There have been many classic controversies in the history of the Church, most of which were “settled” by Church Councils. These Councils, however, were made up of bishops who were largely carnally minded religious men and did not truly reflect the humility and love that had been seen in Jesus. For this reason, these Councils were more similar to the Jewish Sanhedrin and based upon human understanding, rather than to the biblical Council of the Lord, which functions by revelation.
The fourth century, beginning about the year 318, found the Church obsessed with the Arian controversy in regard to the nature of Christ. The fifth century controversy, beginning in the year 400, was in regard to Universal Reconciliation. In both cases Church historians describe to us in vivid terms just how carnal—and often hateful—some of the bishops were toward their opponents.
The Council of Nicea (325) and later at Constantinople (381) focused upon the nature of Christ and His relationship with the Trinity. The earlier Council established the Nicean Creed, which is used in many churches to this day:
We believe in One God, the Father, Almighty/the ruler of all, the maker of all things, visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten as the only Son out of the Father; that is out of the substance [ousia] of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, homoousios with the Father, through whom all things came to be, things in heaven and things in earth; who, for the sake of us human beings and our salvation, descended and became flesh, became human, suffered, and rose on the third day, ascended into the heavens and is coming to judge living and dead; and in the Holy Spirit.
As for those who say, “There was when he was not,” or “he did not exist before he was begotten,” or “he came into being out of non-existence,” or who fantasize that the Son of God is [made] from some other hypostasis or ousia, or that he is created or mutable or changeable, such people the catholic and apostolic church anathematizes. (Taken from A. Bryden Black, The Lion, the Dove, & the Lamb, An Exploration into the Nature of the Christian God as Trinity, p. 56)
The central issue established at the Council of Nicea was that Jesus was “begotten not made,” and that He was of one “substance” (ousia) with the Father. Scripture is clear that Jesus was begotten of God, but what are the implications of this? That was the controversy. Arius, a presbyter in the church of Alexandria, believed and taught the things that the Council ultimately anathematized. He said that Jesus did not exist prior to His incarnation, and that Jesus was fully man and not God.
I have expressed my view many times in past studies, showing the prophecies from Exodus 15:2, Psalm 118:14, and Isaiah 12:2, 3, which tell us in plain Hebrew that Yahweh has become my Yeshua and that He is my God and my fathers’ God. Furthermore, the New Testament often points out that the Old Testament referred to Jesus (Yeshua, “salvation”) whenever it used that word. Compare Isaiah 12:3 with John 7:38, John 4:22, and Luke 2:30. Jesus is our “Salvation” and He is the One who sends the Holy Spirit to flow out from us as living springs of water.
Hence, I find no fault with the Nicean Creed in this matter. It is plain that Arius was not familiar with the prophetic implications of Jesus’ Hebrew name Yeshua. Scripture shows us that Yahweh, who gave the law to Moses, was the same Being who was begotten in Mary many years later. The incarnation was the moment when Yahweh became Yeshua. He had a change of form, not of substance, as He moved from spirit to flesh.
In those days the controversy itself forced the Church to find terminology that best expressed the nature of Christ. Various bishops had their own terms which they wanted to include in the established Creed. Hence, the Creed seems to be redundant: “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Is “God” different from “true God” (or “very God,” as some have translated it)?
The Nicean Creed said almost nothing of the Holy Spirit: “We believe … in the Holy Spirit.” It was as if the Holy Spirit was acknowledged in the end as an afterthought. The later Council of Constantinople enlarged upon this in its expanded Creed:
“And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is co-worshipped and co-glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets.” (Black, p. 57)
Begotten Not Made
The first creation was made (Heb., asah). The New Creation is begotten (Heb. yalad; Greek, gennao).
To be made, or hand-crafted, is good, but it is not the same as being begotten into a family. There is a different relationship between that which we make and the children that we beget. This is how Scripture distinguishes between the two creations. The manner in which something comes into being is important. When we make something, we use an existing substance that is outside of ourselves. A child, however, is begotten in our own image and originates from the substance of the parents.
As it was with Christ, so also is it with all those who are begotten of God. John 1:13 says,
13 who were begotten not of blood(line), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [The Emphatic Diaglott]
One might fashion an image of a child out of wood, stone, or copper, but such a work remains dead. Life begets life, and so our children are begotten with life—that is, the same level and quality of life that the parent enjoys.
Was Adam Begotten of God?
When Luke 3:38 refers to “Adam, the son of God,” nothing is said about the manner in which he was created. For that detail, we must go to Genesis 2:7, where “God formed man of dust from the ground.” God is pictured as a Master Craftsman, using substance, rather than by begetting him as a true son. As such, Adam was given life when God breathed life into his nostrils after he had been fashioned from earth material.
Was Adam “begotten”? Luke does not say that. He uses the term “son of,” whereas Matthew’s genealogy, going back only as far as Abraham, uses the term “begot.” So for theological purposes, there is no evidence that we are to consider Adam as a begotten son. Instead, he appears as a son formed from the ground, as a potter forms a clay vessel.
Paul, too, sees a distinction between the first and last Adam, saying in 1 Cor. 15:45-47,
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not the first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
Like we see with Jesus Himself, we become sons of God through spiritual begetting and thereby, like Him, we become “a life-giving spirit.” The “son” in us is not the same entity as what was begotten through our parents (Adam). Parental begetting can only make living souls, but God begets life-giving spirits.
So 1 Peter 1:23 says,
23 for you have been born again [gennao, “begotten”] not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. 24 For “all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord abides forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.
Peter was quoting from Isaiah 40:6-8, which compares the flesh to grass and flowers. When a person receives the incorruptible seed of the gospel-word by faith, that person is begotten by the Father on the same pattern as when Jesus was begotten in Mary. Even as Mary brought forth the “only-begotten Son of God,” so also we, as mothers, are bringing forth the sons of God. John says that it is not by physical childbirth, not by bloodline, not by the will of the flesh, not by the will of man, but by the will of God.
Christ is Begotten in You
At the present time, we are pregnant, as it were, with “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Christ in us has not yet been “born.” We were begotten through the feast of Passover, sustained through the provisions of Pentecost, and brought to birth through the feast of Tabernacles. At this point in time, the feast of Tabernacles has not yet been fulfilled, and we observe it only as a prophesied event that is our “hope.”
Even so, the New Creation Man within us is alive and well. In fact, this holy seed ought to rule our lives even today as we walk in the Spirit. 1 John 3:9 says (literally),
9 Every one having been begotten of God does not sin, because this Seed abides in Him, and he cannot sin because he has been begotten by God.
John was not referring to people in the flesh, but to the New Creation Man that has been begotten by God within us. That New Man within us (Christ in you) is incapable of sin, because the Seed of God abides in Him, even as it abode in Jesus Himself. This must be contrasted with the fleshly man that was begotten physically by mortal, corruptible parents. The fleshly man cannot help but sin, even as the spiritual man cannot help but be perfect.
At the present time, we live with both the “old man” (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9) and the New Creation Man. We have two “I’s” or two identities (Rom. 7:25), and we are called to identify ourselves with the spiritual man, forsaking our old identity in Adam and in the flesh.
The question is, Who is the real you? It is a legal question, and we have the right to go before the divine court and to change our identity (name). This is what happens when a person is begotten of God, although most new Christians are unaware of the legal implications of their profession of faith. The change of identity is recorded anyway, unless the person insists on retaining his old fleshly identity. Unfortunately, there has been much confusion in the Church, because there is too little teaching about it. Apparently, this problem characterized the early Church as well, for Paul mentions it in 1 Cor. 4:15 (The Emphatic Diaglott),
15 For though you may have myriads of leaders [paidagogos, “child-tenders”] in Christ, yet not many fathers; for in Christ I begot you through the glad tidings [i.e., the gospel].
Paul recognized that there were many leaders who took care of their spiritual children, but there were “not many fathers” who could present the gospel as being the incorruptible seed of the word. Perhaps he meant to say that there were many Church members, who were converted by persuasion by the wisdom of men, but fewer actual believers who had been begotten spiritually by the seed of the word.
To put it in Nicean terms, there were (and still are) many Christians by religion or by Christian doctrines who have been “made” into Christians, but far fewer who have actually been “begotten” from above. Our way of life manifests which type of Christian we are. The fruit tells everyone what sort of tree we are, or how well we succeed in identifying with the New Creation Man.
The Uniqueness of (True) Christianity
As far as I know, the Bible is unique in teaching that we may be begotten of God and thereby become sons of God. Most religious goals are to achieve the highest potential for man as a created being. Islam, for instance, seeks to turn men into the greatest servants of God and consider the idea of Sonship to be blasphemous.
There are some others who seek to transcend humanism and to become an “ascended master,” but these religious groups attempt to achieve this by the will of man through hard work, self-discipline, and looking inward.
John 1:13 presents a different path, whereby we become sons of God, not by the will of man or by the will of the flesh, but by the will of God alone. That is, man cannot beget himself to become a son of God. The best that a man can do is to beget another like himself.
Many biblical stories are historical allegories that teach us of this through parallels between two people, one fleshly minded and the other spiritually minded. The most basic parallel is between the first and last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). Others include Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and even Jacob and Israel. Each story contributes to our understanding of the path to Sonship.
Cain and Abel
Cain and Abel show us that Love is the distinguishing mark that differentiates the sons of God from others. 1 John 3:10-12 says,
10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
Abel was motivated by Love, while Cain was motivated by Hate, or lack of Love.
Isaac and Ishmael
In the case of Isaac and Ishmael, the lesson is explained to us in Gal. 4:22-31. Paul tells us that the Old Covenant is Hagar, and the New Covenant is Sarah. Their children are the offspring of the covenant that each represents. Ishmael was a child of the flesh, because he was born in a natural way by the will of the flesh. Isaac was born on account of the promise of God after Sarah was past child-bearing age. There was nothing Abraham could do sexually to beget Isaac. Divine intervention made this happen.
Jacob and Esau
Jacob and Esau were twins (Gen. 25:23), but only one was called by God. Paul says in Rom. 9:10-12,
10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father, Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
The lesson here is twofold, one overt and the other implied. First, Paul says, Sonship is based on God’s will, not upon man’s will. This is a restatement of John’s main point in John 1:13.
The implied lesson is in the fact that Jacob and Esau were twins, having the same genetics. Rebekah “conceived twins by one man, our father, Isaac.” It was not possible for either parent to decide which son would become the pattern for Sonship and which would not. During the nine months of pregnancy, from conception to birth, they did not know which would be born first. Only when they were born could they have understood that “the older will serve the younger.”
So first we see that being “chosen” is by grace, having nothing to do with the will of man. To beget fleshly children is done by the will of man. To beget spiritual children is done by the will of God. This principle aligns perfectly with the nature of the two covenants as well, because the Old Covenant was man’s vow to God (according to his own will), while the New Covenant was God’s vow to man.
So we see also that Sonship is not by genealogy. Esau was as much a child of Isaac as was Jacob, for they were twins. One cannot say that Esau was rejected on account of his genealogy, nor can it be said that Jacob was made a son on account of his genealogy. In either case, genealogy from Isaac was irrelevant, for if their father had anything to do with it, then Sonship would have been determined by the will of the flesh—in this case, the will of Isaac.
Jacob and Israel
The manner in which Jacob achieved Sonship (and the name Israel) is our final notable example of Sonship from the book of Genesis. This example is built upon the previous example showing how one’s genealogy is irrelevant. Though God had predetermined that Jacob would be “loved,” and thereby given the inheritance as the “son,” Jacob did not achieve Sonship until his character changed.
Just because something is prophesied does not mean it is seen immediately. In fact, the nature of prophecy is to give us hope of a future event or condition. So it was with Jacob. While he was called Jacob, he was not yet qualified to receive the title Israel.
Jacob was a believer all of his life, but it was not until he wrestled with the angel that he achieved Sonship. His name change represented a change of nature. Prophetically, it shows us that a begotten son is a new being. We might call our fleshly self “Jacob” and our begotten self “Israel.” Jacob is our religious man, but Israel is a begotten son of God.
In Acts 2, when the day of Pentecost was fulfilled in the Church, “the promise of My Father” (says Jesus) was sent to them (Luke 24:49). Theologians assume that this was the apex of God’s promises. However, the biblical patterns of Pentecost in the Old Testament identify this feast with the Old Covenant, not the New.
In Moses’ day, Pentecost celebrated the Old Covenant at Sinai, where man vowed obedience to God. Centuries earlier, before the feasts were even instituted, Jacob’s wilderness journey to Haran and back foreshadowed the feast days that were yet to come. In Jacob’s story, Beer-sheba was his Passover, and Bethel was his Pentecost. On his return trip, Mahanaim was his feast of Trumpets, Peniel was his Day of Atonement or Jubilee, and his camp at Sukkoth was his feast of Tabernacles.
At Bethel (Pentecost) Jacob vowed a vow (Gen. 28:20), which set the pattern for Israel’s vow at Sinai (Ex. 19:8). The point is that Pentecost was established by man’s vows to God, which is the Old Covenant. Hence, we must go beyond Pentecost into Tabernacles to see the fulfillment of God’s vow (promise) to man.
The Church under Pentecost has not understood this, so as time passed, the hope of Tabernacles was lost as men focused on Passover or Pentecost as the ultimate feasts. Likewise, the Church’s idea of salvation became more and more a matter of the will of the flesh and the will of man than the will of God.
I do not mean to malign the feast of Pentecost, but to remove it from its pedestal, where it has been elevated to a fixed inheritance, rather than treating it as a transitory feast that points toward the goal of Tabernacles.
By the same token, Tabernacles cannot be achieved apart from the first two feasts: Passover and Pentecost. Learning the place of each in a balanced way is important. Passover begets Christ in us. Then Pentecost causes that holy seed in us to grow spiritually and thereby qualify us for the feast of Tabernacles.