A few months ago I was speaking on John 1 in the assembly, and spent a few minutes discussing Eternal Sonship. I've heard several comments on the Lord's Sonship in the meetings, many of which are nonsense. I thought it might be helpful for some of the younger folks in the assembly to lay out what Scripture actually says.
This is one of those topics where we have to be very cautious. When we talk about the Person of the Son, we need to understand from the outset that our very best understanding falls short. There's a hymn in the Little Flock that says:
The Father only Thy blest name
Of Son can comprehend.There's a lot of truth in that statement, and we do well to approach this sort of thing fearfully. Better men than I have run aground here...
The Lord Jesus has several titles that infer sonship:
- Son (John 5:19–23)
- Son of God (John 5:25)
- Son of Man (John 5:27)
- Son of David (Matthew 1:1)
- Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1)
- Son of His love (Colossians 1:13)
We understand that an eternal Person can have a non-eternal title. We'd look askance at someone who called Christ "the eternal Son of David." The Person is eternal, the relationship is not. Christ was Son when there was no David. He was Son when there was no Abraham, and He was Son when there was no man.
The question of Eternal Sonship revolves around exactly this question: we agree that Christ is eternal and uncreated: He is God blessed forever (Romans 9:5). But the question remains, is the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead eternal?
Let's pause to be sure we're very clear about this. I've heard preachers talk about Eternal Sonship who seemed to think the question is whether Christ is eternal. Nothing could be farther from the truth! C. A. Coates denied Eternal Sonship, but did not question Christ's essential and eternal Deity:
In reply to your letter I may say, in the first place, that the question raised in regard to the expression "the eternal Son", as applied to our Lord, is not at all a question as to His Deity, or His eternal personality. The dear brethren are all, thank God, perfectly clear as to these great and vital matters of revelation and of faith. The Son was eternally God (John 1:1), and subsisted in the form of God (Philippians 2:6); before Abraham was He was "I am", John 8:58. Whatever inscrutable blessedness and glory and power belongs to the Godhead belongs in the fullest and most absolute way to Christ; He is "over all, God blessed for ever", Romans 9:5.
(Letters of C. A. Coates, pp. 191–195)
Having made that clear, let's consider the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead: There are at least three times where Scripture takes us back into past eternity and names the Father and the Son: John 5, John 17, and Hebrews 1. There may well be others. These three passages convince me of Christ's eternal Sonship. The Lord clearly speaks of His relationship with the Father as Father before the world began.
That being said, C. A. Coates is correct that scripture doesn't use the title "Eternal Son." We try to be very careful to use the words of Scripture, especially with regard to Christ – we should be careful about using a title Scripture doesn't use. We don't want to make a person an offender for a word, but we realize it's extremely easy to fall into error when we touch the Person of Christ.
If we examine what Scripture says about the Father-Son relationship in eternity, we find it consistently uses the title "Son" to refer to Christ. I know a lot of "brethren" who believe that the title "Son of God" is eternal, but I can find no evidence of that in Scripture.
I admit when I hear someone talk about "the Eternal Son of God" I wince a little. As far as I have been able to find, scripture talks about "the Son" in eternity past, it doesn't talk about "the Son of God" in that context. And yes, I have said "the Eternal Son of God" many times.
Scripture connects the title "Son of God" with national Israel (John 1:49), while it connects "Son of Man" with the Gentiles (Daniel 7:13–14). I don't see in Scripture that either title is eternal.
Yes, I do believe in eternal Sonship. No, I don't believe the eternal title is "Son of God".