Book Review: The Eternal Sonship of Christ
Authors: George W. Zellers and Renald E. Showers
Publisher: Loizeaux Brothers
The subtitle of this book reads: "a timely defence of this vital Biblical doctrine," which immediately indicates its importance and urgency. This book of 128 pages was published in 1993, and-I quote-"is dedicated to the remnant of faithful, God-fearing believers who in these last days are 'valiant for the truth upon the earth' (Jeremiah 9:3). May God give us grace to stand, to understand, and to withstand!"
After the Foreword by John Whitcomb, the Preface opens with a key-verse of Scripture, namely 1 John 5:20, also referring to Matthew 11:27. "Eternal Sonship" and "Incarnational Sonship," are compared in a helpful overview of eleven categories. The authors explain that the second position refers to those who deny the eternal Sonship of Christ. This is summarised with the following arguments: "(1) they feel that the term Son denotes inferiority and subjection, characteristics felt to be inappropriate to our understanding of the essential and eternal nature of Christ; (2) they speculate that the relationships between the persons of the godhead revealed in the New Testament were not actually personalized until the time of Christ's incarnation or even later."
Furthermore the authors state: "In writing this book the desire of the authors is not to divide brethren, but rather to unite believers on the basis of a common understanding of the blessed person of the Son of God." This is an important point with regard to many issues today, as people often don't realize that real unity can only be practised by submitting to biblical principles. Then the book presents several reasons why the doctrine of the eternal Sonship, as taught in God's Word, is essential. Denying the eternal Sonship of Christ affects His person and work, affects the Triune God, and deprives believers "of the enjoyment of one of the most beautiful glories of the Lord Jesus Christ."
In Chapter One we read: "Because Jesus Christ is God, He is all that God is, He can perform works that only God can do." It also explains that Christ IS the Same as Jehovah (demonstrated in 12 points). The next chapter summarises the pre-existence of the Son, and is followed by a study on the incarnation of the Son, proving that the concept of Sonship by incarnation is false. This is elaborated in a following chapter. We also read: "During the Old Testament period the idea of God having a Son could be found in the Scriptures, although the full revelation of this truth awaited the New Testament period." This remark, of course, applies to many essential truths, like the Divine Trinity, and the Person of the Holy Spirit. Another point is that we are on holy ground when we study or discuss matters pertaining to the Lord's Person, and it behoves us to take the sandals off our feet, and fall down before Him, like Moses did in the Old, and John in the New Testament.
In "The Denial of Eternal Sonship," details are given about leaders in the last century, as well as popular evangelical leaders of our days. Perhaps here I may add a personal comment. In controversy, those who represent one position are sometimes "blind" to the arguments of the opposing one. This may be the case with a few arguments in this book, as I notice a tendency to overstate the cause. For example, by emphasising the eternal Sonship of Christ, the authors of the present book do not sufficiently explain the importance of Christ's Sonship in Manhood, as the Second Man or last Adam, as Luke 3, 1 Corinthians 15, and other passages indicate. However, at the end of the same chapter, we find a clear and helpful summary of the doctrine of the eternal Sonship, affirming that Christ always was and is the Son of God. Let us be aware that if a Christian refuses to affirm the Lord's eternal Sonship, he or she is in serious trouble.
In "The Defence of the Eternal Sonship," among other passages, John 1: 18 is quoted in the literal translation: "the One being" in the bosom of the Father. This-and it is my own personal experience-should at once convince any sincere inquirer. It impressed me that the authors quote many "brethren" writers, such as Bellett, Darby, Kelly, and Hocking, to confirm important points.
Chapter Seven, on the meaning of the term "Son of God," demonstrates that sonship has nothing to do with inferiority or servanthood. Yet, I would remark that the truth of Scripture is much more complex than we think; the concept of the Servant-Son is biblical, and it does not set aside the eternal Sonship of Christ. In reviewing this chapter, in itself quite helpful, I must say that in defending the biblical position of Christ's Sonship, we should not overlook "the other side of the coin." What do I mean by this? The authors state, and rightly so, "if the expression the Son of man indicates Christ's humanity, then the expression the Son of God must indicate His deity." But I would add that when the expression Son of man is used in Scripture, immediately Christ's deity is somehow demonstrated, and when, as in John's Gospel, His eternal Sonship is emphasised, at the same time He is called "Son of man." A mere intellectual approach needs to be avoided; contemplating the truth of the Lord's Person the human intellect is baffled, but faith accepts, submits and adores.
Chapter Eight, "The meaning of Psalm 2:7," sheds much light on a passage that is often quoted to defend incarnational sonship, explaining that it refers to the day of Christ's resurrection, God publicly declaring Him to be the eternal Son of God. I would add that the way Hebrews 1:6 speaks about the coming millennial glory of Christ, would make it possible to see Psalm 2:7 also in the light of God's coming "new age" and Christ's public introduction, and could at least in principle also refer to His incarnation (see further).
The following chapter, dealing with problems and objections, is based on 2 John:9, which verse uses the unique expression "the Son of the Father." This chapter deals with-sometimes very sophisticated-objections, like the claim that Christ's Sonship existed only in the mind of God. Another point which is well taken is that in Psalm 2 Christ is called Son, to demonstrate who He is, and King, what He is.
Chapter Ten confirms that the eternal Sonship is a vital Bible doctrine that must not be compromised. It gives practical advice on how to do this-by testing all things by the Word of God, giving positive teaching, exposing erroneous teaching, warning God's people, demanding doctrinal integrity, speaking the truth in love, and protecting the doctrinal purity of the local assembly of believers (and of schools, mission boards, etc.). The chapter concludes with ten points that show that, if left unchecked, the denial of the doctrine of the eternal Sonship will damage the body of Christ.
In a special appendix on the term "Son of God" in the light of Old Testament idiom, Herbert Bess has provided additional help. He also explains the difference in Christ's position as "Firstborn" and the "Only Begotten," concluding that Psalm 2:7 does not refer to generation, but publicly declares Christ to be the Only-begotten Son of God. After this, "The testimony of men" lists many quotes of well-known Christian leaders and teachers, who confirm the Scriptural position with regard to Christ's eternal Sonship.
The present book concludes with study notes and resources for further study, and I recommend the book to your consideration.