John Owen Defended Eternal Generation Against The Socinians

He Also Opposed Biblicism

[The Socinian Biddle asks] Q. Doth the Scripture account Christ to be the Son of God because he was eternally begotten out of the divine essence, or for other reasons agreeing to him only as a man? Rehearse the passages to this purpose.

A. Luke 1:30, 32, 34, 35; John. 10:36; Acts 13:32, 33; Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:18; Heb. 1:4, 5, 5:5; Rom. 8:29.

[Owen Replies]… 1. Distinction of persons (it being an infinite substance) doth no way prove difference of essence between the Father and the Son. Where Christ, as mediator, is said to be another from the Father or God, spoken personally of the Father, it argues not in the least that he is not partaker of the same nature with him. That in one essence there can be but one person may be true where the substance is finite and limited, but hath no place in that which is infinite.

… 2. Distinction and inequality in respect of office in Christ doth not in the least take away equality and sameness with the Father in respect of nature and essence. A son of the same nature with his father, and therein equal to him, may in office be his inferior, his subject.

… Q. 9. We are come to the head of this discourse, and of Mr B.’s design in this chapter, and, indeed, of the greatest design that he drives in religion, namely, the denial of the eternal deity of the Son of God; which not only in this place directly, but in sundry others covertly, he doth invade and oppose. His question is, “Doth the Scripture account Christ to be the Son of God because he was eternally begotten out of the divine essence, or for other reasons agreeing to him only as a man? Rehearse the passages to this purpose.” His answer is from Luke 1:31–35; John 10:36; Acts 13:32, 33; Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:18; Heb 1:4, 5, 5:5; Rom. 8:29; most of which places are expressly contrary to him in his design, as the progress of our discourse will discover.

This, I say, being the head of the difference between us in this chapter, after I have rectified one mistake in Mr B.’s question, I shall state the whole matter so as to obviate farther labour and trouble about sundry other ensuing queries. For Mr B.’s question, then, we say not that the Son is begotten eternally out of the divine essence, but in it, not by an eternal act of the Divine Being, but of the person of the Father; which being premised, I shall proceed.

[Owen quotes Socinians denying the eternal generation of the Son]

… I insist somewhat the more on these things, that men may judge the better whether in all probability Mr B., in his “impartial search into the Scripture,” did not use the help of some of them that went before him in the discovery of the same things which he boasts himself to have found out.

And this is the first reason which our catechist hath taken from his masters to communicate to his scholars [students] why Jesus Christ is called the “Son of God.” This he and they insist on exclusively to his eternal sonship, or being the Son of God in respect of his eternal generation of the substance of his Father.

And these are some of those monstrous figments which, under pretence of bare adherence to the Scripture, our catechist would obtrude upon us: First, Christ is the Son of God; then, growing like God in divine qualities, he is made a God; and so becomes the Son of God. And this, if the man may be believed, is the pure doctrine of the Scripture! And if Christ be a God because he is like God, by the same reason we are all gods in Mr B[iddle]’s conceit, being all made in the image and likeness of God; which, says he, by sin we have not lost.

… 1. He who is ἴδιος υἱός, the “proper son” of any, is begotten of the substance of his father. Christ is the proper Son of God, and God he called often ἴδιον Πατέρα, his “proper Father.” He is properly a father who begets another of his substance; and he is properly a son who is so begotten.

… he who is properly a son is distinguished from him who is metaphorically so only; for any thing whatever is metaphorically said to be what it is said to be by a translation and likeness to that which is true. Now, if Christ be not begotten of the essence of his Father, he is only a metaphorical Son of God by way of allusion, and cannot be called the proper Son of God, being only one who hath but a similitude to a proper Son; so that it is a plain contradiction that Christ should be the proper Son of God, and yet not be begotten of his Father’s essence.

… 4. He who is the Son of God, begotten of his Father by an eternal communication of his divine essence, he is the Son begotten of the essence of the Father; for these terms are the same, and of the same importance.

… And this may suffice (without insisting upon what more might be added) for the demonstration of the first assertion, That Christ’s filiation ariseth from his eternal generation, or he is the Son of God upon the account of his being begotten of the essence of his Father from eternity.

… 4. That which only manifests the filiation of Christ is not the cause of it. The cause of a thing is that which gives it its being. The manifestation of it is only that which declares it to be so.

… To the farther confirmation of this assertion two things are to be annexed:—First, The eversion of that fancy of Episcopius before mentioned, and the rest of the Socinianizing Arminians, that Christ is called the “Son of God,” both on the account of his eternal sonship and also of those other particulars mentioned from him above. Secondly, To consider the texts of Scripture produced by Mr [Biddle] for the confirmation of his insinuation, that Christ is not called the “Son of God” because of his eternal generation of the essence of his Father.

… 3. An invincible argument for the sonship of Christ, to be placed only upon the account of his eternal generation, ariseth from this very place that was produced to oppose it! He who is the Son of God because he is “one with the Father,” and God equal to him, is the Son of God upon the account of his eternal relation to the Father: but that such was the condition of Jesus Christ, himself here bears witness to the Jews, although they are ready to stone him for it; and of his not blaspheming in this assertion he convinces his adversaries by an argument a minori, [from the lesser or the minor premise; John 10] verses 34–36.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 21 vol. ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1862), 12.169, 170, 171, 177, 181, 182, 185, 189, 190, 193, 194, 198


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Socinians deny both the eternal generation and the deity of the Son. There are those who maintain that He was always God, but not eternally generated (John MacArthur used to be one of them), only becoming the Son of God at His incarnation. One argument against this (There are others that I’ve seen and, sadly, forgotten, and even worse, forgotten where to find them) is expressed in the following doggerel:
    Christ could not be a human son
    Till human he became
    When He’d be called the Son of God.
    He already had that Name.

    For if Christ was not Son of God
    Before in flesh He came,
    Then who walked with the faithful three
    In midst of fiery flame?

    And did the Sp’rit record those words
    Of king of Babylon,
    And fail to say he was deceived,
    For that was not God’s Son?

    No, Christ is from eternity
        God’s Wisdom, Word and Son.
    May heav’n and earth sound His praise, while
    Eternity shall run!

    • I would have thought that the heresy maintaining Christ’s deity while denying His eternl generation was more quasi-Sabellian than quasi-Socinian (note; I avoided the use of “quasi-Modal” because I did not want confusion with a certain Hunchback).

  2. It’s a pity that Owen’s arguments did not save Dissenters in the next century from heresies of Socinianism, Arianism and Unitarianism.

    • “Dissenters” is a large basket. E.g., Baxter’s congregation in Kidderminster became Unitarian because of his rationalism and moralism. Owen was neither of those. Can we trace apostasy to Owen’s orthodox theology? If so, I’m unaware of it.

  3. I often hear some claim that Calvin denied eternal generation, is this true? If so, what exactly did he believe?

    • Alexander,

      Hang on. I have an essay forthcoming in Credo magazine (online) which deals with this very question.

      The short answer is: no, Calvin did not deny eternal generation.

Comments are closed.