Son of God

Son of God is a phrase found in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), various other Jewish texts and the New Testament. In the holy Hebrew scriptures, according to Jewish religious tradition, it is related to many diverse subjects, as to angels, humans and even all mankind. According to most Christian traditions, it refers to the relationship between Jesus and God, see God the Son, as well as a relationship achievable by believing Christians: "to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God".[1]

Similar terminology was present before, during and after the Ministry of Jesus and in his cultural and historical background. The Roman emperor Augustus was called "divi filius" (son of the deified Julius Caesar):[2] "Divi filius", not "Dei filius" (son of God), was the Latin term used.[3] In Greek, the term huios theou was applied to both,[4] but, while huios theou is used of Jesus three times in the New Testament, he is usually described as ho huios tou theou, not just "a son of God", but "the son of God".[5] especially in professions of faith such as Acts 8:37, 9:20, 1 John 4:15, 5:5 and John 20:31.

It is generally agreed that the language Jesus ordinarily spoke was Aramaic, even if he perhaps also spoke some Greek (see Aramaic of Jesus). (In spite of the consensus reported in that article, one source claims: "The hypothesis -- often aired in the last two centuries -- that Jesus spoke Greek or Latin is impossible to accept" [1].) If in that language he called himself "a son of God" or "the Son of God", a description that the New Testament writers frequently apply to him, while attributing it to Jesus himself in very few instances (see "New Testament passages" below), the question of the exact form of words he would have used is a matter of hypothesis. Unless it is held that Jesus, unlike contemporary Jews, was a polytheist, the expression "בר־אלהין" (bar-elahîn) is excluded by a study by Doug Kutilek that explains that that phrase means "son of the gods", not "Son of God".[6]

Historians believe Alexander the Great implied he was a demigod by actively using the title "Son of AmmonZeus". (His mother Olympias was said to have declared that Zeus impregnated her while she slept under an oak tree sacred to the god.) The title was bestowed upon him by Egyptian priests of the god Ammon at the Oracle of the god at the Siwah oasis in the Libyan Desert[7] The title was also used of wonder-workers.[8]

While rulers and heroes were treated as sons of some particular god among a polytheistic many (Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hermes, Ares, etc.), Jesus was for the monotheistic Christians the son of the one God, i.e. Yahweh or God the Father.

By historical method

In the Gospels, the being of Jesus as "son of God", corresponds exactly to the typical Hasid from Galilee, a "pious" holy man that by divine intervention performs miracles and exorcisms,[9][10] an opinion not shared by all (see, below, "Son of God" in the New Testament).

"Sons of God" according to Judaism

In the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the phrase "son(s) of God" has an unknown meaning: there are a number of later interpretations. Our translation most likely comes from the Septuagint, which uses the phrase "Uioi Tou Theou", "Sons of God", to translate it.[11]

  • The Hebrew phrase Benei Elohim, often translated as "sons of God", is seen by some to describe angels or immensely powerful human beings. The notion of the word as describing non-divine beings most likely comes from the Targumic Aramaic translation, which uses the phrases "sons of nobles", "Bnei Ravrevaya" in its translation. See Genesis 6:2-4 and Book of Job 1:6. Many Bible scholars believe that this reflects usage in pre-Biblical near-eastern mythology.[citation needed]
  • It is used to denote a human judge or ruler (Psalm 82:6, "children of the Most High"; in many passages "gods" and "judges" can seem to be equations). In a more specialized sense, "son of God" is a title applied only to the real or ideal king over Israel (II Samuel 7: 14, with reference to King David and those of his descendants who carried on his dynasty; comp. Psalm 89:27, 28).
  • Israel as a people is called God's "son", using the singular form (comp. Exodus 4: 22 and Hosea 11:1).

In Judaism the term "son of God" is rarely used in the sense of "messiah, or anointed ones." Psalm 2 refers to God's appointed king of Zion as both God's messiah (an anointed king) and like a son of God.

In the Jewish literature that was not finally accepted as part of the Hebrew Bible, but that many Christians do accept as Scripture (see Deuterocanonical books, there are passages in which the title "son of God" is given to the anointed person or Messiah (see Enoch, 55:2; IV Esdras 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52; 14:9). The title belongs also to any one whose piety has placed him in a filial relation to God (see Wisdom 2:13, 16, 18; 5:5, where "the sons of God" are identical with "the saints"; comp. Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] iv. 10).

It has been speculated that it was because of the frequent use of these books by the Early Christians in polemics with Jews, that the Sanhedrin at Yavneh rejected them around AD 80.

"Son of God" in the New Testament

Throughout the New Testament (see "New Testament passages", below) the phrase "son of God" is applied repeatedly, in the singular, only to Jesus. In Luke 3:38 (the end of the genealogy tracing Jesus' ancestry back to Adam), it could be argued that Adam is implicitly called son of God.[12] called a son of God. "Sons of God" is applied to others only in the plural.[13] The New Testament calls Jesus God's "only begotten son" (John 1:8, 1 John 4:9), "his own son" (Romans 8:3). It also refers to Jesus simply as "the son", especially when "the Father" is used to refer to God, as in the phrase "the Father and the Son" (2 John 1:9, Matthew 28:19).

John Dominic Crossan's interpretation

John Dominic Crossan writing in God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (2007), says, early in the book, that "(t)here was a human being in the first century who was called 'Divine,' 'Son of God,' 'God,' and 'God from God,' whose titles were 'Lord,' 'Redeemer,' 'Liberator,' and 'Saviour of the World.'" "(M)ost Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus." Crossan cites the adoption of them by the early Christians to apply to Jesus as denying them of Caesar the Augustus. "They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majistas and we call high treason. " [14]

Emperor Augustus as son of a god, not Son of God

In 42 BC, Julius Caesar was formally deified as "the divine Julius" (divus Iulius),[15] His adopted son, Octavian (better known by the title "Augustus" given to him 15 years later, in 27 BC) thus became known as "divi Iuli filius" (son of the divine Julius)[16] or simply "divi filius" (son of the god).[17] He used this title to advance his political position, finally overcoming all rivals for power within the Roman state.[18] The title was for him "a useful propaganda tool", and was displayed on the coins that he issued.[19]

The word applied to Julius Caesar as deified is "divus", not the distinct word "deus".[20] Thus Augustus was called "Divi filius", but never "Dei filius", the expression applied to Jesus in the Vulgate translation of the New Testament, as, for instance, in 1 John 5:5, and in earlier Latin translations, as shown by the Vetus Latina text "Inicium evangelii Ihesu Christi filii dei" preserved in the Codex Gigas. As son of Julius Caesar, Augustus was referred to as the son of a god, not as the son of God, which was how the monotheistic Christians referred to Jesus.[21]

Greek did not have a distinction corresponding to that in Latin between "divus" and "deus". "Divus" was thus translated as "θεός", the same word used for the Olympian gods, and "divi filius" as "θεο υός" (theou huios),[22] which, since it does not include the Greek article, in a polytheistic context referred to sonship of a god among many, to Julius Caesar in the case of the "divi filius" Augustus. In the monotheistic context of the New Testament, the same phrase[23] can refer to sonship of the one God.[24] Indeed, in the New Testament, Jesus is most frequently referred to as " υἱὸς το θεο" (ho huios tou theou), the son of God.[25]

Jesus as divine

In mainstream Christianity the title of Son of God is used to describe Jesus as a divine being and a member of the Trinity. The idea behind this view is that God entered into his Creation in the fullest sense, by taking human form in the flesh. Thus, because God is Jesus' Father and his Father is divine, Jesus is also divine. (In the same way, because Jesus' mother is human, he is human. This logic reflects rather the plurality of God than his unity and is often referred to as the Hypostatic Union) Some also see the title as an oblique reference to Proverbs 30:4. The New Testament refers to or implies the deity of Jesus in, for example, Hebrews 1:8, which quotes Psalm 45:6 and interprets it as a confirmation of Jesus' divinity by God the Father. In John 8:58, Jesus states, "Before Abraham was, I am," implying his divinity both by claiming existence prior to his earthly conception, and by referencing God's name "I am" (revealed in Exodus 3:14) in such a way as to suggest that it applied to himself. However other passages, such as John 14:28 or Matthew 19:17, may be perceived as showing that Jesus as the Son of God is not identifiable with or equal to God[26]. The title of Son of God is used by some groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not view the title as implying that Jesus is himself God or equal to God.

Jesus as godly

A few Christian scholars[citation needed] hold that in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus styled himself the Son of God in the same sense as any righteous persons might call themselves "sons" or "children" of God. However, while many of the Israelites portrayed in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible speak in the name of God ("The LORD says this ..."), Jesus often spoke by his own authority (for example, "Truly, I teach to you ..."). He also claimed to hold the power to forgive sins, a power notioned by Judaism as belonging solely to God (as the commandment says " other God but me..."). A central tenet of Pharisaic Judaism is that each person has the power, indeed the obligation, to forgive sins of others, but only those committed against themselves: see also Christianity and Judaism, Discourse on ostentation#Prayer.

In either case, Christians point out that this interpretation does not conflict with the New Testament's portrayal of Jesus as more than merely human and, in their view, both human and divine, as indicated by the miraculous resurrection of God-the-Son from the realm of the dead, miracle-working, forgiveness of sins, and judgement over all people.

Jesus as the Messiah

The description "son of God" is applied in the Old Testament and other Jewish writings to kings and in particular to the awaited Messiah (a word that literally means an anointed person and that in the Old Testament was applied to kings and other leaders and that was translated into Greek as Χριστός (Christos), a word of similar meaning that is at the origin of the English word "Christ").

The title of Messiah or Christ was considered to apply to a political office. The New Testament might thus be understood as threatening the political authority of Caesar, who used the title "Divi Filius" (son of the deified preceding emperor) as shown in literature, coinage and lapidary inscriptions of the time. See also Render unto Caesar....


In the Gospel of John, the author writes that "to all who believed him and accepted him [Jesus], he gave the right to become children of God" [John 1:12]. The phrase "children of God" is used ten times in the New Testament.[27] To these can be added the five times, mentioned above, in which the New Testament speaks of "sons of God". As is evident "a son of God" may be taken to refer to one of the "sons of God" or "children of God", taken as referring to all humankind or all Christians or some more limited group.

"Son of a god" in other belief systems

Human or part-human offspring of deities are very common in other religions and mythologies. A great many pantheons also included genealogies in which various gods were descended from other gods, and so the term "son of a god" may be applied to many deities themselves.

Ancient mythology contains many characters with both a human parent and a god parent. They include Hercules, whose father was Zeus, and Virgil's Aeneas, whose mother was Venus.

In the Greek and Roman cultures in which early Christianity expanded after first arising within Judaism, the concepts of demi-gods, sons or daughters of a god, as in the story of Perseus, were commonly known and accepted. In the Rastafari movement it is Haile Selassie who is considered to be God the Son, as a part of the Holy Trinity. He himself never accepted the idea officially.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest recorded legends of humanity, Gilgamesh claimed to be of both human and divine descent.

New Testament passages

The devil or demons calling Jesus Son of God

Humans, including the New Testament writers, calling Jesus Son of God

Attributed to Jesus himself

Unclear whether attributed to Jesus himself or only a comment of the evangelist

  • υις το θεο (ho huios tou theou)
    • John 3:18 - with "μονογενής" (only-begotten)

Jesus referred to as υιός (ho huios)


  1. ^ John 1:12
  2. ^ Augustus. The Facts
  3. ^ See Lewis and Short for the meanings of "divus". The distinction is remarked on also in the online Encyclopaedia Britannica: "It became customary — if emperors (and empresses) were approved of in their lives — to raise them to divinity after their deaths. They were called divi, not dei like the Olympian gods".
  4. ^ Borg, Marcus, and Crossan, Dominic, The First Christmas, HarperCollins, 2007, p. 96
  5. ^ The meaning of the words " υἱὸς το θεο" is here indicated, with a source for each word, in response to the insistence of User:Eschoir at 05:53 on 20 October 2007:

: "The definite article, the" (William W. Goodwin, A Greek Grammar, §386);

υός: "son" (Liddell and Scott);

το: Genitive case of the article, "the" (William W. Goodwin, A Greek Grammar, §386);

θεο: Genitive case of θεός, "a deity, especially (with the article) the supreme Divinity" (Strong's Greek Lexicon).

  1. ^ Following is the text of Doug Kutilek:

Aramaic (also sometimes called Chaldee and Syriac) and Hebrew are sister Semitic languages (the family also includes Arabic, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Ethiopic, Phoenecian and a few even more obscure tongues). As a result, Aramaic and Hebrew have a number of related words and also have similar, but not identical, grammar. One of their differences is crucial at this point.

In the Aramaic original of Daniel 3:25, the phrase represented in English by “the Son of God/a son of the gods” is bar-elahin. Bar is a singular noun, meaning “son” and is commonly found in the New Testament, for example, in proper names: Barnabas, Barabbas, Bar-Jonah, etc., literally meaning “the son of X.” Its equivalent in Hebrew is ben, as in Benjamin, Ben-Hur, and Ben Gurion. Bar is here in the construct state, meaning it is grammatically joined to the word that follows it, and therefore means “son of.” So far, no problem.

Elahin is a masculine plural noun, denoting “gods”; the singular form is elah, or, with the definite article attached, elaha. The Arabic equivalent in allah. The Hebrew equivalent of elahin is elohim. But just here, usage in Hebrew and in Aramaic diverge. In Hebrew, though plural in form, the word elohim is the usual word for God (as in Genesis 1:1 and thousands of other places). Less commonly, it (that is the plural form) is also used of false gods (plural), and of human civil authorities. There is in Hebrew a singular counterpart to elohim, namely eloah, but it is comparatively rare in the OT, occurring just 57 times, with all but 15 of these being in Job, which displays numerous dialectic and linguistic peculiarities. Nearly all the rest are in poetic parts of the OT, or in passages influenced by Aramaic.

When we examine the Aramaic portion of the OT (besides Daniel 2:4b-7:28, Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26 and Jeremiah 10:11 are also in Aramaic), we discover that there is a clear distinction between the use of the plural form elahin and the singular elaha. When the true God is spoken of, the singular elaha is invariably used (the singular is also used of false gods when referred to individually, as in Daniel 3:14; 4:5; etc.). The plural form elahin is used only of false gods, especially in the phrase, “the spirit of the holy gods” (4:5; 4:6; 5:11; etc.), words spoken by pagan polytheists from their perspective. The use of the plural form with reference to the one true God does not occur in the Aramaic portion of the OT. It must also be noted that the phrase bar-elahin in Daniel 3:25 does not have the definite article in the original Aramaic; that would be bar-elahayya.

Taken together, these facts--namely, that elahin is plural, and has no definite article here--combine to show that to translate bar-elahin as “the Son of God” is to overtranslate the words, indeed to mistranslate them. The precise, literal English equivalent of bar-elahin is “a son of the gods,” as the ASV, NASB and NIV have it. It should not surprise us to find a pagan king who acknowledged and worshipped many gods speaking of the appearance of a supernatural person as “a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar was yet a pagan (he had just erected an idol of gold and compelled his subjects to worship it). In Daniel 3:28, the king refers once again to the fourth man in the furnace, this time by the designation “angel,” which suggests that the two terms, “angel” and “a son of the gods,” were synonymous designations.

Let us consider briefly how this phrase was handled in pre-KJV translations.

There exist two major pre-Christian Greek versions of Daniel (several others exist only in fragmentary quotes), that of the Septuagint (now preserved in only two manuscripts and a Syriac version; it was early on abandoned by the Christians in favor of the other Greek version). The other is ascribed to Theodotion, though it precedes his time by at least 2 centuries (it is this version which is found in virtually all extant manuscripts of the “Septuagint”).

The Septuagint, apparently under the influence of v. 28, translates bar-elahin as aggelou theou, which in English could be either “an angel/messenger of God,” or “an angel of a god,” (the Greek here has no definite article, and since the Greek language lacks an indefinite article, whether to supply it or leave it out in translation is a matter of interpretation and English style). Theodotion reads huio theou, which would correspond to either “a son of God,” or “a son of a god.” In both Greek versions, the Aramaic plural noun elahin is translated as though it were a singular.

  1. ^ "Not the least of the many extraordinary facts about Alexander is that both in his lifetime and after his death he was worshipped as a god, by Greeks and Ancient Macedonians as well as, for example, Egyptians (to whom he was Pharaoh). The episode that led to Callisthenes' death in 327 was connected to this fact. Greeks and Ancient Macedonians believed that formal obeisance should be paid only to gods. So the refusal of his Greek and Macedonian courtiers to pay it to Alexander implied that they, at any rate, did not believe he genuinely was a living god, at least not in the same sense as Zeus or Dionysus were. Alexander, regardless, did nothing to discourage the view that he really was divine. His claim to divine birth, not merely divine descent, was part of a total self-promotional package, which included the striking of silver medallions in India depicting him with the attributes of Zeus. Through sheer force of personality and magnitude of achievement he won over large numbers of ordinary Greeks and Macedonians to share this view of himself, and to act on it by devoting shrines to his cult."Cartledge, Paul (2004). "Alexander the Great". History Today 54: 1. 
  2. ^ Bauer lexicon, 2nd edition, 1979, page 834. In Contra Celsus VI chapter XI, Origen uses the term of the Samaritan Dositheus, without saying he was a wonder-worker, rather saying that, in the case of Dositheus, the title was self-attributed: "Such were Simon, the Magus of Samaria, and Dositheus, who was a native of the same place; since the former gave out that he was the power of God that is called great, and the latter that he was the Son of God." The Samaritan Dositheus claimed to be the Messiah, which may be what Origen meant by saying that he gave out that he was the Son of God (cf. Catholic Encyclopedia: Dositheans).
  3. ^ Vermes, Geza Jesus the Jew, Fortress Press, New York 1981. p.209
  4. ^ Paolo Flores d'Arcais, MicroMega 3/2007, p.43
  5. ^ While some hold that in previous centuries the Israelites were henotheists, by the end of the Babylonian captivity, Judaism is strictly monotheistic. The Septuagint translation is later.
  6. ^ The word "υός" (huios) is not actually used in the verse.
  7. ^ Five times explicitly (Matthew 5:9, Luke 20:36, Romans 8:14 and 8:19, Galatians 3:26, and implicitly in Galatians 4:6
  8. ^ Crossan, John Dominic, God and Empire, 2007, p. 28
  9. ^ Julius Caesar Biography
  10. ^ Inscription on Porta Tiburtina in Rome
  11. ^ Augustus (31 B.C. - 14 A.D.) by Nina C. Coppolino
  12. ^ "Ostentatiously rejecting divinity on his own account, he rose to power via Caesar's divine image instead" (Augustus, by Pat Southern, p. 63).
  13. ^ Coins of the Emperor Augustus; examples are a coin of 38 B.C. inscribed "Divi Iuli filius", and another of 31 B.C. bearing the inscription "Divi filius" (Auguste vu par lui-même et par les autres by Juliette Reid).
  14. ^ "It became customary — if emperors (and empresses) were approved of in their lives — to raise them to divinity after their deaths. They were called divi, not dei like the Olympian gods" (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
  15. ^ Writing more than a century after the death of Augustus, Suetonius included among a series of wonders associated with his birth a story recounted by a certain Asclepias of Mendes in Upper Egypt that the birth of the future emperor resulted from the impregnation of his mother, while fast asleep, by a serpent in the temple of Apollo, and that her child was therefore called a son of Apollo, an Olympian deity (a "deus"), not a "divus", the word in the title given to Augustus.
  16. ^ Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon
  17. ^ Used of Jesus in Mk 15:39; Lk 1:35; Rm 1:4
  18. ^ In that context there are no other gods to which it could refer!
  19. ^ The meaning of the words " υἱὸς το θεο" is here indicated, with a source for each word, in response to the insistence of User:Eschoir at 05:53 on 20 October 2007:

: "The definite article, the" (William W. Goodwin, A Greek Grammar, §386)

υός: "son" (Liddell and Scott)

το: Genitive case of the article, "the" (William W. Goodwin, A Greek Grammar, §386)

θεο: Genitive case of θεός, "a deity, especially (with the article) the supreme Divinity" (Strong's Greek Lexicon)

The following are instances of the use of " υἱὸς το θεο" in the New Testament: Mt 16:16; 26:63; Mk 3:11; Lk 4:41; 22:70; Jn 1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 11:4, 27; 20:31; Ac 9:20; 2 Cor 1:19; Ga 2:20; Ep 4:13; Heb 4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29; 1 Jn 3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12, 13, 20; Rv 2:18. "Υἱὸς το θεο" (huios tou theou) appears in Mt 4:3; Lk 4:3; Jn 10:36. Mark, according to most modern commentators the earliest of the gospels, uses " υἱὸς το θεο" once, attributing it to "unclean spirits" who were "making him known" (3:11-12) and "θεο υός" (theou huios) in (15:39), putting it in the mouth of a pagan centurion. In the first verse of this gospel, some manuscripts have (in the genitive case) "υἱὸς θεο " (huios theou), others "υἱὸς το θεο" (huios tou theou), others omit the phrase in either form; critical editions such as that published by the United Bible Societies therefore bracket the phrase to indicate that in the present state of New Testament textual scholarship it cannot be taken as completely certain that the phrase is part of the text. Paul the Apostle uses "θεο υός" (theou huios) of Jesus once, in Romans 1:4, a letter in which he four times (1:9, 5:10, 8:3, 8:32) refers to Jesus as "his son" (literally "the son of him", not "a son of him"). He uses "his son", with "his" referring to God, also in other letters (1 Corinthians 1:9 and Galatians 4:4, 4:6) and uses " υἱὸς το θεο" three times (2 Corinthians 1:19, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:13).

  1. ^
  2. ^ The other nine instances are John 11:52, Romans 8:16, Romans 8:21, Romans 9:8, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1-2, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 5:2
  3. ^ Only verses that contain a reference also to "the Father" are listed here.

See also

External links