The Gospel Coalition

In recently reading through a very readable translation of Gregory of Nazianzus' five five theological orations and the other Cappadocian fathers, I've begun to wonder how anyone could reject the eternal generation of the Son if one understands the idea correctly and examines the biblical evidence. Unfortunately, a number of evangelical scholars have reached a different conclusion. But I hope that the traditional view continues to carry the day. Without it, I'm not sure how we keep the designations "Father," "Son," and "Spirit" from being functionally arbitrary in their eternal relations.

In an earlier post, I linked to a couple of quotes from Gerald Bray and D. A. Carson supporting the biblical basis for the doctrine.

Shortly thereafter Steve Holmes linked to my brief piece, suggesting that my framing of the issue as an exegetical one was a good example---or bad example!---of evangelical biblicism. (The post was merely about method, not about the doctrine, as Steve believes in the eternal generation of the Son and thinks it is virtually essential to Trinitarianism.) Steve's knowledge of historical theology dwarfs mine, but I would disagree when he says "I am fairly sure that no-one in the fourth century thought they could read eternal generation off the pages of Scripture." I would suggest that the Cappadocians, for examine, did think it was a biblical position that could be demonstrated through texts (though of course that does not preclude the necessity of theological synthesis and application, and of finding the "sense" of the whole of Scripture).

Keith Johnson---author of a very good book applying Augustine's trinitarianism to questions of pluralism and world religions---has a post at the Gospel Coalition on the eternal generation of the Son that applies to this discussion. He writes, "Although one might assume that Augustine's commitment to eternal generation is merely rooted in a handful of dubious "proof texts," nothing could be further from the truth. This doctrine is rooted in a rigorous and comprehensive Trinitarian hermeneutic." You can read his whole post for a summary of how Augustine sought to demonstrate this doctrine from Scripture.

For those who want to investigate this issue further, Kevin Giles has a new book out on the theology and history of this doctrine: The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (IVP, 2012). Giles has written several books on the Trinity, seeking to advance an egalitarian interpretation on manhood and womanhood and arguing that it is illegitimate to appeal to the roles within the Godhead as an example of submission and equality. He has tangled with Robert Letham on these issues, but on this they are united about the correctness of this doctrine and its importance for the church. For this reason, Letham penned the foreword.

Finally, for any interested in a wonderful overview of "Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship" regarding the Trinity, I cannot recommend too highly Letham's The Holy Trinity (P&R, 2004). It's an outstanding resource.



June 19, 2012 at 08:11 AM

Thank you for putting together these resources on Eternal Generation. It is unfortunate that some good men have slipped away from rigorous biblical teaching on this into the notion of "eternal subordination of roles in the Trinity." That angle on subordination in the Trinity has serious problems and in my way of thinking is dangerously close to the plain error of subordinationism.

I think it best for neither egalitarians nor complementarians to appeal to the Trinity as proof for their views. There is plenty of other data in Scripture to grapple with on matter of gender roles. No need to tamper with the Trinty. After all God did not say "Let us make a social construct in our image."


June 19, 2012 at 04:23 AM

I'm currently writing a doctoral thesis in this area. The one thing those in favour of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan understanding of the Eternal generation do over and over again is exegete the Bible. I would go so far as to say that the debate is in content doctrinal, but in method largely exegetical. It's a conflict over how the Bible is read.