Here is the latest installation of bi-weekly brief reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism. As a way to mark the 450th anniversary the publication of one of the most significant documents in the Reformed tradition, I’m offering these thoughts. (For some background and the entire document, check this out).
LORD’S DAYS 13-14
Q. 33. Why is he called GOD’S ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, since we are also God’s children?
A. Because Christ alone is God’s own eternal Son, whereas we are accepted for his sake as children of God by grace.
Q. 34. Why do you call him OUR LORD?
A. Because, not with gold or silver, but at the cost of his own blood, he has redeemed us body and soul from sin and all the dominion of the devil, and has bought us for his very own.
Q. 35. What is the meaning of: “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”?
A. That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon himself our true manhood from the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary through the action of the Holy Spirit, so that he might also be the true seed of David, like his fellow men in all things, except for sin.
Q. 36. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
A. What he is our Mediator, and that, in God’s sight, he covers over with his innocence and perfect holiness the sinfulness in which I have been conceived.
As the exposition of the Apostles’ Creed continues, the catechism highlights the uniqueness of the person of Jesus Christ. It affirms that he is “God’s only-begotten Son, our Lord” who was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”, all of which are loaded concepts. Briefly, here are some observations regarding these statements and their attending implications.
Jesus is called the “only-begotten” Son of God first and foremost because it is a term used in Scripture (e.g. John 1:14; John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). This language is also found in the Nicene Creed (“eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father”). However, this admittedly archaic term can cause some confusion–so what does it mean and not mean?
- It does not mean that Jesus was sired by the Father through some sort of procreative means. This motif, often found in ancient near eastern mythology, finds expression in classical Mormon teaching where the divine Father and Mother produce an offspring.
- It does not mean that there was a time when the Father was but the Son was not. This is the ancient Arian heresy, which claims that Jesus was the first being of the created order, and finds expression in the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jesus is explicitly called the “eternal Son”. As the second member of the Trinity, the Son has always been, and there as never a time when he was not.
- It does not mean that Jesus was somehow spontaneously brought into being out of the Father, akin to the way in which Athena sprung fully-grown from the forehead of Zeus in Greek mythology.
- It does attempt to use the Bible’s own language to verbalize the ineffable relationship between the Father and the Son. One in essence and being, they are nevertheless distinct in person, and this language expresses that relationship through terminology found in the Spirit-inspired Word.
Moving on, Jesus is called “our Lord” because he has earned that title through his redemptive work accomplished for God’s elect. This is what Paul teaches in Philippians 2:5-11: because of his obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection, the Father exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name (i.e. “Lord”, the Greek translation for the OT “Yahweh”, which is the divine Name) that is above every name. He is Lord not only because of who he is but also because of what he has done.
The amazing teaching of Scripture is that the eternal Son was incarnate, took on flesh, and made his dwelling among us (John 1:1-14). In so doing, he did not cease to be the eternal Son, but through the miraculous work of the Spirit is now the Mediator who is fully God and fully man, two natures in one person. Son of God and Son of Man, he has been made like his brothers in every way, except is without sin (Hebrews 2:14-18). This can only have happened through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit working in and through a virgin. It ensures that he could be what we could never be (sinless) and that he could do what we could never do (perfectly fulfill the will of God).
Jesus Christ could only do what he did (“cover over with his innocence and perfect holiness the sinfulness in which I have been conceived”) because of who he is (the eternal Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary). Here once again, we see the unbreakable link between Christology (who Jesus Christ is) and soteriology (what Jesus Christ has done).
No one other than Jesus Christ is these things, and no one other than Jesus Christ could accomplish these things.