Eternal generation is the belief that the Father eternally generates or produces the person of the Son, and in doing so, eternally communicates the divine nature to him so that the Father is the fountain of divinity or fontal source from whom the Son derives his existence and divine nature. This understanding of the personal relations in the Trinity seeks to explain the differences between the three persons on the basis of eternal relations of origin. The Son’s origin is from the Father and the Spirit’s origin is from the Father and the Son in the Western Church and the Father alone in the Eastern Church. The Eastern Church argues that the Father alone is the Spirit’s origin since the fountain of divinity is located in Father’s person and not his nature. Because the Son does not share the Father’s person, he cannot act as a fountain of divinity for the Spirit. I believe that this understanding of generation misunderstands the passages in the Bible which speak about the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. To justify my departure from Origen’s concept of eternal generation, I will be giving a full exegesis of the relevant texts in this article and in another on the New Testament.
1. Psalm 2:7
“Today I have begotten you” is interpreted by the authors of the New Testament as being fulfilled in the resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of Christ to the right hand of the Father (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:4-5; 5:4-5). Peter in Acts 13:33 interprets this verse as being fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead: “this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” Hebrews 1:5 interprets Psalm 2:7 as being fulfilled in the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God at his ascension as indicated by the immediate context: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” His language is a direct allusion to the early Christian hymn of Philippians 2:9 which describes the exaltation of the Messiah after his rejection by man: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” Hebrews 5:5 likewise associates this begetting with the exaltation of the Messiah to be our high priest. Our interpretation of Psalm 2:7 should be the same as that of the authors of the New Testament because the Holy Spirit is his own best interpreter.
At his exaltation, the Father bestowed on him the name Yahweh which the Son has always had to vindicate who he is in contrast to his rejection by man (Phil 2:9). The begetting of this verse takes place after the Messiah’s rejection by man in verses 1-3 and not before. “Today” is the day of the Son’s vindication from the Father, not a day in eternity past. “Begotten you” in the context of Psalm 2 is the enthronement of the king of Israel to be God’s representative on earth. Over time, this hymn took on messianic overtones and was seen as a prophecy about the future Messiah. “I have set my King on Zion” in verse six is parallel to “I have begotten you” in verse seven as an expression of God’s exaltation of the Messiah. The king is begotten because he is firstborn or supreme over all things (Ps 89:27). But whereas Israel’s kings were made God’s sons by adoption in this enthronement, the Son has existed as God’s Son from eternity. Hence, using it as a proof text for eternal generation ignores how the New Testament interprets the verse, does not take into account that the begetting takes place after the Messiah’s rejection by man and not before, and ignores the parallelism between begetting and being enthroned as king in the previous verse.
2. Proverbs 8:22-25
Proverbs 8 is by far the most historically important passage in the development of Logos Christology, eternal generation, and Arianism. It did not help matters that very few church fathers knew how to read Hebrew so they relied on the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This was extremely unfortunate because the Greek translation of verse 22 used the verb ktizō which means “to create.” However, the Hebrew verb is better translated as “to acquire” since this is how it is always used in Proverbs: 1:5; 4:5, 7; 15:32; 16:16; 17:16; 18:15; 19:8; 20:14; 23:23. Wisdom is so valuable that God himself is described as acquiring her. It is not that God needed wisdom, but that Solomon is metaphorically painting a picture for us of the value of wisdom to entice us to acquire it. If God “needed” Wisdom, how much more do we need it? It is in attempting to literalize language that is meant to be taken metaphorically where interpreters get into trouble. But because it was translated as “to create,” the Arians argued that the Son was created because Lady Wisdom is described as being created by God and Paul calls Christ the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24. The orthodox responded by arguing that this verse was describing the incarnation of the Son, but then they inconsistently argued that the bringing forth of Wisdom in verses 24-25 was the eternal generation of the Son and something distinct from the acquiring of Wisdom in verse 22. The orthodox interpretation of verse 22 also does not fit the context of the verse. This is describing an action of God before the foundation of the world, not the incarnation of the Son which was not “the first of his acts of old.”
The Arian argument errs by confusing analogical language with univocal language. When Paul says Christ is the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24, he is drawing an analogy between Lady Wisdom and Christ, not a one-to-one correspondence. Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is the personification of God’s attribute of wisdom, not a distinct hypostasis from God. She is an extended metaphor for the purpose of giving Solomon a mouthpiece through which to speak to his sons in contrast to Lady Folly (Prov 9:13). If Wisdom is a distinct hypostasis from God, is Folly a hypostasis as well? Paul calls Christ the wisdom of God because there are parallels between him and Lady Wisdom. Both are described as creating the world and being at God’s side (John 1:18). But the Son is not a feminine figure. He is the eternal Son of God, not the daughter of God. Interpreting Lady Wisdom as an exact correspondence to Christ misunderstands how Paul is applying Wisdom to Christ analogically and contradicts all the verses which teach that Christ is eternal and not created (John 1:3). We have to look at the rest of Scripture to determine where the analogy does not correspond to reality. If Paul’s use of Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:24 is a one-to-one correspondence between her and Christ, it would not prove eternal generation, but either Logos Christology or Arianism since the begetting of Wisdom is described as a completed action before the foundation of the world and not something that is eternally ongoing. The concept of eternality must be read into the text.
3. Isaiah 53:8
The interpretation of Isaiah 53:8 as describing an ineffable action of the Father in generating the Son might seem bizarre to us today, but it was one of the most cited texts used by both the orthodox and the Arians to silence debate over the meaning of the generation of the Son. The orthodox used it to argue that we must simply accept the generation of the Son without questioning and the Arians used it to deflect criticism for their understanding of generation as an act of creation since we should not be talking about such things. But the generation of the Son in this verse is not describing an action of God, but the generation of people living during the time of Christ who did not understand the significance of his death and rejected him which is what Isaiah is describing in the immediate context. They paid no attention to his death and treated him as a common criminal rather than the Messiah. They never gave his death a second thought. Much like Psalm 2, the rejection of the Messiah is followed by his vindication from the Father.
4. Micah 5:2
Because the Messiah is said to be “from of old, from ancient days,” it was argued by both the orthodox and the Arians that the Father was the origin of the Messiah’s existence. Whereas the Arians argued that the generation of the Son was an act of creation, the orthodox argued that it was an eternally ongoing action in the being of God. But both of these interpretations badly misread the text. The text does not say that the Messiah’s origin is “from the Father” or “from God,” but that he is “from of old.” And even if it did, it would be describing the sending of the Son of God into the world at the incarnation. To say that the Messiah is “from of old” is to say that he is eternal, not that he was produced by the Father. His origin is from eternity, not an act of God.
The same terms used to describe the Messiah in this verse are also used in reference to God. If the Messiah was created or generated because he is “from of old” and “from ancient days,” then God the Father would also be a created being or a product of generation. The Hebrew words kedem “old” and olam “ancient days” are often used in reference to God’s eternality. Habakkuk 1:12 uses the same word kedem with the preposition min “from” as Micah 5:2 does to express that God is eternal: “Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One?” The word olam is used multiple times to portray God as eternal (Ps 90:2). A close parallel to Micah 5:2 is Deuteronomy 33:27 where both kedem and olam are used respectively to depict God as eternal: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” The “origin” of the Messiah describes where he came from: eternity past. The word “hometown” in English is a close parallel to the Hebrew expression. It is where he “went out” or “came from” to literalize the Hebrew idiom. He is from eternity, not from any of the cities of the world. But nevertheless, the one who is from eternity will be born in Bethlehem.
5. Wisdom 7:24-27
This text does not come from Scripture, but from the Apocrypha which Protestants do not accept. It was one of the favorite passages of Origen and reads: “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. Though she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets.” Since Wisdom is called a “pure emanation” of God and Christ is called the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24, it was concluded that the Son was an emanation of God. The Trinity was then explained in terms of emanationism where the Son and Spirit are eternally emanated from the Father. It was argued that the Father is the fountain of divinity who pours forth the divine nature into the Son and Spirit. The Father as the fountain of divinity became the way to distinguish the Father from the Son and the Holy Spirit in eternity past.
But because this text is not from Scripture, I do not need to give an exegesis of it. It is simply enough to point out that the Book of Wisdom teaches false doctrines like the pre-existence of the soul (8:19-20) and the denial of creation ex nihilo (11:17) based on the influence of Greek philosophy which is where emanationism comes from. I have written more on why the Apocrypha is not canonical here.