Why Jesus was Called the Son of God and the Only Begotten Son

Christopher G. Hazard


The subject of the begetting of the Son of God is the most holy place of human thought. It may be entered upon only with a priestly purpose. Here we are dependent upon the Shekinah for light; our natural reasonings are darkness; in God’s light we see light; in God we praise His Word.

We confess the sacred mystery. Of all questions this is the least open to discussion. But the discussion is forced upon us. It is forced upon us, not only by the objections and arguments of reasoners, but also by the exceedingly important nature of the question at issue.

The truth of the incarnation as given by the evangelists has been regarded by the Church as of so vital a character that the whole Christian scheme has been staked upon it. It has been the doctrine of a standing or falling Christianity. For in the incarnation God united Himself to humanity and humanity to Himself. God’s eternal self-expression, that Word who was with God, and who was God, became flesh, and dwelt among men; the eternal became the temporal manifestation. The only begotten Son declared the hitherto unseen God. Men who had beheld God’s glory in the heavens now saw it in the face and in the fullness of Jesus Christ.

Men have struck thrice at the very life of Christ and His Church; once in His crucifixion, once in the denial of His resurrection, and again in the denial of His incarnation. The thrust at the incarnation has been held to be the deadliest of all because it has been an attempt to kill Christianity at its very inception.

The singularity of Christ as the only begotten Son of God is dependent upon His descent from the divine Father and the human mother, and His divine-human nature. Let us examine this three-fold cord of truth.

As to the divine Fatherhood, it is evident from the Gospels that Christ was conscious that God was His Father in an immediate and peculiar sense. He does not regard Himself as a Son of God but as the Son of God. He did not think of Himself as son in the sense of being God’s son as Adam was. He did not regard Himself merely as one of God’s offspring, according to the poetical idea adopted by Paul in speaking of human relationship to God in general. After the divine attestation of His Sonship at His baptism, at least, He is not recorded as acknowledging an earthly father. In His references to Himself as the Son of Man there is no more than an emphasis upon His true humanity and office. When His enemies sought to kill Him, it is stated that it was because “He called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” But that He had not misconstrued the utterance that came from heaven at His baptism, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased,” appears from the coming of the voice out of the bright cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty,” says the apostle Peter, “for He received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with Him in the holy mount.” Had Jesus been born of a human father God could not have been well pleased in Him, for the taint of sin, which runs through all our race, descending from our fathers, would have made divine satisfaction in Him impossible. We read that “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin,” and that “so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned.” Thus we learn that our legal status and our moral state are derived from our first father, not from our first mother. Adam was creation’s head, not Eve. From man was our moral taint derived; from man, not woman. There may be a deep biological truth indicated here, namely, that Mary could be the mother of the sinless One, while Joseph could not be His father. So Luke, the beloved physician, calls Him the “supposed” son of Joseph, but gives the record of His divine source, while Matthew traces His descent directly from Mary.

As to the human motherhood, it is evident from the Gospels that the Virgin Mary was the chosen instrument of the incarnation, and that in fulfillment of the prophetic prediction, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” her Son was born. She had the blessedness and joy of being the chief minister of Christ to the world. She shared in the giving of a Saviour to mankind, the most glorious thing that God ever did. She desired no greater name than that of the Lord’s handmaid in her highly favored election. None of the vain titles that men have given Mary have pleased her. It was enough for her that all generations would call her blessed. “Queen of Angels” and “Mother of God” have not been terms of her seeking. Having introduced her Son to the world, she was content to fade out by the later Scriptures, obscured by the brightness of His rising. Ineffably beautiful, transcendently honored, supremely favored, Mary has been exalted in her humility. Rejoicing in Christ as her Saviour as well as her Son, she manifests no trace of that vainglory which men have imputed to her meek and lowly heart in their doctrines of her sinlessness and mediatorship. Hers was a position that only an angel could explain. Supernatural experience is too high for the world; it is looked upon with doubt and suspicion. For Christ’s sake she bore reproach. She endured the cross of a high and holy calling, despising the shame, for the joy that was set before her. For, in her pondering heart, Mary knew that God, who had done to her great things, and Holy is His name, would bring forth her righteousness as the light, and her judgment as the noonday. We may attach to the consciousness of this Hebrew maiden the words of Coleridge, and impute to her,

“The hopes, and fears that kindle hope,
An indistinguishable throng;
And gentle wishes, long subdued,
Subdued and cherished long.”

And we can see that God, who was about to say, “Thou are my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased,” had prepared for her a joy that was second only to His own, and that He sustained her through the trial of it to the vindication and the glory of her place in sacred history.

As to the divine-human nature of the only begotten Son, we may quote Paul’s words to Timothy, “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” But when this, and much more, has been said, we shall not have explored to its bounds this region of mystery. We do not understand our own natures, how much less do we understand the nature of the incarnate God! Yet it is clear from the Scripture testimony that He who was begotten by Mary through the Holy Spirit was not less divine than God Himself, or less human than His mother. That which John and his fellows saw and handled concerning the Word of life had been from the beginning, yet they had fellowship with Him. The life that had been manifested had been the eternal life, yet it was such a life that they could declare it to men. Jesus was more than man in that it had been given to Him to have life in Himself. He was man in that this was a life that men could find and live in Him. In Christ, the Word made manifest, God is perfectly expressed in humanity. In this manifestation there is that perfect humanity which is the image of God in humanity. In this perfect humanity Christ was in a different sphere and on a different plane as compared with us, but it was a sphere, and it was a plane, to which we were to be brought. His relation of oneness with the Father was in some sense to be shared with men, though in other senses it would be incommunicable. His was a new order of humanity. He became the firstborn and the head of a new and spiritual race. He was the prototype and the creator of new creatures. He was the true Vine as distinguished from our original and false stock. Through this only begotten Son God would spiritually beget many sons unto glory.

The only begotten Sonship of Christ embraces these elements of divine Fatherhood, human motherhood, and divine-human nature in an element of time. Christ was begotten in time. The language of the second Psalm is, “I will tell of the decree. Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.” Thrice the New Testament writers echo this divine statement, “This day have I begotten thee.” The writings of John are peculiarly devoted to the Sonship of Christ, he is in a special sense the scriptural authority upon that subject, but he does not seem to agree with the Nicene Creed in its statement that Christ was “begotten before all worlds.” He connects the begetting of Christ with the incarnation rather, and gives to His pre-existence the title of Word-ship, not Sonship. To John, the Trinity before the incarnation consisted of God, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. We need not press this point, however, for if it be granted that Christ was the Son of God in eternity, His title of the only begotten Son is more than a manifestation of that fact. In Luke 1:35 we find the angel telling Mary that the reason for Christ’s title of the Son of God lay in His incarnation, after the annunciation the angel adds, “Wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.” Note the force of “wherefore” in this passage; it informs us why Christ is called the only begotten Son, not the only son, but the only begotten Son. “Christ’s eternal Sonship is the central article of the Christian faith,” wrote Professor David Smith, D.D., in The British Weekly. Certainly Christ’s eternal nature is as important as that, but there is no sacrifice of that in substituting the Word for the Son in the Godhead prior to the making of the Word flesh, while such a substitution has not only the usage of John for its warrant, but also an additional light upon all of the scriptural uses of the term only begotten Son.

This view of the begetting of the Son of God in time has an important bearing upon the question of the virgin birth of Christ. The direct testimony to the supernatural origin of Christ’s humanity lies in the Genesis promise to the seed of the woman, the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah, the accounts given by Matthew and Luke, the record given through the gospel of John, and the passage in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, where in the fourth verse of the fourth chapter Paul states that Christ was “born of a woman,” a clear reference to the seed of the woman, before referred to. The Twentieth Century New Testament translates this passage, “a woman’s child.” These testimonies are enough to establish the fact of the virgin birth of Christ, indeed, we could spare the statement of Paul, and yet have at least two witnesses in each Testament. But when we see that the Son of God referred to in the Scriptures is always the only begotten Son of God of these testimonies, the truth of this begetting and this virgin birth becomes evident indeed. Then the objections to the virgin birth that are urged upon the grounds of the paucity of Scripture statement, the absence of testimony to that birth in the gospels of Mark and John and in the epistles, and the apparent unconsciousness of Jesus on the subject, all disappear. The Scriptures are seen to blaze with the glory of the only begotten of the Father, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, full of grace and truth.

The Church has been right in feeling that the controversy over this truth of the begetting of the Son of God has been a conflict in which she has contended for her very life. “If Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins,” wrote Paul to the Corinthian Church. Similarly we may say that if Christ was not supernaturally generated, we cannot be regenerated; we are yet in our death. For it was by this generation that Christ became a life-giving Spirit. It was thus that He obtained a fund of the divine nature to bestow upon believers. It was this that enabled Him to promise to believers an immediate possession of that eternal life which He was, which He manifested, and which He gave. He gave that life by virtue of His sacrificial death, He gave it by virtue of God’s declared acceptance of that death in the resurrection, but He gave that life first of all by virtue of having it to give, and He had it to give because He was not Joseph’s son. God meets our shortage of life with a gift of life, and this life is in His Son; he that hath the Son hath the life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not that life.

Unto this eternal life God begets us by the gospel, the gospel of new sonship, as many as receive Christ, to them God gives the right to be called His sons, born of the Father of spirits, even to them that believe on the name of the only begotten Son of God. Such are born of the Spirit, through the seed of truth, sown in human hearts. It is the truth of the name of the only begotten Son, for our Lord says, “He that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

There are Platonic ideas of our previous existence and coming reincarnation which possibly relate to dim race memories of Eden and senses of our need of a new birth. Would that men might see how plainly the Gospel goes back to our remotest state, and how it offers to more than restore it. Man is made by long and wonderful processes, and so is he unmade. Man may be also remade, but not without long and wonderful processes, and these set in when he believes on the name of the only begotten Son. Thenceforth, however long and difficult the struggle between the two natures that are in him, he may know that the elder shall serve the younger; that the flesh shall at last yield to the spirit. The spirit is infantile in the newborn soul, but it exists, and it will come to its maturity.

We read the delightful writings of those who eloquently trace man’s evolution up to the present time; we are astonished and impressed by their learning, their culture, and their ability. They tell us of human nature as a divine soil, slowly bringing forth divine men. They picture the long road over which man has made his painful way up to his present height. They prophesy the glorious consummation, when man shall have climbed to the very throne of God, and seated himself there as though he were God Himself. But over all these views of past and future history there hangs the darkness of minds unilluminated by the glorious Gospel of the only begotten Son. They do not show us that unless that human soil is sown with the seed of God it will inevitably bring forth the thorns and thistles of fallen human nature. They do not find anywhere upon the long road of human progress the Christ who is the only leader to that eternal city that hath foundations. They do not understand that the true glory of man is not in aspiring to God’s throne, but to His service, not in becoming God, but in becoming God’s. They are not supernatural men, with a divine insight; they are natural men, with human blindness. They are not supernatural men, because they do not believe in the supernatural Man. In the light of revelation and of the human progress that has followed belief in it they are judged already, because they have not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. They lack the renewing that is the fruit of this renewing faith. Their glorious fancies of the empire of man will mingle with his dust, and theirs.

As the glorious service in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London proceeded, and as the great words, “When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man, Thou didst humble Thyself to be born of a Virgin” seemed to be sung by a choir of angels, the mighty organ thrilled and pealed in agitated and adoring wonder, the vast place was filled with the consciousness of the holy and blessed mystery; all souls were hushed in humble devotion, there was a spirit of quickening in the air, the hope and faith of a new life were abroad. It was a figure of the assembled Church, adoring the manifestation of the endless life, and rejoicing in the power and prospect thereof through her deathless faith in the only begotten Son of God!