Does El Shaddai Depict God as a Woman?

Does El Shaddai Depict God as a Woman?

One of the more interesting arguments those who advocate praying to God as “Mother” use is that the Hebrew name El Shaddai depicts God as a woman. The term El Shaddai is correctly translated as “God Almighty” in our translations of the Bible. But many feminists argue that it should instead of be translated as “God of breasts.” This is because the Hebrew word for breast is shad and its plural form is shadayim while the name for God of El Shaddai is more accurately transliterated as shaday. Since the word for breasts and Shaddai or shaday look similar to each other, they conclude that the word does not mean “Almighty,” but is a depiction of God as the many-breasted one who brings fertility. And since women and not men have breasts, they argue that we may refer to God using female pronouns.

The primary argument of those who argue that El Shaddai means “God of breasts” is based on Genesis 49:25 which says, “by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty (shaday) who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts (shadayim) and of the womb.” Since shaday is repeated in the word for breasts, they argue that shaday should be interpreted as a depiction of God having breasts. This argument is also used by critics of the Bible to argue that the God of the Old Testament is an evolution of the pagan fertility gods of the people around Israel.

But the problem with this argument is that it commits both the etymological fallacy and the collapsing semantic domain fallacy. The etymological fallacy is a common mistake where an interpreter will examine the etymology or makeup of a word and then compare it to similar words to determine its meaning. Comparing and contrasting different words to each other can shed light on the meaning of a word, but the meaning of a word is not determined by its etymology, but by its usage. We need to ask how a particular author is using the word in the context he is employing it. In Genesis 49:25, Jacob is creating a play on words between shaday and shadayim: the God who is all-powerful gives fertility. But it does not follow that because an author chooses to use two words that sound similar to each other in a sentence that he is trying to communicate that both words have the same meaning.

For example, if I were to say, “I was born into this world and borne on my mother’s lap,” I am creating a play on words between “born” and “borne” which are homophones. They sound similar to each other but carry different meanings. But it would be absurd for some future archeologist who is trying to understand English to conclude that “born” and “borne” have the same meaning because they look similar to each other and are used together in the same sentence for rhetorical effect.

The words shaday and shad (breast) also look and sound similar to the Hebrew verb shadad which means “to destroy.” Using the same etymological fallacy, someone could argue that El Shaddai means “God who destroys.” But the word shad (breast) and the verb shadad (to destroy) have no direct relationship to each other even though they look similar. Therefore, it is logically possible that there is likewise no direct relationship between shad (breast) and shaday. Some have suggested that shaday is related to the Akkadian word shadu which means “mountain” so El Shaddai means “God of mountains.” If there is a similarity here, it possible that it is because both breasts and mountains have a similar shape to them. My theory is that God as the Almighty One is etymologically related to this Akkadian term for mountains because mountains are often symbolically associated with power (Ps 18:2). As you can see from all of this, the problem with using etymology to determine what shaday means is that there are multiple possible solutions which contradict each another.

The feminist argument also commits the collapsing semantic domain fallacy. This fallacy occurs when an interpreter fails to keep the different ways a word can be used distinct from each other. A single word can be used in multiple ways depending on how the author wants to use the term. Even if the spelling of shaday and shadayim (breasts) was the same in Hebrew, it would not follow that El Shaddai means “God of breasts” if shaday has many different possible meanings depending on the context. How the term is being used is determined by authorial intent, not by how it is spelled. In English, we have many words that are spelled the same but have different meanings depending on the context. For example, the word “bat” can refer to an animal or to something that is used in baseball. The word “fine” can refer to a price you pay because you did something wrong or to express that something is good. But “bat” and “fine” do not carry both their meanings at the same time when they are used. Only one meaning is true in each occurrence of the word and the same is true of Hebrew words as well.

One reason why El Shaddai is translated as “God Almighty” is because Jerome translated shaday as omnipotens in his Latin Vulgate to describe God as all-powerful or omnipotent. Another reason is because those who translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek sometimes translated shaday as pantokrator which means “the almighty, all-powerful, or omnipotent one.” Since they regarded it as a term for God’s power, the majority of modern scholars follow their view instead of the revisionists. But even if the background of shaday is “breasts,” the meaning would be that God is the one who gives fertility, not that he has breasts since God by nature is spirit and not flesh (John 4:24).

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The Anti-Trinitarianism of Calling God “Mother”

The Anti-Trinitarianism of Calling God “Mother”

Many liberal feminists argue that we should not just refer to God as “Father,” but call God “Mother” as well. Their argument is that the title of “Father” for God was an accommodation to the patriarchal culture of the ancient Near East where the father was the head of the household. But now that we have come to realize that God is neither male nor female, they argue that we should refer to God as both “Father” and “Mother” in order to emphasize this truth and break free from our patriarchal culture that oppresses women. By calling God “Mother,” they believe that they are empowering women and affirming the truth that both men and women are made in God’s image. While there are many problems with this line of reasoning, the biggest problem with it is that it is an implicit denial of the doctrine of the Trinity.

You see, the title of “Father” for God is not an accommodation to our human sensibilities, but the title for the first person of the Trinity: God the Father. The doctrine of the Trinity states that the one true God exists eternally as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The title of “Father” for God is not one name among many, but the specific title for the first person of the Trinity. When Christians says that God is our Father, they are not talking about all three persons of the Trinity, but only the first person. The Son and the Holy Spirit are not our Father. To say otherwise would be to fall into the error of modalism.

But when feminists call God “Mother,” they are replacing the specific title for the first person of the Trinity with a title that has no biblical warrant. When God our Father is referred to as “God our Mother,” then the Trinity has been redefined as God the Mother, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And to worship any God besides the one true God who exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is to commit idolatry. God is called the “King of Heaven” (Dan 4:37). But the title “Queen of Heaven” is only ever used in Scripture to refer to a pagan goddess (Jer 44:17-19).

The Father has eternally existed as the Father and the Son has eternally existed as the Son. These are not accommodations to our human understanding, but our human understanding of fatherhood and sonship is based on the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son. God created the human relationships of fatherhood and sonship to reflect who he eternally is. Therefore, to call God the Father “our Mother” is to redefine who God is and address him in a way that he never does for himself.

But what about verses like Isaiah 66:13 where God says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem”? Here, God is drawing an analogy between the comforting of a child by his mother and how he will comfort Jerusalem. God is drawing on our human experience to paint a picture of his love for his children. A mother’s love is often greater than the love of a father, but this is not true when it comes to God the Father. In order to use this passage to argue that we should call God “Mother,” feminists must argue that the language of “Father” in Scripture is likewise just an analogy since the language of Isaiah 66:13 is analogical in nature. But to do so would be to deny the doctrine of the Trinity since it states that God has existed eternally as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If the titles of “Father” and “Son” are mere analogies, then God has not existed eternally as the Father and the Son, but these titles were chosen by God as accommodations based on human experience. Since God existed before our human experience did, God could not have existed eternally as the Father and the Son if these titles come from human experience. God does not call himself “Mother” in this passage or any other. There is no example or command in Scripture to call God “Mother” and to do so is to go beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6).

What Is Open Theism?

Open theism is the belief that God does not have exhaustive knowledge of future events. He knows everything that can be known, but since the future does not yet exist, by definition, he cannot know the future. While he does not know the future, because he has perfect knowledge of the present, he can often accurately predict what will happen in the future. In open theism, God sometimes predicts the future incorrectly. Another related belief is process theology which goes beyond open theism by saying that God is not immutable or unchangeable. God changes with the world and is dependent on it. While open theism and process theology are distinct from each other, open theism is essentially a form of process theology because God is constantly gaining new information and adapting in time to these changes. God is learning from us as he observes creation and is able to make more accurate predictions of the future as his knowledge of human behavior grows.

One of the most glaring problems with open theism is that it makes penal substitutionary atonement impossible since God did not know we would exist when Christ died on the cross. This means that our sins which God did not know about could never have been imputed to Christ when he suffered on the cross. In contrast to open theism, Scripture teaches that our personal sins were laid on Christ (Isa 53:5-6; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 2:24).

Open theism also makes predictive prophecy impossible since God does not know for certain what the future holds. The entire book of Daniel is a testament to God’s exhaustive knowledge of future events. Daniel 11 is especially revealing since it chronicles the entire history of the Seleucid and Ptolemy dynasties hundreds of years before they take place. An additional piece of evidence that Daniel was written before the time of Alexander the Great is recorded by Josephus in Antiquities 11.8.5 telling how Alexander was shown the book of Daniel by the Jews which they believed spoke about him.

If God does not know the future, then he is in the same category as the false gods of Isaiah 41:21-26 who cannot prove they are true deities because they do not know the future:

“Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; he shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay. Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, ‘He is right’? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words.”

God tests the false gods by demanding that they do something only he can: predict the future. But the Lord proves that he is the true God, not only because he foretells the return of Israel from exile, but he gives the name of the Persian king who will do it before he was even born (Isa 44:28; 45:1).

How could Jesus say to Peter in Matthew 26:34, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” if he did not know the future? If Jesus, according to open theism, had simply made an educated guess, then he took the risk of becoming a false prophet since Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says that any prophet who predicts the future wrongly is to be put to death. But Jesus could not possibly have predicted the future wrongly because he is God and God knows all things (John 16:30; 1 John 3:20). The Bible declares that God’s knowledge is perfect (Job 36:4; 37:16). How could God’s knowledge be perfect if he is constantly gaining new information? God exists above all categories of time and does not experience time as a creature does (2 Pet 3:8).

What Is Molinism?

Molinism, also known as middle knowledge, was invented by the Catholic theologian Luis de Molina in response to the theology of John Calvin. Middle knowledge is the philosophical concept that God has a special kind of knowledge that falls between his free and natural knowledge. Free knowledge is God’s knowledge of all that will actually take place in history because he freely chose to create the world this way. Natural knowledge is God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds or events that could take place and includes his free knowledge. Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do given an infinite number of circumstances. This is not the same as God’s counterfactual knowledge which is God’s knowledge of all that could hypothetically take place since this is part of his natural knowledge.

In light of this, proponents of middle knowledge argue that the future God has ordained is the one in which the maximum number of people come to salvation without violating their free will. God could not have ordained a future where more people are saved and still allow for man to have libertarian free will. Some argue that those who die among the unevangelized never would have accepted the gospel even if it had been presented to them. There was no possible world in which these individuals would have accepted the gospel of their own free will and therefore God allowed them to live and die without hearing it.

While middle knowledge may appear to be a middle path between Calvinism and Arminianism, it is still dependent on the concept of man’s free will after the fall in contrast to Calvinism’s teaching on the bondage of man’s will because of sin. This is another example of why getting the doctrine of the depravity of fallen man right is essential for a correct understanding of salvation. Fallen man before salvation does not have libertarian free will, but is a slave to his sins (John 8:34). After regeneration, his desires are changed so that he no longer desires sin in the same way he did before conversion. After glorification, it is impossible for him to desire sin because his will is now perfectly conformed to the will of God. Man’s choices are determined by his set of desires or will and therefore no man after the fall has a will that is truly free because it is always being acted on by the effects of the fall or the Holy Spirit.

The irony of middle knowledge is that while it was developed by a Catholic theologian, very few Catholics believe in it. On the other hand, many Protestants have embraced it as a way to respond to the arguments of Calvinism because they don’t want to believe that the future is foreordained by the free will of God (Eph 1:11). May we all get our theology from the Bible instead of philosophical speculation.

Is “Whose Kingdom Shall Have No End” a Denial of Premillennialism?

The statement that Christ’s kingdom will have no end in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381 is sometimes interpreted as a rejection of the premillennialism of many of the earlier church fathers such as Papias and Irenaeus. But in reality, this phrase has nothing to do with Revelation 20 and everything to do with the theology of Marcellus of Ancyra. Marcellus was one of the original signers of the Nicene Creed of 325 and an opponent of Arianism. But he held to a form of Logos Christology which taught that God in eternity past was unitarian in person and then became trinitarian for the purpose of creation and redemption. But unlike the other proponents of Logos Christology, such as Eusebius of Caesarea, he believed that God would not be eternally triune, but return to being unitarian in person in eternity future just as he had been in eternity past. He also believed in incarnational sonship which teaches that the Son did not exist as the Son before the incarnation, but only as the Logos. G. L. Prestige describes his theology this way:

“Marcellus’ doctrine appears to have been that the godhead was originally a monad, which developed, of its own nature and character, by a process of active expansion into the triad; the Logos proceeded forth from God by an operative impulse in the beginning of world-creation; at the end of the world, when this operation of the Logos should be completed, His separate existence once more would be merged in God as it was in the beginning. It might be said of this theory that it maintained a Sabellian view of God before the creation began and after the creation should have ceased, and Eusebius attacked it with immense persistence” (God in Patristic Thought, 212).

Because he was one of the original signers of the Nicene Creed, the First Council of Constantinople wanted to distance themselves from him as much as possible. Marcellus’ signing of the Nicene Creed was one of the chief arguments used against it by the semi-Arians. They argued, “How can we affirm the Nicene Creed when this heretic was able to do so? If it was unable to prevent the heresy of Marcellus, it is insufficient as a basis for doctrinal unity.” The Arians had long argued against the Nicene Creed because of its affirmation that Christ is homoousios or of the same nature as the Father. They believed that this would lead to modalism or Sabellianism because if the Son shares the same nature as the Father, then there would be no way to distinguish between the Father and the Son. Marcellus was living proof of this danger and therefore they argued that Nicaea had to be rejected. The inclusion of the statement that Christ’s kingdom will have no end was the orthodox response to this objection by distancing the theology of the First Council of Constantinople from that of Marcellus and ensured that signing the Nicene-Constantinople Creed was in no way an endorsement of the theology of Marcellus. Christ’s kingdom will never end because he will exist for all eternity as a distinct person from the Father rather than being absorbed back into him.

What Is Modalism?

Modalism or modalistic monarchianism is the belief that God exists as only one person through successive stages as Father, Son, and Spirit. In ancient modalism, the Father became the Son at the incarnation and then became the Spirit at Pentecost. In modern modalism, the primary focus is on Jesus who is the Father and the Spirit. Modalism is primarily expressed today in Oneness Pentecostalism which also teaches that a person must speak in tongues as a necessary evidence of salvation. In modalism, the Son does not exist eternally as a distinct person from the Father. Rather, they adopt a Nestorian understanding of Jesus that divides him into two persons. They argue that when Jesus was praying in John 17, it was his human nature communicating with his divine nature.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in modalism are like three masks God wears instead of three distinct persons in eternal relationship with one another (John 17:5). Modalism is a serious error because it misrepresents the gospel and who God is. The gospel is the message that God sent his only Son into the world, not that the Father became the Son (John 3:16-17; Rom 8:32). The Father and the Son must be distinct from each other for the Father to impute the sins of his people to Christ on the cross (2 Cor 5:21). The Son intercedes for us before the Father, not before himself (Rom 8:34; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 7:25). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers as well before the Father (Rom 8:26-27; Gal 4:6). Jesus’ words in John 16:32: “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” make no sense if Jesus and the Father are the same person. Jesus would have been alone if he is the same person as the Father. But the relationship between the Father and the Son is not like the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman. They are distinct persons in eternal fellowship with each other together with the Holy Spirit. Modalism is the most common theological error concerning the doctrine of God in the church today.

In the early church, modalism was argued for by Sabellius, Noetus, and Praxeas. The doctrine was called patripassianism which is the belief that the Father was the one who suffered and died on the cross rather than the Son. Unfortunately, we only have a few fragments from their writings which makes constructing the beliefs of early modalism difficult. Hippolytus quotes from Noetus in his work against heresies:

“When indeed, then, the Father had not been born, He yet was justly styled Father; and when it pleased Him to undergo generation, having been begotten, He Himself became His own Son, not another’s” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 9.5).

Tertullian and Hippolytus explain the beliefs of early modalism this way:

“He maintains that there is one only Lord, the Almighty Creator of the world, in order that out of this doctrine of the unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ” (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 1).

“He alleged that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died” (Hippolytus, Against Noetus 1).

Hippolytus summarizes their main argument:

“Thus they say they prove that God is one. And then they answer in this manner: ‘If therefore I acknowledge Christ to be God, He is the Father Himself, if He is indeed God; and Christ suffered, being Himself God; and consequently the Father suffered, for He was the Father Himself’” (Against Noetus 2).

The argument goes like this:

  1. The Father is God
  2. The Son is God
  3. The Father is the Son

But this is the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle. Compare it with these counter-examples to see how it is invalid:

  1. Cats are mammals
  2. Dogs are mammals
  3. Dogs are cats
  1. Mike is human
  2. Bill is human
  3. Mike is Bill

The argument needs another premise in order to be valid that is assumed but not proven:

  1. The Father is God
  2. The Son is God
  3. To be God is to be the Father
  4. The Father is the Son
  1. Cats are mammals
  2. Dogs are mammals
  3. To be a mammal is to be a cat
  4. Dogs are cats
  1. Mike is human
  2. Bill is human
  3. To be human is to be Mike
  4. Mike is Bill

But these arguments are incorrect because the third premise is untrue.

Modalists, like Arians, assume unitarianism is true and are unwilling to consider the possibility of trinitarianism because it seems illogical to them. They make the same fatal assumption that Arians make: the divine nature cannot be shared by more than one person or else this would result in polytheism. They ask, “How can God be one and three at the same time?” The answer is that God is one and three in different senses. He is one in nature or being and three in person. Trinitarians distinguish between person and nature because this is the pattern of Scripture (Heb 1:2-3). There is one God who exists eternally as three distinct persons sharing equally and indivisibly the one divine nature.

What Is Eternal Generation?

The post-apostolic church fathers fall into two camps regarding who Jesus is: Logos Christology and eternal generation. Eternal generation is the belief that the Father eternally generates the person of the Son, and in doing so, eternally communicates the divine nature to him so that the Father is the fons divinitatis or fountain of divinity from whom the Son derives his divine nature making the Father the eternal origin and fontal source of the Son who is his eternal product. Richard Muller defines eternal generation as “the eternal and changeless activity in the Godhead by which the Father produces the Son without division of essence and by which the Second Person of the Trinity is identified as an individual subsistence or modus subsistendi, mode of subsistence, of the divine essence” (Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, 127).

To understand eternal generation as it was historically understood, we must go back to the original sources to the time when it was first articulated. Origen was the first person in the history of the church to teach eternal generation and therefore we must consult his writings to accurately define the doctrine. Origen says concerning this generation:

“We recognize that God was always the Father of his only-begotten Son, who was indeed born of him and draws his being from him, but is yet without any beginning” (On First Principles 1.2.2).

“This is an eternal and everlasting begetting, as brightness is begotten from light; for he does not become Son in an external manner, through the adoption of the Spirit, but is Son by nature” (On First Principles 1.2.4).

“The existence of the Son is derived from the Father but not in time, nor from any other beginning, except, as we have said, from God Himself” (On First Principles 1.2.11).

“For in the exercise of His will He employs no other way than that which is made known by the counsel of His will. And thus also the existence of the Son is generated by Him” (On First Principles 1.2.6).

“Each fills the place of a fountain – the Father is the fountain of divinity, the Son of reason” (Commentary on John 2.3).

But in Origen’s theology, it is not just the Son who is eternally begotten, but everyone who believes in him:

“The Savior is eternally begotten by the Father, so also, if you possess the ‘Spirit of adoption’ (Rom 8:15) God eternally begets you in him according to each of your works, each of your thoughts. And being begotten you thereby become an eternally begotten son of God in Christ Jesus” (Homilies on Jeremiah 9.5).

Origen taught a doctrine of deification where those who are in Christ are lesser gods:

“And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him. . . . It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is ‘The God,’ and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype” (Commentary on John 2.2).

Origen subordinated the Son to the Father and created a hierarchy within the Trinity:

“The God and Father, who holds the universe together, is superior to every being that exists, for he imparts to each one from his own existence that which each one is; the Son, being less than the Father, is superior to rational creatures alone (for he is second to the Father); the Holy Spirit is still less, and dwells within the saints alone. So that in this way the power of the Father is greater than that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that of the Son is more than that of the Holy Spirit” (On First Principles 1.3.5).

“The Father exceeds the Saviour himself and the Holy Spirit as much (or even more) as the Saviour himself and the Holy Spirit exceed the rest. . . . For he is an image of the goodness and brightness, not of God, but of God’s glory and of his eternal light, and he is a vapour, not of the Father, but of his power” (Commentary on John 13.151-53).

Like Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen believed that the Holy Spirit was a created being:

“We therefore, as the more pious and the truer course, admit that all things were made by the Logos, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was made by the Father through Christ” (Commentary on John 2.6).

To support his belief in eternal generation, the main texts he drew from were Proverbs 8:22-36 and Wisdom 7:24-26. The apocryphal text from Wisdom says: “For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” Since Christ is the wisdom of God, and wisdom is an emanation from God, this created a kind of emanation Christology where Christ is eternally proceeding from God in an always ongoing yet never completed action. Muller even calls generation and procession active emanations in the Trinity (Dictionary, 309-10). The passage calls Wisdom “a reflection of eternal light” which became the basis for the saying that Christ is “light of light.”

Origen had called the Son a “creature” (On First Principles 4.4.1), “another god” (Dialogue with Heraclides 2), a “second god” (Against Celsus 5.39; 5.61), and even said “the Son is other than the Father in being and essence” (On Prayer 10). He believed that prayer in its fullest sense should only be given to the Father (On Prayer 10). The Arians were able to use Origen’s theology to defend their own because of Origen’s subordinationist tendencies even though he believed that there was never a time when the Son did not exist because of eternal generation. But Origen did not just believe that there was never a time when the Son did not exist, he also believed this to be true when it came to the created order. He believed created beings must exist eternally as well or else God could not be eternally sovereign (On First Principles 1.2.10). Therefore, he affirmed a belief in the pre-existence of the soul (Commentary on John 2.24). For Origen, Jesus is a pre-existent human soul who became the Logos because he alone did not fall away from God as the other souls did (On First Principles 2.6.5; Against Celsus 5.39; Commentary on John 2.2). Before the Logos became man in the incarnation, the soul of Jesus had to be united with the Logos.

Origen was deeply influenced by Greek philosophy having been trained by the philosopher Ammonius Saccas (John Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 362-69, 381-82, 396). He had a penchant for allegorical interpretation: literalizing verses that were meant to be understood metaphorically and spiritualizing verses meant to be understood literally. He even castrated himself based on his literalizing of Matthew 5:28-30. Origen, together with Gregory of Nyssa, affirmed a belief in universal salvation where eventually all created beings will be reconciled to God (On First Principles 3.6.6). Origen’s theology is the reason why those who are Eastern Orthodox believe in deification and a large number of them are universalists believing that it is possible that in the end all will be saved. Out of all the early church fathers, Origen is one of the most influential. As Gregory the Theologian once said, “Origen is the whetstone of us all.”

In spite of the unbiblical theology of Origen, Athanasius was able to use Origen’s doctrine of eternal generation as a means to combat the arguments of Arianism. To give one example of this, the Arians argued that since Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the “firstborn” of all creation, he must have come into existence. But the orthodox responded by arguing that Christ is eternally born from the Father and therefore there was never a time when he could have come into existence. All of the verses used to argue that Christ had a beginning became eternalized into never-ending timeless actions. But the proper way to interpret this verse is to understand the Old Testament background of what it means to be a firstborn son and the rights that come with it known as primogeniture (Ps 89:27). To say that Christ is the firstborn over all creation is to say that he is exalted and supreme over his Father’s creation analogous to how a firstborn son has the rights over his father’s estate.

Hilary of Poitiers continues Origen’s legacy of teaching that the Son derives his divine nature from the Father:

“Is not the meaning here of the word homoousion that the Son is produced of the Father’s nature, the essence of the Son having no other origin, and that both, therefore, have one unvarying essence? As the Son’s essence has no other origin, we may rightly believe that both are of one essence, since the Son could be begotten with no substance but that derived from the Father’s nature which was its source” (On the Councils 84).

“And lastly, when the Son said, I went forth from the Father and have come, did He leave it doubtful whether His Divinity were, or were not, derived from the Father? He went out from the Father; that is, He had a birth, and the Father, and no other, gave Him that birth. He bears witness that He, from Whom He declares that He came forth, is the Author of His being” (On the Trinity 6.16).

The eternal generation of the Son became a way to explain those verses which appear to subordinate the Son to the Father as Basil of Caesarea explains John 14:28 by arguing from the created order back to God:

“Since the Son’s origin is from the Father, in this respect the Father is greater, as cause and origin. Wherefore also the Lord said thus, ‘My Father is greater than I,’ clearly inasmuch as He is Father. Yea, what else does the word Father signify unless the being cause and origin of that which is begotten of Him?” (Against Eunomius 1.25).

But this raises the question, if the Son derives his eternal origin and divine nature from the Father, then is the divine nature communicated from the Father alone to the Spirit or from the Father and the Son? That is, is the ability to communicate deity itself communicated in the communication of the divine nature from the Father to the Son or is the ability to communicate deity only a personal property of the Father which distinguishes him from the Son and the Holy Spirit? This is what the debate over the filioque is about. The Western church added “from the Son” to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 arguing that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Eastern Church rejects this and argues that doing so would result in two gods since there would be two fountains of divinity instead of one. They argue that the fountain of divinity must be located in the Father alone because it is located in the Father’s person rather than his nature. Since it exists in the Father’s person and not his nature, the Son cannot act as a fountain of divinity because he does not share the Father’s person, only his nature. Since he does not participate in the fountain of divinity, he cannot communicate divinity to the Holy Spirit as the Father does. If the fountain of divinity is located in the Father’s nature rather than his person, then there would be three fountains of divinity since all three persons share the one divine nature so even the Holy Spirit would have the ability to communicate divinity because a nature cannot exist in a naked state by itself apart from a supposit to dwell in. This would result in more than one God since there would be more than one self-existent, uncaused, unoriginated subsistence (Laurent A. Cleenewerck, His Broken Body, 317-44). As Paul Owen notes, the East and West have a long history of misunderstanding and anathematizing each other:

“The Eastern Church charges the West with subordinating the person of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son; and furthermore suspects that the Western tradition leaves an open door to the heresy of modalism. The Western Church charges the East with subordinating the Son to the Father; and furthermore suspects that the Eastern tradition leaves an open door to the heresy of tritheism.”

This is the result when you abandon the exegesis of the text of Scripture and engage in speculative theology concerning fountains of divinity. When this happens, human reasoning and the authority of man usurp the place of the Word of God which makes no mention of such things. The debate over the filioque is a reductio ad absurdum which God foreordained to show us how ridiculous these conceptions of generation and procession are just as the debate over the pretribulational rapture versus the midtribulational rapture demonstrates how silly it is to interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:4 as something distinct from the second coming of Christ. The entire question of whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or the Father and the Son is based on a misunderstanding of John 15:26. This verse is talking about the missio Dei of the Spirit, not his ontological origin. The Spirit proceeds or goes forth from the Father to carry out the Father’s mission of bringing salvation to the elect by pointing them to Christ. “Proceeds” is in the present tense because the Spirit’s work in the world did not begin at Pentecost, but has been ongoing from the beginning of creation (Ps 104:30).

I do not believe Origen’s concept of eternal generation can be supported from Scripture. It is better to say that the Son is autotheos or God of himself rather than saying he derives his divine nature from the Father. If this makes me a heretic, then John Calvin was also a heretic because he did not accept eternal generation’s teaching that the Son’s divine nature is derived or communicated from the Father. While many theologians have tried to reconcile Calvin’s doctrine of Christ as autotheos with eternal generation, they must redefine how eternal generation was historically understood. Communication or derivation of essence from the fons divinitatis is essential to eternal generation. Origen explicitly denied that the Son is autotheos. He does not possess the divine nature of himself:

“To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God of Himself) . . . But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God, not possessing that of Himself, but by His being with the Father” (Commentary on John 2.2).

This is what the Nicene Creed means when it says that the Son is “true God from true God.” His deity comes from God the Father who is the fountain of being. The Son does not exist of himself as the Father does, but he owes his personal existence and divine nature to the Father who “continually gives existence to him” (Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 9.4). The belief that the Son owes his hypostatic existence to the Father was shared by the proponents of Logos Christology except that they believed this generation occurred before the foundation of the world rather than being an eternally ongoing action within the being of God. Eternal generation is an evolution of Logos Christology which took its place because eternal generation was able to be reconciled with the immutability of God and answer the arguments of Arianism. But ironically, it is the mistaken assumption that the Son owes his existence to the Father that led to the rise of Arianism to begin with.

My study of the early church fathers has only reinforced my belief that we must make Scripture alone our starting point for doing Christian theology and treat every piece of writing outside of Scripture with caution lest we derive our theology from man instead of God. Otherwise, we are simply condemned to the beliefs of our tradition. The theology of Origen is a rotten foundation on which to do Christian theology. That he was the first person to teach eternal generation should immediately raise a red flag and send us back to the Scriptures.