Friday, January 15, 2010

The divine sonship of Christ

I'm going to post some email comments I recently made:


I generally agree with Helm’s reply to Roger Beckwith–which is why I asked Patrick Chan or Evan May to post it for me. There is, however, one position he takes from which I demur:

“As for the verses regarding the relationship between Father and Son which Dr. Beckwith alludes to, such as John 17:5, I believe that they may all be understood, without exception, in the references they make to ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, as reading back into the eternal relationships of the godhead what became true at the Incarnation.”

That’s a very elegant way to finesse the problem that Helm has posed for himself, and it’s the sort of thing I’d expect a philosophical theologian to come up with, but I hardly think it’s exegetically tenable.

i) For one thing, the sonship of Christ (i.e. “Son of God”) is frequently used as a divine title in NT Christology. But it can’t be a divine title if it’s merely an economic title.

ii) Also, the way writers like John present the atonement, there’s something about the Son qua Son, in relation to the Father qua Father, that accentuates the magnitude of the atonement. That relation can’t be the result of the Incarnation. Rather, what makes the Incarnation special is the fact that God the Father is giving his Son, while his Son is volunteering to be given.

As I recall, without pulling it off the shelf just now, that's a point that John Murray makes nicely in his analysis.

To be sure, we’re still moving in the realm of metaphors, but they’re metaphors that do have some analogue in the immanent Trinity. We simply need to abstract the intended analogy. I don’t think Helm has the right handle on the metaphor.


A merely economic title would denote what God is like in relation to the world, in distinction to what he is like in himself.

To be sure, economic roles are grounded in the immanent Trinity. But there are contingencies to the economic Trinity, whereas the immanent Trinity is essential. An economic role is something voluntarily assumed–rather than a necessary state of being.

And due to the principle of divine accommodation, the revelation economic Trinity can't simply be identical with the immanent Trinity.

To be a divine title implicates the essential nature of the subject.


That's a complex example. In Hebrews, the sonship of Christ is both a divine status as well as an economic status.

Heb 1:5-6 combines several metaphors involving adoption and primogeniture to underscore the theme that Christ is heir (1:2,4) to the Davidic covenant. There we also have literary allusions to Davidic enthronement psalms and/or Davidic messianic psalms (e.g. 2:7; 89:26-29), which, in turn, go back to 2 Sam 7:14.

Lying in the background of this NT usage is the OT motif of primogeniture, including paradigmatic cases like Isaac (Gen , as well as God's "adoption" of Israel (Exod 4:22), which is, in turn, concentrated on the Davidic line (Ps 89:27).

At one level, that's an economic status.

But at a deeper level, only a divine individual can be the heir presumptive of God's kingdom. Only a divine individual can assume divine honors (e.g. angelic worship).

So there's a dialectical relationship between economic and immanent categories in Hebrews.

1 comment:

  1. Yes Steve!

    That is why divine worship by any human after Adam is so insightful and remarkable to the tasks that now fall upon our generation, those who now carry the torch of the "Eternal Purpose", cf Eph. 3!

    In your conclusion you wrote:

    "....But at a deeper level, only a divine individual can be the heir presumptive of God's kingdom. Only a divine individual can assume divine honors (e.g. angelic worship)."

    That is who we are, a divine individual at that deeper level, which is the acorn or the kernel to which side you side on that point.

    The economic is all or rather, the first and foremost place befallen fallen man through Christ Who begins this born again journey in coming into that:

    ".... without exception, in the references they make to ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, as reading back into the eternal relationships of the godhead what became true at the Incarnation.”

    That relationship has my name in there and yours and everyones whose name if found written in the Book of the Life of the Lamb.

    I am reading a book right now by Dr. J.V. Fesko, "JUSTIFICATION, Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine". About two thirds way through it he references a bit of Berkof regarding the forensic aspect of our union with Christ:

    "...The mystical union in the sense in which we are now speaking of it is not the judicial ground, on the basis of which we become partakers of the riches that are in Christ. It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ....". page 277.

    For Christ to come economically, He first came from that deeper level or place John describes or rather with remarkable accuracy remembers and then writes out the audible prayer the Son of God as the Son of Man prayed to God His Father.

    This stuff is radical. My guess is the more this is brought to the forefront of the dialectic of our day the more trouble we will bring down on the devils inciting their wrath which will evoke action on the part of Our God.

    I don't quite understand the tension and how this escalates, this eschatology, but I do believe King David and the Apostle Peter points us in the right direction, here:

    1Ch 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
    1Ch 16:32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!
    1Ch 16:33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.


    2Pe 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
    2Pe 3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

    It's my active prayer and my duty now to pray to God that His Kingdom would come to this world economy and that by so doing the spirit of this world would be brought to his sure end, to the fire the heavenly bodies will melt in too!