Protesting Voices - 21st Century Reformation

Protesting Voices
by Anthony Buzzard
From Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian pp 220 - 222
Protesting Voices
Various voices have been raised in protest against what later became the Church’s official version of
the origins of the Son of God. His beginning was supposed to have been in pre-history. He was presented
as an apparent rival to the One God, coequal with Him in every way, even self-existent. Because the
language of begetting was biblical it was maintained but emptied of recognizable meaning. Commentator
Adam Clarke was one of many who protested about the garbled language attributing a non-biblical Sonship
to Jesus:
With all due respect for those who differ, I must say that the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of
Christ is antiscriptural and highly dangerous. This doctrine I reject for the following reasons: I have
not been able to find any express declaration in the Scriptures concerning it…To say that the Son
was begotten from all eternity is in my opinion absurd. And the phrase “eternal Son” is a positive
self-contradiction. “Eternity” is that which has had no beginning, nor stands in any reference to
time. “Son” supposes time, generation, and father and time also antecedent to such generation.
Therefore the conjunction of these two terms “Son” and “eternity” is absolutely impossible as they
imply essentially different and opposite ideas. 1
Equally outspoken was the protest of the British poet, politician and theologian John Milton. Reflecting
on the “orthodox” creeds of the Church he remarked:
It is wonderful with what futile subtleties, or rather with what juggling artifices, certain individuals
have endeavoured to elude or obscure the plain meaning of these passages...They hold that the Son
is also co-essential with the Father, and generated from all eternity…It is impossible to find a single
text in all Scripture to prove the eternal generation of the Son. 2
J.O. Buswell, who was formerly Dean of the Graduate School, Covenant College, St. Louis, Missouri,
examined the issue of the begetting of the Son in the Bible and concluded with these words. He wrote as a
The notion that the Son was begotten by the Father in eternity past, not as an event, but as an
inexplicable relationship, has been accepted and carried along in the Christian theology since the
fourth century...We have examined all the instances in which “begotten” or “born” or related words
are applied to Christ, and we can say with confidence that the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say
about “begetting” as an eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. 3
No less strong was the exclamation of Professor Nathaniel Emmons of Yale (1745-1850) that “eternal
generation” is “eternal nonsense.” 4 Emmons was a keen logician with a terse and lucid theological style. It
is doubtful if the critically important Trinitarian phrase “eternal generation” should be ranked as any more
intelligible than “hot ice cubes,” “married bachelors” or “square circles.”
Had The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge been consulted, Bible readers
would have been warned against the concept underlying the Trinity that the Son was “eternally generated.”
Commentary, on Luke 1:35.
John Milton, “On the Son of God and the Holy Spirit,” 60, 51.
A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Zondervan, 1962, 110.
L.L. Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism, 104.
“Thus the doctrine of eternal generation as a basis for the preexistence lacks support in the Bible.” 5
Protestants taking their “sola scriptura” slogan seriously could have safely dropped the idea of eternal
generation and returned to belief in the One God and Jesus as the human Messiah.
It is only by reading certain verses in John, and a very few in Paul and Hebrews, through Trinitarian
lenses that the unitarian creed of Jesus is avoided and obscured. Starting with the Hebrew Bible and
taking seriously the New Testament’s own accounts of Jesus’ origin and his own creedal unitarianism will
provide the necessary and illuminating corrective.
12:21. Otto Kirn adds most helpfully, “‘Only begotten’ of John 1:14, 3:16 expresses the close relation between Father
and Son in regard to its stability, not its origin; and ‘the firstborn of every creature’ of Col. 1:15 alludes to the
preeminence of the author of salvation over creation, not to his origin.”