Notes on the Eternal Son


1. Both John (1:1) and Paul (Phil. 2:6) clearly teach that before his incarnation Jesus was God. There is not the slightest suggestion that he was the eternal Son of God, a point that could easily have been made if it was true.

2. If Jesus was the Son in eternity, he must have derived from his Father and, as eternally generated, he was subordinate. Both John and Paul clearly deny this. On the assumption of his subordination, how can we infer that the Son was involved on an equal footing in the plan of salvation (covenant of redemption) formed before the foundation of the earth (Eph. 1:4)?

3. The mere fact that the triune God made fleshly man in his image with a view to its eventual unique fulfilment in the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29)  suggests that a change in nature was indispensable. Thus the Word in order to conquer as man in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.) changed his nature and changed it again when he was transformed at his ascension (cf. John 3:13; 13:3; 6:62; 1 Cor. 15:50; Eph. 4:9f.).

4. Theologians agree that the economic Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not taught in the OT. It was Jesus who as the incarnate Son taught his disciples to call God Father on the basis of his own incarnate sonship by which he became their elder brother (Heb. 2:10-13, cf. Rom. 8:29).

5. If Jesus was the Son of the Father in eternity, who was his mother? Since Melchizedek who was Jesus’ type is presented to us as lacking both father and mother (Heb. 7:3), we are compelled to draw the conclusion that when the Son of God is referred to, projectionist language* is being used as it is elsewhere (e.g. John 3:16f.; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1:2; 1 John 4:9f.).

6. All the evidence suggests that the Word who was God humbled himself and became a real man of flesh and blood (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:14) and as such was created in the image of God like the rest of us (Gen. 1:26f., cf. Heb. 2:17).** Denial of this constitutes heresy (1 John 4:3; 2 John 7). But the NT stresses the fact that now in heaven, he is no longer incarnate (1 Cor. 15:50 Heb. 2:7,9; 5:7), for it is impossible for a ‘hand-made’ body of flesh any more than a temple (cf. Mark 14:58; 2 Cor. 5:1) to contain the nature of the omnipotent, omnipresent Creator God (1 K. 8:27; Isa. 66:1f.; Acts 7:49). Following his ascension, transformation, glorification and heavenly session, however, Jesus, who was and ever remains God in person, is still man the second Adam and the image of God in nature (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3 and note 1 Cor. 15:24-28), and it is to his image that we human beings are conformed (Rom. 8:29, cf. 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18). It is as such that he is accorded the attributes and generic nature of God (Mt. 28:18; Eph. 1:10,20-22; Col. 1:15-20; 2:10) and pronounced Lord (Acts 2:36; Phil. 2:9-11).

7.  Again we see that change is inherent in the situation. This is further supported by the recognition that when the Word laid aside his glory in order to become incarnate (cf. John 17:5,24), he thereby divested himself of his divine nature (kenosis, Phil. 2:7). So while forever  God in person, ontology and identity, Jesus  as man made in the image of God recovered his former glory and received by delegation (Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:4) rule and authority over all things  (Mt. 11: 27;  28:18) as was implicitly promised to Adam on condition of obedience (Ps. 8:4-8, cf. Ps. 21:5; Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:5-9). In other words, what he relinquished at his incarnation, he recovered as man when, having overcome the world notably in the flesh (John 16:33; Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.), he was transformed and sat down at his Father’s right hand.

8. If this is true, Chalcedon’s two-nature or hypostatic union theory (dyophysitism) is fallacious, for how could he who was the divine agent of creation inherit what he already owned  (Dt. 10:14; 2 K. 19:15; Ps. 24:1; 50:10f., Col. 1:16, etc.) unless he was first impoverished (2 Cor. 8:9) and emptied of his divine nature (Phil. 2:7)? John also implies this when, having told us in 1:4 that in him was life, he informs us in 5:26 that God has granted the Son also to have life in himself. The truth is that the widely asserted notion that God the Word could not change his nature without ceasing to be God in person, a notion that is not taught in Scripture but apparently inferred from Greek philosophy, is as mistaken as the idea that man cannot shed his flesh and blood and remain man (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50). Paul especially maintains that he could and did and this to the praise and glory of God (Phil. 2:5-11). In brief, our Saviour is both God in person and man in nature and as such he rules the universe.

9. But there is more to say. If the Word laid aside his divine glory to become flesh, he ipso facto laid aside his divine nature. If he did not, then he must have had two natures at one and the same time in which case he was not human but clearly different from all his brothers (cf. Heb. 2:10-13). This is explicitly denied by the author of Hebrews (2:17). But if we say that he retained his divine nature, then his divine nature was crucified along with his human nature of flesh which is absurd. But to say this is also to imply that his divine nature died which is impossible since God who has neither beginning nor end is both immortal and imperishable.

10.  According to Jesus and Paul there are two natural necessities for man: spiritual rebirth (John 3:1-8) and bodily transformation (1 Cor. 15:50). The incarnate Jesus achieved both as his baptism (Mt. 3:13-17) and his ascension (Eph. 1:21f.; 4:9f.; Phil. 3:21) show. Thus not without reason did Paul insist that it was Jesus the man who brought to light both life and ‘incorruption’ (Gk.  2 Tim. 1:10, cf. 1 Cor. 15:53) and now serves as our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5).

11. If Jesus was genuinely human and had only one nature as such, how do we know that he retained his own identity as the Word of God? There are at least five basic answers to this. First, he was virgin-born; second, his Father owned him as his Son especially at his baptism and transfiguration; third, he enabled him to perform miracles or signs testifying to his identity (cf. John 3:2,21, etc.); fourth, he justified him by raising him from the dead because he was personally sinless (Acts 2:23f.), and only God by divine intention can be sinless (Rom. 3:19-26; 4:15f.; 11:32; Gal. 3:22; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5), and, fifth, he transformed him at his ascension and enabled him to sit at his right hand.

12.  But there are two other important points to make: Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11 both inform us that God will by no means give his glory to another (cf. 1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:9). Thus, while the Word became flesh for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9), he was transformed at his ascension (cf. John 20:17) and regained his former glory (John 17:5,24, cf. Mt. 28:18). This was notably to the glory of God (Phil. 2:11, cf. Rom. 14:9) not to fleshly man. We are also told that there is one God and one mediator between God and man the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5) implying that Jesus was both God and man. Only he as such could bridge the gap between the two.


* An excellent example of projectionist language is provided by Wayne Grudem in his commentary on 1 Peter, p.159 (Leicester, 1988). He points out that we refer quite naturally to the birth of the Queen in 1926. The truth is, however, that at that time she was not the Queen and could not reasonably have expected to become so. The picture changed, however, when King Edward V111 abdicated. On the assumption that he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11), God ordained that she should become Queen in 1953.

** Donald Guthrie rightly says in his New Testament Theology, p.404 (Leicester, 1981) that the NT carefully safeguards both the real pre-existence and the real human nature of Jesus Regrettably, presumably on the hypothesis that Jesus retained his divine nature when he became flesh and took on human nature as well (Heb. 2:14,17), he asserts on page 406 that the NT theologian has no alternative but to state the dual nature and leave it there. If this is so, these statements are clearly contradictory. The plain fact is that if Jesus was truly human, his divine nature which was eternal and ‘not made by hand’ (acheiropoietos) and human nature which was temporary (Heb. 2:7,9) and ‘made by hand’ (cheiropoietos) could not possibly co-exist in his ‘hand-made’ physical body at one and the same time. Replacement is central to the issue (1 Cor. 15:53f., cf. Mark 14:58; 2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 9:11,24; 10:9, etc.). If it is maintained that they could, Docetism with which the church has been plagued for centuries is the inevitable outcome. In order to ‘house’ the generic nature of God, Jesus, the man of flesh and blood, had to be transformed (1 Cor. 15:50) to take on the fullness of the divine image (Col. 1:15, etc.) in accordance with his Father’s intention at his ascension (Mt. 28:18; Col. 1:19; 2:9, cf. 1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:49f.).  Not for nothing does Paul say that Jesus brought to light both life and ‘incorruption’ (Gk 2 Tim. 1:10, cf. 1 Cor. 1:53). It should be noted that in the book of Revelation both God (Rev. 4:10) and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13) live forever and ever. 

See further my:

Eternal Son?

Still Docetic

More on Docetism

The Ecclesiastical Christ,

Baillie and Packer on Kenosis

Two ‘Natural’ Necessities

,Manufactured Or Not So

and other articles listed on the home page