We began the previous discussion on Jesus’ biography by listing various titles that he had. Two of these are especially famous- 1) the Christ, i.e. the Messiah, the ‘Lamb of God’ and Saviour of the World, and 2) the Son of God; God the Son. We will look at the first of these -what God does in Jesus- in future discussions on salvation. In this session we will continue looking at who Christians believe in, concentrating on the image of the Son of God.
As we noted last time ‘Son of God’ was a familiar metaphor in the religious culture of the Hebrews, a term used generally for special people such as kings. In Christianity, while retaining this metaphorical meaning, it also took on a more literal sense in referring to Jesus as a person who is intimately related to the divine.
The development of the concept of ‘Son of God’ in the New Testament
Of the following texts:
- In what order were they written?
- At what points in Jesus’ life was he recognised as the Son of God?
A [Jesus] was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4)
B And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14)
C The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
D [The man with the unclean spirit] shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ (Mark 5:7)
E [Jesus said to his disciples] ‘How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’ Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees… [then] he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ … Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16:11-16)
F Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in Jordan… And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:8, 10)
G Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Mark 15:37-9)
1. Order: A, G, F, D, E, C, B. (Probably)
2. Before he was born: C; at his birth: B; at his baptism: F; as an exorcist: D; as a critic of religion: E; at his death: G; at his resurrection: A.
- What strikes you as significant about this?
Rowan Williams, (2007), Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief, Canterbury Press, Norwich, p. 27:
“The life of Jesus of Nazareth, 2000 years ago, was seen by those who were closest to him as the key to God’s nature and intentions… Within a few decades of the crucifixion, it was possible to say that in him ‘all the fullness of God was embodied’ (Colossians 1:19). Here is a human life so shot through with the purposes of God, so transparent of the action of God, that people speak of it as God’s life ‘translated’ into another medium [namely humankind].”
The Culmination of Son of God Imagery
While the imagery of Son of God is thoroughly Hebrew and consequently is popular in the Synoptic Gospels, the more theologically sophisticated Johannine presentation of Christ as the incarnate Logos owes more to Greek philosophy. As Nicholas Lash points out it is this latter ‘high Christology‘ and not that of the Son which is emphasised in the Nicene Creed (c.325 AD): “I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, begotten of his father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.”
So the Christian does not propose that Christ is really God’s son; because God never gave birth to him, Christ- the Logos has always been an aspect of God.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Ch. 2:
“[That] is how Theology started. People already knew about God in a vague way. Then came a man who claimed to be God; and yet He was not the sort of man you could dismiss as a lunatic. He made them believe Him. They met Him again after they had seen Him killed. And then, after they had been formed into a little society or community, they found God somehow inside them as well: directing them, making them able to do things they could not do before. And when they worked it all out they found they had arrived at the Christian definition of the three-personal God.”
So what the Christian does propose is that Christ is really ‘God the Son’, one of the three persons (the second) of a three-personal (triune) God.
Another theologian, Don Cupitt, argues that the reason that the title of Son of God remained dominant after the dogmatic definition of the Trinity is that it was easy for uneducated lay people to understand because family relationships were important to the ordinary population of Imperial Rome, whereas Greek philosophy was not.
Christians as the Adopted Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, the Son:
The image of Sonship also remains important for understanding the Church and salvation:
“So that we might receive adoption as children… God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)