The New Testament (NT) often identifies Jesus as “the Son of God.” For example, Mark begins his book, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark1.1). And at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, both times a heavenly voice announced, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3.17; 17.5). Also, in the devil’s three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, Satan prefaced two of them by saying, “If You are the Son of God” (Matthew 4.3, 6). Furthermore, when Jesus asked his apostles, “‘who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'” (Matthew 16.15-16). Finally, the author of the Gospel of Jesus concludes, “these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20.31). The central theme about Jesus’ identity in all four NT gospels is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. However, Jesus himself more often identified himself as “the Son of Man.”
Most Christians believe Jesus was God mostly because the NT calls him “the Son of God.” This belief dates back to church fathers of the second century A.D. In fact, they eventually called Jesus “God the Son.” For instance, during the late second century, Iranaeus explained, “the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God.”
Iranaeus said this on the basis of three NT texts. That is, the KJV and NASB call Jesus “the only begotten Son” in John 3.16, v. 18, and 1 John 4.9 (cf. John 1.14, 18). This traditional translation in these texts renders the expression ton huios ton monogene in the Greek New Testament. Therein, huios means “son/Son.” The etymology of monogene is that mono usually means “only” or “one,” and gene is the word from which we get our word “gene,” meaning “kind.” Thus, monogene is more properly translated “one of a kind,” meaning Jesus is God’s “one-of-a-kind Son” or “unique Son.” Accordingly, newer English Bibles, such as the NIV, NRSV, and ESV better translate this expression “only Son” in the above texts.
These church fathers claimed Jesus was God by appealing to Greek metaphysics. They thereby reasoned that if God has a Son he must be God because, when a man has a son, a man’s son becomes a man like him. This reasoning has some fallacies. But the most important issue is that the Bible does not say that Jesus being the Son of God indicates he is God. And neither does it call Jesus “God the Son.”
When the New Testament (NT) identifies Jesus as “the Son (of God),” it should be understood according to the religious culture of that time. As in the Old Testament (OT), it was meant metaphorically, not metaphysically, thus indicating no more than relationship. Nels Ferre well contends, “Jesus is not God but the Son of God.”
Jews believed their Messiah would be God’s vice-regent on earth and therefore “the son of God” extraordinaire. They did not think this unique sonship would be due to some metaphysical generation as the surrounding polytheistic nations were apt to ascribe to their gods and human kings. Rather, Jews believed that their Messiah would be God’s son in the sense that God would specially favor him as his representative.
The OT applies the expression “son(s) (of God)” to men (Genesis 6.2, 4), angels (Job 1.6; 2.1; 38.7; Deuteronomy 10.17), kings of Israel (2 Samuel 7.14), the nation of Israel (Exodus 4.22-23; cf. Isaiah 63.16; 64.8; Jeremiah 3.4, 19; 31.9), and the Messiah (Psalm 2.2, 7, 12). The NT repeatedly applies “sons (of God)” to all men who belong to God and his Christ (Matt. 5.9, 45; Luke 6.35; 20.36; Romans 8.19; 9.26; 2 Corinthians 6.18; Galatians 3.26; 4.5-6; Hebrews 2.10; 12.5, 7). But the Bible does not say this indicates they are “Gods” or “gods.” In fact, the Qumran Community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls used the titles Messiah and Son of God interchangeably. This also seems to be the case in the NT (Matt. 16.16; 26.63; John 11.27; 20.31; cf. Mark 1.1).(Occasionally, angels and men are called elohim in the Hebrew Bible [Psalm 82.1, 6; 89.6-7; 135.5; 136.2; 138.1], which is the common Hebrew word for “God.”)
Church fathers also erred by obliterating the Jews’ distinction between “God” and “the Son/son of God,” thus using them synonymously. This practice continues today. The NT never uses “Son of God” interchangeably with “God;” rather, it distinguishes them.
Church fathers taught that Jesus preexisted as the Logos-Son of God and that he came down from heaven to become the man—Jesus. It is a stretch to support this with John 1.14 which says, “the Word became flesh,” which does not necessarily mean a person. The angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that her “holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Lk 1.35), as if this refers to Jesus only as a human who did not preexist.
Some people may say the definite article included with the identification of Jesus as “the Son of God” makes him the Son of God extraordinaire. I agree. But that still does not make Jesus God. In fact, four times in the Greek NT Jesus is identified as huios (tou) theou (“Son of God”), thus without the article (Matt. 27.54; Mark 15.39; John 10.36; 19.7; cf. Matt. 4.4, 6). In John 10.36, Jesus said it himself.
(Incidentally, capitalization of “Son” and “God” in the expression “the Son of God” as applied to Jesus is not in the Greek NT. The earliest Greek manuscripts were uncials, that is, only upper case. Adding lower case to languages was invented centuries later.)
Consequently, Trinitarian N. T. Wright cautions Christians about this messianic “son (of God)” title. He explains, “in the first century the regular Jewish meaning of this title had nothing to do with an incipient Trinitarianism; it referred to the king as Israel’s representative. Israel was the son of YHWH; the [Messiah] king who would come to take her destiny on himself would share this title.” G. W. H. Lampe even goes further by rightly insisting concerning Jesus, “‘Son,’ however, suggests a being who is not God himself but who coexists beside God and acts as God’s agent.”
So, in modern times, more and more scholars, including Trinitarians, have adopted the view that Jesus being identified as “the Son of God” in the NT means pretty much that he is the Messiah/Christ of Israel and that it therefore does not indicate he is God.
In sum, Jesus being called “the Son (of God)” in the NT signifies (1) his extraordinary relationship with God, (2) God choosing and sending Jesus as his agent par excellence, and (3) Jesus’ yet future role as the Messiah-King of Israel. Finally, the NT never indicates that Jesus is God on the basis that he is the Son of God.
To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book, with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.