We have already reviewed the terms "begotten," "only begotten," and "firstborn" as translated from the Greek words mono genes and prOtotokos, and we have seen that, properly understood and in relation to Christ our Lord, they do not necessarily refer to birth by human generation.
The Greek verb gennao should be considered. The perfect indicative active gegenneka, literally, "I have begotten," is found three times in the New Testament: Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5. Each of these verses quotes Psalm 2:7, and in all references the fullest application is to Christ our Lord.
Before giving specific study to the expression "This day have I begotten thee," it might be well to note the context and see whether there was a primary application of this phrase. In this connection, the expression "I set my king upon my holy hill" calls for comment (see Psalm 2:7). The rendering and application of this verse in several translations is significant. Note:
"But I have been made king by him on Sion his holy mount, declaring the ordinance of the Lord: the Lord said to me, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee" (LXX [Brenton]).
"But I am appointed king by him over Sion his holy mountain, preaching his commandment" (Douay).
"'I have installed my king on Sion, on my sacred hill.' Let me tell the Eternal's message" (Moffatt).
Hosea writes of "the day of our king" (Hosea 7:5) and the verse seems to indicate reference to a festival or celebration.
Moffatt says:—"On the birthday of 'our king.'" *
Goodspeed:—"From the day he became king." t
Leeser:—"On the day of our king's entering on his rule."
A Jewish commentary states on Psalm 2:7:
"This day have I begotten thee." That is to say "this day thou hast been anointed King."
Another Jewish commentator gives the following:
This day have I begotten thee, to be understood in a figurative sense. On the day of his enthronement, the King was begotten of God as His servant to guide the destinies of His people. When the the assurance: "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me for a son" (2 Sam. 7:14).2
It seems that the primary reference of Psalm 2 is to David or Solomon, and to their inauguration as king, being set or enthroned on God's holy hill of Zion. This interpretation would mean that the king had two birthdays, one, referring to his physical birth, the other, indicated in the text, to his symbolic birth, when he entered upon his regal responsibilities.
Let us now look at the expression "be-(rotten thee" and see how this has been regarded by Bible scholars through the centuries:
If the interpretation already indicated is correct, then gegenneka from gennao is certainly used in a symbolic sense. There is much testimony on this point as the following excerpts show:
Instead of the ordinary morning "birthday," some expositors understand it to mean the anniversary day of his accession to the throne.
In the Babylonian Talmud (Bab. Abode sara 10') there is a regular discussion over the meaning of the phrase, in which the reasons in favour of the meaning 'birthday' are brought forward, but finally preference is given to the interpretation, "the day on which the king ascended the throne."'
That anciently, in certain instances, kings regarded their accession days as a birthday, note the following:
You are my son, today I have begotten you. The first part of the oracle was a form of words used in the legal adoption of a child (cf. Code of Hammurabi 170-71). In the same terms the idea of the special relationship between a king and his god was expressed both in Egypt and in Babylonia; the king was said to have been adopted by his god. . . This day have I begotten thee . . . means the day when the king ascended the throne.4
Such I am sure is the decree of heaven, which I here promulgate to all the world: for, from a low and poor condition, the Lord hath raised me to the highest dignity. This very day, by his order, I begin to reign, and may call it the birthday of my kingdom; which is but a slender type of a far more strange and greater exaltation of his Son Christ, whom he hath determined to raise again to life after he is dead and buried, (Acts XIII: 33, Rom. 1:4) and then to crown with glory and honor in the heavens.6
Application of "This day have I begotten thee" to our Lord
The expression "This day have I begotten thee," as already mentioned, is used four times in the Bible, although in Hebrews 5:5, there is a slight variation, for the word "today" appears in that passage.
The question naturally arises, To what event or experience does the "today" or "this day" apply? One can quite readily appreciate the primary application to David or Solomon on the occasion of their inauguration as king, but in its fullest application to David's Lord—the Messiah, the question has been debated through the centuries. Some have urged it to apply to Christ's incarnation, others to His resurrection, and still others to His enthronement as our priest-king after His ascension to heaven.
The application of the phrase to the Messiah our Lord is evidently multiple, and could well apply to several distinct events in the life of Christ. Let us observe the following:
1. Application to His incarnation. "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Heb. 1:5).
This is intimately linked with the next verse: "When he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world" (Heb. 1:6).
Here the two passages are so related as to leave little or no doubt as to the intent of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The application of the early verses of this chapter to the Incarnation is emphasized also in the Spirit of Prophecy writings. See Testimonies, volume 2, page 426.2. Application to His baptism. It is true that in Luke 3:22 the voice from heaven proclaiming the divine Sonship of the Messiah declared, "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." But in the R.S.V., while this expression is used in the text, a footnote gives another rendering, as "today I have begotten thee," the same form as seen in Psalm 2:7.
There is evidently good reason for this R.S.V. footnote, for it is found in one of the Greek manuscripts, the Codex Bezae, and is quoted in this form by Justin Martyr, in his Dialogues with Try pho, chapter CIII, and by Clement of Alexandria, in his Instructor, chapter VI.
The following excerpt from S. C. Carpenter is to the point in this connection:
The . . . Western . . . text, i.e. D (Codex Bezae), the old Latin Version, Justin (C. Trypho., 89 and 103), Augustine (De Cons. Evv., ii. 14), and some other Patristic citations, read: "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." The Ebionite gospel, quoted in Epiph., Haer., xxx. 13, combines the "Western" and the ordinary reading, "Thou art my beloved son; in thee I am well pleased. And again: today have I begotten thee .. . and again a voice came from heaven to him [John]: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
The "Western" text looks like the primitive reading, and it is thought (Harnack, Sayings, p. 314; Oxford Studies, p. 187) that it must have stood in Q. . . . The "Western" reading is a quotation (Ps. 2:7), and there would be a natural tendency to assimilate the gospel words to the known language of the Old Testament.63. Application to His resurrection. The resurrection stands out prominently in the minds of the New Testament writers, for the reference in Psalm 2:7 was to them a strong prophetic forecast of the resurrection of Christ. This can be seen in Paul's discourse as recorded in Acts 13, where we read: "And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee."
And again in Romans 1: 3, 4. "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
The Spirit of Prophecy endorsement for this application is seen in The Acts of the Apostles, page 172, and The Desire of Ages, page 778.7
The following excerpt on this aspect of the question should be carefully noted:
The expression, . . can only mean, this day have declared and manifested thee to be my Son by investing thee with thy kingly dignity, and placing thee on thy throne. St. Paul teaches us to see the fulfillment of these words in Christ's resurrection from the dead. It was by that that he was declared to be (marked out as, in a distinct and peculiar sense), . . . the Son of God.—On Psalms 2:7, p. 17.9
4. Application to His inauguration. It is evident that when our Lord ascended to heaven after His glorious resurrection, He was "exalted" (Acts 2:33); He was "highly exalted" (Phil. 2:9); He was exalted "far above all principality, and power, . . . and every name that is named" (Eph. 1:21); yes, He was "crowned with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:9).
This is emphasized also by Ellen G. White. We read:
With joy unutterable, rulers and principalities and powers acknowledge the supremacy of the Prince of life. The angel host prostrate themselves before Him, while the glad shout fills all the courts of heaven, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.". . . Heaven rings with voices in lofty strains proclaiming, "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever."
But there is another aspect of His inauguration that we do well to remember. This involves His becoming our high priest, as well as our king. We read:
"Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb. 5:5, 6).
This application of Psalm 2:7, as mentioned above is a definite reference to His priesthood. We quote from E. G. White:
Christ's ascension to heaven was the signal that His followers were to receive the promised blessing. . . . When Christ passed within the heavenly gates, He was enthroned amidst the adoration of the angels. As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in rich currents, and Christ was indeed glorified, even with the glory which He had with the Father from all eternity. The Pentecostal outpouring was Heaven's communication that the Redeemer's inauguration was accomplished. . . . He had sent the Holy Spirit from heaven to His followers, as a token that He had, as priest and king, received all authority in heaven and on earth."
Another has expressed himself thus:
It is to be observed that in our psalm the day of the King's self-attestation is the day of his being "begotten." The point of time referred to is not the beginning of personal existence, but of investiture with royalty. With accurate insight, then, into the meaning of the words, the New Testament takes them as fulfilled in the Resurrection (Acts xiii. 33; Rom. i. 4). In it, as the first step in the process which was completed in the Ascension, the manhood of Jesus was lifted above the limitations and weaknesses of earth, and began to rise to the throne. The day of His resurrection was, as it were, the day of the birth of His humanity into royal glory?'
5. Application to His second advent. It has been felt by some devout Bible students that the word "again"—Greek palin —in Hebrews 1:6 applies also to the Second Advent. "And again, when He bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world."
A better rendering of the above text is: "But whensoever he again introduceth the first-begotten into the habitable earth" (Rotherham) "But speaking of the time when He once more brings His Firstborn into the world" (Weymouth).
If the Greek word paiin—again-----is used in relation to eisagage, bringeth, then the reference is to the Second Advent.
In Heb. 1:5, that the declaration, refers to the Birth is confirmed by the contrast in verse 6. Here the word "again" is rightly placed in the R.V., "when He again bringeth in the Firstborn into the world." This points on to His Second Advent, which is set in contrast to His first Advent, when God brought His Firstborn into the world the first time.’”
From The Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt. Copyright by James Moffatt 1954. Used by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated.
1 Smith and Goodspeed, The Complete Bible: An American Translation. Copyright 1939 by the University of Chicago. Solomon B. Freehof, Commentary on the Psalms (Cincinnatti: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938), p. 4.
2 A. Cohen, The Psalms (London: Soucino Press, 1945).
3 Emil Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, vol. 2, div. 1, p. 27.
4 The Interpreter's Bible on Ps. 2:7 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1955).
5 Patrick Lowth, Commentary on the Holy Scripture (London: Richard Priestly, 1822), vol. 3, p. 66.
6 S. C. Carpenter, Christianity According to Luke (London: S.P.C.K., 1919), p. 173.
7 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 172; The Desire of Ages, p. 778.
8 Perowne, The Book of Psalms, on Ps. 2:7 (London: 1884), p. 17.
9 White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 834, 835.
10____ , The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 38, 39.
11 Alexander Maclaren, The Expositor's Bible, on Ps. 2:7 (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdman, 1940).
12 W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (London: Oliphants Ltd., 1941), vol. 4, pp. 48, 49.