The phrases ‘Son of God’ and ‘sons of God’ occur fifty-nine times in the King James Version of the Bible. Only six references are found in the Old Testament, most of which refer to angels.1 In the New Testament, there are forty-six references to the Lord Jesus as the ‘Son of God’, a claim He made for Himself not only on earth, but also in resurrection, saying to the church at Thyatira, ‘these things saith the Son of God’.2
Those references that remain refer to Adam, once, and believers of the church age, six times, four of these times translating teknon, children, and twice huios, sons. Thus, in summary, there are multiple sons of God by creation (angels) and adoption (believers), but only one unique Son by nature, that is, in essence. It should be noted that there are many other references to the sonship of the Lord Jesus in terms such as ‘his Son’,3 ‘my beloved son’,4 ‘Son of the living God’5 and ‘Son of the Father’.6 The name ‘Son’ distinguishes between the Father and Spirit, and thus helps our understanding of the biblical teaching of the Trinity.
Before proceeding any further, the meaning of sonship and implications of the Lord Jesus being called the ‘Son of God’ must be established. Being the Son of God does not imply He is the offspring or child of God; it rather signifies dignity, nature and character, or, in the words of Vine, ‘the single title “Son” generally signifies that He shares in unoriginated subsistence the Father’s nature, and is the revealer of His character’.7 Again, western notions of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ language can carry implications of source, superiority and subjection8 but the Semitic and Oriental understanding is that of likeness, sameness of nature and equality of being. Thus, the name ‘Son of God’ asserts the deity of the Lord Jesus. The Jews were in no doubt that claiming God as Father was a claim to deity.9 Sons are also those who reproduce the typical or distinctive traits of their fathers. Hence, Paul speaks of true sons of Abraham, which has nothing to do with genetic descent and everything to do with acting, in genuine faith, as Abraham did, ‘they which be of faith, the same are sons of Abraham’, Gal. 3. 7 RV. In a unique way, the Lord Jesus has revealed the Father.10
This has been the subject of division amongst believers in the past. Exclusive brethren such as F. E. Raven, James Taylor Sr. and C. A. Coates propagated the teaching of incarnational sonship, that is, Christ became the Son of God at birth. If the above comments on the meaning of sonship are accepted, such a belief must acknowledge there was a time when Christ was not God! No! Scripture plainly teaches the eternal sonship of Christ. For instance, God sent ‘his only begotten Son into the world’11 - He must, therefore, have been the Son prior to His coming in! It is as the Son He speaks to His Father and says, ‘thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world’.12 In a chapter which constantly emphasizes the Father-Son relationship, John chapter 8 concludes with the glorious statement, ‘before Abraham was, I am’.13 He is eternally the Son. Then, of course, there is the irresistible logic of John chapter 1 which declares that the Word, which already existed in the beginning alongside God, and is God, distinct in person, but identical in essence, is also the Son, v. 18!
A note is necessary on the phrase ‘only begotten Son’ used five times by John. This phrase does not refer to birth, and neither does it imply Christ is a created being. The Greek is monogenes, a word that describes a unique relationship. The ‘only begotten’ is the only one of a kind - radically distinctive and without equal. And Christ filled that place from all eternity. As such, the word is used of Isaac for, though he was not Abraham’s only son, he was his unique son of promise and dearly beloved.14 John’s five references to the ‘only begotten’ are largely used in the context of love. As one who has eternally enjoyed the place of divine affection in the bosom of the Father, He is uniquely placed to reveal that love to a world of lost sinners.15 In summary, an accurate translation of monogenes would be unique and dearly beloved. Sadly, the NIV translation of the second Psalm perpetuates the false notion that there was a time when God became the Father of the Son.
It reads, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father’, but the statement, as translated by the King James Version, clearly breaks into two parts. The first, ‘Thou art my Son’ is a declaration of eternal fact. The second, ‘this day have I begotten thee’ refers to an event in time when the Lord Jesus will be publicly brought forth and affirmed as such. The phrase is really a Hebraism meaning, ‘This Son is mine’. In the context of Psalm 2, that day is the coronation of Christ as King on earth.
The Lord Jesus is the Son of God by nature. Believers are children of God by new birth, and sons of God by adoption. As far as nature is concerned, we are the ‘children of wrath’!16 Christ is the Son in a unique and exclusive sense as indicated by the double article ‘ the Son of the God’, used twenty-five times in the New Testament. Therefore, He is essentially and eternally the Son. Hence the Lord’s careful language to Mary, ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God’.17 True, He was born as a child, but given as a Son.18
Apart from Isaiah chapter 9 and Psalm 2, there is another tantalising hint of the divine Son in the Old Testament. The words of Agur in Proverbs chapter 30 present a series of six questions, the first four of which concern the identity of an omnipotent being. For example, ‘who hath established all the ends of the earth?’ The obvious answer to each question is God. The fifth question is, ‘What is his name?’ a question which could not be answered until God revealed His name as Jehovah to Moses.19 The crescendo of the final question takes the breath away, ‘and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?’ The obvious meaning is that God has a Son. His name will yet await fuller and future New Testament revelation!
Space limits our brief comments to two New Testament Epistles which emphasize the sonship, and therefore deity of Christ.
The first chapter of Colossians describes the personal glory of the ‘Son of his love’, v. 13 RV. The succeeding verses contain a series of pronouns, all of which refer to the Son and unfold fresh glories of His person. For example, it is the Son who was manifest in the flesh and through whom ‘we have redemption’ and ‘forgiveness of sins’, v. 14. It is this same Son who is the ‘image of the invisible God’, v. 15, and in whom, by whom and for whom all things were created, v. 16! He is ‘before’ all things in time, v. 17, and ‘in him’, that is as man on earth, was all the fulness of the Godhead pleased to dwell -and continues to dwell as exalted Man in heaven!20 We thank God this same glorious person is the ‘head of the body, the church’ providing control or authority, and care or nourishment, for all the members, v. 18.
Hebrews declares the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. It is therefore essential that the majesty of Christ, the Son, is established from the beginning. What glory, then, is displayed in the opening chapter and verses! God is speaking. He once spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, and used various ways and means to do so, but now, at the end of these days, has fully and finally spoken in His Son, vv. 1, 2! God has nothing more to say than what has been said in Christ.
All New Testament revelation will concern the glory and majesty of the Son. This One is the agent of creation, the outshining and radiance of the glory of God, the exact impress of the divine nature and character. All that God is, is seen in Christ! He maintains and sustains the order of the universe, and, after having once for all made purification of sins, He sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high, v. 3.
So mighty He is, He sat Himself down - it is His right.21 As Hebrews chapter 4 verse 14 declares, this One is ‘Jesus the Son of God’. And He ministers today as our Great High Priest. Note the careful language of the verse, ‘Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession’. As ‘Jesus’, He has perfect sympathy and as the ‘Son of God’ He has unlimited strength. In the words of John Ritchie, ‘Look up to heaven you crushed and burdened saints and see the mighty God engaged to bring you through. The sharpest pang you feel affects His heart; the deepest woe you bear is familiar to Him who was the Man of Sorrows.
He trod the same path Himself and met with all forms of suffering that it is possible for his saints to meet and thus His sympathy is the sympathy of the perfect Man and his power the power of the mighty God. He can be “touched” because He is Man; “He is able” because He is God’.22
See, for example, Job 1. 6; 2. 1; 38. 7.
See Matt. 27. 43; Luke 22. 70; Rev. 2. 18.
1 John 5. 11.
Eight occasions, including Matt. 3. 17 and Luke 20. 13.
Matt. 16. 16; John 6. 69.
2 John 3.
W. E. Vine, The Person and Work of Christ in Collected Writings of W. E. Vine (Vol. IV), Thomas Nelson, 1996.
The note of W. J. Hocking on the matter of subjection is valuable. He says, ‘Subjection is a feature which is essential to the character of a servant, but exceptional and voluntary in the case of a son. A son may consent to become a servant, but a servant cannot elevate himself to become a son’. Emphasis added. In W. J. HOCKING, The Son of His Love, Morrish.
John 5. 17, 18.
John 1. 18.
1 John 4. 9.
John 17. 24.
John 8. 58.
Compare Hebrews chapter 11 verse 17 which quotes from the LXX of Genesis chapter 22 verse 2.
John 3. 16.
Eph. 2. 3.
John 20. 17.
Isa. 9. 6.
Exod. 3. 14, 15; 6. 2, 3.
Cp. Col. 1. 19 and 2. 9.
And also, by divine ascent, 1. 13, with the result that He remains seated, 12. 2.
John RItchie, The Tabernacle in the Wilderness, John Ritchie, 1923.
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