When Did the Son of God Begin to Exist?

Luke had no doubt about the reason and basis for Jesus being entitled to be called the “Son of God.” It was as a consequence of the supernatural miracle wrought in the womb of Mary that Jesus is truly “the Son of God.” “For that reason indeed” [dio kai] he will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Luke did not believe in an eternal or preexisting Son. The Son was supernaturally conceived in history when Mary became pregnant. Matthew was careful to note that what occurred in the womb of Mary was the creation, the coming into existence, the begetting of the Son of God. He was not begotten before that miraculous moment. Matthew 1:20 states that “what is begotten [wrongly rendered “conceived” in many versions] in her is from the holy spirit.” At that moment, and not before, God became the Father of the unique Son, Jesus.

Other New Testament writers proclaim the same truth about how God finally spoke in a Son in New Testament times. Jesus is the fulfillment of the greatest of all God’s promises: Paul wrote to Titus (1:2) about “the knowledge of the truth . . . in the hope of eternal life which God who cannot lie promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, namely his word in the proclamation [Gospel].” Salvation comes to us “according to His own purpose which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed, by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:9).

F. F. Bruce and Professor Don Cupitt

The noted Bible scholar F. F. Bruce questions the traditional translation of John 1:1 with these words: “On the preexistence question, one can at least accept the preexistence of the eternal Word or Wisdom of God, which (who?) became incarnate in Jesus.”[19]

Professor Cupitt of Cambridge writes:

John’s words ought to be retranslated: “The Word was with God the Father and the Word was the Father’s own Word,” to stress that the Word is not an independent divine being, but is the only God’s own self-expression. If all this is correct, then even John’s language about Jesus still falls within the scope of the King-ambassador model.[20]

The considered views of these leading Christian thinkers show that it is sufficient to think of “word” as God’s utterance, not His Son prior to the begetting of the Son in Mary. On this model, the Son is in fact what the word became.[21] The Son does not preexist as Son. The Son is the visible human expression of God’s pre-ordained purpose. There was no Son of God until the Messiah was conceived in history. Before that God had His Design and Plan “with Him,” as the basis of His whole intention for creation and for mankind. On this understanding the Messiah is truly a human being, a status which cannot be claimed for him if he has been alive since before Genesis!

Is John’s Unity With or Opposed to the Rest of the NT?

If we read John and his introduction in this fashion, we find him proclaiming, unitedly with the other gospel-writers and the rest of the New Testament, the supremely important fact that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God. On that great truth the church is to be founded (Matt. 16:15-18) and united, and for that single purpose — to demonstrate and urge belief in Jesus as the Messiah — John wrote his whole gospel (John 20:31). But notice carefully that the Messiah is the human lord of David (Ps. 110:1), the Son of God, and that there is only one God. Remember too the wise words of a leading contemporary scholar:

Indeed to be a “Son of God” one has to be a being who is not God! . . . It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John’s Gospel to read it as if it said: “In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God and the Son was God.” What has happened here is the substitution Son for Word (Greek logos), and thereby the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning.[22]

On that fatal shift the whole Trinitarian “problem” was constructed. The resolution of that problem will come only when we return to the unitary monotheism of John, of Jesus and of the whole Bible.

The celebrated Church historian, Adolf Harnack, put his finger on the  root of the problem displayed in traditional views of the Godhead:

The Greeks, as a result of their cosmological interest, embraced this thought [of a literal preexistence of the Son] as a fundamental proposition. The complete Greek Christology then is expressed as follows. “Christ who saved us, being first spirit and the beginning of all creation, became flesh and thus called us.”[23] That is the fundamental, theological and philosophical creed on which the whole Trinitarian and Christological speculations of the Church of the succeeding centuries are built, and it is thus the root of the orthodox system of dogmatics; for the notion that Christ was the beginning of all creation necessarily led in some measure to the conception of Christ as the Logos. For the Logos had long been regarded by cultured men as the beginning and principle of the creation.[24]

A Gnostic Twist of John’s Words

John 1:1 suffered at the hands of its Gnostic expositors early, even we think in the New Testament period. Whether or not 1 John 1:1-2 was written earlier or later than the Gospel of John, it provides just the commentary we need to clarify John 1:1. With utmost emphasis the Apostle tries to ensure that we think of the word as “it” not “he.” There are no less than five neuter pronouns in 1 John 1:1-3. “That which was from the beginning . . . concerning the word of life . . . and we announce to you the life of the age to come which was with [pros] the Father and was manifested to us.” It was the promise of the Life to Come, the promise of the Kingdom which was “with the Father.” That promise was manifested in the flesh at the conception of the Messiah. The Messiah embodied all the promises of God. God was and is in him reconciling the world to Himself. But to turn the promise into the actual person of Messiah, consciously in existence before his birth, is to destroy the promise and its fulfillment. God did not speak in a Son in the past ages but He did in these last days (Heb. 1:1-2).

In all probability John has been “turned on his head.” What he intended was to stave off all attempts to introduce a duality into the Godhead. For John the word was the one God Himself, not a second person. The later, post-biblical shift from “word” as divine promise from the beginning, the Gospel lodged in the mind and purpose of the one God, to an actual second divine “person”, the Son, alive before his birth, introduced a principal of confusion and chaos from which the church has never freed itself. This shift was the corrupting seed of later Trinitarianism. God became two and later, with the addition of the holy spirit, three. It remains for believers today to return to belief in Jesus as the human Messiah and in the One God of Israel, his Father, as the “one who alone is truly God” (John 17:3). God is one person not three.


[19] From correspondence with the author, June 13, 1981, emphasis added.

[20] The Debate About Christ, SCM Press, 92.

[21] Cp. Leonhard Goppelt, The Theology of the NT (Eerdmans, 1992), Vol. 2, 297: “The logos of the prologue became Jesus; Jesus was the logos become flesh not the logos as such.” This comment of Goppelt was cited by James Dunn with approval in Christology in the Making, SCM Press, 1989, fn. 120, 349.

[22] Colin Brown, D.D., Ex Auditu, 7, 1991, 88, 89.

[23] II Clement 9:5.

[24] Harnack, History of Dogma, Vol. 1, 328, emphasis added.