Understanding the Trinity: What Does it Mean Jesus is Begotten?

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Perhaps one of the more confusing aspects of the trinity is the discussion on the subject that Jesus is “Begotten.” If you have stumbled over this, don’t be discouraged, you’re not the first. I recently took part in an informal debate on a YouTube channel on the topic of the trinity. When we got to Psalm 2 and the term “begotten” my entire thought and knowledge of this passage seemed to slip out of my head and it didn’t come back till I was done with the discussion.

The truth is, this term is not difficult to understand if we just look at the context of Psalm 2 and look at how the rest of the Scripture uses this term. 

Psalm 2 and the Davidic Covenant

To understand why the term “only begotten” is applied to Jesus we must first look at the source text, Psalm 2. David is the author of this beautiful Psalm and is commenting on the covenant God has made with him. The Davidic Covenant can be found in 2Sam. 7 where the Lord tells the prophet Nathan to present the covenant to David. The text reads:

Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. (2 Samuel 7:8–9)

David is first told that the Lord will make him a great “name.” This is a reference to David’s offspring and to the royal dynasty that will come from him. We see this idea continue in verse 12:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7.12–16 ESV)

Jesus is the Goal

The covenant that is made refers to the line that will come from David. We see that one of his descendants will build a house for the Lord and that iniquity committed within the dynastic line will be forgiven. It is important to note that the singular “He” can be a reference to the entire line of descendants. This can also be seen when God gives the Abrahamic covenant and says, “and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22.18) The word “seed” or “offspring” is singular in this text although it clearly speaks of the entire line that will come from Abraham while at the same time points directly to Jesus. The same can be said for 2Sam. 7.

The goal of the Davidic covenant is Jesus. David’s throne is established forever because Jesus is eternal and will sit on the throne forever. What is more, God says that He “will be to Him a Father and He shall be to Me a Son.” David understands God to be speaking directly to him when these words are spoken and this is why David writes in Psalm 2:

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. (Psalms 2.7–8)

The question that needs to be asked is why does David use this language if the Davidic covenant was made with him when he was well into his adult life? 

The Use of Covenant Language

The answer to this question is that this is covenant language. 

Royal grant treaties or covenants have been found in Hittite, Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian texts and most recently in materials from Ras Shamra. They are particularly known from the Babylonian kudurru or boundary stones, texts which cover a period from B.C. 1450 to B.C. 550, i.e., the whole period of Babylonian history during which Boundary-stones were employed for the protection of private property. While the number of texts is not astounding, there are certainly sufficient number to establish a pattern of covenant form and to shed light on certain biblical texts as well. [note]Tim Hegg, “The Covenant of Grant and the Abrahamic Covenant”, TorahResource 1989, p. 2[/note]

Within Royal Grant treaties language of adoption is sometimes employed. This is done in order to give authority and position to the one whom the covenant is being made with. We see this same thing being done in other covenants as well.

The phrase “I will be his father and he shall be my son” is an adoption formula and actually serves as the judicial basis for the gift of the eternal dynasty. This comes to the fore in Ps. II where we read: “he (=God) said to me: you are my son, this day have I begotten you. Ask me and I will give you nations for your patrimony and the ends of the earth for your possession” (vv. 7-8). [note]M. Weinfeld, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 90, No. 2 (April-July, 1970) p. 190)[/note]

Jesus Was Begotten at the Resurrection

Paul and the writer to the Hebrews take this phrase in Psalm 2 and apply it to Jesus. This is where we find some interesting theological twists. Due to the virgin birth and the way the Scriptures speak of Jesus, some have taken the word “begotten” when applied to Jesus to mean “created.” Certainly, Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, but Paul and the writer to the Hebrews have a different understanding in mind. Paul states that Ps. 2:7 was fulfilled at Jesus’ resurrection.

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesusas also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ (Acts 13.32–33)

Why would this be? Jesus proved that He was the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant when He conquered death. He was glorified as the rightful heir of the Most High and, thus, such covenant language is employed.

One more point that should be noted when discussing the term “begotten” is the phrase, “only begotten” (μονογενής = monogenase).

This term is used in Scripture five times by the hand of John (John 1:4, 1:18, 3:16, 3:18, 1John 4:9) and once by the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 11:17). Once again we could reference the virgin birth and the fact that Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, but this is not what the phrase means. This term is used to mean “unique.” Within this understanding, Jesus is, in fact, the only natural son of the Father, but it is a reference to who Jesus is.

This can be seen by the use of this word in Heb. 11:17 when the writer is speaking of Abraham’s offering Isaac. He states: 

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten (μονογενῆ, monogenase) son; (Hebrews 11.17)  

We know from Genesis that Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, but Isaac was unique, in that, he was the son that would carry the Abrahamic covenant. He was to inherit the blessing the Lord had given to his Father. It is in this way that the Scriptures refer to Jesus as the “only begotten Son.” He is the one that has inherited the Kingdom and has been given the glory due His office. Paul not only understands this but notes that he is given this status at the resurrection when He has proven He is who He said He is.

Conclusion 

The term “begotten” is a covenant term that is given to a person who will inherit the land/kingdom of the king. David is said to be “begotten” in Psalm 2 which is later applied to Jesus. Paul says that Jesus fulfills this at His resurrection. The fact that Paul attributes this fulfillment at the resurrection and not at Jesus’ birth proves that this term is being used within the covenant context and should not be taken to mean “created.” Jesus is, therefore, the rightful heir of God’s kingdom as He was willing to give up His position with God and come in the form of a servant in order to save the elect (Phil. 2:5ff). The covenant term “begotten” is applied to Jesus because He is the only rightful heir and fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. 


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Photo by Josh Applegate

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