951753

This Site Is No Longer Active

Check out RESTITUTIO.org for new blog entries and podcasts. Feel free to browse through our content here, but we are no longer adding new posts.


Jesus is the Son of God

  

Thinking Biblically about One of the Most Important Titles in the Bible

As Christians, we are so used to calling Jesus the Son of God that we can easily forget that the phrase “Son of God” has serious theological and biblical content. Though most believers conflate “Son of God” with “God the Son” and interchange a biblical notion for a philosophical one, I contend that it is a much better strategy to ground our conception in Scripture alone. In order to investigate divine sonship, I will first look at the two predominant prototypes—Adam and David—before moving on to think about how Jesus combines both layers of meaning. First, we begin in the beginning.

Adam was the first son of God (Luke 3:38). He had neither human father nor mother, but was specially created by God Himself. As such, Adam represents one archetype for sonship. God made Adam according to His own image from the dust of the ground. Into his nostrils the Almighty Creator Himself breathed the very breath of life (Gen. 1:26; 2:7). This intimate moment of “birth,” his beginning point, was unlike all humans who would follow. Adam began life without the impedance of any defect that could cause separation or alienation from his Father. As a result, he enjoyed perfect communion with God in the garden—a relationship untainted by sin, guilt, lust, fear, pride, greed, or selfishness. Though we all would like to know just how long Adam enjoyed basking in God’s presence prior to the first sin, Scripture is silent on this issue. Was it only a day, a week, a year? However long it was, for that time, Adam experienced what it meant to be unified with God in every way. Nevertheless, the moment he ate from the forbidden tree, he was different; he experienced shame and fear. We will return to Adam, but for now we must turn our attention to our second prototype.

Many centuries later after Saul had fallen from his God-given position as king over the holy people, Israel, Samuel anointed a young shepherd boy with oil. David would become one of the greatest heroes in biblical history. A great lover of God and a model of fidelity, he is the one to whom all subsequent good kings would be compared. A poet, to whom seventy-three (nearly half) of the psalms are attributed, David yearned for intimacy with Yahweh and loved Him with every fiber of his being. A warrior, an administrator, a musician, and a deeply pious and devoted man, he is the archetypal messiah (anointed king). In fact, one of the prime designations for messiah is “the son of David.” He not only founded Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but he also brought the Ark of the Covenant there so that Yahweh’s worship would be central to the nascent monarchy. In those days, as it had been from the time of Moses, the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a portable tent. However, David decided he wanted to build a magnificent house for God. In response to this intention, God sent Nathan the prophet with the message:

1 Chron. 17:4-6, 10-14
4 …”You shall not build a house for Me to dwell in; 5 for I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day, but I have gone from tent to tent and from one dwelling place to another. 6 “In all places where I have walked with all Israel, have I spoken a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd My people, saying, ‘Why have you not built for Me a house of cedar?'”‘…10 …Moreover, I tell you that the LORD will build a house for you. 11 “When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 “He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 “I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. 14 “But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.”‘”

This promise, known as the Davidic Covenant, foretells that David’s descendant would build God’s house, reign on the throne forever, and be called the Son of God. Thus, David serves as a second archetype for the coming Son of God. This second layer of meaning explains why the terms “Son of God,” “son of David,” and “Messiah/Christ” are used interchangeably in Scripture. But, before moving on to look at how this all relates to Jesus, we must turn our attention to the second Psalm.

Psalm 2:2, 6-8
2 The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, … 6 “But as for Me [God], I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.

This messianic psalm clearly sets forth the notion that God’s anointed one (messiah) is destined to rule as king on Zion (Jerusalem) over the nations (Gentiles) to the very ends of the earth. Furthermore, this Messiah is called God’s begotten Son. According to Acts 4:25, the second Psalm was written by none other than king David, to whom the similar promise was made about his descendant ruling over the kingdom forever. With this background concerning Adam and the promised son of David, we now turn to the birth narrative in Luke’s Gospel.

Luke 1:26-35
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary… 30 And the angel said to her, “…31 you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.

In this one magnificent announcement, Gabriel weaves together these two biblical ideas of “Son of God” and applies them to the virgin Mary’s future child. Like Adam, he will not have a human father; he will be the creation of God Himself. The text is emphatic in making the point that the child will be called the Son of God precisely because his conception resulted from God’s miraculous involvement (Luke 1:35). There are several incidences recorded in Scripture when godly parents struggled to conceive: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Elkanah and Hannah, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Yet, unlike these birth miracles, since the first two humans, no one has ever been born without a human father—until the second Adam was born. This layer of meaning, what could be called the literal sense of “Son of God,” is significant not only when Paul speaks of Jesus as the second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-23, 45-49) but also when thinking about how Jesus could have lived without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). When we think of Jesus’ capability to live impeccably, we should think of him in the same category as Adam prior to the Fall. As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to tell how long Adam enjoyed an unimpeded relationship with God, but we know that there was at least some time when both Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect standing before their Creator. This gives us a framework to conceive of God’s second Son, divinely procreated, who continued living in such a sinless state by never succumbing to temptation.

The annunciation of Gabriel also includes several references to the Davidic conception of “Son of God.” Firstly, Mary is explicitly identified as a descendant of King David. Secondly, Gabriel foretells that Mary’s future son will be “the Son of the Most High,” the one to whom God will give “the throne of his father David,” and the one whose rule over the kingdom will never end. Both the Davidic covenant and the oracle from the second Psalm are echoed here. Jesus will be both son of David and Son of God. He is destined to fulfill the role of God’s anointed (Messiah) and rule over both Jacob (Israel) and the nations (Gentiles). This second, very Jewish layer of meaning is indispensible when thinking about Jesus as the Son of God. The following Scriptures further illustrate how the titles “Messiah/Christ,” “Son of God,” and “Son of David” were interchangeable in first century Judaism, especially among Christ followers.

Mat. 22:42
“What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.”

Mat. 26:63
But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Luke 4:41
Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ.

John 7:42
“Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

(Also see Mark 1:1; Mat. 1:1; 16:16; John 11:27; 20:31; Rom. 1:3-4; Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:19; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:13; Heb. 5:5; 1 John 1:3; 3:23; 5:20; 2 John 1:3, 9.)

Thus, Jesus is the Son of God in two senses: (1) he is literally the one whom God begat through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and (2) he is the long promised Davidic descendant who is destined to reign eternally over the entire world from Zion. In contrast to these two meanings, most Christians attach a different meaning to the phrase “Son of God” by accepting the doctrine of eternal generation. Simply put, this is the idea that God the Father begat the Son, but not in time such that he has no beginning. As a result, this post-biblical redefinition of “Son of God” mutated the dual layers of meaning presented in Scripture into a mysterious eternally existent “God the Son.” Sadly, such a belief has overwhelmed and replaced the biblical meanings as plainly stated in Scripture. Strangely enough, the philosophical scaffolding for eternal generation was erected by pagan neo-Platonist philosophers and adopted by the Church. But, in their zeal to utilize the cutting edge philosophy of their day, I fear they reinvented Jesus by substituting an otherworldly co-eternal God for the second Adam and long awaited descendant of David. Surely, it is time to restore this phrase to its biblical meaning.

19 Responses to “Jesus is the Son of God”

  1. on 19 Jun 2010 at 12:45 pmFiona

    Hi Sean
    Thanks for a lovely article. I can’t help thinking that an awful lot of the blame for this omission is to be placed on many modern-day churches not using, or encouraging congregants to use, the Hebrew scriptures. If Christians are not acquainted with and familiar with, the Old Testament, how will they know of the close ties between Adam, David, and Jesus. Jesus is taught in isolation,as if He were an “after thought” of God. It’s a bit like seeing the end of the movie, and not the start- you are left wondering what happened in the beginning. Let’s pray that people remember that Jesus was a Jew!
    Fiona

  2. on 19 Jun 2010 at 1:15 pmSean

    Fiona,

    Excellent points! As Christians we are typically like fishes out of water when reading the Tanakh, but this need not be so. Furthermore, we need not read the Old Testament christologically as if every single thing is an allegory for Christ. I say we take the Hebrew Scriptures as foundational for our understanding of God, the patriarchs (esp. Abraham), the old covenant (Torah), the monarchy, prophecy, the messiah, the kingdom, etc., and then see the New Testament as the outgrowth of it.

  3. on 19 Jun 2010 at 7:32 pmXavier

    Sean

    Could someone write or put up previous articles pertaining to church ordinanze [elders vs elder] and practice [women baptism etc.]?

  4. on 19 Jun 2010 at 9:03 pmRay

    To say that all Christians who believe Jesus was with God from eternity do so because of pagan ideas which were incorporated into Christianinty is false. It’s simply not true.

    Some Christians have the belief that Jesus was with God before the world was because of scripture verses they have read and believed.

  5. on 19 Jun 2010 at 10:06 pmXavier

    Ray

    Some “Christians” also believe in the immortal soul and a triune God. As well as God the Father having many wifes.

    Discern who is your brethren friend.

  6. on 21 Jun 2010 at 10:26 amSean

    Ray,

    The concept under discussion was eternal generation not merely eternality. You cannot find eternal generation in Scripture, but you can find it in Plotinus’ pagan philosophy.

  7. on 21 Jun 2010 at 2:10 pmMichael

    Sean writes…no one has ever been born without a human father—until the second Adam was born. This layer of meaning, what could be called the literal sense of “Son of God”

    Response- Of course “what could be called the literal sense of “Son of God” is not the literal sense of “Son of God” since you believe that there is no ontological connection between God the Father and His Son.

    Why attempt to insert the word literal when describing Jesus as the Son of God when you write “the titles “Messiah/Christ,” “Son of God,” and “Son of David” were interchangeable”?

  8. on 22 Jun 2010 at 11:03 amSean

    Michael,

    We’ve been around this linguistic hangup of yours repeatedly. God does not have children in the same way humans do. I think my words were readily intelligible. God created Christ, this was Christ’s beginning, and in the Scriptures it is called “begetting.” Obviously the Son is not ontologically the same category as the Father since the Father is not human but the Son is. Do you believe in the Trinity? Also, please format your comments using the blockquote feature (click the “formatting comments” tab at the top of the page for instructions); it would make your particular style of response easier to read.

  9. on 22 Jun 2010 at 1:11 pmMark C.

    Perhaps the difficulty lies in terminology, considering the vagueness in the use of the word “ontological.” Is being “ontologically the same category,” as Sean said, the same thing as having an “ontological connection” between God and His Son, as Michael said? Probably not. “Ontological” is defined as, “relating to or based upon being or existence” (Merriam-Webster). So Jesus and God don’t “exist” in the same state or category, but there is an “ontological connection” in that God caused Jesus to exist, in a way that is called “begetting” in the Bible (the specifics of which are clearly defined in Matthew and Luke). Perhaps this will help to clarify.

  10. on 22 Jun 2010 at 2:18 pmSean

    Thank you Mark for pointing that out. There is certainly a causal connection between Father and Son, with respect to the Son’s being. I don’t think this is what Michael is talking about. Do you know, does he believe in the doctrine of eternal generation such as confessed by the classic definitions of the Trinity?

    Also, I wanted to address Michael’s point about the title Messiah, Son of God, and Son of David being used interchangeably. I labored to clarify that when Jesus is called the “Son of God” there are at least two layers of meaning. One of those layers does in fact relate to the Davidic Covenant, which is why “Son of God” can be used interchangeably with “Anointed” or “Messiah/Christ” or “Son of David.” Still each of these titles carries with it a distinctive nuance and they are not exact synonyms.

  11. on 22 Jun 2010 at 2:50 pmMark C.

    Sean,

    I don’t what Michael believes in. It would be helpful if he would clarify that.

    I agree about the 2 levels of meaning for the term”Son of God.” Some on this blog are of the opinion that it is only a title relating to his being Messiah, but I believe (as do you) that there is also a literal sense in which Jesus is God’s only-begotten son, as defined in Matthew and Luke.

  12. on 22 Jun 2010 at 3:25 pmrobert

    As far as i see it Michael has a extremely valid point , its his motives for bringing the point to light thats questionable.
    I think it might be to show that there really isnt much difference between the average unitarian belief and the trinitarian belief because in both Jesus has a divine beginning making him more than a human under any definition , ontological or biological.
    This makes the actions of Jesus before his baptism of no value because his status as being half God was the reason why he was perfect not his love for his God and God’s ways.

  13. on 22 Jun 2010 at 9:36 pmRay

    Sean, you list two senses in which Jesus is the Son of God though there are more in the scriptures. If one limits his understanding to those two senses he will not much understand how it is that Jesus is God’s Son.

  14. on 23 Jun 2010 at 1:46 amMichael

    Sean writes…please format your comments using the block quote feature.

    Response- I will practice sometime please put up with me for now.

    Sean writes…God does not have children in the same way humans do.

    Response- How does God have children?

    Robert writes…As far as I see it Michael has an extremely valid point, it’s his motives for bringing the point to light that’s questionable.

    Response- How can you have a questionable motive for bringing a valid point to light?

  15. on 23 Jun 2010 at 2:36 amXavier

    Michael

    How does God have children?

    For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your [legal] adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Rom 8.12-17

  16. on 23 Jun 2010 at 4:19 amMark C.

    How does God have children?

    Xavier’s quotation of Rom 8.12-17 is how we become God’s children, but the issue here is how He begot His Son Jesus. Matthew and Luke describe it quite clearly.

    Matthew 1:
    18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
    19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
    20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
    21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
    22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
    23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
    24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,
    25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

    Luke 1:
    26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,
    27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
    28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
    29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.
    30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.
    31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
    32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
    33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
    34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
    35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

  17. on 23 Jun 2010 at 6:41 amMichael

    Mark writes…Xavier’s quotation of Rom 8.12-17 is how we become God’s children, but the issue here is how He begot His Son Jesus.

    Response- Slow down, that’s it! Romans 8:12-17 now let’s move on! Scripture has a lot more to say on the subject and we could learn something from looking at it a little closer. What about seed, does that have anything to do with being born of God?

  18. on 23 Jun 2010 at 10:28 amXavier

    Michael

    What about seed, does that have anything to do with being born of God?

    What the Bible means by “the seed” is found in Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mat 13. The seed is the Gospel about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 3:2; 4:17, 23; 24:14; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2, 6, 11, 60; 10:9; 16:16; Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31).

    A variety of interchangeable phrases describe the same Gospel about the Kingdom:

    = THE WORD ABOUT THE KINGDOM (Matt. 13:19; see 2 Tim. 4:1, 2; Rev. 1:9)

    = THE GOSPEL OF GOD (Mark 1:14 = “Believe in the Kingdom,” v. 15; Rom. 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor. 11:7; 1 Thess. 2:2, 8, 9; 1 Pet. 4:17)

    = THE GOSPEL (Matt. 11:5; Mark 13:10; 14:9; 16:15; Luke 3:18; 4:18; 7:22; 9:6; + 80 times)

    = THIS GOSPEL ABOUT THE KINGDOM (Matt. 24:14)

    = THIS GOSPEL (Matt. 26:13)

    = THE GOSPEL OF THE GRACE OF GOD (Acts 20:24)

    = PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM (Acts 20:25)

    = DECLARING THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD (Acts 20:27)

    = THE GOSPEL OF SALVATION (Eph. 1:13; Rom. 1:16)

    = THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST (Mark 1:1)

    = THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST (2 Cor. 9:13)

    = THE GOSPEL OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST (2 Cor. 4:4)

    = THE GOSPEL OF THE BLESSED GOD (1 Tim. 1:11)

    = THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL (Eph. 6:19; see Rom. 16:25)

    = YOUR (GOD’S) WORD(S) (John 17:6; 17:8: “Receive words”)

    = THE WORD OF GOD (37 TIMES) = HIS WORD (Tit. 1:3; 1 John 2:5)

    = THE WORD (46 times)

    = THE WORD OF TRUTH (2 Cor. 6:7; Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:18)

    = THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Tit. 1:1; Heb. 10:26)

    = THE TRUTH (50 times)

    = REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS IN JESUS’ NAME (Luke 24:47)

    = THE WORD OF THE LORD (Acts 8:25; 12:24; 13:44, 48, 49; 15:35, 36; 16:32; 19:10; 19:20; 1 Thess. 1:8; 4:15; 2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Pet. 1:25)

    = THE WORD OF THE GOSPEL (Acts 15:7)

    = OUR GOSPEL (1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3)

    = THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS (2 Thess. 1:8)

    = THE WORD OF HIS GRACE (Acts 14:3; 20:32)

    = GRACE AND TRUTH (John 1:14, 17)

    = THE WORD OF THE CROSS (1 Cor. 1:18)

    = THE WORDS OF GOD (John 3:34; 8:47; Rev. 17:17; 19:9)

    = THE WORDS OF THE LIFE OF THE COMING AGE (John
    6:68)

    = MY (JESUS’) WORD (John 5:24; 8:31, 37, 43, 51, 52; 14:23, 24; 15:20; Rev. 3:8)

    = MY (JESUS’) WORDS (Matt. 24:35; Mark 8:38; 13:31; Luke 6:47; 9:26; 21:33; John 5:47; 14:10, 24; 15:7)

    = MY TEACHING (John 7:16; 2 Tim. 3:10)

    = THESE WORDS OF MINE (Matt. 7:24, 26)

    = MY SAYINGS (John 12:47, 48)

    = MY (PAUL’S) GOSPEL (Rom. 16:25)

    = MY (PAUL’S) WORDS (Acts 26:25)

    = MY (PAUL’S) MESSAGE (1 Cor. 2:4)

    = MY (PAUL’S) PREACHING (1 Cor. 2:4)

    = THE MYSTERY(IES) OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10)

    = THE PREACHING OF JESUS CHRIST (Rom. 16:25)

    = THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST (Col. 4:3; Eph. 3:4; Col. 1:27)

    = THE MYSTERY (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 1:9)

    = THE MYSTERY OF THE FAITH (1 Tim. 3:9)

    = THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS (1 Tim. 3:16)

    = THE WORD OF LIFE (Phil. 2:16; 1 John 1:1)

    = THE MYSTERY OF GOD (Rev. 10:7)

    = THE WORD OF FAITH (Rom. 10:8)

    = THE WORD OF CHRIST (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:17; Col.
    3:16)

    = THE ABIDING WORD OF GOD (1 Pet. 1:23)

    = THE IMPLANTED WORD OF GOD (James 1:21)

    = OUR REPORT (“the word of hearing”) (John 12:38; Rom.
    10:16)

    = THE FAITH (32 times)

    = THE WORD OF THIS SALVATION (Acts 13:26)

    = THIS SALVATION (1 Pet. 1:10)

    = THIS SALVATION OF GOD (Acts 28:28)

    = OUR COMMON SALVATION (Jude 1:3)

    = THE FAITH ONCE AND FOR ALL DELIVERED TO THE
    SAINTS (Jude 3)

    = THE MANIFESTATION OF TRUTH (2 Cor. 4:2)

    = THE WORD OF RECONCILIATION (2 Cor. 5:19)

    = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT (Eph. 6:17)

    = THE WORD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (Heb. 5:13)

    = THE WORD OF MY PERSEVERANCE (Rev. 3:10)

    = THE WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY (Rev. 12:11)

    = THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS (Rev. 1:2, 9; 12:17; 19:10;
    20:4)

    = THE GOSPEL ABOUT THE COMING AGE (Rev. 14:6)

  19. on 23 Jun 2010 at 5:31 pmSean

    Michael,

    Please answer my question. Do you believe in the Trinity? If not, what is your belief about the Son of God?

    thank you

  

Leave a Reply