begetting/begotten relationship between the Father and the Son occurs within the Godhead — within the single “I-Am-ness” that belongs to all three persons of the deistic unity. Since aseity is a function of that unity, Jesus’ aseity is preserved (John 8:58)… no matter what the other persons of the Godhead get up to!

"For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself." (John 5:26)

One of the advantages of being a trinity is that God doesn’t have to leave home to participate in an “I-to-him” relationship. The thing is, when he does this, none of his attributes are compromised — like his eternal nature. All three persons of the Trinity have all the attributes of deity fully — no matter how they behave relationally, no matter what they do functionally... and no matter if one is begotten of the other.

Now, I freely admit that I do not understand how all this works. But there are other things I don’t understand fully either — like Jesus’ aseity… but which I accept as characteristic of the biblically revealed Christ. It works the same with his eternal generation. I do not understand how he is begotten from all eternity. But I understand through logic that any being who is eternally begotten is eternal himself.

We will probably never know how this happens in the Godhead… but the Bible tells us that it happened… and that’s what’s important. So, although I am experiencing the same cognitive dissonance that you are, my process is to add these facts to my picture of Christ. True… I can only make tenuous sense of them at this time… but I’m not done investigating any of God’s revelations.

Please note, however, that I am not backing off from knowledge and saying that I have faith instead of knowledge… although it’s true that I have faith. (After all, I subscribe to biblical inerrancy!) But I am not saying that the faith I have in my current understanding of God’s word is enough. Instead, I have faith in the process God set up for believers.

God rewards earnest seekers (Hebrews 11:6)… and one of his natural rewards is that diligent pursuit of the truth tends to result in clearer ideas over time. Right now, I’m not at that point where God wants me to be on this topic… so, I have no great insight to offer you beyond this methodological suggestion and those in my recommended readings. But I do have two final thoughts.

First, God is a unique entity… so we should not be surprised that he has unique characteristics — and that many are beyond our ken. Sure… we were made in his image (Genesis 1:26) … but we are not anywhere near his equal. Yet, he seems determined to reveal himself in spite of this! This is why we should not be surprised when he uses concepts we do understand (like a father begetting a son) … and concepts we don’t understand (like how he can do this eternally) to explain the nature of his existence.

Second, because God is tri-personal, and we are uni-personal, we will never understand the internal complexities whereby the three persons of the Trinity can exist within the single entity that is God… so we just have to accept his revelation and wiggle. But the thing we have to avoid at all costs here is to confound his begetting with his creating. The Bible tells us that Jesus was also the Creator (John 1:3). As such, the thing he could never be is a creature — not even an eternal one.

I pray that all this helped more than it confused.

For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com.