15 Things You Need to Know About the Eternal Generation of the Son

Jeremy Bouma on January 9th, 2018. Tagged under ,,.

Jeremy Bouma

Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) has pastored on Capitol Hill and with the Evangelical Covenant Church in Michigan. He founded THEOKLESIA, which connects the 21st century Church to the vintage Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and makes the vintage faith relevant at jeremybouma.com.

9780310537878Although the doctrine of eternal generation has been affirmed by theologians since the fourth century, it has fallen on hard times. A new book aims to reverse the trend.

Retrieving Eternal Generation addresses the hermeneutical logic and biblical bases of the doctrine of eternal generation, key historical figures and moments in the development of the doctrine of eternal generation, and the broad dogmatic significance of the doctrine of eternal generation for theology.

Corresponding with its fifteen chapters, below are fifteen things you need to know about eternal generation—and why it is vital to reclaim this biblical, historical relation of the Son to the Father.

1) Integral to Knowing God’s Identity

Scott Swain “correlates two different ways Scripture names God: as the one divine Being, and as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit identified by their relational, personal names” (20), showing how eternal generation is integral to knowing God’s identity.

2) Proverbs 8 Teaches About the Son of God

In his exposition of Proverbs 8, Matthew Emerson “attends not to Wisdom but to the way Wisdom proceeds from God while remaining in him. Here we have the movement of thought necessary for confession of eternal generation” (21).

3) Micah 5 Reveals the Son’s Going-Forth

Mark Gignilliat shows that Micah provides instruction about what lies behind the predicted or predetermined birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem: “Something has happened in primal days in the divine council, and this something is the mysterious aspect of a going-forth behind the Messiah’s coming-forth” (21).

4) John 5 Offers Alternative Vocabulary

“D. A. Carson identifies John 5:26 as a crux interpretum for the doctrine of eternal generation”. Although “eternal” and “generation” are not present, its terminology “trades on categories of giving, receiving, and having ‘life in oneself’”—offering “a biblical doctrine of eternal generation that operates with one of the alternative vocabularies provided by Scripture itself” (21).

5) Monogenes Offers Insight

“Charles Lee Irons argues that the Johannine word monogenes, contra the strong modern consensus that renders it ‘unique,’ ought to be translated ‘only begotten’” (22). His lexical argument from Greek sources rehabilitates one of the most eloquent terms for eternal generation of the Son.

6) God’s Begetting Is His Own Eternality

Madison Pierce offers insight into “You are my son, today I have begotten you”  by arguing “that if ‘today’ sets a beginning point for the begetting of this royal son, it is the today of God’s own eternity” (22).

7) Father’s Divine Self-Naming Is Eternal Event

Kendall Soulen investigates the divine self-naming, revealing “The Father gives the name above all names to the Son; Soulen invites us to think of this giving of the divine name as an eternal event that takes place between the Father and the Son” (23).

8) Core to Ideas About God, Christ

Lewis Ayres explains that “Since Origen, eternal generation has…been recognized as uniquely integral to any coherent Christian teaching on God” (23). Given this special rank among doctrines, eternal generation sits at the core of Origin’s ideas about God and Christ

9) Son’s Sending Connected to His Generation

Keith Johnson’s study of Augustine explores his focus “on the Johannine theology of sending, and he connects the sending of the Son into the world quite directly to the prior procession or generation of the Son in the life of God” (23).

10) Assumes “Same” and “Equal”

Chad Van Dixhoorn examines the Reformed tradition by focusing on the Westminster Assembly, showing the importance of The Shorter Catechism’s “same” and “equal” language: “use of these terms, both here and in the Larger Catechism, and the insistence on unity of substance created a crisp (now classic) Trinitarian summary” (205).

11) The Glorious Happiness of the Divine Life

Christina Larsen reveals how Jonathan Edwards worked out the “implications of eternal generation for God’s single essence and its attributes,” particularly providing the foundation for his “confession of God as happy, or infinitely pleased in himself with himself” (24).

12) Connected to Theologia and Oikonomia 

Michael Allen explores Barth’s “uninteresting” doctrine of eternal generation. Of note is “the systemic manner in which he connects this doctrine to ancillary topics or themes,” particularly theologia, God’s inner life and work, and oikonomia the scope and sequence of the Gospel of the triune God (226).

13) Makes Philosophical Sense

Through philosophical theology, Mark Makin “devotes considerable attention to what the model makes of the metaphysics of essential dependence” (25), concluding the doctrine “has proven philosophically coherent and perfectly compatible with the Son’s necessary existence and aseity” (259).

14) Helps Understand Salvation

Fred Sanders shows “that eternal generation is a doctrine that is fruitful for an understanding of salvation and the Christian life….Eternal generation is the reality in the life of God that unfolds in the life of the redeemed as adoptive sonship based on eternal sonship” (25).

15) Secures Trinitarianism

Josh Malone offers a dogmatic survey to show “The grammar of eternal generation is what allows Trinitarians to recognize God’s essential unity, personal distinctions, and relational order” (25), in addition to concrete effects of the incarnate Son’s eternal generation in creation and re-creation, adoption and resurrection.


9780310537878Interested in reading more about why Retrieving Eternal Generation matters? Buy your copy today on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christian Book.

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  • Rod Rogers 10 months ago

    I hope that those who read this book do so with at least one eye open. There is only one thing you have to remember when discussing Eternal Generation; Truth. It’s not a question of, “this verse allows this” or “this verse would lead one to believe”. Make no mistake about it, doctrine is not established upon a preponderance of evidence. You need to read that last sentence again. Doctrine, at least Christian doctrine is made from fact. You need to have a verse that says something is so for it to be so. If you can’t, then go do something else. Take Galatians 4:4 for instance, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law”. Does it say that “God” sent the Son from heaven? Does this verse say anything about anything “eternal”? No. Now, does this verse say, “the Word was made of a woman”? No. Does this verse say, “The Word was under the law”? Obviously not. So, when does the context of Galatians 4:4 take place? At the incarnation. So, when did God send the Son? Contextually, at the incarnation. So, you need to look at the whole verse when someone quotes one.
    Scripture is clear. The Word became flesh and that took place at the incarnation, not in eternity past. The Son is never spoken of before the incarnation. He “became” the son of God when he took on flesh, at the incarnation. That’s what the bible says and it does not say any different. It never says that the Word was a Son before the incarnation. I don’t have a dog in this fight like John MacArthur did. I don’t care which way this goes as long as it goes according to scripture!

  • Michael Williams 4 months ago

    Rod Rogers says above, “You need to have a verse that says something is so for it to be so. If you can’t, then go do something else.” Where in Scripture do we have the words, “God is one Being who exists as three distinct persons”? Nowhere. Yet that is exactly what we believe because when taken as a whole, Scriptural revelation leads us to that conclusion.