The Table Podcast

The Person of Jesus in the Nicene Creed

In this episode, Drs. Darrell Bock and Scott Horrell discuss the Nicene Creed, focusing on essential Christian beliefs about the person of Jesus.

The Nicene Creed
  1. The Doctrine of God in the Nicene Creed
  2. The Person of Jesus in the Nicene Creed
  3. The Work of Jesus in The Nicene Creed
  4. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed
Timecodes
00:15
What the Nicene Creed says the person of Jesus
01:58
A brief history of the Nicene Creed
09:56
How to talk biblically about the Trinity
16:37
Significance of Jesus being called God and Lord
23:11
Significance of Jesus being called the Son of Man
30:36
How does Jesus’ ministry demonstrate his identity?
33:53
What does it mean to be the only begotten Son of God?
40:48
What does it mean to have the same essence as God?
Resources

Nicene Creed Translation © 1988, Faith Alive Christian Resources, Christian Reformed Church in North America

Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table. We discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. My guest today is Scott Horrell, Dr. Horrell, who is professor of systematic theology here at Dallas Seminary. We’ve been colleagues a long time and he’s a veteran of foreign wars here on The Table. We’ve had him for many different topics, and today we’re discussing the Nicene Creed and in particular, we’re looking at the part of the confession that deals with the son, and particularly the person of the son. We will be dealing with the works of the son later.

Let me read this part of the creed and then we’re literally gonna go through it kind of a line at a time. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, so that note, before we even start, that begins and assumes the very beginning of the creed. We believe in one God and in one Lord Jesus Christ. Those are how those two kind of attach to each other because in the creed, the confession of the one God of course extends to the Father, Son, and Spirit. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of the same essence as the Father. And then the transition, towards his work, through Whom all things were made for us and for our salvation. And then we get into the list of His things that related to His incarnation. That’s the first half of the creed.

If you look at the creed, the discussion of the Father is very short. The discussion of the Spirit and all other things is relatively short, but the discussion of the Son is quite long and of course this tells us the background of the creed. So Scott, my opening question for you is let’s talk about the background of the creed, what it’s dealing with and why this middle section of the creed is so long.

Scott Horrell
Well you have a long history of – from scripture, what, even in the first century, was beginning to happen in the church. So you have some who are – choose, who wanted to believe that Joseph was Jesus’s actual father. The Ebionites, they are called, they seem perhaps to be aligned with the Essenes, very aesthetic, separatist kind of a group. With the destruction of Jerusalem – and we don’t know much about them, but they scattered. There weren’t many to begin with, but probably into the upper Nile, southern Egypt or middle Egypt as we’d say today. And so they believed that Jesus was essentially a man and a good prophet, like John the Baptist. One to be revered, but not one to be worshipped.

You have that extreme over here and yet on the other side, you have the docetic element beginning to enter in. These are the ones who wanted to believe that Jesus – this is a good Greek and Roman kind of idea – Jesus is an emanation of God. God’s the other indescribable, transcendent, ineffable God of sorts up there and that this God then works into or emanates down into this world. This world is contrary to God. The material world is evil. So it is the rational mind and all the rest that is true to what God is. And so Jesus was interpreted within that framework, as you well know, as a kind of vision of God, a – one that was not entirely human. Indeed this one who walked as a ghost would walk on the sand and leave no footprints. This one who was, in a sense, a god, not the God by any means. An emanation of god, yet not truly man. So all human or divine, but not man on the two sides.

And as we walk through church history, those were easy to get rid of, but we come to Marcionism and other beliefs. That was a docetic belief, where you have some that wanna say that Jesus was a good man, a Nazareth, and so good that God adopted him as Lord of the church. There were others that said no, that’s not good enough. We think that God is one person. They wanna protect the monarchy of God, the unity of God, of those who see God adopting is one form of that, but another form is to say well, God is one God, one person, but manifests Himself in different ways. The father sometimes, the son sometimes, the Holy Spirit sometimes, and that developed a little bit more. Sabellianism is where God is the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the Gospels, and then the Holy Spirit as we hit Pentecost and move forward in history. God’s in this kind of migration, but God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not as three persons, but manifestations or masks.

And then finally the really big question, as you know. You may have been asking this all along. That is Arius. Arius, an elder in Alexander, yet Arius was saying that the Son was the first creation of God, the highest through whom God created everything else, but that he is a creation and not the same substance as God. Not equally God as the Father, but a god, so to speak. And it is in that context, Arianism beginning to grow and the church not always clear on these things versus Alexander of Alexandria and his younger sidekick, Athanasius, and they were saying this cannot be. That following origin, in part, the Son has always been and is in fact eternally begotten of the Father. So it is in this context, Constantine had conquered the western empire, had moved, and finally in 324, conquered what he named humbly Constantinople after himself.

Darrell Bock
We all should get the opportunity to do this.

I think there’s a Horrell stadium somewhere in California. I’m proud of that, but –

Darrell Bock
A relative or something like that.
Scott Horrell
There you go.
Darrell Bock
There you go.
Scott Horrell
But Constantine seems to have converted under Hosius, a Spanish bishop, and had Hosius traveling with him. And as they went through Rome and then finally conquered the eastern empire as well, he put Hosius in charge of resolving this tension between Arianism and really what we would call classical now Trinitarianism. Because the rift was fairly significant and Constantine himself wanted to bring unity to the church. In 325, through Hosius, he called a first ever – this comes after the persecutions of others. Now Constantine, sympathetic to Christianity, first ever really reunion of the leaders of the church to determine what do we believe and what we do not believe. And so Arius was present as was Alexander of Alexandria, and Athanasius, and so this creed is partially hammered out in 325. Now what we’re reading as the creed, as you well know, goes beyond that because this is really a 381 revision of the original 325 creed. Perhaps a little more background here would be helpful.
Darrell Bock
Okay, well, you’re going – you’re on a roll, so I’m not gonna stop you.
Scott Horrell
I don’t mean to be, but Arianism, though it was anathematized in the 325 Nicene Creed, Arius had a pernicious way of creeping back into the kingdom. And even persuaded Constantine himself toward an Arian view after the edict of Nicea, which was clearly Trinitarian. And so over the next several decades, we have emperors calling the shots on what is to be Christian doctrine. And so – in some ways – Arius would be put into a position or others who were Arian in their perspective or then regular Trinitarians. And Nicene Trinitarians would be put in place and you saw this oscillation back and forth as some were beginning to ask why are the emperors telling us what to believe as a church.

You have Hilary Potiers in 365 writing a book on the Trinity in the west and in the east, you have what are called the Cappadocians. Basil of Caesarea, who was a little bit older bishop of Caesarea, in Asia Minor, by the way, not what we usually think of on the Mediterranean coast. And then his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil’s little brother, Gregory of Nyssa. And these were working through also the place of the Holy Spirit and with Athanasius, who was still alive during this time, working out to say east and west can come together around these terms that have – between Latin and Greek proved a little problematic. And saying we’re really saying the same thing if we understand what east and west are meaning by the Greek and Latin words they’re using.

Darrell Bock
So part of the issue here was linguistic and the linguistic differences between the two languages and getting that sorted out and understood.
Scott Horrell
Yeah. So by 381, there was another council. Gregory of Nazianzus presided over at least the first part of that council and that’s what hammered out what we call now the Nicene Creed, which is in fact the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Kind of a tongue twister there.
Darrell Bock
That’s right. Yeah, we just call it NC for short [laughs].
Scott Horrell
There you go.
Darrell Bock
Thank you for the overview there. I kind of got a nice spectrum of what the options are running through the centuries. This is actually, in one sense, the culmination of a multi-century conversation that’s happening in the early church, in which different ways of trying to configure the relationship to the Father and the Son, and ultimately the Spirit are being articulated and trying to come to a common language about how to – one, how to express that and two, how to think about it.
Scott Horrell
Mm-hmm. What I see is right from the Scripture, there are two primary tracts. One orients around John 1, the prologue, and a Logos Christology, that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and was God. But then you have the baptismal formula as well, of the end of Matthew, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church was dealing with both tracts and trying to put it together. Typically that baptismal formula, as you well know, became the framework with Justin Martyr and with early editions of what we call the Apostles’ Creed. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit trying to explain the Christian faith in light of that baptismal formula. As early as 150, we see both the Greek and shortly later, the Latin, first in the Greek versions of that Apostle’s Creed. And the churches working toward the language that capsulates what scripture is really teaching.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and the easy way to think about this, ‘cause this is not easy thinking that you have to do, is to remember that Christianity emerged out of a Jewish background. It was absolutely committed to monotheism. There is only one god, but when religious rites are performed in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and you believe in one God, that is pushing you in a certain direction in terms of how you understand who God is. Because that is a divine category, if you will, of authority that’s being evoked as you engage in these rites in the name of or in the authority of this person whom you are appealing to.

And so that kind of introduces the issue at one level very practical level where you go all right, we confess one god. We do. We perform religious rites in His name and out of His authority, and so if that’s in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, then we know which side of the divine human line or the divine creature line we’re operating on. That’s one dimension of it and then the other one that also is alluded to in the creed is the line between creator and creature. You’ve got the line tied to rites and to liturgy, for lack of a better term, that you’ve got, and then you’ve got these lines tied to the association with creation.

Thus, the appeal to John 1. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and then later on, the Word became flesh with all the background that that has. And that is deeply rooted in – the Logos theology is deeply rooted in Jewish language and expectation, that fuels into this. So that we get this phrase and this is an echo actually of 1 Corinthians 8. I’m looking at it, that we believe in one God and in one Lord Jesus Christ is an echo directly from 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, where we get a mini form of this what I call Binatarian confession there, where you get the mention of the Father and the Son explicitly.

Scott Horrell
And you would argue that goes back to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4.
Darrell Bock
Exactly correct. It’s rooted very much in the language of the Shema. This is the great monotheistic confession of Judaism, repeated in the synagogues from week to week, still repeated today. And so when Paul takes this language, in effect, splits it up between the God of Israel and the Lord Jesus Christ, he is making affirmation as he says there are many gods and many lords in the world, but for us, there is one God and one Lord, and he puts the Father and the Son in that category. That’s kind of the background that we’re dealing with here and Arius’ problem was he had a high view of Jesus. It’s just hadn’t promoted Him quite high enough. Fair enough?
Scott Horrell
Fair enough. I’m recalling probably six hours of conversation I had with someone who called this seminary and wanted to talk to me. He would not give me his name, but he was someone in the Jehovah Witness hierarchy. He kept insisting that no, he’s like God. He looks like God, but the essence of His attributes are not innate to Himself. They are given by the Father. He is a god, but not the God.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, it’s a common problem and the idea of thinking through who Jesus is and what He’s about is an important part obviously. In fact, it’s a core part of what makes Christianity Christianity. And it’s also, because of the centrality of the role of this figure as the redeemer, part of what makes Christianity a very unique expression. Not just to religion in general, but of monotheism in particular.
Scott Horrell
There’s an interesting survey. You’ve heard of the Lifeway Ligonier Ministries’ survey in the general public, but this comes from about 3,000 evangelicals and it was updated last September, at least as it was published in Christianity Today. And quite surprisingly, among professing evangelicals, 71 percent say, quote, Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. Woops, 71 percent, even though, a little disconnect here, they believe in the Trinity that God is one god and three persons. Ninety seven percent say that, but woops is right. And regarding the Holy Spirit, too, that He’s basically a force, not a person. Huge numbers there as well. This is not something merely remote to groups that would not call themselves classic Christians. This is very dear to our own churches.
Darrell Bock
Yes, and it’s actually part of one of the reasons why we decided to do a series on the Nicene Creed and talk in some detail about what is going in here. Because most people don’t quite have this aligned properly in terms of thinking through what it is theologically. Well, let’s begin to go through this a line at a time and we’ll kind of unpack what we have here and work on some of the detail. It says – it’s a strange way to begin though. This is the sentence that begins with a capital and in my – in the version that I’m reading here, and you normally don’t hear a sentence that begins and in one Lord Jesus Christ. There’s something hanging and so obviously we’re going back to the line that opens up the creed, we believe in one God and in one Lord Jesus Christ.

And then we get God almost like an echo through the confession of Jesus, just to make clear what we don’t mean when we’re making this distinction, which is we aren’t attempting to separate Jesus from God. We’re explaining Jesus’s relationship to God. We get the only Son of God, begotten from the Father, God from God. That’s the closing that loophole in many ways, and then two lines later, it says true God from true God, just in case you didn’t get it. This confession is very clearly saying Jesus Christ is God and yet it uses the title Lord, which is interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on there. This stepping into make clear that Jesus is God on the one hand, but using the title Lord for Jesus. What’s happening with that juxtaposition?

Scott Horrell
You would know as well, Darrell, but for those who are listening in, Lord is a – Kyrius is the term that translates both Jehovah or Yahweh of the Old Testament, but also another term, Adonai, of the Old Testament. Kyrios translates both of them. Yahweh is used over 6,000 times and in Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Kyrios is used for God over 6,000 times as well. It can be used in other ways. We talk about Lord Chesterton or something like that. It had other meanings, but when you’re speaking of ‘the’ Lord, that’s a very different reality. Over and over again, you have this confession that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of Gad, the Father. It seems that Jesus is included then in that one Godness of God and to glorify the Son is to glorify the Father, as Jesus well put it John 5 and John 6. The one Lord Jesus Christ is not a stepping away from this one God or from the Father as fully God. It is rather saying the Son participates in that Godness and we confess that as well. As Thomas, my Lord and my God, his confession in John 20.
Darrell Bock
So this title is huge. Its background comes from Psalm 110 and I – we normally don’t get pretty – very technical on the podcast, but I’m gonna take some time to do this here. Because in Psalm 110:1, if we were to read the Hebrew and translate it very, very precisely, we would have Yahweh said to my Adonai, to my Lord, and the distinction between the addressor and the addressee is pretty clear in that opening line. But what produced the Septuagintal translation was this tendency in Judaism to shy away from the personal name of God and to put a circumlocution in there to avoid pronouncing the divine name.

So that even when this got translated into Greek, it has the Lord said to my Lord, this double use of Kyrios, which tightens the association in some ways and also makes the point contextually. We’re talking about someone being addressed to sit with God in heaven. And when you do that, who gets to share the thrown of God, who gets to share the glory of God, et cetera, boom, all of the sudden, you’re into a new conception and a fresh conception about the relationship between these two beings. And this is a text that Jesus himself appeals to.

Scott Horrell
And stumps the Pharisees entirely.
Darrell Bock
[laughs] Exactly right.
Scott Horrell
How could David say that his son would be his Kyrios, his Lord?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, in a patriarchal world in which all the honor goes to the ancestor as opposed to the descendant, how is that the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson – I may not have enough greats in there – could get the honor. And so that’s what you’re dealing with as you deal with this text. This – and then there are other texts, Joel 2 perhaps being a famous example where the appeal is those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, using this title there. Clearly if you’re Jewish, you’re thinking about what we’re calling on the God of Israel, but in the early church, in the speech in Acts 2, at Pentecost, Peter has a play on this in which he introduces this passage, but then later on has people calling on the name of the Lord Jesus and getting baptized in the name and the authority of Jesus at the end of that speech. Again, showing this liturgical connection in the authority of God with the person of Jesus, making these links that the creed is designed to underscore.
Scott Horrell
I think it’s fascinating what’s happening in actually modern Judaism in some of the rabbinic studies, debated of course among Jews themselves. But Benjamin Sommer at Cambridge University Press book, The Bodies of God, argues that God does proliferate. He can appear in more than one way, maybe even at the same time, and that – and he’s a leading rabbinic scholar in Chicago. He would argue that the doctrine of the Trinity was – is not inconceivable. In fact, it rather makes sense within intertestamental Judaism.
Darrell Bock
I like to tell students that this background, these texts that we’re talking about, that we’re gonna allude to here in a second, they aren’t inspired, but they do reflect the way people are thinking about God at the time – around the time of Jesus. The key text that the New Testament of course plays with is a canonical text. That’s the Daniel 7 text. That’s the Son of Man who rides the clouds, comes to the Ancient of Days, receives judgment authority, and of course in the Old Testament, the only figures who ride clouds are deities. You’ve got this human being doing divine stuff and so that’s part of what’s going on in Daniel 7, but out of that came some reflection in Judaism, in a text like 1 Enoch, which is discussed as to when it was written.

But I’ve edited a book with James Charlesworth on the similitudes of Enoch, which we argued that this was a work that was written somewhere between the late first century BC. and early first century A.D. Jim actually believes that he – that its origins are in Galilee, which is even more interesting because then it’s floating around in the very area where Jesus ministered. And so you’ve – and it has this son of man figure who’s very clearly second authority in heaven, participates in the judgment, sits with God, is preexisted. It’s got all these traits, so that we see this reflection on Daniel 7 in Enoch, that is pointing to a very emerging and developing concept of this associative power. We’re not saying the Christianity took this idea, but we are saying that there are ideas like this around at the time that – so that when Jesus says it, he’s not stepping to completely unoccupied space. He’s working with conceptions that are around.

Scott Horrell
I think another rabbinic scholar, Daniel Boyarin, would say that almost strongly. Now both Benjamin Sommers and Daniel Boyarin are Jews and scholars of Judaism. They do not confess Jesus. They do not believe that he is the Messiah, but Boyarin goes further, even to say that the idea of Trinity was in a – not per se, but the idea that God could also take form, be even human, was in the mixture of many different views of what this coming Messiah might be like. We quote at Christmas all the time, Isaiah 9:6, for unto us a child is born, a son is born, and his name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. El Gibbor, Mighty God, is only used one other time in the Old Testament. And that exact phrase, that’s a chapter later and it is absolutely Yahweh, Jehovah God. These kinds of things, as you well know, the Jews were struggling with. And so as we come to one Lord Jesus Christ and Son of God, it’s fascinating.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and of course the sonship gets into the way in which the father and son relate to one another functionally. And so we often see portraits in the gospels where Jesus describes Himself as responding to the Father. He’s sent by the Father. The language is all through John. He does what the father says. We see this responsiveness that the Son has to the Father. That’s the way they’re relating to each other, but there – you also get Jesus saying things like before Abraham was, I am, which is an appeal to the divine name he’s attaching to himself. The Jews who heard that weren’t too excited about the fact that Jesus said that.

They did react. And so there are these whole series of texts that are pointing to the fact that Jesus sees himself in these terms. And this Psalm 110 text, which started this conversation, is important because as we said, the picture is, at least in the way Jesus is using it, is of – he’s describing during his trial. In effect, he’s saying to them look, you may execute me. You may crucify me, but God’s gonna vindicate me and that vindication is going to involve my resurrection to his side. This is something he’s gonna do. If you’ve got a beef with this, you need to take it up with the divine complaints department and God himself. And if you wanna contact me, you can contact me at www.righthandofgod.com. I’m alive by the power of God and that’s gonna be the vindication. And oh, by the way, God is kind of – you may think you’re a judge, but God’s a judge in his own right and this is not a good thing that you’re getting ready to do. There are all kinds of things that are wrapped up in what Jesus is saying that points to his authority. And the empty tomb, of course, is God – what I like to call, it’s God’s vote in the dispute between the Jewish leadership and Jesus.

Scott Horrell
I hear, a lot of times, people say Muslims say this all the time and many others do, too. Jesus never called himself God and I think it’s a fascinating question to stop and think about. What if He had? What if He had gone around and He did? But I’ll get back to that in a minute. What if he’d gone around saying I’m God and even proving it with majestic miracles and the Gnostic gospels making toast of anyone who disagreed? What kind of faith would that evoke? What kind of belief from the heart and trust would that be? I find it fascinating that the times Jesus did make clear who He was, was in the teeth of those who already wanted to kill Him.

As you mentioned, John 8:58, before Abraham was, I am, there’d been a full chapter and more of debate and that’s on the – that’s in the temple courts, in Jerusalem, on the temple mount. And then again, in John 10, it’s again in the temple courts, in Jerusalem epicenter of Judaism, and I and the Father one. And again, they wanted to kill him. You, being a man, make yourself out to be God. And he could’ve diffused it and said no, you don’t understand. I’m just kind of one with God in a general way, but he let the strongest sense – in fact, he explained it later, didn’t he – stand. But the other time, before the resurrection, is they’re in the trial and I think the Mathian account, I find most fascinating. Because you have the high priest saying by the living god, I adjure you, are you the son of God?

Darrell Bock
Right, he invokes an oath. That’s right.
Scott Horrell
And that son of God of course has multiple meanings in both Old and New Testament, but then Jesus quotes Daniel 7, as you’ve been saying. And so he connects son of God with the title of son of man, a divine title, and it, in a sense, it is the highest meaning of both phrases. Son of god, son of man, that is who I am and that is why they went wild, tore the – well, he – his expensive robe, no doubt. And the others simply went crazy, wanted to kill him.
Darrell Bock
They had to call in tailors afterwards to fix it.
Scott Horrell
Well, that was the beginning of the end.
Darrell Bock
That’s right, and this combination of Daniel 7 and Psalm 110, it’s wrapped up in that answer, is designed to really drive home the point. You’ve got this human figure riding the clouds, some that only God does, and then you’ve got this – a picture of this – coronation’s probably not the right word, but certainly this investiture, if I can say it that way, that you’ve got this seating on a thrown with God. And that juxtaposition leaves no doubt about what Jesus is saying.

And I like to say when you read the gospels, that we give the Pharisees a hard time, but actually they’re pretty theologically astute. When Jesus makes a remark, sometimes they get it and the rest of the audience doesn’t. They don’t believe it, but they get it. They understand what Jesus is saying and react to it as a result. Sometimes they’re actually the clue as to the point of what it is that Jesus is making in their reaction, and that certainly happens here.

And then there’s another point that comes alongside this that I think is pretty important, that is something that’s happened in New Testament studies recently, at least in the last four or five decades, that I think is important. Because there are these great searches for what Jesus says. Does he speak of himself directly as God? Those kinds of things, but there are a whole raft of things that Jesus does that’s designed to show who he is. And so Jesus is kind of a show and tell guy. Sometimes He talks less and demonstrates more and that’s what you’re getting. He does things like forgives sins. He calms the winds and the waves.

Scott Horrell
And they worship him.
Darrell Bock
And they worship him, that’s right. This is one of my favorites ‘cause it’s subtle. He takes the Passover, an established liturgy of the Torah, and totally changes its significance. Who has the authority to mess with a Pentateuch like that?
Scott Horrell
And Passover, all.
Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right. Yeah, so that’s another one of the same kind. You’ve got these actions that Jesus performs that’s designed – he’s the one who talks about the son of man being lord of the Sabbath. Now the Sabbath is no minor day in the Jewish calendar. It’s another Torah rooted creation tied, God ordained day. Who has the right to mess with the Sabbath? And Jesus is raising those kinds of questions consistently. He plays with how purity works. All these things are designed to give people pause and demonstrate who Jesus is. So much so that when he performs miracles, he can say things like if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. And of course he’s talking about his own authority as he’s doing this, his authority. Who has authority over those spiritual beings? There’s a whole raft of things that are going on.

We could talk all day about this part of the Christology, but there are other parts of the creed to unfurl here. Let’s go back. We’ve covered one Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve alluded to the Son of God through the picture of these passages and now we come to the phrase that’s probably extremely important because it’s actually mentioned twice. Begotten from the Father before all ages, and then it goes, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made. I think they’re trying to make a point there.

Let’s talk about this begotten thing. In fact, he goes on and says begotten, not made, of the same essence as the Father. Through Him, all things were made. This is putting Jesus on the creator side of the creator/creature divide. That’s for sure, but let’s talk about this term begotten because some people say begotten and go well, isn’t that born? Aren’t we talking about the –

Scott Horrell
That’s why it says begotten, not made. There’s been a lot of debate around this over the last 50, 60, 65 years. Dale Moody and others. Some have said monogenes, one of a kind. So genos is not gennao, which means born. This can be a little confusing because the two words are sometimes – they’re close together, like in John 1, 13 and 14. It’s not begotten. It simply means one of kind. Most of our modern translations don’t use begotten anymore. A few do, but use one of a kind.
Darrell Bock
Unique.
Scott Horrell
Unique or one or only. Gennao, which is two N’s instead of one. Genos is G-E-N-O-S and Gennao is the verb, G-E-N-N-A-O, means to be born and many have said they’re not the same word. This doesn’t mean only begotten. It only means one of a kind. Some have tried to say this part of the creed is not even correct. It is a misappropriation of biblical language, but a lot of research has been done really in the last several years again to say but wait a minute. Genos and Gennao may be coming back to the same Indo-European root, the gen, which comes out of the idea of a descendancy. And we see mono genos or that word one and only, usually, even in Luke, for example, four times it applies to a son or three times to – two times to a son, once to a daughter. It seems very often to be used of offspring.

And so I’ve always said that the Greek fathers could speak Greek better than we can, and they didn’t conflate the two, but rather they saw one implying the other very strongly. To be the one and only son of God means you’re the one and only in a way generated by God, but not in time. Origin rather brilliantly said we think in human terms. The father comes before a son, but when we speak of this one who, in the beginning, was with God and is God, or was God in John 1:1, we have to be talking about analogy here. And so when we speak of the begotteness of the son, we talk about eternal begotteness as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed says. Eternally begotten and not made.

Darrell Bock
Not made, yeah.
Scott Horrell
Tough way to get your mind around it because we don’t think that way, but it is the distinguishing aspect in classical Christian faith between the Father, who is the un-originated origin, and the son, who is the eternally begotten one. And later, with this creed, came the idea of the spirit eternally proceeding from the Father, if not also the Son.
Darrell Bock
The picture here is of an eternal relationship. I like the phrase begotten, not made because it’s – what it’s underscoring is –
Scott Horrell
It’s beautiful.
Darrell Bock
– this is not – we’re not talking about a creature. We’re not talking about someone who at some point did not exist. He is – and then thinking Jewishly again, he’s on the creator side of the creator/creature divide. That immediately puts him into the category of deity and so all that is at work.

Another passage that I think is important here is in Psalm 89. In Psalm 89:27, where the term firstborn comes up and gets associated with this terminology. I will appoint him to be my firstborn son, the most exalted of the earth’s kings. And what that juxtaposition of course does is it highlights the fact that we’re talking about a primacy here and at the same time, a uniqueness as opposed to a biological use of the language of born. And of course the firstborn in Judaism had this primacy in the family in terms of inheritance and family responsibilities, the passing on of the family, those kinds of things. And so it lent itself to this kind of figure and that’s what’s being highlighted here, is that Jesus is this figure who has taken on the uniqueness and the primacy. Of course that’s what the title Lord also suggests, points in the same kind of direction. That highlights, I think, part of what the creed is after as it emphasizes the fact that we’re dealing with someone on the creator side of the creator/creature divide.

Scott Horrell
Absolutely. I think that – what we call high Christology’s of the New Testament. Certainly John’s prologue, John 1:1-18, where he’s even called the – probably one and only or Monogenes Theo, the one and only God or the only begotten God, if you translate it in classical ways, who’s made the Father known, who’s on the bosom of the Father. This is extraordinary language, but he’s created everything ever created as you see in John 1 and Colossians 1, starting with verse 15.
Darrell Bock
Yes, absolutely.
Scott Horrell
And Hebrews 1, again, he’s a creator of everything and the sustainer, as in Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1. Here’s the one, this son who is God in himself, but not to be confused with the Father is the creator of everything and sustains it. Everything invisible and visible in heaven and on earth, and everywhere else. And finally, it is for His glory and yet he brings this back to the Father’s glory as well.
Darrell Bock
Again, we could spend more time on this, but there’s one other concept I wanna get to before we’re done. So it says begotten from the Father, before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Really underscoring this divine aspect of who Jesus is. Begotten, not made, and now here comes the next term that we’ve gotta discuss, of the same essence as the Father. Through Him, all things were made. Again, a consistently underscoring. This is a creator we’re talking about. When we say Jesus, we’re thinking – we’re on the creator side of things, but now we get to the issue of person as we talk about this and the term essence is an important term here. What’s going on with that term?
Scott Horrell
The whole idea of Trinity came out of the son’s relationship with the Father, as so very clear all through the New Testament. And yet he’s in personal relationship with the Father, and yet even he says there’s only one God. How do we put that together? The Greek word is homoousios, the same substance or essence or the same nature. I like to say the Godness of God. Both the Father and the Son share that. The Nicene Creed really frames a mystery because you have the oneness of God, one essence, and yet the three persons. And I would argue in relationship, they love each other. They make each other known. They testify of one another. They are, in a sense, self giving, one to the other, even within the God head. There is the one nature.

The eastern church tended to favor the Father from whom ever comes forth the equal existence of the Son and the Spirit. The western church, there are a lot of variations and a lot of mixture between the two. Even Calvin tend to say well, that would make the Son and the Spirit inferior to the Father then, wouldn’t it? They wouldn’t be completely God as the Father is God. That would be Aquinas. That would be to some extent Augustin. And even Gregory of Nyssa questioned that himself. Within that framework of Nicea, three persons, one essence. Some prefer to emphasize the three persons in relationship. Others prefer to emphasize the one essence manifest, but in real persons or some kind of consubstantial manifestation, each of the other, yet really distinct, within this mystery of the Trinity.

Darrell Bock
Okay, I’m gonna go for a crass paraphrase here and see what you think of it. And it may need correction, but basically this term essence means that they’re made of the one stuff. Homoousios is a oneness of being, if you will. If you wanna get really, really literal. The one stuffness that is God is Father, Son, and Spirit, all existing simultaneously and co-functioning. I don’t know what other word to use and it’s a – we’re going to –
Scott Horrell
Where language doesn’t take us.
Darrell Bock
[laughs] And that’s the point. There’s a mystery to this that is real that – and yet at the same time, there’s this threeness and this oneness that is simultaneously being affirmed, that obviously is the core of this creed. But the same essence is the way of saying look, this is the same stuff that the Father is. This is divinity we’re talking about. We’re not talking about anything lesser or different. The distinction between Father, Son, and Spirit is a distinction of personhood, but it’s not a distinction of stuffness, if I can –
Scott Horrell
Yeah, very well said. You look at the New Testament and you see Son and Father, and that relationship that transcends time. Actually it’s that language of Son and Father that is the bridge right into the heart of the Trinity, as this tri-personal God of love and holiness. As you look at scripture, even Gregory of Nazianzus talked about three gold coins. Each is completely God, but if that’s all you had, you’d have tritheism. You also have the fact that each, without confusing the persons, each indwells the other. I’m in the Father. The Father’s in me. The Spirit comes forth from the Son and from the Father. And yet beyond that, there’s still the one essence that each shares completely. And so you have three tiers of oneness in all of this and we cannot forget that one essence or substance in which each shares.
Darrell Bock
Scott, I really thank you for coming in and helping us through this very full part of the creed. The last thought I wanna leave is kind of a devotional one, which is this, that we have direct connections to this one who has all this power and all this authority. And that the beauty of the relationship with the Trinity is the beauty of the relationship we also get to share with the one who’s the creator, God.
Scott Horrell
Yes.
Darrell Bock
We leave on a note of worship. I thank you for coming in and we thank you for being a part of The Table, and we hope that this exposition of the Trinity has been helpful.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
J. Scott Horrell
The author of From the Ground Up: New Testament Foundations for the 21st-Century Church, Dr. J. Scott Horrell is professor of Theological Studies at DTS. He has been a theologian in various world cultures including years spent as a missionary in Brazil. Along with cofounding and editing a leading Latin American theological journal, he has written several books in Portuguese and English. He especially loves to introduce students to a global understanding of Christian faith, often taking teams of them with him as he travels.
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