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Regardless of where you stand on the issues of generation, derivation, and other debated aspects of the Trinity (and they are much debated by orthodox theologians), I think the denial of Eternal Sonship is unnecessary. Adam Clarke (and Albert Barnes too, for that matter) misses the forest for the trees in this respect. The entire revelation of the Trinity in scripture is based on this Father/Son relationship. All of the imagery of redemption, the revelation of God’s love, the assurance of hope, etc, is based on the fact that this is a revelation of eternal realities. Jesus Christ, in the flesh, being declared the Son of God, only has significance as it relates to eternal realities. The beauty of the gospel is bound up in the love of the Father for his Son, and the love of the Son for his Father. This is the language of the Bible, and this is how God has revealed himself. You think you are protecting the deity of Christ by denying Eternal Sonship, but what you are doing is stripping away the eternal significance of the gospel. Without the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit that is revealed in Scripture, you either have no Trinity (because no distinction) or you have 3 nameless deities (because no unity). There is no revelation of a “First Person of the Trinity” outside of the revelation of God as Father. There is no revelation of a “Second Person of the Trinity” outside of the revelation of God as Son of the Father. There is no revelation of a “Third Person of the Trinity” outside of the revelation of God as Holy Spirit sent by the Father and Son.

Adam Clarke was a respected Wesleyan Methodist theologian and Bible scholar. He was a much smarter and more educated man than I am. The same can also be said of Athanasius and Arius, Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin and Arminius, so on and so forth. He is also trained in the art of rhetoric and is adept at presenting his views in an authoritative and convincing manner. For this reason, while one can undoubtedly gain much insight from Clarke’s Commentary, one should read with a critical eye, and also read his opponents on various issues (as well as current scholarship). This is true of any commentary and particularly true when the conclusions reached conflict with established historic orthodoxy. I concur with Spurgeon’s assessment of Clarke’s commentaries:

“If you have a copy of Adam Clarke, and exercise discretion in reading it, you will derive immense advantage from it, for frequently by a sort of side light he brings out the meaning of the text in an astonishingly novel manner. I do not wonder that Adam Clarke still stands, notwithstanding his peculiarities, a prince among commentators…He has often lost sight of his better judgment in following learned singularities; the monkey, instead of the serpent, tempting Eve, is a notable instance.”

Clarke did not write his comments in a vacuum and his specific position on Eternal Sonship was quite controversial in its time, with several books being written in response pointing out the flaws in Clarke’s reasoning as well as laying out the scriptural foundations for Eternal Sonship. I’ve attempted to recreate some of those arguments below (by no means exhaustive). Pretty much everything written below was already set forth 175 years ago in response to Clarke’s positions (and other contemporaries).

Clarke argues:

1. I have not been able to find any express declaration in the Scriptures concerning it.

2. If Christ be the Son of God as to his Divine nature, then he cannot be eternal; for son implies a father; and father implies, in reference to son, precedency in time, if not in nature too. Father and son imply the idea of generation; and generation implies a time in which it was effected, and time also antecedent to such generation.

3. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine nature, then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently superior to him.

4. Again, if this Divine nature were begotten of the Father, then it must be in time; i.e. there was a period in which it did not exist, and a period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at once of his Godhead.

5. To say that he was begotten from all eternity, is, in my opinion, absurd; and the phrase eternal Son is a positive self-contradiction. Eternity is that which has had no beginning, nor stands in any reference to Time. Son supposes time, generation, and father; and time also antecedent to such generation. Therefore the conjunction of these two terms, Son and eternity is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas.

The enemies of Christ’s Divinity have, in all ages, availed themselves of this incautious method of treating this subject, and on this ground, have ever had the advantage of the defenders of the Godhead of Christ.

Response to Clarke:

1. By “express declaration”, I can only assume he means the doctrine cannot be inferred from the evidence of scripture. If he means anything more, the same argument could be made for the Trinity itself (arguments over the validity of 1 John 5:7 notwithstanding). That Clarke cannot find any express declaration from scripture cannot (obviously) be decisive for anyone but himself, and if we can demonstrate that such evidence exists then this point is sufficiently refuted.

2. Aside from point 1, the remaining argument is purely philosophical, working from two presuppositions:

A. Points 2 and 3 assume that “son” must imply a priority of essential being in the “father”

B. Points 3 and 4 assume that the term “son” must imply beginning of existence

Assumption A:

That the term “son” must imply a priority of essential being in the father. This assumption is proved false by a comparison of the natures of the human father and son.

To demonstrate:

The father begets the son, but the son is no less human than the father. Furthermore, because he is not newly created at birth, but rather was created and existed in Adam, the father and son are very much equal in nature and existence. The human father and son already exist in an essential way when Adam was created.

This concept is demonstrated in the Bible:

1. In Hebrews 7:9-10, it can be said that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek because he existed in the loins of his ancestor Abraham.

2. The doctrine of depravity has all men dying in Adam (Rom 5:12-21; 1Co 15:21-22)

Assumption B:

That the term “son” must imply beginning of existence. This assumption is sufficiently refuted by considering the following propositions (taken from William Beauchamp’s treatment of Clarke):

1. Every term in application to man, must always imply limitation of nature, and beginning of existence.

2. No term in application to Deity can imply limitation of nature, or beginning of existence; and therefore every term applied to him must always be taken, in such a sense as is consistent with the divine infinitude.

3. It is undeniably true, that the inspired writers have applied many terms to God which they have applied to man.

4. It is not less undeniable that the implication of these terms, in both these applications, cannot be precisely the same.

5. Therefore there are terms, which are not inapplicable to the divine nature of Christ, although such terms imply limitation when applied to man.

6. And therefore every argument, predicated on the implication of any term taken in the sense in which it is used in reference to finite beings, must be sophistical and destitute of strength, when the conclusion is drawn in reference to the infinite nature of God because in this case the conclusion must contain more than the premises.

7. It will be admitted, that the term son, in all its applications to man, implies limitation of nature, and beginning of existence. But from this it will not follow, that it must always have this implication when applied to Christ, and that therefore it is utterly inapplicable to his divine nature.

Other Minor Objections:

1. That eternity does not “stand in any reference to Time” is a interesting statement. Beauchamp again:

What! Does eternity stand in no reference to time? Or time bears no relation to eternity? Is not eternity boundless duration? And is not time limited duration? If they are both duration, is not their nature the same? Is not time a part of eternity? No reasonable man will deny that it is. If time is a part of eternity, then, in the name of common sense, how can it be said, that eternity stands in no reference to time? The truth is, time has a close relation to eternity.

2. The statement that the enemies of Christ’s Divinity “have ever had the advantage of the defenders of the Godhead of Christ” is a peculiar understanding of history. Since the Council of Nicaea, the Deity of Christ has been firmly entrenched in orthodox Christian doctrine and vehemently defended everywhere outside of the cults and some small sectarian denominations. While it certainly falls under attack, to say that the enemies have had the advantage is an interesting assessment.

Further Objections to the Denial of Eternal Sonship

1. The Word – Proponents of Incarnational Sonship maintain that before the Incarnation, Christ existed eternally as the Word, rather than the Son. The reasoning (as seen above by Clarke) is that Son implies time and origin. However, the same logic applies to the Word. Quoting James Kidd:

The presumed inferiority, which is expressed in the term Son, is also found, to the same extent, in that of Word:—for speech or word, according to our ideas, is uniformly posterior to the actual existence of the person who employs it.”

He goes on to demonstrate the term Word is actually void of any inherent relationship aspect:

“ But the grand objection to the use of the expression The Word, indicative of the related state of the second person in the Godhead, is found in this circumstance, that it indicates no participation or affiliation of nature. It is only a quality inhering in the nature, and not the nature itself. The universal consent of mankind and the agreement of all nations coalesce in this definition of the term.— Predicated of any person, it may exhibit the character of that person, in that particular aspect to which the quality refers, but it can never denote a related state existing between him and another.

And this void is shown in John’s usage of the Logos, and his necessary transition away from it to discuss relation:

“The writer says, ‘And we beheld his glory,’ viz. the glory of The Word; he then wishes to convey a notion of that glory, to effect which, he suddenly breaks off to another description, involving other ideas, viz. those of a related state; ‘this glory’ he says, was ‘the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,’ John, then, (verses 15—18.) bears witness of this person who was The Word, who had glory as ‘The Word,’ and ‘as of the only Begotten of the Father.’ He expressly declares that he is ‘the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.’ The tenor of these verses is impressively forcible. John endeavours to portray the eternal existence of The Word, and his external procedure in creation. He endeavours to describe the glory of The Word, but failing to exhibit it clearly, in that character, to the intellects of men, he directly refers to the state in which The Word was, for a display of his glory, viz. his related state ‘as the only begotten of the Father.’ In the subsequent part of his work, the Evangelist ceases to mention this person under his denomination of The Word, and continues to designate him by other expressions, generally indicative of his related state.”

Scriptural Evidence for the Eternal Sonship

References to the whole Christ (both human and Divine natures) as Son

1. Joh 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The glory as of the Son from the Father is the glory of the eternal Word (deity) made flesh (humanity).

2. Heb 1:1-4 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Here we have both natures in view again, with the union of humanity and deity “making purification for sins” and the Deity “through whom also he created the world.”

3. Col 1:13-14 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Our redemption and forgiveness of sins accomplished in the union of humanity and deity in Christ.

References to the Divine Nature as Son

1. Col 1:15-17 He (the Son – v13) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Here we have the divine nature clearly in view.

2. Joh 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God (or Son – some manuscripts), who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The divine nature is clearly in view here, and regardless of which reading is accepted, the Son is referred to because he “is at the Father’s side.”

3. Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Here we have the great act of infinite love demonstrated in the giving of His Son. Additionally, the fact the Father gave the Son, and (v17) that the Father sent the Son into the world, implies the Father-Son relationship pre-existing the Son coming.

4. Heb 1:8-10 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

Here we have reference to the Son, and he is attributed with laying the foundations of creation.

5. Gal 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

The Spirit referenced here is the Holy Spirit, who is referred to as the “Spirit of his Son.” It’s a safe assumption that this is the Spirit of his divine nature rather than the Spirit of his human nature.

6. Mat 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

We are baptized in the name of the Son, in the same manner as the Father and Holy Spirit, which must be a reference to his deity.

References to Son as distinguishing the Divine nature from the human

1. Rom 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

Here his “own Son” emphases the divine nature, with his humanity indicated in the “likeness of sinful flesh.”

2. Rom 1:1-4 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Here we have Son of God distinguishing human nature (“descended from David according to the flesh”) from divine nature (“declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness”). Before concluding that Jesus was not the Son before the resurrection, remember that it is his Son (v3) who was declared the “Son of God in power”

Other language denoting Eternal Sonship

1. Heb 7:1-3 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

Melchizedek’s serving as a type of the Son of God is based on his being “without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.”

2. John 17:1-5 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus speaks to His Father as Son with reference to the glory he had with the Father before the world existed.

3. 1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life

If the referent is his Son Jesus Christ, then by calling him eternal life we have a clear reference to the divine nature.


I propose that what has been presented is sufficient evidence to refute the assertions of Adam Clarke, and to establish the Eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ. Debates about generation, eternally begotten, procession, etc, and the details of such properly belong in the realm of theological discussion that is grounded on the established scriptural foundation of God, eternally existing in 3 persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.