Jesus as Son of God

Jesus as Son of God June 20, 2016

Larry Hurtado posted last month on the title “son of God” in Paul’s writings. I thought that it would make sense to schedule a post about it to coincide with the 2016 Enoch Seminar meeting on John’s Christology and Jewish Messianism. Hurtado wrote:

The consistent feature in all of these references, however, is the use of the definite article:  Jesus for Paul is the Son of God.  This suggests that Paul saw Jesus as holding a unique sonship, and not as one member of a wider class of individuals.  But, to be sure, Paul also refers to people being made God’s sons/children through being incorporated into Jesus (e.g., Romans 8:12-30).  So, for Paul, Jesus’ status is unique but not exclusionist in effect; instead, Jesus’ divine status becomes the basis for the incorporation/inclusion of others into a filial status with God.

Jesus’ filial status seems to have been Paul’s favoured way of referring to Jesus in relation to God.  In relation to believers, Jesus is “Lord.”  In relation to God’s  eschatological purposes Jesus is also “Christ” (Messiah).  These latter two terms are used considerably more frequently by Paul as honorific terms for Jesus.  But Jesus’ filial status with God seems to have held a special place in Paul’s beliefs.

It does not seem to me that “the” can be used emphatically in ancient Greek the way it can in modern English. And so the Gospel of John’s description of Jesus as the “one of a kind Son” is more likely to bear the weight of such an emphatic meaning.

But in John, as in Paul, Jesus is depicted as welcoming others into the relationship that he has with God the Father. And in the works of both these authors, as everywhere else in the New Testament, referring to anyone as “son of God” distinguishes them from God, rather than including them within the definition or identity of God.

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  • John MacDonald

    Jesus’ prayer life in the Gospel of John suggests that for John Jesus is not identical with God, since Jesus is clearly not praying to himself.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Even with the definite article, saying Jesus is the Son in a unique way does not make him divine. Israel is God’s Son in a unique way. Jesus is the Son of Man in a way that Ezekiel wasn’t.

    The issue is that “Son of” seems to be a differentiating term. You’d never hear “X is the son of Y” and assume that meant that X and Y were identical or fused together in some weird way.

    • John MacDonald

      I think the Jews of that time would have understood “Son of God” as someone regal and specially anointed by God, not necessarily “son” in a biological sense. For instance, we read:

      (1) “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me (2 Sam. 7:12-14).”

      (2)God says to the king: “You are my son; today I have begotten you (Psalm 2, v. 7)

      Regarding being “The Son of God” in a unique sense, we also find this in the Hebrew Scriptures:

      (3) In Psalm 89, in which the psalmist indicates that David was anointed by God (that is, literally anointed with oil as a sign of God’s special favor; v. 20), he is said to be God’s “firstborn, the highest of the kings of earth (v.27).”