Article 2 (continued)
In Article 2 of the Nicene Creed the early church confessed that Jesus Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by Whom all things were made.”
We have seen that the first two articles of the Nicene Creed were based on I Corinthians 8:6: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we by Him.” According to this Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is the One through Whom the Father has created all things. All things are of the Father. However, they are by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is through Christ therefore that the Father has created all things.
This fact indicates that Jesus Christ is truly God. For creation is a work of God. It is not the creature who creates. God creates. That Jesus Christ is the One by Whom all things were created and therefore is divine is the testimony of John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” And Who is this divine Word by Whom all things were created? According to verse 14 of this same chapter He is Christ. For “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” To establish the divinity of Jesus Christ therefore it should have been necessary for the early church simply to confess her faith in “one Lord Jesus Christ. . .by Whom all things were made.”
However, because the deity of Jesus Christ was being so adamantly denied by various elements within the church, the early church was compelled to spell this truth out more specifically. Hence, she added that Jesus Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God.” This is a biblical term which, more than any other expression perhaps, teaches that Jesus is truly God. But those who denied the deity of Jesus Christ also used this term, robbing it however of all its meaning. Hence, the early church felt compelled also to explain this term further. And so she added that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God is “begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”
Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God. This we read in five different passages of Scripture. Perhaps the most well known is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
It is rather striking, in light of this expression, that the Bible also speaks of other sons of God. Thus, for example, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament is more than once called God’s son. This is true in Exodus 4:22: “And thou (Moses) shall say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is My son, even My firstborn.” In turn, the holy angels of God in heaven are called the sons of God. This we read in Psalm 89:6: “For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?” Besides this the saints of God are frequently called in Scripture either the sons of God or the children of God. Consider for example Romans 8:16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Also, John 1:12, “But as many as received Him to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” As we have already seen in connection with the first article of this creed, we are the children of God in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are not only adopted by God to be His sons and heirs, but we are also in Jesus Christ born again. Thus we also bear God’s image even as a child bears the image of his parents.
In spite of the fact that the Scriptures acknowledge many sons of God, Jesus Christ is called the only-begotten Son of God. How can this be? How can Jesus be the only-begotten Son of God since we also are the sons of God—sons not only of adoption but also who are born or begotten of God? Jesus is the only-begotten Son in that He is begotten of God in a way that we are not. We may be begotten of God. But Christ is begotten in a way that is altogether different and unique. Jesus is begotten of God in a way that no one else is or can be. In this sense He is the only-begotten Son of God.
If we understand this expression in the light of the rest of Scripture then we see that the sonship of Christ is unique in that His sonship is divine. He is the divine Son of God. We are merely human sons.
This divine character of Jesus’ sonship becomes evident if we consider the fact that the Scriptures often speak of Jesus as being equal with God. This was Jesus’ own testimony of Himself and was clearly understood by the people. In response to the persecution of the Jews for healing a lame man on the Sabbath day, “Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God ‘ (John 5:17, 18). InJohn 10:30 we read the claim of Jesus, “I and My Father are one.” In response, the Jews took up stones to kill Him “for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God” (verse 33). The apostle Paul also teaches the same truth in Philippians 2:6: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”
Besides this, the Scriptures ascribe to Jesus Christ divine names. Thus for example in I John 5:20 we are told that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is “the true God, and life eternal.” In Romans 9:5 we read of Christ, “Who is over all, God blessed for ever.” Divine attributes also are ascribed to Jesus. According to the confession of Peter, Jesus is all-knowing. This is found in John 21:17: “He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Appearing to John on the island of Patmos, Jesus informs John, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). Furthermore, divine works are ascribed to Jesus. We have already seen from John 1:3that Jesus created all things. According to Hebrews 1:3 He also upholds all things. “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Jesus healed the paralytic let down through the roof exactly to prove to the people that He has the power on earth to forgive sins (Luke 5:20-24). Jesus also raises from the dead. InJohn 5:21 we read, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.” Finally, divine honors are also ascribed to Jesus Christ. Are we not to believe in Him? Thus we read in John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Did not Stephen worship Jesus, asking Jesus upon his death, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”? (Acts 7:59). And Thomas, upon seeing the spear thrust in Jesus’ side, confessed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
In light of this witness of Holy Writ there can be no doubt that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God in that He is the divine Son of God. Many sons are begotten of God. The angels are begotten of God. The saints are begotten of God. But their sonship is different from the sonship of Jesus Christ. He is the divine Son of God. And He is the only such Son of God.
Certainly Jesus is personally distinct from the Father. He is not to be confused with the Father or identified with the Father. For He is begotten of the Father. Yet He is equal with the Father, one with the Father, and eternal with the Father. He is coeternal, co-equal and co-essential with the Father. This is all implied in the confession that Jesus Christ is God’s only-begotten Son.
However, there were many in the early church that would not confess these truths. They either denied the personal distinction between the Father and the Son or they denied that the Son was truly God with the Father. In our next article we shall see who these heretics were and how the early church confessed the truth of Christ’s deity over against them.