Eternal Father, Eternal Son?

Jason Dulle

One of the ways in which Trinitarians have argued for the existence of a second, eternal person in the Godhead known as "Son" can be illustrated by the following syllogism:

P1 God is eternally "Father"
P2 One cannot be a Father without having a Son
God must have an eternal Son

The conclusion of a syllogism is true insofar as the premises of the syllogism are true. If one of the premises are false, however, the conclusion will also be false. I would argue that the conclusion Trinitarians have made concerning the Son is false, because P1 is a false premise, based on bad hermeneutics.1 To argue that God is eternally "Father" reads NT designations for God back into the OT, which is methodologically improper, and theologically disastrous.

God is not eternally "Father" anymore than He is eternally "Son." God came to be known as "Father" in the incarnation. This is not to say that God is never called "Father," or likened to a father in the OT, but it is to say that "Father" was never God's name. God's name is clearly "YHWH," to which He is referred over 6800 times. God even declared, "I am YHHW..." (Isaiah 45:18). If God has always been "Father," and that is His name, we should expect Him to be called "Father" all throughout the OT, not "YHWH."

God is referred to as, or likened to "Father" about a dozen times in the OT,2 but always in the sense of creator (Deuteronomy 32:6; Malachi 2:10), covenant-maker (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 1:31; 8:5; 14:1; Isaiah 64:8; Malachi 2:10), or suzerain over the Davidic kings (Psalm 2:7; II Samuel 7:14). "Father" described God's relationship to His creation, Israel, and the Davidic kings, not His relationship to another divine person as in Trinitarian theology, and not His name.

It is important to note the fact that in the OT "Father" never describes God's relationship to another divine person. If God's eternal Fatherhood is derived from His relationship to an eternally divine person known as "Son," why is it that we never read of the Son in the OT that the Father is in eternal relationship with? We would expect for the Son that God is Father to, to be spoken of prior to the incarnation (in the OT). Mysteriously we do not find any mention of the Son until after the incarnation when God fathered a human son (in the NT), and thus have no reason to assume that the Son existed prior to the incarnation, nor a basis for assuming that God is eternally "Father." The incarnation, then, may explain why we only find a handful of references in the OT where God is referred to as "Father," but a multitude of references in the NT. See my article titled "Why be a Trinitarian?"

Trinitarian philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig, recognizes that "Father" refers to God's relationship to humanity, and God's relationship to Christ post-incarnation, not pre-incarnation. He writes: "The Logos doctrine of the Apologists thus involves a fundamental reinterpretation of the fatherhood of God: God is not merely the Father of mankind or even, especially, of Jesus of Nazareth; rather, he is the Father from whom the Logos is begotten before all worlds. Christ is not merely the only-begotten Son of God in virtue of his incarnation; rather, he is begotten of the Father even in his preincarnate divinity."3

The mere fact that God is occasionally referred to as "Father" in the OT is not enough to conclude the existence of another divine person in the Godhead (Son). For God to be 'eternally Father' to an eternal Son not only requires that God be called "Father" in the OT, but requires that God's fatherhood is spoken of in reference to another divine person. If we do not find God being "Father" in relationship to another divine person who is "Son" (and we do not), then there is no solid reason to conclude that God is eternally Father, or that there is an eternal Son. While the absence of the Son in the OT, and the absence of the Father-Son language in the OT does not disprove Trinitarian dogma, it does throw serious question on it as the best explanation of the data. There is no question that it is possible for an eternal Son to not be mentioned in the OT and yet still truly exist. The possibility of such is not being disputed; what is being disputed is the likelihood of such.

The appellations "Father" and "Son" are relational terms with relational significance. Furthermore, such appellations describe a specific kind of relationship: a filial relationship [parent/child]. In the incarnation God became "Father" in a new way unseen in the OT; i.e. in a paternal sense. It begins being used so predominantly in the NT because God actually fathered a human child, and had a relationship with that genuine human being (Son). This is not to say that it is a relationship between Jesus' two natures (Nestorianism), or that it is a relationship between two divine persons (Trinitarianism), but it is to say as a genuine human being with a genuine human consciousness, Jesus, the God-man, had need of communication with God.

It would be proper to say, then, that YHWH God became both "Father" and "Son" at the incarnation.4 The way that God became "Father" and became "Son" in the incarnation is not the same type of becoming, however. YHWH became the "Son" in a metaphysical way, but became "Father" only in a relational sense.

God became the Son by a metaphysical uniting of human nature to His one person through the miraculous virgin conception. God became something in time that He was not previously in eternity. There was no change in God's essential being (for He remained the same), but there was a change in God's manner of existence. As the church fathers taught, 'He became what He was not while remaining what He was.' Such a teaching stresses God's immutability, and yet acknowledges God's new manner of existence as a genuine human being (in addition to His continued existence beyond the incarnation).

God became the Father, however, only by relationship to the man that He truly became. For God to become "Father" did not require any metaphysical change. "Father" simply refers to YHWH's continued manner of existence apart from the incarnation as He has always existed. YHWH comes to be known as "Father" only after the incarnation, not because of a metaphysical change in His being, but because of His paternal relationship to Jesus Christ.

So while it could be said that YHWH became "Father" and "Son" simultaneously, this does not imply that the "becoming" was of the same nature.5 The incarnational becoming (John 1:14) is a metaphysical becoming, while God's existence as "Father" is a relational becoming.


1. It could even be argued that P2 is false. While it is true that humans cannot be a father without having a son, it is not necessarily so for God. As will be demonstrated in the next paragraph, on occasion God was known as "Father" in the OT in reference to His relationship to creation, Israel, and the Davidic monarchy. It is apparent that God's designation as "Father" in these relationships is not contingent on a truly filial relationship to Him.
2. Numbers 11:12; II Samuel 7:14; I Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 68:4-5; 89:24-27; 103:13; Isaiah 9:6; 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4, 19; 31:9; Malachi 2:10.
3. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 578.
4. It would be improper to say that the Father became the Son, because God's name is "YHWH," not "Father." He only became known as Father after the incarnation (in the NT sense) because of His relationship to Jesus Christ.
5. And neither does it imply that God was never called "Father" before the incarnation. It is only to say that God's fatherhood in the NT is of a different nature than it was in the OT. While God was only called "Father," or likened to a father a handful of times in the OT (being known as "YHWH" instead), He is called "Father" a multitude of times in the NT (and never "YHWH"). We must either conclude that God's name changed between the testaments, or that God came to be known as "Father" in the NT because God fathered a human son.

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