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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Begotten and Created


Tertullian, too, like the other Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), taught that Prov. 8:22-30 relates the words of the Son of God, Christ (speaking as “Wisdom”):

“‘At first the Lord {Jehovah} created me as the beginning of His ways, with a view to His own works, before He made the earth, before the mountains were settled; moreover, before all the hills did He beget me;’ that is to say, He created and generated me in His own intelligence.” - ANF, 3:601, ‘Against Praxeas.’


"Scripture in other passages teaches us of the creation of the individual parts. You have Wisdom {the Son of God} saying, ‘But before the depths was I brought forth,’ in order that you may believe that the depths were also ‘brought forth’ - that is created just as we create sons also, though we ‘bring them forth.’ It matters not whether the depth {like Wisdom itself} was made or born, so that a beginning be accorded to it" - ANF, 3:495, ‘Against Hermogenes.’


“Begotten” and “Son”

“Begotten” and “created” are English words carefully chosen by Bible translators to convey the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words of the original manuscripts as closely as possible. So first we should determine what the words “created” and “begotten” actually mean in English. The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1963 ed. that I have at home says:

create ... 1: to bring into existence...3 : cause, make” - p. 195. And beget ... begot ... begotten ... 1 : to procreate as the father : sire 2 : cause” - p. 77.

These two words can share the identical meaning of “cause to be.” That is, we may say the mother has created a child or (more often) someone has begotten something that he built or produced somehow.

The Hebrew word yalad means “to bear, bring forth, beget” but it can be used (as the equivalent English word also can) for “cause to be.” For example, when God says he “begot”/”fathered” (yalad) the nation of Israel (Deut. 32:6, 18), he clearly means that he caused it to be or created it as a nation. There is no implication that it was somehow begotten out of the very substance of his body. In like manner God calls the nation of Israel his son, his firstborn because it was the very first nation created by him and for him (cf. Ex. 4:22). Again, anything Jehovah creates may be said to be “begotten” by him and is his “offspring.”

“Is this the way you treat Jehovah? O foolish people, is not God your Father? Has he not created you?” - Deut. 32:6, Living Bible.

“You forsook the creator who begot [yalad] you and cared nothing for God who brought you to birth.” - Deut. 32:18, NEB.

“Men of Athens [non-Christians], .... The God who made the world and everything in it ... does not live in shrines made by man. .... Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold or silver, or stone...” - Acts 17:22, 24, 29, RSV.

It’s especially important to note the dual application of Psalm 2:7. Here Jehovah speaks to the Israelite king and says “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten [yalad] thee.” It’s true that the Israelite king (David?) prefigures Jesus Christ here, but notice that this scripture must directly apply to David also. Jehovah hasn’t literally begotten him out of his very own substance so that now King David’s very body and substance are identical to God’s.

No, the king has, at this point, been accepted by God in a new way. God has caused him to be in a new status.

So when this scripture is also applied to the Christ, it is to be applied in a similar (although greater) manner.

In Ps. 90:2 we also see yalad used in the sense of created: “Before the mountains were born [yalad] or you brought forth the earth” - NIV, AT, JB, NJB, NAB (1991), NASB; “begotten” - NAB (1970); “were given birth” - MLB. Or, “Before the mountains were created, before the earth was formed.” - Living Bible, cf. TEV. So, the Hebrew word most often translated “begotten, brought forth” may also be understood (as in English) to mean created or produced. And whether or not God means that the earth (or “mountains”) was literally “begotten” from his very own spirit body or created out of nothing really matters very little. The point is that at one time it did not exist and then was brought into existence by the Creator, God!

The very title of God (“Father”) used as “source of all things” shows this common meaning throughout both testaments. God is the Father of all. What does this mean? He is the Father of the Universe, the Father of all creation, and even the Father of the Angels. (They truly are called “sons of God” and they were in existence before the earth was created - Job 38:4, 7, cf..Living Bible and NIVSB f.n.) They are spirit persons. Should we assume then that the angels were “begotten” from God in the sense that they have existed eternally and are actually composed of his very own spirit substance, etc.? After all, it doesn’t actually say that they were “created.” We know they were created because their Father created/“begot” everything: He is the “Father of all” including the spirit persons in heaven. - Eph. 4:6; Heb. 1:7; 12:9.

1 Cor. 8:6 tells us, again, that God is the Father of ALL things. He is the Creator of all things. The very common usage of “Father,” “son,” “begotten,” “born,” etc. is again used here for creation. Not only is God the Father of all created things here, but these things have literally “come out” (ek) from him. (“But to us there is but one God, the Father, [‘out of’ - ek] whom are all things”.) Yes the original New Testament word used here is “ek” which literally means “out of” (W. E. Vine, p.1270) and is commonly used in the sense of generating, begetting. For example, Matt. 1:3 literally reads in the original manuscripts: “Judah generated Perez and Zerah out of [ek] Tamar.” Judah was the father, but the children were literally out of the body (essence, flesh) of their mother Tamar.

Someone could assume that since God existed alone before creation, he used some of his own substance (Spirit), which apparently is an incomprehensibly powerful and infinite energy “substance,” to create or produce the other spirit creatures in heaven (his ‘sons,’ the angels). If so, he may have modified it before producing them (just as he must have modified somewhat the earth ‘substance’ from which he created Adam’s substance - 'the son of God' - Luke 3:38, KJV; RSV; NASB.), so that their spirit “substance” is different from his own (just as there are different forms of energy found within this universe). Then we might assume that he directed his “Firstborn Son” (through whom he created everything else) to use more of that Spirit (unlimited energy) to create the material universe which scientists know started in an incomprehensible blast of energy (“the Big Bang”) which then converted into the matter and energy of our universe. God then (through his firstborn son) created (or “begot”) all the complex details within that universe, including mankind.

{Does it help to consider Adam and Eve? Eve “existed” for quite some time as a part of Adam - his very own rib. She was “begotten” out of (ek) Adam from his very substance. Her new existence began her own conscious life - she was not aware of her previous existence “within” Adam. She was not equal to Adam in authority. She did not know everything he did. She was not as powerful as he.

She shared his “substance” (literally), but she was by no means equal to him in any real sense. She was his “only-begotten” in the sense of being truly “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” and being the only one so “begotten,” but we must not consider them as both equally Adam in some "Binity."  She was an entirely different person, created (or “begotten”) some time after Adam, and in subjection to him (1 Cor. 11:3).

Whether Jesus was literally created out of Jehovah’s own substance is pure speculation, but even if he had been, it wouldn’t have to mean anything more than this example of Adam and Eve does.}

If these assumptions are correct, then, in a sense, everything that exists (other than God Himself, of course) came initially from (or “out of”) God’s very essence or being and was converted into its present state of different forms of matter and energy (in the universe) and different forms of spirit (in heaven). Therefore everything was “begotten” from God in a more literal sense than if he created everything from nothing. Everything would have been a part of God eternally until it was “begotten” in a new form. And if God produced his first creation (his “Firstborn”) from his own Spirit substance (whether he altered that substance or not) and then produced everything else (including angels) through that “firstborn Son” as His Master Worker, then the only thing that God would have created personally and directly would have been his “only-begotten Son” – see the BWF study paper. But what does it really matter to us at this time? We will know these things someday, but it doesn’t mean eternal life to know it now.

We do know that Jesus existed before he came to earth. We don’t know exactly when or how he was first produced or from what initial substance, if any. We know that, like other things created or produced by God (who is the Creator, or the Father), he has been described as “born” and “begotten” and “son.”

Col. 1:15, 18 is notable as an example of this.

“He [Christ] is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation, .... As he is the beginning, he was first to be born [first-born] from the dead, so that he should be first in every way” - The Jerusalem Bible.

So how is Jesus “the first-born of all creation”? In the same way that the parallel second half (Col. 1:18) of this comparison shows it to be: the very first one produced in that category. That is, just as Christ was the very first one of all the dead to be resurrected (or re-born or re-created) to enjoy eternal life (“firstborn from the dead” - Col. 1:18), so he is also the very first one of all things created (“firstborn of all creation” - Col. 1:15).

We should also consider that in whatever manner Christ is to be considered “firstborn,” he has others like him to follow. As “firstborn of creation” there were more created ones to follow (and they were created through him). As “firstborn from the dead” there were others to follow (and they were to be raised to eternal life through him). Also as firstborn Jesus was to have many brothers: “that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” - Ro. 8:29.

The point is that “firstborn” often does not mean a literal “begetting” in the sense of literal fleshly offspring from a literal parent. (Israel was the “firstborn” nation of God because it was the first one brought into existence by him to serve him exclusively: “Thus saith Jehovah, ‘Israel is my son, my first-born.’” - Ex. 4:22, ASV.) It is frequently used (especially by God) in the sense of creating. And it always means the first thing produced or created in the sense that others will eventually follow. If Jesus was called “firstborn Son of God” because he was literally begotten from the very substance of God, then (because of the inherent meaning of “firstborn”) others have been (or will be) produced in the same manner. Isn’t it most probable that “Firstborn Son” merely means the very first actual creation by God (and the only one directly by his own “hands”) and then the rest of the sons of God (and all creation after that) were produced from God through that “only-begotten” Son?

Be sure to compare Jesus’ own description of himself at Rev. 3:14. He calls himself “the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” Doesn’t this also tell us that Jesus was the very first one to be created? - See BWF study paper. Since God was never created, Jesus must be an “only-begotten god” at Jn 1:18 (modern NT texts: UBS; Nestle; Westcott and Hort).

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