Why is Jesus called the Son of God?
This title makes a statement about Jesus’ identity.
How are we to understand the term “son of”? Clearly it is not referring to a literal, biological child.
The Jewish people often used the term “son of” in a figurative way to show that something was closely connected with something else; see many examples of this in letter 6 of Stuart. For example, the term is often used to refer to age:
- And he that is eight days old (“son of eight days” or וּבֶן־שְׁמֹנַת יָמִים) shall be circumcised among you… (Genesis 17:12)
- Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old (“son of a year” or בֶּן־שָׁנָה)… (Exodus 12:5)
Sometimes the relation is different. Rachel called Benjamin “son of my sorrow” or the son which caused me so much sorrow (Genesis 35:18), but Jacob called him “son of my right hand” or the son who will be my helper or, as we would say my “my right-hand man.” A murderer is called a “son of a murder” or בֶּן־הַמְרַצֵּחַ (2Kings 6:32) and proud animals (Job 28:8) are called “sons of pride” בְּנֵי־שָׁחַץ. Stuart notes that this idiom is common in all the Semitic languages. source When John the Baptizer called the Pharisees “offspring of vipers” (γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν) they were not pleased for obvious reasons. (Matthew 3:7)
What does it mean to be called “the son of God?”
It means to be connected in some way with God. For example, Israel is called God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 1:10) because God had brought them into existence and preserved them through many dangers. In this sense, He was their father. In Psalm 29:1, kings are called sons of God בְּנֵי אֵלִים and in Psalm 82:6 “sons of the most high” or וּבְנֵיעֶלְיוֹן the meaning of which is that these rulers have a special power similar to God’s own power.
What then should we conclude when we note that Jesus is called the “son of God?”
It would mean that in some way, Jesus has the characteristics of God Himself. There are differences, however in the way Jesus sonship is represented from the above examples.
What are these differences?
First, the gospel writer John describes Jesus as being “only begotten” (μονογενής):
- And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. … No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:14, 18)
- “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. … “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16, 18)
- By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. (1John 4:9)
What is the significance of this term “only begotten”?
The implication is that Jesus sonship is unique; others may be called “sons of God” but His sonship is unique and different from the others. He is the Son of God in a sense in which no one else is. Westcott writes:
The point which is emphasized by the word here is evidently the absolute oneness of the Being of the Son. He stands to the Father in a relation wholly singular. He is the one only Son, the one to whom the title belongs in a sense completely unique and peculiar. The thought is centered in the Personal existence of the Son, and not in the Generation of the Son. That mystery is dealt with in another phrase. Consistently with this view the earliest Latin forms of the Creed uniformly represent the word by unicus, the only son, and not by unigenitus the only-begotten son, and this rendering has maintained its place in the Apostles’ Creed and in our English version of it. But towards the close of the fourth century in translations from the Greek unigenitus came to be substituted for unicus, and this interpretation has passed into our version of the Constantinopolitan Creed (only-begotten). source
Why does Westcott assert above that the term “only-begotten” does not imply any idea of generation?
There has been a back and forth in the history of the understanding of the proper translation of the term μονογενής. The older scholars held that μονογενής came from the word μόνος and γενναω, and thus the word “only” and “to give birth” with the combined meaning of “only-begotten.” This is reflected in the KJV translation. Later scholars corrected this, however, and asserted that μονογενής came from the word μόνος and γένος; see this defended by Mounce. Based on the above quote, Westcott also held this idea. Recently, however, Irons has produced evidence causing some to return to the previous understanding. He says that both γένος and γενναω derive from a common root which has much to do with “biological concepts of begetting, birth, and offspring.” Thus, μονογενής may be from γενος or γενναω but in either case, the idea is one of generation contrary to what Westcott has asserted above.
What can we conclude from all this?
- Jesus is the Son of God in an entirely unique sense. No one else is the son of God in the sense that Jesus is.
- Jesus is in some sense born or begotten from God.
Above, you stated that the title “son of God” tells us something about the person of Jesus. What is this?
It tells us quite a number of different things. The following list comes from Pearson.
What is the first thing?
Jesus is the Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary.
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. (Luke 1:35)
Here we may note in passing that this text assumes that the Holy Spirit is also God otherwise, Jesus would be the son of a creature and not the Son of God.
What is the second thing?
Jesus is the Son of God because He was sent on a mission by God Himself. In John 10, the Jews have taken up stones to kill Jesus. They do this because He had claimed to be the Son of God. “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30) Jesus had announced. Now, the Jews accuse Him of blasphemy because He claimed to be the Son of God. (John 10:36) Jesus responds by pointing out that He had not come to earth on a mission of His own. On the contrary, He had been sent by God Himself whom Jesus calls “His Father.” For this reason, it not wrong for Jesus to accept the title “Son of God” seeing as He had been sent on this mission by God. Jesus points to Ps 82 where God calls kings “sons of God” because they were similarly called and anointed to their office by God:
“If he called them gods [in Psalm 82], to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken [it’s authority cannot be denied]), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God‘? (John 10:35-36)
Then Jesus appeals to His miracles as signs that His Father had sent Him.
“If I do not do the works of My Father [the many miracles which Jesus did], do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works [the miracles], so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
What is the third thing?
Jesus is the Son of God because God raised Him back to life after His death. We read this in Paul’s sermon to Pisidian Antioch on his first mission journey. There Paul had just finished speaking about the resurrection. Then he moves to show how God had made this promise of resurrection already in the Old Testament. Paul starts by pointing to Psalm 2:
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this [promise] to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “You are My Son; today I have begotten You.” (Acts 13:32-33)