One of the most basic doctrines of the New Testament is that Jesus is God the Son and the Son of God. In Matthew 4:3 we read when “the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.'” In v. 6 he again challenged our Lord’s claim to be the Son of God: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down….” The demons recognized Jesus as the Son of God: “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt 8:29). The disciples recognized his divinity: “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). He was convicted by the Jewish authorities for claiming to be the Son of God (Matt 26:65). He was mocked on the cross by one of the thieves for his claim (Matt 27:40–43; Luke 23:40–43). The Roman centurion recognized him as God’s Son: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:54).
Following Scripture, in Heidelberg Catechism 33 we confess:
33. Why is He called God’s “only begotten Son,” since we also are the children of God?
Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God; but we are children of God by adoption, through grace, for His sake.
As it distinguished between the Savior and the saved, the catechism distinguishes between two types of sonship: natural and adopted. Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate. Believers are God’s sons by adoption. In the history of the church, however, we have struggled mightily to get this right. One of the earliest controversies we faced was the question of how to speak about God as one, in three persons. The other was the question of Christ’s two natures. In the question of Jesus’ sonship they converge. The great enemy to both the biblical, catholic, and Reformed doctrines of the Trinity and Christology is rationalism and closely related to that is biblicism. In this context “rationalism” refers to the subordination of Scripture and inferences from Scripture to human reason or to the human intellect. It is the denial of mystery and mystery is at the heart of the biblical and Christian doctrines of the Trinity and Christology. We have already discussed the doctrine of the Trinity under earlier questions but briefly Scripture teaches and we confess that God is one in three persons. These persons are not successive stages of revelation. These persons are co-equal and co-eternal and yet personally distinct and yet God is not one person nor is he three gods. No, he is one God in three persons. The persons are not mere modes as he looks like Father, or appears as Son or manifests himself as the Spirit. He actually is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Rationalists of various kinds in the 3rd and 4th centuries tried to minimize the mystery of the Trinity by reducing the persons to appearances or by making God’s essence plural. The church rightly rejected these attempts as heresies.
In the doctrine of God (Christology) the church faced similar challenges. Scripture teaches and we confess that Jesus is true man and true God. The natures are inseparable but distinct. We confess that God the Son always was (more on this below). There never was when the Son was not. He always was and he was always the Son and yet he was co-equal, co-eternal, consubstantial with the Father and the Spirit. He did not become the Son but he did become incarnate. He was not adopted. It is not as if the Father looked, as it were, at humans, after the birth of Jesus, and decided, “I will make that one my son.” Not at all. The blessed virgin Mary carried in her womb God the Son. That is why we say in the Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD) that she was Theotokos or God-bearer (θεοτοκος) and yet, in the mystery of the incarnation, the deity did not become less than it was nor did the humanity become more than it was. Christ has two, distinct, inseparable natures: True God and true man.
Next time: The mystery of and controversy over eternal generation.