A Few Remarks Concerning "The Eternal Sonship of Christ"

June 3, 1998

During the last few years, I have been sent copies of an article entitled "The Eternal Sonship of Christ", published by Bible Truth Publishers and of the same article entitled "I Hold it Vital to Hold the Sonship Before the Worlds.  It is the Truth.", published by Present Truth Publishers.  Both publishers claim that the article was authored by J. N. Darby, and I expect this article has been fairly influential in forming persons' opinions.  So I desire, with the Lord's help, to address two key premises in this article.

Bible Truth Publishers prefaces the article with the statement:

"This article was found by one who came into possession of many of J. N. D.'s Mss., letters and papers in 1938."

Present Truth Publishers prefaces the article with the letter:

"In 1959 I met brother Henry Sibthorpe of Redruth, Cornwall while he was in Woodbridge, N.J.  He told me that his family had a Bible that had been J. N. Darby's and there was a handwritten article in it "I hold it vital to hold the Sonship before the worlds.  It is the truth."  This is now published in pamphlet form.  The Raven party heard about this Bible and sent some representatives to prove that it was not Mr. Darby's writing (as though someone else would write in his Bible!).  However, these doubters were turned back by a letter JND had written to CHM and which letter the Sibthorpes also had.  The handwriting was identical.  This paper by JND is photo-offset from the C. A. Hammond edition, to which the addendum has been added.  – A. Roach, December 28, 1979."

In this article, the author writes, "As to any question arising from the term 'begotten', it is only weakness itself, for if we argue from the Word, He was a Son before He was begotten, for the resurrection was the day He was begotten, yet was He not a Son while walking on the earth?"  This statement evidently refers to Acts 13:33.

Well, let us examine this statement in the light of scripture and compare it with J. N. Darby's words in his Collected Writings, as edited by William Kelly.

Let us look first at Acts 13:33.  The King James translation reads, "God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee".  But I believe the JND translation reads more correctly, "that God has fulfilled this to us their children, having raised up Jesus; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son:  this day have I begotten thee".  Note that JND omits the word "again".

JND states in his Collected Writings, "I doubt the application of Acts 13:33 to the resurrection.  Raising up Jesus is the same as raising up a deliverer." (volume 6, page 243).  He also states as to Acts 13:32,33:  "the promise made to the fathers was fulfilled in raising up Jesus*, to which he applies the passage in the Psalm, 'Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee."  *The footnote reads:  "Raising up, however, does not apply to the resurrection, but to raising Him up as a deliverer.  What follows in the passage goes on to speak of the resurrection." (volume 2, page 75).  And he states, "He is also called Son as born into this world.  There is 'This day have I begotten thee' in Psalm 2.  ...  He was begotten in time, that is true as to his human estate." (volume 25, page 230).

The above extracts show that JND applied Acts 13:33 to Jesus' incarnation — not to His resurrection!  Evidently, JND either markedly changed his views concerning Acts 13:33 or did not write the unsigned paper, "The Eternal Sonship of Christ".

I would add that Wesleyan Methodist preacher Adam Clarke (1762-1832) writes of Acts 13:33 in his Commentary on the Bible:  "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.  It has been disputed whether this text should be understood of the incarnation or of the resurrection of our Lord.  ... the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is absolutely irreconcilable to reason and contradictory to itself.  Eternity is that which has had no beginning nor stands in any reference to time; Son supposes time, generation, and a Father, and time also antecedent to such a generation.  Therefore the rational conjunction of these two terms, 'Son' and 'eternity', is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas."

And W. Robertson Nicoll (1851-1923), in The Expositor's Greek Testament, writes as to Acts 13:33:  "in that he raised up Jesus", R.V.; "in that he hath raised up Jesus again", A.V.  The former rendering is quite compatible with the view that the reference of the word here is not to the resurrection of Jesus, but to the raising up of Jesus as the Messiah, cf. 3:22, 7:37, Deuteronomy 18:15.  The first prophecy, verse 33, would be fulfilled in this way, whilst in verses 34 and 35 the prophecy would be fulfilled by the resurrection from the dead.  Wendt argues that Hebrews 1:5, where the same prophecy is quoted as in verse 33, also refers to the raising up as the Messiah ... ."

I believe the word "again" was erroneously added to the phrase "raised up Jesus" in the King James translation of Acts 13:33, and it has been incorrectly applied (along with Psalm 2:7) to Jesus' resurrection rather than His incarnation to buttress the teaching that Jesus was Son from eternity, rather than begotten in time (which Psalm 2:7 plainly states).

Just one more point:  In the article, the author states, "If we say He were not the Son till the incarnation, then do I utterly lose the link of connection of His being sent from above ...".  While we read in 1 Peter 1:12 that the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven, we do not read in scripture that the Son was sent from above or from heaven.  But we do read in Philippians 2:6-8 that Jesus, "subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God; but emptied himself, taking a bondman's form, taking his place in the likeness of men; and having been found in figure as a man, humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross".

As to Jesus being sent, we read in Galatians 4:4:  "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, come of woman".  Jay Green's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament translates the Greek literally as "having become of a woman".  And in Acts 3:26, Peter speaks of how God, having raised up His Servant, has sent Him.  These verses show that it was as having been born and raised up that Jesus was sent.  Interestingly, JND's footnote links "raised up" in Acts 3:26 with the same phrase in Acts 13:33!

I trust these remarks are of some help.

Stephen Hesterman

A Few Remarks Concerning the Sonship of Christ