We begin with a formal, universally understood definition of an easy word in Greek. The word is gennao (in modern Greek pronounced “yenao”). Here is the simple definition provided by the Theological Dictionary of the NT, Vol. 1, p. 665:
“Gennao is used of the ‘begetting’ of the father and the ‘bearing’ of the mother, not only in Greek generally but also in the LXX [the Greek version of the OT] and in the New Testament.”
Why is this word so critically important for our understanding of who Jesus, the Son of God is? Simply because gennao is used to describe the coming into existence of the Son of God.
If you belong to an “orthodox” church, you are committed to believing that the Son of God never came into existence in time. He has always existed. He, the Son, had no beginning. He was “eternally begotten” by the Father. This concept is deeply rooted in the official understanding of the Son of God and this has been so for the past 1700 years!
However, “eternal generation” will not stand up under a thoughtful investigation. That is to say, the word gennao in the Greek language, to beget, to father, to sire, to cause to come into existence, to give being to, cannot possibly mean an “eternal begetting.”
Some contemporary preachers are beginning to awake to the awful possibility that the Church in its hallowed creeds has been mistaken at a very fundamental level — that of defining Jesus Christ, Son of God, properly and honestly.
Here are some facts: Mark Driscoll writes, candidly and correctly: “The word ‘begotten’ unavoidably implies a beginning of the one begotten.” This is a staggeringly interesting admission. Yes, once we read that the Son of God, Jesus, was “begotten” we can automatically and safely — driven by the absolute facts of the language, Greek and English — conclude that the Son of God had a beginning in time, that he was “given being,” “caused to come into existence.”
These ordinary language facts drive the honest seeker for truth to the conclusion that there is no such biblical character as an “eternally begotten” Son. Eternity lies beyond time and “begetting” is our most important “timebound” word.
All human beings are begotten, generated, generation following generation. You can read a simple compelling list of the famous human beings begotten and born at the opening of Matthew’s Gospel. “Abraham begat Isaac” and so on for 40 generations. Similar family trees are recorded in the OT and the same easy word gennao is used to describe the beginning of a human person, the son of his father. In no case does “beget,” “father” cancel out its own meaning, stand itself on its head and mean that someone did NOT have a beginning in time!
The “theological” (the term is rather too flattering!) concept of “eternal begetting” is really a nonsense expression — not much better than “hot ice cubes,” “married bachelors,” or “square circles.” Someone recently observed that “machelors” and “squircles” are fictitious, if humorous, ideas. “What then would be a hot ice cube?” I asked a brilliant young student I was privileged to teach NT Greek to. Her answer was spontaneous: “a puddle!”
I want you to see that a number of honest Bible experts of top rank admit exactly what we are saying here. The idea of an “eternally begotten Son of God” is an invalid, impermissible one, and needs to be struck from the church records. Especially because we are all going to be judged by the words of Jesus, he said repeatedly and in the climactic summary in John 12:
Jesus said in a loud voice, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in Him who sent me. Whoever sees me sees also Him who sent me. I have come into the world as light so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. If anyone hears my Gospel message and does not obey it, I will not judge him. I came not to judge the world but to save it. Whoever rejects me and does not accept my Gospel message has one who will judge him. The words I have spoken will be his judge on the last day! This is true because I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has commanded me what I must say and speak. And I know that His command brings the Life of the Age to Come, immortality. What I say then is what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:44-50).
Are you ready for a challenge? The creeds of the Church are violently at odds with the Bible which we claim as our authority — on this very fundamental question of who is Jesus, Son of God. Again, Mark Driscoll: “Begotten unavoidably implies a beginning of the one begotten.” He means of course a beginning in time. The Son of God in Scripture is expressly and patently said to have a beginning in time.
Read it first in Matthew 1. After a list of 40 samples of “generations,” “begettings” “coming into existence,” “receiving being from a father,” we come to the breathtakingly fascinating account of how Jesus, the Son of God began to exist. The event is certainly not beyond the limits of time in eternity past!
Matthew wrote: “Now the origin of Jesus Christ happened like this: His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit…While [Joseph] pondered on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, fear not to take Mary, your wife, for that which is begotten in her is from Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18-20).
The question to be faced head on is this: When and where did the begetting (gennao) take place? Obviously, in the womb of Mary, and as a creative, biological miracle produced by the creative spirit of God the Father. These are unarguable facts and we do well to accept them, for fear of judgment, as in the case of Zacharias, who failed to believe what the angel said. Angels, as direct emissaries of God, expect to be believed, and God, as Creator (in this case of His unique Son Jesus) demands our comprehending attention.
Here it is again: Thayer’s lexicon, referring to the beginning of the existence of the Son: “to be begotten: that which is begotten in her womb, Matt. 1:20.”
To be begotten is to be procreated, and the word create conveys the brilliantly illuminating truth that the Son is not an uncreated Person! He is brought into being and given existence as Son in Mary, by miracle. He is begotten, fathered and procreated by this most amazing historical event, so matchlessly and simply described by the narrative of Matthew 1:20 and repeated by 1 John 5:18, where exactly the same word, in the same passive form and tense, tells of the begetting, the beginning of existence of the Son of God, as an event of past history. He is truly the second Adam, the beginning of a brand new creation. He is the head of the new race of humans destined for immortality. Jesus has pioneered that amazing destiny and has arrived at immortality. He beckons those who believe his amazing status, forward to the same indestructible life.
Buzzard, Anthony (2012, August). Excerpt from “The Word Gennao in NT Greek,” Focus on the Kingdom Magazine – Vol. 14 No. 11