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I come now to develope the process of investigation, which has led me to a real belief, that the doctrine of eternal generation is not contained in the Scriptures.
The present Letter will be occupied with an investigation of the usus loquendi, in the Hebrew and its kindred languages, and also the Hebrew-Greek of the New Testament, with respect to the word Son.
It is sufficiently plain, that the great body of those, who have admitted the doctrine of eternal generation, have been more or less moved to do it, on account of the appellation Son of God, which is in a special sense given to Christ by the sacred writers.
Our first inquiry, then, is into the nature of Oriental or Shemitish usage, in regard to the term Son. When we bave obtained general views of this usage, we may descend to particular investigations with much more advantage.
1. It is too obvious to need any proof, that the term Son, throughout the Scriptures Old and New, is employed, so often as is needed, in its primary and literal sense, viz, as designating the lineal descendent by corporeal generation of human parents. It designates, in this sense, not only the immediate descendent, as David the Son of Jesse ; but any descendent however remote. E. g. the sons of Israel may mean the Jews at any period; and the sons of Adam the world of mankind, at any stage of their existence.
All other uses of the term Son, except the one just damed, are of course figurative. And even the use of it to designate any but the immediate male progeny of human parents, is in a certain sense a figurative or secondary use of it.
The word Son was a favorite one among the Hebrews;
and was employed by them, to designate a great variety of relations. The son of any thing, according to oriental idiom, may be either what is closely connected with it, dependent on it, like it, the consequence of it, worthy of it, &c. But this view of the subject must be explained, by actual examples from the Scriptures. The following I have selected from the Old and New Testaments, The son of eight days, i. e. the child that is eight days the son of one hundred years,
i. e. the
who is one hundred
of age ; the son of a year, i. e. a yearling ; the son of my sorrow, i. e. one who has caused me distress ; the son of my right hand, i. e. one who will assist or be a help to me; son of old age, i. e. begotten in old age ; son of valour, i. e. bold, brave; son of Belial, [lit. son of good-for-nothing.] i. e. a worthless man; son of wickedness, i. e. wicked ; son of a murderer, i. e, a murderous person; son of my vows, i. e. son that answers to my vows; son of death, i. e. one who deserves death; son of perdition, i. e. one who deserves perdition ; son of smiting, i. e. one who deserves stripes ; son of Gehenna, i.e. one who deserves Gehenna; son of consolation, i. e. one fitted to administer consolation; son of thunder, i. e. a man of powerful, energetic eloquence or strength; son of peace, i. e. a peaceable man; son of the morning, i. e. morning star; sons of the burning coal, i. e. sparks of fire ; son of the bow, i e. an arrow; son of the threshing floor, i. e. grain ; son of oil, i. e. fat; son of the house, i. e. domestic or slave ; son of man, i. e. man, as it is usually applied; but perhaps in a sense somewhat diverse, in several respects, as applied to the Saviour.
Such is the wide extent of relation, similarity, connection, &c, which the term son is employed to designate in the Hebrew, and in the Hebrew idiom of the New Testament; a latitude far greater than is given to it in the
Occidental languages; and which no one, who is not conversant with the Hebrew, can scarcely estimate in an adequate manner.
In collecting and translating these idioms, I have, of course, followed the phraseology of the original languages to which they belong, and not our English Version; which not unfrequently paraphrases them, in order to render them intelligible to the English reader.
Nor are the Hebrew of the Jewish Scriptures and Hebrew-Greek of the New Testament, the only languages which exhibit this latitude of construction in respect to the word son. The same idiom runs through all the Shemitish languages. In the Syriac Version of the Scriptures, made, as is most probable, not long after the death of the Apostles, and in a language which approximates nearest of all to the vernacular dialect of the Jews in our Saviour's time, the word in question is used in a still greater latitude. The following instances are collected from this Version
A son of trade, i. e. óuoteqvos, or one of the same trade, fellow workman ; son of a great family, i. e. a nobleman; son of my yoke, i. e. my companion ; son of foster-fathers, i. e. ouvipogos, an associate in education or pupilage ; son of flesh, i. e. a relative; son of adultery, i. e. a person of illegitimate birth; son of his day, i. e. a cotemporary ; son of his hour, i. e. forthwith, immediately; son of the neck, i. e. a collet; sons of inheritance, i. c. heirs ; sons of the place, i. e. dwelling together; sons of the city, i. e. fellow citizens ; sons of the tribe, i. e. members of the same tribe; sons of the people, i. e. Gentiles; sons of the company, i. e. fellow travellers ; sons of my years, i. e. my equals in age ; sons of the nobles, i. e. free-men; sons of Crete, i. e. Cretans; sons of idols, i.e. idolaters.
To these idioms, taken from the Syriac Version of the
Scriptures, may be added others belonging to the language; e.g. the son of secrecy, i. e. privy counsellor ; son of the oaks, i. e. of noble progeny; the son of similitude, i. e. most like ; son of heresy, i. e. a heretic; son of nature, i. e. of the same nature; a son of two portions, i. e. one who receives a double portion of inheritance ; son of the leopards, i. e. Bacchus; son of dividing, i. e. one who divides the inheritance with another ; son of the month, i. e. of the same month ; son of the year, i. e. a cotemporary ; son of opinion, i. e. one holding the same senti
Besides these, most of the instances already adduced above from the Hebrew idiom, are found in the Syriac; together with other cases of a similar kind, which I forbear to cite.
In the Arabic language, the idiom in question is still more striking ; because we have the language in much fuller extent than either the Syriac or the Hebrew. Here we find, besides many of the idioms already quoted, sons of the land, i. e. strangers ; son of familiarity, i. e. intimate friend; son of moonshine, i. e. a night resplendent with moon-beams; son of the night, i. e. a dark night; son of misfortune, i. e. in trouble ; son of the days, i. e. unfortunate ; son of destroying, i. e. warlike ; son of freedom, i. e. innocent; son of the way, i. e. a traveller; son of the sun, i. e. Aurora, or morning light; son of the clouds, i. e. rain, also, coolness ; son of time, i. e. a a night; son of the night, i. e. the moon; son of the day, i. e. a day.
These are only a part of the instances which occur, of the idiomatic use of the word son in Arabic. More might easily be added; but I deem it unnecessary.
The object of all the specimens which I have exhib
ited of the use of the term son, in the Shemitish languages,
is to make it evident how very vague, indefinite, and extensive, the secondary significations of this word are ; and how different the genius of the oriental languages, which thus employ it, is, from that of our own language, or from those of Europe in general.
Every kind of relation or resemblance whether real or imaginary, every kind of connexion, is characterised by calling it the son of that thing to which it stands thus related, or with which it is connected.
Very different is the genius of the western languages. We have, indeed, borrowed from the Scriptures many expressions, where son is employed in a manner agreeable to their idiom ; and from poetry—from Homer (himself probably an Asiatic,) we have borrowed many more which resemble them. But our own language, in itself and apart from these sources of expression, is barren in respect to the idiom in question. And such is the general fact, in regard to all the occidental languages, ancient and modern.
It is obvious, now, that there would naturally be a great tendency in occidental readers, to understand the word son in a literal sense, or in a sense as near as possible to a literal one, wherever they found it employed. I have little doubt that the emphasis placed by many divines, in ancient and modern times, on the phrase son of God, as a proof of the generation or derivation of the Logos, has been owing, in part, to this difference of idiom between the East and West. It has operated insensibly, but not with the less certainty or effect, on that account.
It will be remembered, however, that when we investigate the meaning of the phrase. Son of God, in the