Verses on Eternal Generation in the New Testament

Verses on Eternal Generation in the New Testament

In my previous article, I examined all of the verses in the Old Testament that are associated with eternal generation. Now, I will turn my attention to the New Testament.

1. Monogenēs

The Greek term monogenēs is traditionally translated as “only begotten” to describe Jesus as the only begotten Son of God. Therefore, it is argued, Jesus is eternally begotten or generated by the Father. I agree that “only begotten” is one possible way monogenēs can be translated depending on the context, but even if this is how the term is being used in John’s writings, it does not follow that John is describing an eternal action of begetting in the being of God. To understand the different ways monogenēs can be used, we need to examine its different uses throughout Greek literature. The primary way monogenēs is used in Greek is to describe an only child. Jesus is the only Son of the Father in the sense that he alone has existed as God’s Son from eternity and shares the same nature as the Father. In contrast, we become sons of God in time by adoption and do not share God’s nature. The word monogenēs is how John differentiates Jesus’ sonship with our sonship. We are sons of God by adoption, but not sons of God in the sense that we share his nature. God only has one unique Son who is eternal and shares his nature. This is why modern translations rightly translate monogenēs as “one and only,” “only unique,” or “only one-of-a-kind” rather than “only begotten” in the Bible. The idea of begetting is not intrinsic to the word. The same term is used in Hebrews 11:17 to describe Abraham’s son Isaac. But Isaac was not the only born son of Abraham since Ishmael was also born of him. Isaac was the monogenēs son of Abraham because he was the only unique son of Abraham through whom God’s blessing would come. Josephus uses the word the same way to refer to Isaac (Antiquities 1.13.1). The word is used in reference to a phoenix in 1 Clement 25:2 that is called “the only one of its kind.” God only has one Son who is unique and eternal whereas we become sons of God through adoption (John 1:12). Some other examples that demonstrate monogenēs does not necessarily include the idea of begetting include Psalm 22:20 (only life); 25:16 (only child or alone); and Wisdom 7:22 (unique). I believe we should translate monogenēs the same way in John as we do in Hebrews 11:17 since Isaac is a type of Christ. Just as Isaac was not the only son of Abraham because there was also Ishmael, we too are sons of God in addition to Christ. But Isaac’s sonship was unique in that he alone would be the one through whom the promise would come just as Jesus’ sonship is unique to him. We are sons of God in a different sense than Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus shares the Father’s nature or attributes analogous to how a human son reflects his father’s attributes but in a perfect sense (Heb 1:3).

2. John 5:26

The granting of the Son to have life in himself is the bestowing upon the Son the authority to grant eternal life just as the next verse speaks of the Father bestowing the authority to judge on him. John 17:2 is a close parallel to this concept: “Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” The term “life” in John 5 consistently means eternal life, not self-existence. The Father has given the Son both the authority to give eternal life and the authority to condemn. As God, the Son has the authority to bestow eternal life, but as a man, he must receive this authority from the Father. The closest parallel to the language about having life in oneself is John 6:53: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” This verse is the only other place in John’s Gospel where the same Greek phrase is used describing life in oneself and it is talking about eternal life. Other parallels include: John 5:21; 13:3; and 1 John 5:11.

3. John 15:26

This verse is not related to the debate over eternal generation, but to eternal procession. It is argued that because the verb “proceeds” is in the present tense, this must be describing an eternally occurring action in the being of God rather than the work of the Holy Spirit. But “proceeds” is in the present tense because the Spirit’s work in the world or missio Dei did not begin on the day of Pentecost, but has been ongoing from the beginning of creation (Ps 104:30). The proceeding of the Holy Spirit from the Father is the Spirit’s present work in the world that became publicly evident on the day of Pentecost.

4. Colossians 1:15

The title “firstborn” is a term of preeminence and sovereignty and does not necessarily carry with it the concept of being born. The language of Christ as firstborn is rooted in the concept of the king of Israel as God’s firstborn son. Psalm 89:27 says concerning the king of Israel: “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” “Firstborn” is parallel to “highest” or greatest. Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5 call him “the firstborn from the dead” meaning that he is supreme over all who will ever be raised from the dead. As firstborn over all creation, he has primogeniture or the rights of the firstborn son over it. As creator of all things, he must be God since only God created all things (Isa 44:24; John 1:3; Col 1:16).

5. 1 John 5:18

1 John 5:18 calls Jesus the one born of God. To call Jesus the one born of God is simply another way of calling him the Son of God since human sons in our experience are born into the world. The participle “he who was born” is being used as a deverbal noun as a title for Jesus. It is not referring to a time when he was born or an act of being born, but it is a title which reflects his eternal relationship with the Father as the Son of God. The sonship of Christ was visibly manifested by his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God when he was declared to be the Son of God (Ps 2:7; Rom 1:4; Phil 2:9-11). Jesus can be called the one born of God because he shares the Father’s nature analogous to how a human son reflects his father’s nature. Human sons look like their fathers and God the Son perfectly reflects his Father’s nature. To see Christ is to see the Father (John 14:9). But we must be extremely careful not to read everything that is true of the human father-son relationship back into the eternal Father-Son relationship. That was the mistake the Arians made since human fathers exist before their sons and human sons are subordinate to their fathers.


It is interesting to note that most of the verses used to support eternal generation are the same verses the Arians used to support their belief that Christ came into existence and has not eternally existed with the Father. Eternal generation simply takes these verses and argues that they are describing a never-ending timeless action that takes place within the being of God rather than an act of creation. This might be an easy way for the common man to respond to the arguments of Arianism (the Son is eternally begotten in Psalm 2:7, eternally brought into existence in Proverbs 8:25, eternally granted existence in John 5:26, and eternally born in Colossians 1:15), but it still makes the same hermeneutical mistakes that the Arians made in interpreting these verses except that they thankfully read into them a concept of eternality that is not present in the texts to avoid falling into heresy. Hence, the argument goes, if you do not accept eternal generation, you have no way to respond to the arguments of Arianism.

But it is actually the misinterpretation of these verses leading to a belief that the Son owes his existence to the Father that led to the rise of Arianism in the first place. Both Arianism and eternal generation are evolutions of Logos Christology that came about when Logos Christology was shown to be incompatible with the immutability of God. By properly exegeting these verses, I am undercutting the foundation upon which Arianism is built. But in the process, Origen’s concept of eternal generation must fall as well. But then again, the language about Christ being “begotten before all ages” in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed comes from the subordinationist Eusebius of Caesarea who supported Arius and used the phrase to express his understanding of Logos Christology, not eternal generation. For these reasons, it is better to speak of the Son as autotheos or God of himself sharing equally, indivisibly, and underivatively the one divine nature with the Father rather than saying he derives his existence or divine nature from the Father. He is begotten (gennētos) with respect to his human nature and unbegotten (agennētos) with respect to his divine nature (Ignatius to the Ephesians 7:2). This was the teaching of the apostolic fathers before Justin Martyr’s theories about the Logos and Origen’s concept of derived deity gained influence in the church based on their mishandling of Proverbs 8:22-25.


Verses on Eternal Generation in the Old Testament

Verses on Eternal Generation in the Old Testament

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.

The Trinity in the Early Church

The Trinity in the Early Church

Contrary to popular belief, the doctrine of the Trinity was not invented by Constantine or anyone at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The first person to use the term “Trinity” was Theophilus of Antioch in 181 who wrote in Greek and Tertullian used it later in Latin. Even though the term was first used then, the concept was not new. The doctrine of the Trinity comes from combining three other beliefs found in Scripture: monotheism, the equality between the three persons, and the distinctions between the three persons. I have already demonstrated the belief in the deity of Christ in the church fathers of the second century. Now, I will demonstrate their belief in the distinctions which exist between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in contrast to modalism:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Scepter of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him” (1 Clement 16:2).

“Have we not all one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And have we not one calling in Christ?” (1 Clement 46:6).

“Receive our counsel, and ye shall be without repentance. For, as God liveth, and as the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost live” (1 Clement 58:2).

“May God, who seeth all things, and who is the Ruler of all spirits and the Lord of all flesh— who chose our Lord Jesus Christ and us through Him to be a peculiar people— grant to every soul that calleth upon His glorious and holy Name, faith, fear, peace, patience, long-suffering, self-control, purity, and sobriety, to the well-pleasing of His Name, through our High Priest and Protector, Jesus Christ, by whom be to Him glory, and majesty, and power, and honor, both now and for evermore. Amen” (1 Clement 64:1).

“Nevertheless, I have heard of some who have passed on from this to you, having false doctrine, whom ye did not suffer to sow among you, but stopped your ears, that ye might not receive those things which were sown by them, as being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope, while your faith was the means by which you ascended, and your love the way which led up to God” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 9:1).

“And are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed” (Ignatius to the Magnesians 6:1).

“Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one” (Ignatius to the Magnesians 7:2).

“Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual” (Ignatius to the Magnesians 13:1-2).

“Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:3).

“We wish you, brethren, all happiness, while you walk according to the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of His holy elect, after whose example the blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose steps may we too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ!” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 22:1).

“That the Lord Jesus Christ may also gather me along with His elect into His heavenly kingdom, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 22:3).

“And concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water” (Didache 7:1).

“But truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, Him who is the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things. . . . This messenger He sent to them” (Epistle to Diognetus 7:2).

“They ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father; and that in due time the Son will yield up His work to the Father” (Fragments of Papias 5).

“Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? . . . They know God and His Logos, what is the oneness of the Son with the Father, what the communion of the Father with the Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of these three, the Spirit, the Son, the Father, and their distinction in unity; and who know that the life for which we look is far better than can be described in words. . . . For, as we acknowledge a God, and a Son his Logos, and a Holy Spirit, united in essence, the Father, the Son, the Spirit” (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, 10, 12, 24).

“For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, ‘Let Us make man after Our image and likeness’” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.20.1).

Here are some references to the foundational truths of the doctrine of the Trinity in the apostolic church fathers who wrote before Theophilus of Antioch:

Monotheism: 1 Clement 43:6; 46:6; 59:4; 2 Clement 20:5; Ignatius to the Magnesians 8:2; Epistle to Diognetus 3:2; Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 1.1.

Deity of Christ: 2 Clement 1:1; 13:4; Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:1; 7:2; 18:2; 19:3; Ignatius to the Romans 1:1; 3:3; 6:3; Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 1:1; Ignatius to Polycarp 8:3; Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:3; 17:2-3; Epistle to Diognetus 7:2; 11:4-5; Aristides, Apology 2.4; Justin Martyr, First Apology 63; Dialogue with Trypho 34, 127-128; Melito of Sardis, On Passover 8, 96; Tatian, Address to the Greeks 21; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 24.

Deity of the Holy Spirit: Justin Martyr, First Apology 6, 32; Dialogue with Trypho 7; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 9, 24; Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 5.6.5.

Distinction: 1 Clement 16:2; 46:6; 58:2; 64:1; Ignatius to the Ephesians 9:1; Ignatius to the Magnesians 6:1; 7:2; 13:1-2; Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:3; 22:1, 3; Didache 7:1; Epistle to Diognetus 7:2; 11:4-5; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 24, Fragments of Papias 5.

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).

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.