Begotten, not made

Understanding the verb ‘begat’ (and its variants beget, begotten) to denote ‘offspring’, is vital to the proper understanding of the Sonship of Christ. The heretical teaching that Jesus is a created being is due in part, I believe, to ignorance of this important word in the Bible. This short article is not to examine the various heretical teachings about Jesus by any pseudo-Christian group, but to simply clear up a much misunderstood application of the word ‘begat’ when used of Christ, as opposed to any other person.

Matthew begins his gospel with, “Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob….’ and he continues on through the generations, tracing the lineage of ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham’. When he gets down to Joseph, the foster father of Jesus he continues, “… the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (emphasis mine).

It is obvious to the discerning observer that Matthew does not say, “….and Joseph begat Jesus”, as he had done with the preceding generations.  He thus makes it clear that Joseph was not the genetic father of Jesus. No man was. Nevertheless, Jesus was fully human. The writer made this quite clear when he ended the tracing of Joseph’s lineage with the words “ … Mary, of whom was born Jesus” (my emphasis). Jesus entered into human physical existence by entering into Mary’s womb (that is, she became ‘pregnant’ with him). He was then physically born in just the same way as every human being is. The divinely engineered conception is a miracle that is beyond our comprehension. By it we understand and believe that Jesus entered the world fully human, without the intervention of man, but through the agency of woman, by the power of The Holy Spirit and in accordance with God’s plan. So, to reiterate, Jesus had no human father (and neither did Adam, the first man, who was created by God, and was also sinless to start with).

Now, I drew you attention earlier to the fact that Joseph did not beget Jesus. However, we know that Jesus was begotten! John says: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn. 1:14 ; emphasis mine). The Nicene Creed declares, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father….”. (emphasis mine).  So, what does this term ‘begotten’ mean in reference to Jesus?

The general use (and dictionary meaning) of the word ‘beget’ (and its variants) is with specific reference to procreation, as we saw earlier in the genealogical account in Matthew’s gospel. However, it does not mean that every time a person is born, a fresh ‘creation’ takes place!  Every living person is already ‘in the loins’ of the original Adam. Every person has his human existence only because the seed of life, already in Adam, is passed on, through succeeding generations, in the life of a ‘new person’. God created man only once, putting within him the seed of life, which is then transmitted in the procreative process (which of course involves a sexual union of male and female). If God had not provided for life to be propagated in this way (that is, by transference of life from one living being to another) then every living individual must necessarily draw his existence as Adam did, from a direct creation by God alone. This, we all know, is not the case. We derive our existence through the agency of our ‘parents’ in accordance with God’s design for the race to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ upon the earth’ (Gen. 1:28). The outworking of this blessing in Genesis is reflected in our lives; my father ‘begat’ me, and I have ‘begotten’ a son and a daughter, and they too will ‘beget’ children. My children’s existence was in me, and in my parents and grandparents, and so on, up through the lines of ancestry, being traced all the way back to Adam in whom God placed the original seed of life to be handed down. So the word ‘begat’ is simply referring to the transference of something that was already in existence (that is, life), not something new! In other words, there is no new creative process - the life is either transferred (already existing in the male and female counterparts, and emerging through unity of male and female),  or it just doesn’t pass on! No one can invent life! (Note that Scientists indulging in ‘cloning’ and ‘genetic engineering’ and the like are dealing with living organism; they are not creating life). The evidence of this life ‘passed on’ to another is seen in the physical development of a foetus and the eventual emergence of a new person (a baby). Now, it is important to remember that this life that is passed in humans had a starting point! That starting point was the creation of Adam, in whom this life was infused. Likewise all other lower forms of life were infused at creation with the ‘germs of life’ which were to be passed on. Therefore, the term ‘begat’ when used in respect of man, really refers to the issuing forth of life in continuity. This is an extremely important truth to take hold of. You see, only Adam was the original creation, created from the dust of the earth; Eve was made out of Adam. And so Paul’s statement in Rom. 5:12  “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (emphasis mine),  bears out this concept of ‘transference’. We are all sinners solely because we are ‘in Adam’s loins’. Had we been created separately from Adam, in the same way as he was created, we would not be ‘in Adam’. But we know that is not the case. Jesus however was not born of Adam. That is how we know the truth of the scriptural declaration that ‘he was born without sin’.

Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that Jesus was ‘begotten’. Does this mean that he also had a ‘starting point’ like the rest of us? If it does, then he would have to be a created being. So let’s clear the cobwebs! Just as in the case of man we found that the term ‘begat’ really meant an issuing forth of an already existing principle of life, so it is with Jesus. The difference, of course is that in the one instance we are talking about a created being in whom it was first deposited by God and hence issues forth (man), and in the other from an eternal being from whom it issues, who is the source of everything that exists (Jesus, who not only is eternally in God, but is himself eternally God). The apostle John begins his gospel with “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.  It is in this sense that the word ‘begotten’ is used of Jesus, who is the Son of God. Jesus, being in God and himself God, has no beginning and has no end!  His ‘begetting’ does not have to do with being born in a creative act (as humans are, through the procreative process of sexual union of male and female). Neither does it have to do with some force exuding out of God, some ethereal emanation from God by which Jesus is identified. ‘Begetting’ has purely and simply to do with his revelation as the eternal Son of God. The word ‘eternal’ means without beginning and without end!

Further, the term ‘begotten of the Father’ does not refer to Christ’s humanity. It refers specifically to his deity. Jesus IS GOD! He is not to be dismissed as another supernatural being. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in him all things consist” (Col.1:15-17). Can it be any clearer? Jesus is not an emanation from God, but a revelation of God, a physical manifestation of God. He is the Son, the second person of the Godhead. When Jesus said “I and the Father are one”, he was not talking about a relationship brought about by having an agreeable disposition or heart towards God. He was very simply saying that He was, in fact, God! This claim, we must remember, is the charge that the Jewish leaders laid against him as ‘blasphemy’, and for which they sought legitimate grounds to kill him.

So, as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, Jesus was “eternally begotten of the Father’ and  he is “begotten, not made”.  We also declare that it was “For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

Preach The word-with Pastor Joseph Rodrigues

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