One of the paradoxes of our faith is that God both reveals himself to us and yet is incomprehensible. We know him in part, yet we do know him in full (at least, not yet).
And yet: we know God in part. It’s a real knowing, a real understanding. One of the best ways to learn about God is to focus on his names or titles in the Bible.
Here is a short sketch of a few names of God in the Bible that reveal God’s nature. These names reveal how the Father and Son relate to another and how God is eternally beneficent and always shares himself.*
Wisdom of God
In first Corinthians, Paul states, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:24; see also 1 Corinthians 1:30). By power, Paul seems to have in mind the power to do what one wishes because he speaks of the non-powerful believers amongst society in verse 26 (see also 2:5).
As the Wisdom of God, Christ somehow communicates God’s wisdom. The Father’s wisdom is the Son. In some sense, the Father is wise and yet Christ is Wisdom.
The connection between the Father and Son—God’s Power and Wisdom—is not entirely clear from 1 Corinthians 1:24. But Paul’s comments do reveal something about God. Other biblical passages help us to stitch together a deeper understanding of God.
Wisdom in Creation
The Book of Proverbs personifies wisdom and gives her a voice in the eighth chapter. According to Proverbs 8, God “brought [wisdom] forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old” (v. 22). Wisdom continues, “I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be” (v. 23). In verse 24, she says, “When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water.”
Wisdom is God’s first creation and preceded the cosmos. In other words, wisdom preceded everything. It was at the beginning. In the beginning was wisdom, and wisdom was with God.
The metaphors of being “brought forth,” “forming,” and “birth” cannot be pressed too far. Wisdom is not embodied, fleshly. Flesh births flesh. But an immaterial thing (wisdom) is not birthed liked a material thing is birthed.
The material metaphors describe an immaterial reality.
If Paul draws on this theology of wisdom from Proverbs in 1 Corinthians, then it makes sense to call Christ power and wisdom as Colossians 1:15 illustrates.
Image of God
In Colossians, Paul uses the firstborn of creation language to describe the Son: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15). Christ, the Image, is the firstborn of creation and so is Wisdom (Prov 8:22).
Both Image and wisdom (Prov 8) are the firstborn of creation. And this leads to the possibility that Wisdom (1 Cor 1:24) and wisdom (Prov 8) can be identified as one and the same; or, at the very least, this connection shows that the wisdom theology of Proverbs 8 can be applied to Christ.
Added to this, Christ is called Image because he reflects the Father. Imagine looking into a mirror; when you move your head, the image moves with you. So it is with the Image of God. Whatever God does, so the Image. Whatever the Father does, so the Son (John 5:19).
The title Image then suggests that God (or the Father) acts and the Son as Image does so in unison. It may also suggest that when the all-wise God wills something, then his Wisdom does it.
Colossians 1:16 states, “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.” In other words, in the Image the firstborn of creation, God creates. If we associate the Image with Wisdom (or wisdom from Proverbs 8), then we can probably say: As the Father is the originator of the image (one who looks into the mirror), so is the Father the originator of Wisdom.
At the beginning (or before it), God begets wisdom in a way that is similar to how he is the originator of a reflection. Put another way, God bore wisdom before all time and in a way that transcends time. Wisdom as an immaterial thing cannot be born in what we consider a “natural” way. It is immaterially and eternally born of God. Another way to translate Proverbs 8:22 than the NIV version quoted above would be: “Yahweh possesses me from the beginning of his ways, before his works.”** In short, God possessed wisdom before he created—Wisdom subsisted in God. And through wisdom (or rather through Wisdom), God created the universe.
Radiance of God
The Book of Hebrews provides a title or description of the Son in similar ways. Hebrews 1:2b–3 reads, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Through the Son, God created the universe, and the Son is the radiance of God’s glory.
As in the Image, God creates the world, so also through the radiance of God’s glory, God creates the universe. God creates through the Image and the Radiance (as well as through wisdom!). Further, just like the Image reflects the Father’s movements, so also does the “radiance” shine forth God’s glory. Consider the sun. It is the source of light and its rays shine forth from it. Yet with no Sun, there is no radiance from it. Likewise, God’s glory (the source) shines forth in the Radiance of God’s glory (see also 2 Cor 3–4 for the same theme).
The titles of Christ and the ideas they reveal centre on a common theme: The Son comes from the Father; the Son brings out something, whether power, wisdom, image, or radiance, from the Father. The father is the origin, the Son is the conveyor. And it points to something deep within God: he is eternally beneficent, giving.*** But let’s reserve discussion of that for later.
The radiance of God’s glory relates to a larger theme of divine light. “God is light,” writes John (1 John 1:5). And Christ is the light of the world that enlightens all men (John 1:9). So Christ himself said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). He is the light of God, the radiance of the glory of God. He is light (Son) from light (Father), and in him (Son) we see light (Father) (Ps 36:9).
Life And Light
The idea of life and light are closely connected in the Old Testament (Job 33:28; 33:30; Ps 36:9; Isa 56:13). The same is true about the New Testament. John 1:4 reads, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus himself states, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 5:12; see also 2 Tim 1:10).
So when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” the title Life probably overlaps with his title of Light. John 5:26 confirms this: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” As the Father is the source of light and the Son is his Radiance, so also is the Father Life and the Son shares in the Father’s life. An implication here is that the Father is the source of divinity, while the Son eternally shares in it. The Father is Life and shares it with Life (the Son).
Such logic goes a long way to explaining passages like Mark 10:18, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus truly affirms that only God is good, as in the source of goodness. And yet the Son is good too because he shares in the goodness of God in an eternally generative way. And I suppose, having used the word “generative” here, I can clarify that all along I have been arguing for the doctrine of eternal generation from the Bible.
Eternal generation is part of the fabric of Scripture, of the names of God. And it does not rely on John 1:18, although John 1:18 does speak of it.
Begotten of God
John 1:18 is not the only passage that uses the name monogenes. John’s Gospel uses the word the name four times (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). Most people today understand the word monogenes as meaning “one” or “unique,” although early Christians maintained that the word monogenes meant “only begotten.”
Despite the newer view on monogenes (“only,” “unique”), the ESV translates monogenes as “the only Son” in John 1:14 even though the word “Son” does not appear in Greek. The point being is that monogenes (at the very least) implies sonship or begetting.**** If we follow through with this understanding, then Scripture gives us yet another name of the second person of the Trinity that underscores his eternal generation.
The Father begets the only-begotten one. The father is the begetter, the one who eternally begets the Son.
Word of God
The Gospel according to John calls the Son the Word. John 1:1–3 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The “Word was with God” and “was God.” God also created through the Word.
The name Word reminds of Proverbs 8 and various scriptural passages such as Psalm 33:6 (“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made”) because of the connection to creation. God speaks (the Word), and his Word creates. He says, “Let there be light” and, through his Word, light comes.
The metaphor of word or speaker again underscores the Father as source (speaker) and the Son as the word of the speaker (that which comes from the Father).
So much more could be said. And yet these preliminary threads need to be sewn together. The titles of Christ reveal something of the inner dynamic the Father’s relationship to the Son. They reveal the Father has always possessed wisdom, and created the world through wisdom. And the Father eternally generates this wisdom. He generates his Image. He generates his Power. He generates his radiant glory. He generates his Word. He generates all that he is in the Son—he shares his life in the Son (John 5:26).
The Father is eternally beneficent, eternally sharing of himself. He is alone the source of goodness (Mark 10:18), yet he shares his goodness. He alone is all-wise, yet he shares his wisdom. He alone is light, but he shares his light. He alone is life, but he shares his life. God is a giving and good God. And through a study of his names, we see this is who God always has been in eternity—in his existence that transcends the categories of time.
The Wisdom of Solomon, a non-canonical book, beautifully ties together the names of God mentioned here in the seventh chapter. The author writes:
For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. (Wisdom 7:24–28).
*I am reliant on both Origen and the Nicene tradition in this article. For some, that might be a black mark. But my hope is that readers will see that I am arguing from Scripture.
**יְֽהוָ֗ה קָ֭נָנִי רֵאשִׁ֣ית דַּרְכֹּ֑ו קֶ֖דֶם מִפְעָלָ֣יו מֵאָֽז
***I am indebted to Lewis Ayres’ chapter in Retrieving Eternal Generation for this insight.
****I follow Charles Lee Irons in his chapter in Retrieving Eternal Generation.