« Μονογενής in the Church Fathers: A Response to Kevin Giles, Part 4 | Main

01/01/2017

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David Grubbs

... [I]f the ‘Only-begotten’ is ‘in the bosom,’ therefore the ‘Well-beloved’ is ‘in the bosom.’ For ‘Only-begotten’ and ‘Well-beloved’ are the same, as in the words ‘This is My Well-beloved Son.’ For not as wishing to signify His love towards Him did He say ‘Well-beloved,’ as if it might appear that He hated others, but He made plain thereby His being Only-begotten, that He might shew that He alone was from Him. And hence the Word, with a view of conveying to Abraham the idea of ‘Only-begotten,’ says, ‘Offer thy son thy well-beloved;’ but it is plain to any one that Isaac was the only son from Sara. The Word then is Son, not lately come to be, or named Son, but always Son. For if not Son, neither is He Word; and if not Word, neither is He Son. For that which is from the father is a son; and what is from the Father, but that Word that went forth from the heart, and was born from the womb? for the Father is not Word, nor the Word Father, but the one is Father, and the other Son; and one begets, and the other is begotten. (Athanasius, Against the Arians, Discourse 4) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.xxi.ii.vi.vii.html?highlight=only,begotten#highlight

Kevin Giles

Dear Lee, I was very sorry and disappointed to read your opening words in number 5 of your posts on monogenes; “We have seen that Giles is wrong when he claims that monogenes meant ‘unique’ and not ‘only begotten’, in the writings of the fourth-century church Greek-speaking fathers and in the Nicene Creed.” I had thought when I agreed to respond to your blogs on this matter our exchanges would be robust yet scholarly, and respectful. The truth is you have not shown me wrong on the word monogenes. To categorically state this when I have not conceded this and you have not proven your claim is unscholarly and unrespectful. Let me sum up where we are:
1. I do not concede monogenes in John’s the evangelists writings should be translated “only begotten”. Virtually all linguists agree that this word speaks of one (monos) of a kind (genos), not of a unique begetting. I simply cannot believe this consensus is going to be overthrown. The argument is so strong. For you simply to assert you own opinion and ignore the evidence proves nothing.
2. I do concede that how best to translate into English the Greek word monogenes in the fourth century church fathers is not easy to decide. After reading their writings I conclude that in most if not all their usage of this word the uniqueness of the Son is to the fore. This is a reasonable conclusion because virtually all Greek linguistics agree this is the primary meaning of the word. I nevertheless concede that because all children are begotten and the church fathers repeatedly argue that what makes the Son monogenes is that he alone is eternally begotten, adopting the traditional rendering of this word “only begotten” is a possibility, but in my opinion not the best possibility. I was not convinced by any of the quotes from the church fathers you gave that the word monogenes must mean “only begotten”. In fact, for me most of them seemed to be making the point that Jesus Christ is the only/unique Son of the Father. You are entitled to your conclusion but if what you claim is not compelling and obvious you have proven nothing. You most egregious claim in you opening words to this blog given above is “Giles is wrong when he claims that monogenes meant ‘unique’ and not ‘only begotten’, … in the Nicene Creed.” When you wrote this you had not received my answer to your post on the creeds. I had not posted it. What this means is that you know I am wrong before you hear anything I say. Lee, this is not scholarship.
Word statistics.
I must admit when I saw your impressive text statistics set out in a chart my heart dropped. It seemed to me you had put your finger on a serious and deep flaw in my argument. I had missed much. The church fathers did in fact appeal to the word monogenes and the texts in which the word is found as the primary biblical basis for the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. I took your work very seriously and I have looked up the vast majority of these references. It was a lot of work. Before I began reading yet again the church fathers to check out your references I immediately noted that of the eight text you list only two, John 1:14 and 1 :18 use the word monogenes. Three of the five monogenes texts are never quoted! This observation alone, without checking further, would seem to me to call into question your thesis that the monogenes word and the texts in which it is found are the primary basis for the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
Now to what I have discovered by simply looking up the references you gave. You would have been well advised to check them all yourself before asserting your views.
In paragraph two of your fifth post you first appeal to passages in Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius to establish your beliefs.
Cyril of Jerusalem. This is what Cyril says in the passage you quote, “of hearing ‘Son’ think not of an adopted son, but of a son by nature, a monogenes Son, having no brother [ie a unique or only son]. For this reason he is called monogenes because of the dignity of his Godhead and his generation from the Father. He has no brother … (Cat Lectures XI.2 p. 65).
Then in XI. 2 he quotes Ps 110:3 in support of the eternal generation of the Son and adds “God is Spirit” (John 4:24) and next he quotes Ps 2:7, the most important text for the church father in support of the eternal generation of the Son
In XI.6 he adds, “Believe thou therefore on Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, a monogenes Son, according to the Gospel which says – and then he quotes John 3:16.
My response: It seems to me Cyril here speaks of Jesus Christ as “the only Son”, the unique Son, of the Father, quotes Ps 110:3 and Ps 2:7 in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and calls on his hearers to believe in Jesus Christ, the monogenes Son of God.

Athanasius. Next I turned to Athanasius, “The Defence of the Nicene Definition”, NPNF, 4, 3.13, p 158 that you quote. In this passage Athanasius first speaks in opposition to the Arian interpretation of Prov 8:22, namely that the Son is created by God the Father in time. In reply, Athanasius insists the Son is not a creature and quotes Ps 100:3, Ps 2:7 and Prov 8:25 as proof of his eternal generation. Then he says, “And concerning things ‘originated and created’, John speaks, ‘All things were made by him [Jesus]’ (John 1:3), but preaching of the Lord, he says, ‘The monogenes Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he declared him ….
My response: Athanasius in this passage predicates the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son on the texts, Ps 100:3, Ps 2:7 and Prov 8:25. He does not predicate this doctrine on John 1:3 or 1:18 (bosom of the Father text) or on the word monogenes. Nothing in what you quote from Athanasius indicates that for him the word monogenes means “only-begotten”. For Athanasius Jesus Christ alone is eternally begotten of the Father; he is a unique Son.
Now to your chart.
1. First, let me say the references to Ps 2:7, Ps 110:3, Prov 8:25 are not in dispute. I claim these are the primary texts to which the church fathers appeal in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Your list of texts does not deny this. Yes, the quotes of these texts are not numerous but there is a reason for this, which later in this post you dispute. The Greek fathers basically constructed their doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and eternal procession of the Spirit on logical deductions and inferences. What we need to recognise is that these two doctrines answer a very big question, how can the one God be eternally three persons? For three hundred years really smart theologians could not adequately answer this question. They began with the premise that God is eternally one and in more than one way then tried to show how he became three in history. It was only early in the fourth century that the deduction was made that God must be eternally triune and only then could the best of theologians began exploring how to explain eternal threefold divine self-differentiation. They noted that the NT spoke repeatedly of God the Father and God the Son and they inferred an internal Father by necessity implies and eternal Son. The next step was to argue a Father-Son relationship implies a begetting; a begetting where the nature/being of the begetter is perfectly communicated to the begotten. Having made these deductions they then found texts in support of this inference, Ps 2:7, Prov 8:25 and Ps 110.3. Indeed, the Cappadocian fathers basically assume the doctrine of the eternal generation and thus spent most of their time refuting the Arians who thought otherwise.
I am not sure why you list John 5:26 and John 16:5. These two texts do not use the word monogenes and as far as I can see neither Athanasius nor the Cappadocian fathers appeal to these texts in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. I am also not sure why you list Heb 1:3, which as far as I can see the Greek church fathers did not quote to support the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Now to the detail.
Athanasius. In Athanasius’ 31 quotes of John 1:14 almost all of them simply make the point that Jesus came in the flesh. None are used to support the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. His 18 quotes of John 1:18 either say he is “the monogenes Son who is in the bosom of the Father” [ie he uniquely is in the bosom of the Father] or he alone/uniquely has seen the Father. Athanasius does not appeal to this text to establish the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. The 14 quotes of Heb 1:3 just simply reflect words in this text, “he is the reflection of God’s glory”, or ‘the perfect image of his brightness”, or that he sat down at the right hand of God. None of them are given in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
Basil of Caesarea. Basil’s two references to John 1:14 both simply say, “we beheld his glory”. Two of his five two references to John 1:18 make the point that the monogenes Son alone is in the bosom of the Father and three that no one has seen God except the monogenes Son. He alone/uniquely has seen him. His seven references to Heb 1:3 are just quotes of the text. They are not given in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
Gregory of Nazianzens and Gregory of Nyssa say much the same. I would just be overkill if I went through yet again all their references you list.

Augustine. You do not list Augustine but it must be recognised that his doctrine of the Trinity is basically the same as the Greek Nicene Father, and he gave the fullest account of th e doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son among the early church fathers. From the index of Biblical passages listed at the back of Edmund Hill’s translation of the original Latin De Trinitate, I first found all the references to the 8 texts you list and then looked them all up to see why Augustine quoted them. There are two references to Ps 2:7, one reference to Ps 110.3 and one to Proverbs 8:25, all given in in support of the eternal begetting of the Son, a doctrine he assumes. There are eleven references to John 1:14 all speaking of Jesus coming in the flesh. In the passages where he alludes to this text, the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son never comes into view. Augustine does not quote John 1:18 in his The Trinity. We have eight references to John 5:26 all simply stating that as the Father has life in himself so he has given to the Son to have life in himself. In my book, Eternal Generation (pp 156-157), I note that this text is for Augustine is important confirmation of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Once he quotes John 16:25 in seeking to explain what is involved when in 1 Cor 15:28 Paul speaks of the Son handing over the Kingdom. There are no references to Heb 1:3.
What we learn from this is that the texts in which the Greek has monogenes play no part in Augustine’s account of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and in fact he does not appeal to the Scriptures very much in this regard at all. He tells us he takes for granted what the catholic church has agreed is the doctrine of the Trinity (See, The Trinity, 1.2.7; “the tradition”). He then appeals to scripture and uses rational arguments to show why this teaching should be believed. As we read the extended exposition of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son in Augustine we catch a glimpse of what is involved in doing theology with the Bible in hand while wearing the glasses the teaching of the great theologians of past times have provided.

With this evidence before us we can now evaluate your assertion,
“I claim that texts in which monogenes is (sic) found were in fact used by the church fathers in support of [the doctrine] of eternal generation [of the Son]. In particular, it would appear that John 1:14 and 18 outstrip all other proof texts in frequency of quotation, except Heb 1:3.”
Your long list of texts in fact gives no support to your assertion. Indeed an inductive study of the texts you lost from the church fathers denies this assertion. Lee you tell me in all honesty that “I admit that I did not take the time to look up all these passages in Athanasius and the Cappadocians”. Can I suggest that if you aspire to be a scholar you should always consult your sources. And can I dare to suggest that when you do look and quote up a text as you do with Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat Lectures XI.5-6 and Athanasius, Defense of the Nicene Definition 13, you listen carefully to what is said, trying at all cost to avoid imposing you view of what is said by the author.

Doing theology.
Following you claim that the primary basis for the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son are the Johannine text that speak of the Son as monogenes you make the claim that the “doctrine of the two processions (the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit) is (sic) not a synthetic apprehension or a theological deduction [as Kevin Giles argues].It is just saying as much as Scripture says and no more. You say, Giles’ error is that “he argues against a ‘Bible alone’ view of doing theology”.

Lee you now open up a very big issue, how evangelical theology is done, which I address in detail in chapter 2 of my book, The Eternal Generation of the Son. You note I closely follow Robert Letham and other confessional Reformed theologians in my methodology. Many of the reviewers of my book though this was possibly the best chapter in my book. Without writing another 10,000 words it is not possible to deal adequately with your alternative understanding of evangelical theology. What I will do is give you three reasons why I disagree strongly with you on your claim that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son springs directly from the pages of scripture. “It is not a synthetic apprehension or a theological deduction”; all we have to do is “follow the exact words of Scripture, and no more”.
1. First, it is historically not true. These two doctrines answer a very big question, how can the one God be eternally three persons, and as I have pointed out many insightful deductions and inferences had to be made to get an answer? These two doctrines did not simply appear the day when someone noted that the Bible just once spoke of the coming messiah as “begotten (Ps 2:7) and just once of the Spirit proceeding (john 15:26)! What is more when Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers put forward their case for the eternal generation of the Son the Arians of various persuasions all argued with Bible in hand that they were wrong. They quoted from the Greek LLX, Proverbs 8:22, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old”.
2. Second, if you are right that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son springs directly from scripture and is clearly taught in scripture why may I ask were possibly the majority of evangelical and Reformed theologians in the second half of the twentieth century arguing that there was “no biblical warrant” for this doctrine? Your friend Bruce Ware says I do not hold this doctrine because ,“The conception of both the ‘eternal begetting of the Son’ and ‘eternal procession of the Spirit’ seem to me highly speculative and not grounded in biblical teaching.’ (Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance, 162).
3. Third, if you are right you would expect that virtually every evangelical that knows their Bible well would be able to explain and outline in brief the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. I think most could explain the doctrine of salvation because this certainly is clearly enunciated in scripture and I am sure they could speak in an informed way on many other key doctrines. I suggest to you Lee this is not the case with the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. I doubt if one in a thousand informed evangelicals could explain and briefly outline this doctrine. When I graduated after four years of study with a first class honours degree in theology with a very firm grasp of the scriptures I did not understand and could not outline this doctrine.

You next say, “I think a large part of the problem is that many (perhaps including Giles) think of eternal generation as a big, fat, complex doctrine like the Trinity.” You are right, I do and so do most theologians. For another defense of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, which presupposes it is a rich and complex doctrine, see the gender complementarian, Fred Sander’s superb book, The Triune God, Zondervan, 2016.

After this you return to your claim that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son springs directly from the Scripture; all we have to do is “follow the exact words of Scripture and no more”. You then point out that the Bible says the Son is “begotten” (Ps 2:7, 110:3, Prov 8:25 and five monogenes verses …) and the Spirit ‘proceeds’ (John 15:26).”
In reply, I first of all I point out to find a few verses that speak of the Son as “begotten”, all in the OT, and a text in the NT that says the Spirit “proceeds” does not give us the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son or the doctrine of eternal procession of the Spirit – which is far more than two words found in the Bible. None of these texts in fact speak of an eternal begetting or procession and only one of them of the begetting of a son (Ps 2:7).
To conclude your fifth post on the word monogenes you return to you primary assertion, the most important texts in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son are the five texts in the Johannine writings that use the word monogenes, a word you claim is rightly translated “only begotten”. Two facts deny your assertion. First, the five Johannine texts play virtually no part in the articulation of the doctrine of the eternal generation as your list of texts prove. Indeed, only two of the five texts are quoted by the Greek church fathers and then not in relation to the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.
And second, as I have pointed out repeatedly, you are simply asserting that in John monogenes means “only-begotten”. The overwhelming majority of linguists disagree with you. Asserting this claim time and time again does not make it true. In any case, one word, the meaning of which is hotly contested cannot be the sure and certain ground for an important doctrine. I for one want far stronger biblical grounding for what I believe.

Paradoxically you then argue in conclusion that the three OT texts that speak of “begetting” are not “completely free of doubts for the modern exegete”. You are right, Biblical scholars today do raise weighty objections to their use in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. I note this fact and deal with it in my book on this doctrine (pages 78-84). In making this point, Lee, you have undermined your own argument that, all we have to do is “follow the exact words of Scripture, and no more” to get the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Apparently you have to establish the meaning of each text you quote in support of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and show its relevance. It seems doing theology involves far more than just quoting texts!

Lee, you asked me to reply to your posts on monogenes and I have done so to the best of my ability. I do not wish to continue this discussion.
With warm regards,
Kevin Giles
6-1-2017.

Kevin Giles

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