Life, Original, Unborrowed, Underived

Article by Paul Chung

Life, Original, Unborrowed, Underived

The expression, “In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived“, which can be found in the book, The Desire of Ages (also in Evangelism p. 616), is commonly used to argue that the life of pre-incarnate Christ is ingenerate, without origin and therefore not begotten. But is this true?

Let’s take a look at the statement that is most often quoted (we will refer to this statement as "Desire of Ages quote" in this article):

“Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” IN CHRIST IS LIFE, ORIGINAL, UNBORROWED, UNDERIVED. “He that hath the Son hath life.” The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life.–The Desire of Ages, p. 530 (1898)” {Evangelism, p. 616}

Scripture references:

John 11:25 “I am the resurrection, and the life.”

1John 5:12 “He that hath the Son hath life.”

Examining the facts

It is critical that we don't divorce Ellen White’s writings from the Bible and not allow our theological bias to determine what she had said independent of the Scripture references.

Note: In this Desire of Ages quote, Ellen White used the expression, "IN CHRIST IS LIFE, ORIGINAL, UNBORROWED, UNDERIVED." But with respect to this expression, she references 1 John 5:12: “He that hath the Son hath life." But when we read in 1 John, this passage is preceded by “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, AND THIS LIFE IS IN HIS SON.” ( 1 John 5:11 ).

What is significant here in 1 John 5:11, 12 is that it describes God (Father) as the source of this life. But we are told that we may obtain this life by having the Son, for this LIFE which God gives is IN His Son.

The same author in a few chapters previous (1 John 1:2) also affirms this, “(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you THAT ETERNAL LIFE, WHICH WAS WITH THE FATHER, and was manifested unto us;)”

Again, what is noteworthy in this text is that the LIFE which Christ manifested was the very “eternal life, which was with the Father.”

In the Selected Messages statement below, you will find a similar variation of the Desire of Ages quote, using the same expressions, with a slightly different context with additional references to the Gospel of John (we will refer this statement as the "1SM quote"):

"In him was life; and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). It is not physical life that is here specified, but immortality, the life which is exclusively the property of God. The Word, who was with God, and who was God, HAD THIS LIFE. Physical life is something which each individual receives. It is not eternal or immortal; for God, the Life-giver, takes it again. Man has no control over his life. But the life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him. "I lay it down of myself" (John 10:18), He said. IN HIM WAS LIFE, ORIGINAL, UNBORROWED, UNDERIVED. THIS LIFE IS NOT INHERENT IN MAN. HE CAN POSSESS IT ONLY THROUGH CHRIST. HE CANNOT EARN IT; IT IS GIVEN HIM AS A FREE GIFT if he will believe in Christ as His personal Saviour.” {1SM, p 296-297}

Scripture references:

John 1:1 ("The Word, who was with God, and who was God HAD THIS LIFE")

John 1:4 (“IN him was life; and the life was the light of men")

John 10:18 ("lay it down of myself")

Note: In this 1SM quote, Ellen White used almost exact expression, "IN HIM [Christ] WAS LIFE, ORIGINAL, UNBORROWED, UNDERIVED." But this time, the quote references John 1:4, where John says, “IN HIM WAS LIFE; and the life was the light of men."

Furthermore, 1SM quote also references John 1:1, where it states, "The Word, who was with God, and who was God, HAD THIS LIFE." showing that "this life" which Christ possessed was IN HIM prior to HIs incarnation. And YET we learned that this life comes from the Father (1Jn 5:11,12) and was given to Him as we shall see.

Now, notice how the same author (John) states the following with respect to this life that was IN HIM in just a few chapters later:

John 5:26 “For AS THE FATHER HATH LIFE IN HIMSELF; SO HATH HE GIVEN TO THE SON TO HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.”

Note: Did you catch that? Not unlike 1 John 5:11, 12 as we have seen earlier; the LIFE which was IN Christ in Jn 5:26 was also GIVEN TO CHRIST BY THE FATHER. But to get a better understanding of the context of this "life", let's take a look at its preceding passages (John 5: 21-25):

"21 For AS the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; EVEN SO the Son quickeneth whom he will.

22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:

23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live."

Note: This context reveals that the LIFE which Christ received in Jn 5:26 is not referring to His human, mortal life but rather the immortal life which Christ will bestow unto the redeemed as a gift. This is clearly describing Christ, exercising an attribute of His divinity, not His humanity, reaching its climax in the last days at the resurrection of the saints and yet it is a present reality (vs 25 "and now is") for the believers. Moreover this is the same divine LIFE which no one can take from Christ but that He would "lay it down" (Jn 10:18-referenced in 1SM quote) voluntarily at the cross.

"CHRIST WAS INVESTED WITH THE RIGHT TO GIVE IMMORTALITY. The life which He had laid down in humanity, He again took up and gave to humanity. “I am come,” He says, “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). All who are one with Christ through faith in Him gain an experience which is life unto eternal life. “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (John 6:57). He “dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). “Because I live, ye shall live also"' (John 14:19). {1SM 302.2,3}

Note: To "invest" is to provide or endow someone or something with (a particular quality or attribute). And we have learned in John 5:21-26 that it was the Father who invested Christ "with the right to give immortality."

Again, the QUALITY of this divine life as described in John 5:21-25 is such that Christ in His own right can quicken the dead "EVEN AS the Father" to "raiseth up the dead" (vs. 21) for Christ had received this LIFE from His Father "TO HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF" (vs. 26). And this, we are told is "the believer’s assurance of eternal life." (DA 530) 

So far, we learned that

  • John 1:1 (The Word, who was with God, and who was God, HAD THIS LIFE.)

  • John 1:4 (“IN him was life")

  • John 10:18 (Christ would "lay IT down" of Himself)

  • John 11:25 ("I am the resurrection and the LIFE")

  • 1 John 5:12 ("life is IN his son")

are all directly referenced in both the Desire of Ages quote and the 1SM quote. And as we have seen, the context (including Jn 5:21-26, 1 Jn 5:11) of these referenced texts provides us with a clear view that they are all talking about the same life with respect to the expression, "ORIGINAL, UNBORROWED, UNDERIVED" LIFE that is IN Christ." The fact that all of these Bible texts are written by the same author (John) and that these texts are used to reference the same expressions found in the two statements under consideration, further strengthens this conclusion.

GOD has sent his Son to communicate HIS OWN LIFE to humanity. Christ declares, “I LIVE BY THE FATHER,” MY LIFE AND HIS BEING ONE.
— — HM Ch 23

Therefore, we can also conclude that all the noted Bible references (Jn 1:4, Jn 10:18, Jn 12:25; 1 Jn 5:12) cited in each of the mentioned statements above (DA 530, 1SM, p 296-297) can also rightly be applied to John 5:26 and 1 John 5:11.

A few Questions, if you believe in the trinity

If Jesus had always existed alongside the Father as Trinitarians claim, then how is it that God had GIVEN this life to His Son as Christ would have always had this life inherently as an independent, ingenerate omnipotent God?

The fact that we are talking about an immortal life and not Christ's incarnate, mortal life, would it also not be much more reasonable for Christ to derive its life, vitality, and power from His own divine nature, (to resurrect the redeemed and to give them eternal life) instead of receiving it from the Father? 

If Christ received this "immortal life" in His humanity (as some claim), then at which point did He lose it, only to receive it again?  For as a Man Christ, He always maintained this life in His divinity along with His humanity.

“Christ could not have come to this earth with the glory that He had in the heavenly courts. Sinful human beings could not have borne the sight. He veiled His divinity with the garb of humanity, but HE DID NOT PART WITH HIS DIVINITY.” {Review and Herald, June 15, 1905}

“CHRIST HAD NOT EXCHANGED HIS DIVINITY FOR HUMANITY; but He had clothed His divinity in humanity.” {Review and Herald, Oct. 29, 1895}

"...The two expressions human and divine were, in Christ, closely and inseparably one, AND YET THEY HAD A DISTINCT INDIVIDUALITY... {ST May 10, 1899, par. 11}

Where in Scripture did Christ ever relinquish this "life" in His incarnation only to be re-invested again?

To suggest that Christ received this life in His incarnation, you would have to conclude that Christ at some point DID NOT possess this life. This is simply not supported either from the Scripture or Inspiration and it denies that Christ always retained His divinity even in His incarnation.

Moving on, let's find out just what kind of LIFE was IN Christ.

Again, John 5:26 reveals to us that the quality of this life is such that the Son should “HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF” Just like the “THE FATHER HATH LIFE IN HIMSELF” whereby Christ is both the channel of Father's original life and yet also the fountain of life unto Himself.

What kind of life would that be according to Ellen White?

The evidence is pretty clear. The kind of life John spoke of in Jn 1:1, Jn 1:4, Jn 10:18; Jn 5:21-26 and 1 John 5:11, 12; is the very same life which Ellen White is referring to when she said, that “IN HIM WAS LIFE, ORIGINAL, UNBORROWED, UNDERIVED.”

For anyone, who insists that the expression,"life, original, unborrowed, underived" is referring to Christ's pre-existent, ingenerate, unbegotten life, would do well to concede that the life which Ellen White is referring to in her statements (that uses the expression, "life, original, unborrowed, underived") is the very same life which Christ RECEIVED from the Father in John 5:26.

Therefore it is evident that Ellen White, in stating this expression, is not necessarily repudiating that Christ was begotten from the Father in His pre-existence nor is it saying that Christ had this life inherently independent of the Father (without origin) but rather is referring to the QUALITY of life which Christ possessed.

John 5:26 clearly reveals to us that the same quality of life, which the Father has, He gave it to His Son. Christ, being the Son of God, received this life by the virtue of His divine begetting and inheritance; I would contend that Christ was begotten with that life IN Him. Therefore, the quality of life that is IN Christ is “original, unborrowed, underived” with the power to bestow unto others.


And yet, we are told that in John 5:26 that this life was GIVEN to Christ by the Father.

While many may argue that "original, unborrowed, underived cannot be compatible with John 5:26, but it is made clear that sister White apparently correlates this seemingly contradicting statements together. 

The "QUALITY" of life we receive is "original, unborrowed, underived"

Notice how this SAME “original, unborrowed, underived” life can ALSO BE POSSESSED BY A MAN, AS A FREE GIFT, “if he will believe in Christ as His personal Saviour.” {1SM, p 296-297}

The QUALITY of this LIFE, which is different from the power to bestow it, is, however, identical whether it is ingenerate [unbegotten] as in the case of the Father, inherited [begotten] by His Son, or conferred as a conditional, permanent gift to His creatures. Take a look at the following statement:

"What a song that will be when the ransomed of the Lord meet at the gate of the Holy City, which is thrown back on its glittering hinges and the nations that have kept His word—His commandments—enter into the city, the crown of the overcomer is placed upon their heads, and the golden harps are placed in their hands! All heaven is filled with rich music, and with songs of praise to the Lamb. Saved, everlastingly saved, in the kingdom of glory! To have A LIFE THAT MEASURES WITH THE LIFE OF GOD—THAT IS THE REWARD." (Manuscript 92, 1908) (7BC 982.2)


Following notes on "underived" was provided by Jason Smith.

The word "derive" in Ellen White's day carried a nuanced meaning that modern readers tend to miss. They think it only means to be given something but it can also convey "to draw from, AS IN A REGULAR COURSE OR CHANNEL; to receive from a source BY A REGULAR CONVEYANCE." (1828 Webster's Dictionary "derive")

This is like how a stream is derived from a fountain. The stream is DEPENDENT upon the fountain for its existence. It is drawing from the fountain as in a regular course. If that ever stops then the stream no longer exists. It is a regular conveyance. Quoting now the servant of the Lord let's see if her usage matches this definition: 

"In Jesus is our life DERIVED. In Him is life, that is original, unborrowed, underived life. In us there is A STREAMLET FROM THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE. In Him is the fountain of life. Our life is something that we receive, something that the Giver takes back again to Himself. If our life is hid with Christ in God, we shall, when Christ shall appear, also appear with Him in glory. And while in this world we will give to God, in sanctified service, all the capabilities He has given us. (Letter 309, 1905)

Did you catch it? In Jesus our life is derived. Why? Because we are like "a streamlet from the fountain of life." Thus our life is something we receive that the Giver takes back again unto Himself (if the Giver so chooses). We are dependent upon Him and the second that stops we no longer exist. This is just like a stream derived from a fountain. The Son of God, however, is actually a fountain unto Himself. Thus He is not derived but actually has self-perpetuating life in Himself. 

"We become partakers of the life of Christ, which is eternal. We derive immortality from God by receiving the life of Christ for in Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. This life is the mystical union and cooperation of the divine with the human. {ST June 17, 1897, par. 14}

You see we "derive" immortality from God by receiving the life of Christ. It is actually His own life but remember, at the same time, Christ Himself says "I live by the Father" and it is the Father's life that flows through Him, what is communicated is the life of God in His Son. This seeming contradiction makes sense when we remember the truth of John 5:26.

“All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. So in the heavenly courts, in His ministry for all created beings: through the beloved Son, the Father’s life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, to the great Source of all.”
— The Desire of Ages p. 21

Now lest anyone stumble here let us share even some more. Notice in the quote below that created beings who "derive" their life fro God have "daily dependence" upon Him. 

"All created beings must DERIVE their life from God. Not one can be, or do, good only as he lives in DAILY DEPENDENCE upon God. And not a soul is righteous any longer than he is in vital relation to God, the source of all virtue, of life, of love, of power. {Lt7-1894.27}

Again we read: 

“All created beings live by the will and power of God. They are DEPENDENT RECIPIENTS of the life of God. From the highest seraph to the humblest animate being, all are REPLENISHED from the Source of life. Only He who is one with God could say, I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again. In His divinity, Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death. {DA 785.3}

Are you catching it? Sister White is clearly using "derive" to mean a "dependence." Thus the dictionary definition of drawing from "as in a regular course or channel" or receiving from a source "by a regular conveyance" is her meaning here. So angels and men are dependent recipients. 

"Satan WAS DEPENDENT on God for his life. He resolved to ignore this dependence, but he could not destroy the fact. He could cease to be loyal and true, cease to be the means of communicating hallowed influences, but he could never be that which he told his companions he would be,—the center of influence. {RH April 16, 1901, par. 3

“No one of the angels could become a substitute and surety for the human race, FOR THEIR LIFE IS GOD’S; THEY COULD NOT SURRENDER IT. On Christ alone the human family depended for their existence. HE IS THE ETERNAL, SELF-EXISTENT SON, on whom no yoke had come. When God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Christ alone of the angelic host could reply, “Here am I; send Me.” He alone had covenanted before the foundation of the world to become a surety for man. He could say that which not the highest angel could say—“I have power over my own life. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” {Ms101-1897.28}


The very life of God the Father is in His Son. Christ has said, "I LIVE BY THE FATHER, MY LIFE AND HIS BEING ONE." It is life original because it is God's very own life, not a newly created life. Christ was begotten by God wherein He has the same, equal attributes as the Father. Thus, by the virtue of His inheritance, God's original life was given Him "to have life in Himself." It is life unborrowed because if you give someone something to borrow they are obligated to return it but the life of God which Christ received was given to Him permanently as His own to keep, to do with it as He pleases, and by extension, could confer it unto the redeemed. Finally, Christ's life is underived for Christ is "self-existent"; His life is not dependent by the Father to sustain it but is self-sustaining.

"The Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, is truly God in infinity, but not in personality. He has wrought out the righteousness that enables human beings to overcome every assault of Satan. He will impute His righteousness to the believing saint who walks as He walked when on earth." {Ms116-1905.19}

"The mightiest human being, whatever may be his claim, is not infinite. He cannot understand infinity. Christ plainly stated, “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” A teacher was once endeavoring to present the exaltation of God, when a voice was heard, saying, “We cannot as yet understand who He is.” The teacher nobly replied, “Were I able fully to set forth God, I should either be a God myself, or God Himself would cease to be God.” {7BC 913.8}

"Connected with God, every instructor will exert an influence to lead his pupils to study God’s word, and to obey his law. He will direct their minds to the contemplation of eternal interests, and open before them vast fields for thought; grand and ennobling themes, which the most vigorous intellect may put forth all its powers to grasp, and yet feel that there is an infinity beyond." {CE 40.3}

For a related topic, click HERE for "Self Existent" article