What does “This Day I Have Begotten Thee” Mean?
by John Heading
The quotation, “Thou are My Son; this day have I begotten Thee”, is taken from Psalm 2:7.
Psalm 2 is often quoted in the New Testament:
- Verses 1-2 appear in Acts 4:25-26
- Verse 7 is quoted in Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5
- Verses 8-9 appear in Revelation 2:27
- The “rod of iron” is mentioned in Revelation 12:5 and 19:15
- Verse 7 replaces the divine commendation of the Son in Luke 3:22 in some Greek manuscripts
The familiar KJV translation of the divine decree on verse 7 – “This day have I begotten Thee” – was preserved in the Revised Version of 1881, but the more recent policy of translating the Bible into modern speech has given rise to a quite different form of words. Weymouth adopted the rendering, “My Son are Thou; I have this day become Thy Father” (Heb 1:5). Weymouth’s translation received great acclaim from theological reviewers, such as “The presentation of that which is familiar in substance under a new form creates a fresh and lively mental impression, and the interpretative value of the rendering seems to me to be great.” It is therefore not surprising that present-day translations depart completely from the KJV, following that which is judged to be more suitable for modern speech. Thus Moffatt adopted a similar rendering for verse 7, and then the floodgates were opened. All the recent translations examined by the author (except that by J.B. Phillips, and the New English Bible) contain a rendering similar to “You are My Son; today I have become your Father.”
An unbeliever may comment, “There is no difference in the renderings of verse 7 – one is in modern style and the other sounds religious and old fashioned.” If that were all, there would be no need to warn readers of dangers and heresies lurking around the corner, these being winds of doctrine produced by the sleight of men with their cunning craftiness as they lie in wait to deceive (Eph 4:4). Recent translators have shown a singular lack of carefulness as to the doctrinal consequences behind their alternative rendering. For there is at stake the basic understanding of the deity and personal nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not sufficient to produce a translation intended for so-called “easier reading” for the modern man; “easier reading” must contain the same doctrine as the older versions.
The Scriptures are meant not only for reading but also for detailed study. To this end, the believer must usually rely upon translations. A faulty verse, unwittingly accepted because the reader trusts in the inspiration of all Scripture (2 Tim 3:16), can be a source of false doctrine and false deductions about the Son of God. In these days, younger believers have usually been brought up on a modern translation, often discarding the KJV as an anachronism of the past. These young believers may exhibit commendable zeal in desiring to learn the Scriptures, so they engage in diligent study of the translation in their hands. Not knowing any better, they will tend to accept every word and phrase at its face value, just as readers of the KJV do.
But what a difference! These latter readers will not be led to derogatory doctrine concerning the Son of God, but the former will make deductions and unknowingly will soon embrace heresy. “This day have I begotten Thee” can never convey the same doctrine as “Today I have become your Father”. For this statement implies that there was a day when God was not the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but that there was a certain day when Christ became the Son. This would lead to the teaching that He had no pre-existence, that He came into being when God became His Father. Such doctrine is abominable to believers who know and love the truth concerning the Lord Jesus, and hence it is our duty to warn about false translations that lead to such painful heresy. This is Satan’s attack on the deity of Christ, appearing as an angel of light in an apparently authoritative modern translation. In other words, these are the poisons in the pot, and “they knew them not” until Elisha took action, after which “there was no harm in the pot” (2 Kings 4:38-41).
It is therefore necessary for believers to know what “this day have I begotten Thee” means, both in the Old and New Testaments.
Explanations by Expositors
If the writings of expositors on Psalms, Acts and Hebrews are examined, it will be seen that there is no consensus of opinion as to the meaning of our verse 7. One older writer has observed, “The controversy is one of the most unprofitable which ever engaged the pens of theologians”, but this is not satisfactory in the light of modern developments. Suggestions that we have noted are:
- “Paul teaches us to see the fulfillment of these words in Christ’s resurrection.”
- “A term linked with His incarnation, baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, priesthood and second advent.”
- “It is of His human generation that it could be said, Today have I begotten Thee.”
- “The day in which He, the nations’ representative, was born into a new relation of sonship towards Jehovah.”
- “His birth in time as Messiah is the point.”
- “The Son was not only begotten of the Father in eternity, but begotten again in the resurrection.”
- “Today…an essential property of the Divinity…in the past eternity, or in time, or in the coming of eternity.”
- “In this day of manifesting Himself in the person of His Son, that God has begotten Him, has set Him forth.”
- “An act in time…the eternal rights of the Son by heirship are here renewed to Him in manhood and resurrection.”
- “The Son was always Son…He nevertheless earned this title of Son at some moment in history.”
In the light of these conflicting explanations, how can believers hold to the KJV of Psalm 2:7 in the face of false teaching derivable from modern translations? In rejecting the false, what explanation can believers hold as true?
To the present writer, the great and bewildering variety of suggestions regarding the meaning of the words “this day” in Psalm 2:7 derive almost entirely from guesswork and tradition, often based on a wrong interpretation of Paul’s quotation in Acts 13:33. Psalm 2 is prophetic in character, and hence there is no need to push any statement in the psalm back to a time prior to the writing of the psalm. The psalm represents a future conversation within the Godhead, and David was permitted to hear this future conversation.
Verses 1 to 5 are the words of the Spirit of prophecy. The Spirit notes the evil deeds of men (vs 1-2), and the words of men (v3). In verses 4-5, the Spirit speaks of the activity of the Lord (Adonai) – His attitude towards men, His wrath and sore displeasure. God speaks in verse 6. He reversed what men sought to do in their vain attempt to eliminate the Messiah. The Son replies in verse 7, quoting the words of Jehovah. Verses 8 and 9 are the response of God, spoken to the Son, promising Him the kingdom on earth with authority over the nations. Finally, the Spirit of prophecy speaks again in verses 10 to 12; the rulers of the nations must accept the Son if they are to be blessed in the Son’s kingdom.
Psalm 2 in its Context.
It is a feature of prophecy that a complete prophetical psalm or paragraph need not refer in every verse to the same future event. In fact, it can be seen that different future events have been described by the same verse in Psalm 2.
It is clear that verses 1 and 2 predicted the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. It is not the predeterminate counsel of God that is being described, but men’s evil against Christ. The heathen (Rome) and the people (the Jews) are described as setting themselves against the Lord and His Christ. In Acts 4:27 the apostles recognised that these verses spoke of “the Gentiles, and the people of Israel.” Yet the crucifixion of the Lord and immediate subsequent events do not form the main prophetical thrust of the psalm as a whole. Other psalms have provided details of these solemn events.
Verses 8 and 9 of the psalm refer to events yet to come, as is evident by the use that the Lord makes of them in His message to the church at Thyatira (Rev 2:26-27). Now members of the church certainly do not have power over the nations, and they do not rule them with a rod of iron. The Lord had received this from His Father, but for Him, as for us with Him, the accomplishment is yet future at the manifestation of His kingdom glory.
This provides the clue to the overall prophetic interpretation of Psalm 2. Verses 1 to 3 answer to Revelation 17:14, being the last great rebellion against “the Lamb” before He comes in glory.The beast and his armies “shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them.” Verses 4 and 5 refer to God’s side in this battle bringing in devouring judgment as in Revelation 19:11-21. The triumph of Christ as King upon the holy hill of Zion in verse 6 answers to His title, “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev 17:14; 19:16). Then in verses 8 and 9 He reigns victoriously, at last being vindicated in the world where once He had been crucified. Between His title “King” in verse 6 and His reigning in verses 8-9 comes verse 7, “Thou art my Son; this day I have begotten Thee”, and hence to this declaration we can give out one primary prophetical meaning.
“Begotten” in Psalm 2:7
In purely physical terms, the Hebrew word translated “beget” is also translated “bear”, referring respectively to the father and the mother of a child. By this joint means, a babe is brought forth, being manifested in the world. Now throughout Scripture, ordinary human terms are used metaphorically (and anthropomorphically) of deity, else there would be no words available whatsoever with which to describe the most holy things of God. Purely physical implications are discarded when words are used of deity. Thus this word “beget” refers to particular events in the Son’s experience when He was manifested in the world, when He was (or will be) brought forth from one position to another. The context must explain which event is being described.
The position of verse 7, lying between verse 6 and verses 8 and 9, shows that the primary prophetical event is none other than when heaven will be opened with the Son of God being manifested openly for the first time since the days of His flesh. Every eye shall see Him when the Redeemer comes to Zion. Then shall “all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:30). Then the Lord Jesus shall be “revealed from heaven…taking vengeance on them that know not God” (2 Thess 1:7-8). Thus, in its primary prophetic setting “this day” refers to the future coming forth of the Son of God, having gone “into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return” (Luke 19:12).
References in Hebrews
As far as the two references in Hebrews are concerned, we confess that we do not find them of much help in ascertaining the meaning of “this day have I begotten thee”. The reason is that the author of the epistle did not quote Psalm 2:7 with any intention of explaining its meaning. In Hebrews 1, in expounding the preeminence of the Son far above all angels, the author searches the Old Testament for verses relevant to this theme. In particular, a reference to the Son is very pertinent, and hence Psalm 2:7 is quoted. The interpretation of the whole verse is not relevant to the argument. What is relevant is that such a statement had not been made about any angel, in which case the Son stands out uniquely in deity.
The same may be said about Hebrews 5:5. The point at issue is the call to priesthood. Merely by himself, no one could claim to be high priest. Even in the Jewish priesthood, the first high priest, Aaron was called by God. Similarly with God’s replacement for the Aaronic priesthood – though after a new order, that of Melchisidec. Psalm 2:7 is quoted to show that this call comes from God, who says, “Thou art my Son”. The matter of priesthood is proved by another quotation namely Psalm 110:4. It may be argued tenuously that “today” refers to the day of His ascension when He was made high priest after this new order, but we doubt it, since the subject of Psalm 2 is not the high priesthood of the Son.
We finally consider the quotation of Psalm 2:7 in Paul’s address in the synagogue in Antioch (Acts 13:33). It is here that something rather unexpected emerges, as the author perceives the passage, in the proper understanding of Paul’s message.
The Word “Raise”
This word (in the KJV) occurs six times in Paul’s sermon, namely in verses 22, 23, 30, 33, 34 and 37. However, two different Greek words are used. In verses 22, 23, 30 and 37 the Greek word means “to rouse up from sleep”. Totally, this word occurs 141 times in the NT. Of these, 70 refer to resurrection in the context, with 9 having the word “again” attached to “raise”, though this additional word does not appear in the Greek text. (Most authorities agree that verse 23, “raised unto Israel a Saviour” should read “brought unto Israel a Saviour”, though this change of wording in the Greek text does not affect our argument). In verses 33-34 the Greek word for “raise” means “to make to stand up”. Totally, the word occurs 111 times. Of these, 35 refer to resurrection in the context, with 14 having the word “again” attached, though this additional word does not appear in the Greek text. Various English words are used for both Greek words when non-resurrection meanings are implied. Translators have not sought to try to distinguish between these two words in English.
Three paragraphs in Paul’s sermon in Acts 13:16-41 is a well-structured argument. Failure to see this leads to a wrong interpretation of Psalm 2:7. Assuming that the synagogue congregation knew the letter of the Old Testament, the apostle used selected Old Testament events and verses to prove the New Testament doctrine of salvation through Christ. In verses 17 to 22 we have paragraph 1: David was raised to be king after Saul had been removed. Similarly (and this is the object of verses 17 to 22), in verses 23-31 forming paragraph 2, the Lord Jesus was raised (or brought) to Israel after John the Baptist’s ministry was effectively ended (as seen by the words “first”, “before His coming”, “fulfilled his course”.) But these events are taken further; this “Saviour Jesus” was condemned and slain by men, but “God raised Him from the dead.”
Old Testament Quotations
The third paragraph in the argument is contained in verses 32 to 37, where Paul uses the Old Testament to prove the New Testament events described in paragraph 2. In verse 33, the fact that “God raised unto Israel a Saviour” is proved; in verses 34 to 37 the fact of the Lord’s resurrection is proved by two further quotations.
In verse 33 the word “again” does not refer to the resurrection in Paul’s argument. This word does not occur in the Greek text and was inserted by the English translators to indicate their interpretation of the word “raised.” This interpretation implying resurrection is, however, contrary to Paul’s argument. Hence many expositors have misunderstood the meaning of this word “raised”. The meaning is that God raised up Jesus to supercede the forerunner John the Baptist, and “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee” is used to show that the Lord Jesus was brought forth at the age of thirty after His baptism and commendation, “Thou art my beloved Son” (Luke 3:22). To Paul, in this sermon at least, Psalm 2:7 had nothing to do with “eternal generation”, incarnation, resurrection, ascension or His coming in glory. Rather, Paul quoted this verse and made it refer to “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…He hath sent me” (Luke 4:18). He was brought forth in public manifestation to commence His years of service on earth. Two further Old Testament quotations then provide prophetical proof of the Lord’s resurrection.
The reader can now see that the false rendering “today have I become your Father” can never convey the meaning that the Father had brought forth His Son for public service after His baptism and temptation. As previously mentioned, the baptismal declaration from heaven, “in Thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22) is replaced in some Greek manuscripts by the words in Psalm 2:7, showing that the explanation that we have just given must have existed in the minds of some writers in the earlier days of Christianity many hundreds of years ago, somehow causing the Greek text of Luke 3:22 to be altered (without inspirational authority) to accord with the interpretation.
The traditional rendering of Psalm 2:7 must therefore be formally adhered to, with the modern heretical rendering absolutely rejected. The words refer prophetically to (1) the public manifestations of the Lord for service in the days of His flesh, and (2) His open manifestation in glory when He comes to establish His kingdom.
John Heading (1924-1991) was Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University College of Wales and the author of The Servant-Son. A Devotional and Informative Commentary on Mark’s Gospel, The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, The Book of Daniel, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Luke’s Life of Christ, First Epistle to the Corinthians, Acts: A Study in New Testament Christianity – Vol 1, Acts: A Study in New Testament Christianity – Vol 2, Understanding 1 & 2 Chronicles, From Now To Eternity – The Book of Revelation, A Directory of New Testament Churches, and A Commentary on the Gospel Of John (from the What The Bible Teaches series).