The Forever Christ

From “Jesus Christ Our Lord”
by John F. Walvoord, 1910-2002

The doctrine of the eternity of the Son of God is the most important doctrine of Christology as a whole because if Christ is not eternal then he is a creature who came into existence in time and lacks the quality of eternity and infinity which characterises God himself. If on the other hand it is held that Christ is eternal, it is immediately affirmed that he is not dependent upon another for his existence, but is in fact self-existent. To say that Christ is eternal is to affirm more than to say that he is preexistent. Arius, for instance, believed in the preexistence of Christ but, because he held that Christ was the first of created spirits, he did not believe that Christ was eternal. If Christ is eternal, of course, he is also preexistent, that is, existed before his birth in Bethlehem. The arguments for his eternity and for his deity are therefore inseparable.

In general, those who accept the scriptural testimony as inerrant find ample evidence to support the conclusion that Christ is not only eternal but that he possesses all the attributes of God. The works of Christ, his titles, his majesty and promises that are related to him are all those of God himself. His appearances in the Old Testament referred to as theophanies also provide historical evidence of his existence in the Old Testament period prior to his birth in Bethlehem.

The Old Testament evidence for the eternity of Christ is both direct and indirect. In Messianic prophecy, Christ is spoken of as the child to be born in Bethlehem “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). This is one of many passages which state in effect his eternity.

As A. R. Fausset has said, “The terms convey the strongest assertion of infinite duration of which the Hebrew language is capable.” (cf. Ps. 90:2; Prov. 8:22, 23; John 1:1)

Keil in a long discussion defends the concept of the eternity and deity of the promised child. He states,

“The announcement of the origin of this ruler as being before all worlds unquestionably presupposes his divine nature; but this thought was not strange to the prophetic mind in Micah’s time, but is expressed without ambiguity by Isaiah, when he gives the Messiah the name of ’the mighty God.’”

Even those who do not affirm biblical inerrancy, but who accept the general reliability of the Scriptures, find ample evidence to support the doctrine of the eternity of Christ. Scholars such as Westcott and Lightfoot, and more modern scholars such as J. S. Stewart, A. M. Hunter and D. M. Baillie would fall into this classification. Baillie, for instance, cites Barth with approval as affirming the eternity of the Trinity which involves the eternity of Christ.

All of the Old Testament predictions of the coming of Christ which assert his deity are also evidence for his eternity. For instance in Isaiah, chapter nine, verse six, Christ is declared to be not only “mighty God” but also “everlasting Father” or, better translated, “Father of eternity.” The name Jehovah frequently given to Christ as well as to God the Father and the Holy Spirit is another assertion of eternity, for this title is defined as referring to the eternal I AM. (cf. Exodus 3:14)

The eternity of Christ is frequently asserted also in the New Testament in even more definite terms than in the Old Testament. The introduction to the gospel of John is generally considered an affirmation of the eternity of Christ in the statement “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God .” (John 1:1)

The phrase “in the beginning” seems to refer to a point in time in eternity past beyond which it is impossible for us to go. The verb is also chosen to state eternity as the word “was” implies continued existence.

As Marcus Dods states, “The Logos did not then begin to be, but at that point at which all else began to be he already was.”

As previously noted, the statement in John, chapter eight, verse fifty-eight, is another express proof of eternity recognised as such even by the enemies of Christ. When Christ said, “Before Abraham came to be, I am,” he was not only claiming to have existed before Abraham, but he was claiming to be the eternal IAM, that is, the Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Evidence for the eternity of Christ is also found in the Pauline Epistles as in Colossians, chapter one, verses sixteen and seventeen, where both his eternity and work as Creator are affirmed: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

The two statements found in these verses declare not only that Christ was before all creation, but that all creation stemmed from his creative activity. If Christ was before all creation, it is obvious that He himself could not have been created.

Additional proof of the eternity of Christ is found in statements concerning the eternal promises of God (Eph. 1:4) and in the declaration by Christ himself: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.” (Rev. 1:8)

In the New Testament as in the Old, there are many contributing arguments to support the assertions of his deity and eternity such as his titles, his works, his divine attributes, his eternal promises and almost any other aspect of his person and work which would imply his deity.

If Christ is truly God, he is also truly eternal. In the history of the Church, it is significant that no denial of the eternity of Christ has endured which has not also denied the Scriptures as the very word of God and ultimately lowered the person of Christ to something less than God himself. Within orthodoxy, there never has been any effective denial of the eternity of Christ and orthodox creeds throughout the history of the church have either stated or implied his eternity.

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