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Is the Son eternal?

Submitted: 3/25/2007
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Question: How do I explain to my apostolic (supposely Oneness) Sunday school teacher that the Son of God is not eternal?

Answer: Concerning the birth of the Son of God, Hebrews 1:5 states
'You are My Son, today I have begotten You.' The word translated 'today' means 'on this day.' This is referring to a specific day in time when the Son of God was born. We know that this actually happened around 4 BC in a small town called Bethlehem. Luke 2:6-7 says, 'So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son.'

Prior to His birth, the Son of God existed in two ways. First, He obviously existed as an unborn child in the womb of His mother. Second, and more importantly, prior to His conception He existed only as an idea or plan. For example, 1 Peter 1:20 says, 'He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.' This verse is telling us that the Son was planned out before the creation, but only at the appointed time in history did He appear to mankind by means of the natural childbirth process.

The Scripture verses that many people struggle with are those that seem to say that the Son created all things. For example, Colossians 1:16 says, 'For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth.' Bro. David Bernard provides an excellent explanation of the creation verses in his book 'The Oneness View of Jesus Christ,' pg. 55-57 (available at www.PentecostalPublishing.com):

Some of the passages that speak of Jesus as the Creator also refer to Him as the Son. (See Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 1:8.) Consequently, trinitarians maintain that an eternal Son co-created the world alongside a distinct person called the Father. But these passages can be understood as simply stating that the One who later became the Son created the world. For example, when we say, “President Lincoln was born in Kentucky,” we do not mean that he was president at that time. Rather, the one who later became president was born there. The title “Son” refers to the humanity conceived in the womb of Mary. (See Luke 1:35; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 1:5.) As such, the Son did not exist before the Incarnation and did not create the world in the beginning. The Creator is the eternal Spirit of God who later incarnated Himself in the Son and was manifested as Jesus Christ.

Some passages express a further truth: God created the world with the Son in view, or in dependence upon the future manifestation of Himself in the Son. “God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, . . . by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God based all creation on the future Incarnation and Atonement. Though He did not pick up the humanity until the fullness of time, the Incarnation was His plan from the beginning, and He acted upon it from the start. In the plan of God, the Lamb was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). The Lamb was “foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times” (I Peter 1:19-20).

How and why did God depend upon the Incarnation at creation? God created humans in the beginning so that they would love Him, worship Him, have fellowship with Him, give Him glory, and perform His will. (See Isaiah 43:7; Revelation 4:11.) At the same time, God foreknew that they would fall into sin and thereby defeat His purpose for creation. But God, “who calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Romans 4:17), also had in His mind the Incarnation and the plan of salvation through the atoning death of Christ. Even though He knew humanity would sin, He also knew that through the Son of God humanity could be restored and could still fulfill His original purpose. In this sense God created the world through the Son, or by using the Son. In the same way, God justified Old Testament believers on the basis of the future Cross (Romans 3:25).

This explanation fits Hebrews 1. Verse 2 shows that the Son was not eternal but is the revelation of God “in these last days.” Verse 3 shows that the Son is not another divine person but rather “the brightness of his [God’s] glory, and the express image of his [God’s] person.” The word “worlds” in verse 2 is from the plural of the Greek word aion, which is usually translated “age.” This word possibly connotes that God’s creative work “by the Son” relates to time, to redemptive history. Thus some translations say that by the Son God created “the ages,” “all orders of existence,” or “this world of time.”

Other verses also show that God created and now sustains all things “by” Jesus Christ in the sense of purpose and plan. “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” (ICorinthians 8:6). Ephesians 3:9 says, “God . . . created all things by Jesus Christ,” and verse 11 speaks of “the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

A study of Greek reinforces this understanding. Colossians 1:16 uses two Greek prepositions to say that all things were created “by” the Son. The first preposition is en, literally “in.” Colossians 1:16 also uses the preposition dia, as does Hebrews 1:2 and I Corinthians 8:6, and it literally means “through.” In other words, Christ was not a second person who served as the agent of creation (which would make Him subordinate, and not coequal as trinitarians teach). Rather, we can say that God created all things in Christ and through Christ.

The one God, who is known by various names and titles such as Father, Word, Holy Spirit, and Jehovah, is our Creator. In view of the impending Fall of humanity, God’s plan of creation was predicated upon the man Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The church exists and we have spiritual life today not only because of God’s initial creative act thousands of years ago but also because of God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ. We are sustained daily by the grace of God bestowed upon us through the Cross, and the living Christ imparts life to us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus created the human race initially and is yet transforming and molding those who believe in Him, for Jesus is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).