Eternal Generation: Who Would Deny it?

Does Warfield deny eternal generation? Not any more than Calvin.

How can there be “a perpetual movement of the divine essence from the first Person to the second, always complete, never completed”?[4] Calvin seems to have found “this conception difficult, if not meaningless.”[5] To put it another way, how can there be a continuous act of generating when the three Persons have existed from eternity?


While attending an academic conference this past year I went to a dinner with some friends and other conference attendees.  The conversation around the table was spirited, wide ranging and a lot of fun. At one point, the conversation turned to the eternal generation of the Son. In the midst of the discussion a man I had not met before said something to this effect, “I love Warfield but I just can’t understand why he rejected eternal generation.” His statement was not entirely accurate and in keeping with the mental sparring going on at our table I told him so. He did not agree.

Well, the conference is over and my table companions have all gone home. So, let me do some shadow boxing. Let me pose the question to my readers. Did Warfield reject the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son? Now, I have not changed my mind since the conference. So, the answer is no. Warfield did not reject the eternal generation of the Son.  But why would someone think that he had?

The answer can be traced to an article he wrote for the Princeton Theological Review in 1909 titled, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity.” In that article Warfield deals with Calvin’s seeming hesitations regarding the doctrine of eternal generation.  However, they are only “seeming hesitations” because a close reading of the article yields some concrete findings. For example, according to Warfield, Calvin did not reject the doctrine of eternal generation.  In fact, says Warfield, “We have just seen that Calvin explicitly teaches the ‘eternal generation’ of the Son…. It manifestly was a matter of fixed belief with him.”[1] But if Calvin affirmed the eternal generation of the Son, then what was the problem?

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