Communication of the Divine essence to the Son?

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Puritan Board Freshman
I'm going through the course on Van Til's Trinitarian Theology at Reformed Forum and Dr. Lane Tipton was talking about how Van Til sided with Calvin and Warfield in denying that the divine essence is communicated to the Son in eternal generation. He also mentioned this isn't the majority view of the Reformed, but I haven't really thought about the idea.

Berkhof clearly disagrees with Calvin/Van Til/Warfield and writes,

In the work of generation there was a communication of essence; it was one indivisible act. And in virtue of this communication the Son also has life in Himself. This is in agreement with the statement of Jesus, "For as the Father hath life in Himself, even so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself," John 5:26

This is the very verse that came to my mind and is the reason why I think the Bible teaches the communication of divine essence to the Son, even though I think Calvin and Van Til's denial of it makes logical sense. Anyways, my question is, how would one interpret this verse without seeing the communication of divine essence to the Son from the Father, as it says, "so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself", which seems pretty clear that aseity is communicated to the Son from the Father, even if that seems logically paradoxical. I'm a huge Van Til guy, but I can't see any way else to interpret John 5:26 and I'm unsure whether communication of divine essence has been taught historically or not, as I haven't looked into it. Anyways, I'm interested to get any thoughts on this, as I haven't thought much about this.
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Puritan Board Senior
It's not only Calvin and Warfield. John Murray also taught this, as well as Robert Reymond in our own day. Reymond has a long analysis and defense of the position (i.e., that the Son is truly autotheos) in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Here is his dealing with John 5:26:

"A consensus has by no means been reached among theologians and commentators that the words of John 5:26 refer to an ontological endowment. It is entirely possible, indeed, much more likely, that they refer to an aspect of the incarnate Son’s messianic investiture. John 5:22–23 which precedes the verse refers to his designated authority to judge, clearly an aspect of his Messianic role, and so is the similar thought of 5:27 which follows it. Accordingly, 5:26, paralleling 5:27, seems to be giving the ground upon which the Son is able to raise the dead, namely, it is one of the prerogatives of his Messianic investiture."​
—Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1998), 325.​

If you would like, I would be happy to get you a PDF of Reymond's full exposition of this issue if you do not have access to his systematic theology.


Puritan Board Senior
Here also is Charles Hodge on this passage:

"As to the passage in John 5:26, where it is said the Father hath given to the Son to have life in Himself, everything depends on the sense in which the word Son is to be taken. That word is sometimes used as a designation of the λόγος, the Second Person of the Trinity, to indicate his eternal relation to the First Person as the Father. It is, however, very often used as a designation of the incarnate λόγος, the Word made flesh. Many things are in Scripture predicated of the Godman, which cannot be predicated of the Second Person of the Trinity as such. If in this passage the Son means the Logos, then it does teach that the First Person of the Trinity communicated life, and therefore the essence in which that life inheres, to the Second Person. But if Son here designates the Theanthropos, then the passage teaches no such doctrine. That it is the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth here spoken of, may be argued not only from the fact that He is elsewhere so frequently called the Son of God, as in the comprehensive confession required of every Christian in the apostolic age, 'I believe that Jesus is the Son of God;' but also from the context. Our Lord had healed an impotent man on the Sabbath. For this the Jews accused Him of breaking the Sabbath. He vindicated Himself by saying that He had the same right to work on the Sabbath that God had, because He was the Son of God, and therefore equal with God. That He had power not only to heal but to give life, for as the Father had life in Himself, so had He given to the Son to have life in Himself. He had also given Him authority to execute judgment. He was to be the judge of the quick and dead, because He is the Son of man, i.e., because He had become man for us and for our salvation. His accusers need not be surprised at what He said, because the hour was coming when all who are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth, they who have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they who had done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. The subject of discourse, therefore, in the context, is the historical person who had healed the impotent man, and who with equal propriety could be called God or man, because He was both God and man. What the passage teaches, therefore, concerns the constitution of Christ’s person as He appeared on earth, and not the nature of the relation of the Father and Son in the Godhead."​
—Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner and Company, 1873), 470-71.​


Staff member
Taylor pointed out what I was going to say. John 5 in context seems to be focused on Jesus' work on earth.

John 5:21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.


John 5:26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
It's worth noting that Calvin's position is disputed. But he did consistently avoid calling the Father the fons divinitatis.This form of autotheos was indisputably taught by Lucas Trelcatius Jr, and besides Calvin, he is the first. I compiled citations from a number of theologians on the matter here. Personally I don't find Trelcatius Jr's position intelligible. How can the Son's person proceed from the Father but not his essence? The only time in human persons that one could be a son of someone without being essentially begotten of them is in adoption, but saying the son is adopted by the Father is Arianism. The normative (and only, as far as I can tell) sense of "beget" is "beget in essence".
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