Why We Profess “Begotten Not Made.”
In A.D. 325 the first council of Nicaea addressed the Arian Controversy. It is from this council where Christianity gets the Nicaean Creed. It is this council that explains the nature of Jesus and his origin.
Arius, the man behind the Arian heresy, was, in fact, a bishop and regarding Jesus declared, “Before he was begotten, he was not.” As in, God the Father has existed before all ages. Jesus on the other hand has existed before all ages but was brought into being by the Father. Therefore, Jesus was not in existence until he was brought into existence. If we were speaking linearly – which we technically can’t since God is outside of time, but for the sake of this explanation we will – the Father existed before Jesus existed.
What’s the problem with Arius’ declaration? First off, it makes Jesus a creation of God and therefore, not God. If Jesus is not God then the salvific nature of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus is stripped of its effectiveness to ransom humanity from sin and death. This is devastating to the Christian claim to be saved by Christ… Kind of a big deal. See ccc 460 for more.
Secondly, another serious consequence of Arius’ teaching is that it threatens monotheism. If God the Father and Jesus are two different entities, one being a creation of the other, then does that mean there are two gods instead of one? If yes, then we have further complications with regard to worship. Which god is to be worshiped? God has already given an explicate commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” in Exodus 20. What’s the rub, Arius?
Lastly, it contradicts the doctrine we now know and hold about the Trinity. I say, “now know,” because the Church hadn’t had to define or defend the Trinity – yet. But just wait, that’s on the horizon due to remnants of Christians who hold on to the Arian heresy.
Why would a bishop believe and teach something heretical and even blasphemous? The root of his false belief was Arius’ failure to own a reliable dictionary. Not exactly, but it was due to a vocabulary issue. In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In the Greek, “ginnomai” means begotten; whereas, “ginomai” means becoming. Both of these words held the same meaning for Arius.
What is the difference between “ginomai” (begotten) and ginnomai” (become) besides an additional “n”? The former refers to the process of reproduction where a father’s substance is propagated. Putting it simply, Jesus is from the exact same stuff, the same substance or being of the Father – the same (homo) substance (ousia) a.k.a. homoousios. This is where we get the English, “consubstantial.” Whereas, the latter is to begin to be, to begin to exist. This is the position Arius held – Jesus didn’t exist until he began to exist but the Father didn’t have a beginning and thus, always existed. We can see there is a supreme difference between the two words. Unfortunately for Arius, he didn’t grasp this difference and has forever been deemed a heretic. Poor guy.
To remedy Arius’ false belief, the fathers of the council constructed the Nicaean Creed to set clear what God had revealed to the Church about the one word he spoke, Jesus. In order to achieve the most clarity possible, the fathers utilized language not used in scripture in order to explain what the scripture meant. Language such as “homoousious” (consubstantial) was used to solidify terms like “ginomai” (begotten). To drive home the point that Arius’ understanding was wrong, wrong, wrong, the powerfully succinct expression, “begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father” was crafted and has been professed by all Christians since A.D. 325.
Thanks to Arius’ bad theology, now we know folks; Jesus was not a creation of God, he is God. Jesus did not have a beginning, he is eternally begotten and therefore, always has been. Jesus is not of a unique substance, he is of the same substance of the Father. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.