Son of God (Part 1) – In The Hebrew Bible

In my last post we saw that the title Christ or Messiah, from a biblical perspective, has no implication of deity in the one bearing it. But what of the title Son of God; surely this designation puts the one bearing it in the realm of divinity! Or does it? To an “orthodox” , evangelical Christian the matter is closed; Son of God refers to Jesus’ full deity as surely as Son of Man refers to Jesus’ full humanity — case closed! But this is a much to simplistic understanding of the matter which fails to take into account all of the Scriptural data. In this post I will attempt to prove, from that Scriptural data, that the “orthodox” understanding of what “Son of God”  means is completely unwarranted, being derived not from Scripture, but from tradition which has it’s roots in Greek philosophy and early Christian Gnosticism.

Greek Philosophical vs. Hebraic Biblical Worldview

It should be obvious to every follower of Messiah Jesus that the proper way to view his coming into the world, his mission, his teachings, etc., is through the lens of the Hebrew Scriptures, which laid the foundational truth and context for that momentous event. But this is just not the case for most Christians. At the risk of redundancy I want to point out again what I said in my last post, CHRIST: Title of Divinity?, under the paragraph heading Proper Hermeneutics. Because Christians have not been trained to employ the proper hermeneutic when interpreting the NT, it may be necessary for me to remind my readers of this for a while until, hopefully, it becomes second nature. So let me spell it out again —- the ancient Hebraic culture, language, and worldview is the only proper context from which to rightly understand the NT.

Again, though this should be obvious, it has not been so since the middle of the 2nd century AD. Over the past 150 yrs. or so, many scholars and historians have documented the profound and lasting influence of Greek philosophy and Christian forms of gnosticism upon the early gentile Christian church. It is no secret among scholars of early Christianity and Gnosticism that Platonic, Hermetic, Stoic, and Gnostic philosophies exerted a tremendous influence upon developing ideas and concepts regarding God and Christ which would later be dogmatized by church councils. Much of “orthodoxy”, which today is unquestionably accepted by the majority of Christianity, turns out to be the result of a heavy Platonizing by early Gentile church fathers. These early Christian writers, all having been steeped in Platonic and other philosophies, reinterpreted the NT in line with those philosophies. All of this is highly documented in a recent book that I recommend to all my readers, The God of Jesus In Light of Christian Dogma, by Kegan A. Chandler.

So what is the significance of this upon the church’s understanding of the Son of God. The traditional, “orthodox” concept of the Son of God is squarely based upon categories which belong to Platonic and Gnostic philosophy and not upon categories of Hebraic biblical theology. These philosophical systems were concerned with metaphysical  and ontological explications of God and Christ. This is clearly seen in the way the early church father’s are engaged in metaphysical explanations of Christ and his relationship to God. In contrast, the Hebraic worldview was not concerned with such categories as metaphysics and ontology. The biblical Hebraic categories have to do with status, position and function. This is key to rightly understanding not only Son of God but all the titles which Jesus bears in the NT. These titles are not ontological statements about who Jesus is on a metaphysical level, but designations denoting his role and status in relationship to God and God’s people. While metaphysical speculations may yield a Son of God who is God the Son, the biblical Hebraic interpretation yields no such thing.

Son of God in Biblical Theology

We will now survey the biblical data to see if it coincides with the metaphysical and speculative theories of the 2nd to 4th century church fathers. If the biblical data leads us in a totally different direction regarding the meaning of Son of God, then the prevailing tradition must be abandoned by every honest, truth seeking, follower of Christ, no matter how long-standing that tradition may be.

The term ‘sons of God’ appears 8x (perhaps 9) in the OT. Seven of the eight refer to supernatural beings (angels ?): Gen. 6:2, 4; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Ps. 29:1, 89:6. That these verses refer to heavenly beings is the accepted view of most commentators, and the contexts seem to bear that out, though there is debate over the Genesis passages. Why are these beings called sons of God ? Scripture does not reveal the answer to this question, as far as I know, but we can conjecture. If we assume these beings were all brought into existence by direct creation and not by procreation, then they would be sons of God, God having fathered them by direct creation. This seems reasonable but if anyone has a different idea I am open.

There is one occurrence of the Son of God” in the KJV, at Daniel 3:25, but this is a misleading translation that has led many over the centuries to see this as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. Most recent translations have “a son of the gods”, which is more accurate. This part of the book of Daniel is written in Aramaic and uses the singular form for God, ‘elah’, throughout. The plural form, which is used in 3:25, is always a true plural, and so should be translated ‘gods‘. The book of Ezra follows the same procedure in the use of the singular form of the Aramaic ‘elah’ for Yahweh and the plural form for other gods. The idea that a pagan king in the 6th century BC would be referring to the eternally generated 2nd person of the Trinity is grossly anachronistic.

In Hosea 1:10 we find the phrase bene el hay = sons of the Living God. In context this refers to the regathered  and reunited people of Judah and Israel in the future kingdom of Messiah, and seems to mean no more than the ‘children’ or ‘people’ of God {see v.9, 2:1,23}.

This appears to also be the meaning in Deut. 14:1 where we find “ you are sons of Yahweh your God.” The plural sons often denotes the generic ‘children‘, with the meaning ‘people‘, as in the phrases ‘sons of Judah’ or ‘sons of Israel’, i.e. the people of Judah and Israel.

Also in this vein is Deut. 32:8, where the Dead Sea Scrolls read “sons of God” rather than as the Masoretic text’s “sons of Israel.” The LXX has “angels of God“, which is an interpretive translation of ‘sons of God‘ and is an idea popularized by Dr. Michael Heiser. But in the context of this song of Moses are multiple references to the people of Israel as God’s children (Heb. – ben), as in vv. 5,6,18-20; so why wouldn’t v.8 be also referring to the people of Israel as God’s children.

One other passage we will examine later in this study is Psalm 82, where at verse 6 we read, “I said, ‘You are gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.'”(NIV). I will only say at this time that I do not accept the ‘heavenly beings of the Divine Council’ interpretation, again, popularized by Michael Heiser. I will give my reasons for this later, at the right time.

Now I found seven passages in the OT where God calls someone “my son”. Three of these are about Israel as the covenant nation; as such it stands in a unique relationship to God that no other nation does — that of son. These verses are Exodus 4:22,23 & Hosea 11:1. This is why, in the prophetic writings, God is depicted as Israel’s ‘Father‘ {see Is. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:19; Malachi 1:6; 2:10}. The remaining four verses designate a specific individual as a sonto God and are, therefore, the most relevant to our study of the title as applied to Jesus.

Son of God —– Title of Royalty

The specific individual, in the OT, marked out as God’s son is the reigning Davidic King. When God sent the prophet Nathan to King David He spoke this word to him: “…I will raise up your offspring to succeed you … and I will establish his kingdom… I will be his father and he will be my son… ” {2 Samuel 7:12-16}. This promise is recorded again by the Chronicler (Ezra ?) in 1Chron.17:11-14, where the last part of the promise is altered (presumably by inspiration) to read, “I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.” The chronicler wrote this after the Babylonian captivity ended and a remnant returned to Israel to rebuild the city and temple. At this time the Davidic dynasty was in a fallen state; there was no ‘son of David’   reigning on the throne; Israel was still subject to a gentile world empire, that of the Medes and the Persians. The promise was altered by the Spirit of God to point to a future ‘Son of David’, who would restore the kingdom to Israel and reign on David’s throne forever. This coincided with the words of the prophets who foretold the exile of Israel and their regathering  in the last days under a coming king {see Micah 4:6-8; 5:2-3; Jer. 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:14-16; Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-12; Ezek. 34:23-31}.

Some time later King David recited this promise before a large gathering of officials, from all over Israel, in these words, “… the LORD… has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. He said to me: ‘… I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father…‘” {1 Chron. 28:5-6 NIV}. Note that the words God spoke, “ I have chosen him to be my son,” are interpreted by David to mean that God had chosen Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. But this word applied not only to Solomon but to all succeeding kings in David’s line, because the LORD made a covenant with David  to establish his dynasty forever; his family was the chosen line from which kings would be raised up to “sit on the throne of the LORD over Israel.” {see 2 Chron.13:5, 8; Psalm 18:50; 89:19-37}.

Psalm 2: The Ideal

This brings us to an all important passage in the OT that helps us to see what it really means for Jesus to be called Son of God —- Psalm 2. This psalm has been understood by most commentators to be a prophecy regarding the coming of the Messiah, i.e. Jesus. And so the psalm is taken as referring specifically to Jesus. This is because 1.) parts of the psalm are applied to Jesus by NT authors {see Acts 4:25-28; 13:33; Heb.1:5; 5:5; Rev. 12:5; 19:15} and 2.) being ignorant of the designation of Son of God being applicable to the offspring of David by covenant, interpreters assume the reference to ” my Son” in v.7 could only be applied to Jesus because He alone is the ‘Eternally Begotten Son of God.’ But this is reading much later Greek concepts into an earlier Hebrew text.

This psalm was probably composed by King David for the coronation of Solomon and succeeding kings in David’s line. Even the NIV Study Bible’s (1985 ed.) comment on this psalm agrees, “A royal psalm, it was originally composed for the coronation of Davidic kings, in light of the Lord’s covenant with David.” So the psalm is not about any one specific person, but, I believe, it presents the ideal for the office. Any offspring of David who ascended to the throne would have this ideal set before him; on the day of his coronation he became God’s son (v.7) and stood in a unique relationship to the God of Israel as the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule over His people. But someone might object, “Verse seven is applied to Jesus by the apostle Paul in Acts 13:33 and by the author of Hebrews in 1:5 and 5:5, so it must be about him specifically.” But the better way to see this is that if this decree of Yahweh applied to every son of David who sat on the throne, then of course it applies to Jesus as the greatest and final son of David, and so the psalm is not specific to Jesus, nor is it a messianic prophecy.

It has been little understood, by Christians of all stripes, the exalted position of the Davidic king. This exalted position was first bestowed upon David {2 Sam. 23:1}, and then upon his descendants {2 Chron. 13:5, 8}. God said of David and thus of his offspring also, “I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”     {Psalm 89:27}. To him all other kings were to pay homage and were warned against opposing him (vv. 10-12). Besides Psalm 2, Psalms 45, 72 and 82 also set forth the high ideal and exalted status of God’s representative, the Davidic king sitting on Yahweh’s throne. I encourage you to read these psalms in their entirety, but here we will look at some salient verses in them.

Psalm 45 — The title of this psalm denotes it as a wedding song. Probably composed for the wedding of a specific king (perhaps Solomon), but then used on the occasion of other weddings of Davidic kings. Though the psalm was specifically composed for a wedding, it still presents an idealized picture of the office of the Davidic king. I found this comment, which agrees with my assessment, in the introductory remarks on this psalm in the Cambridge Bible: “The view that the Ps. is exclusively Messianic rests in great measure upon an imperfect apprehension of the typical character of the Davidic kingship. The Davidic king was the representative of Jehovah, who was the true King of Israel, and the poet-seer can boldly greet the reigning monarch in the light of the great prophecies to which he was the heir. Bidding him rise to the height of his calling by the exercise of a just rule which should be a true reflection of the divine government, he can claim for him the fulfillment of the promise of  eternal dominion. It is the essence of poetry to idealise, and sacred poetry is no exception to the rule. It could disregard the limitations and imperfections of experience, and portray the king in the light of the true and perfect conception of his office, not simply as what he was, but as what he should be.”

v.2 – The Hebrew for ‘fairer than’ (KJV), or ‘most handsome’ (HCS), or ‘most excellent‘ (NIV), is a passive verb to which Keil and Delitzsch give the meaning, “Thou art beyond compare beautifully fashioned, or endowed with beauty beyond the children of men.” This is most certainly not referring to the physical good looks of the king, but to the beauty and dignity of his office, along with the rest of the verse.

vv.3-5 – The idealized picture of the Davidic king as victorious over all his enemies

vv.6-7 – Given the translation, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” the Davidic king is given the honorific title ‘God‘, not because he is ontologically so, but because he is God’s visible representative to the people. This is much the same as Moses in Exodus 7:1 where the LORD said to him, “I have made you God to Pharaoh.” This is not a matter of the king’s metaphysical nature but of his status and function before the people. The king, as representing God’s righteous rule, ideally embodies the same concern for righteousness and justice. Thus God has “anointed” him, i.e. chosen him and set him apart, above or beyond that of his companions. The ‘companions‘ may refer to other ‘anointed ones’ such as priests and prophets or to others involved in ruling, such as judges; the Davidic king is set in an exalted position above these.

v.11 – The Davidic king is to be given the highest honor among men. Here the Hebrew word shachah is used, which means to bow down before, to pay homage to, to worship. This word is also found in connection with the king in 1 Chron. 29:20, where we read, “And David said to the whole assembly, ‘Praise the LORD your God.’ And the whole assembly praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; and they bowed down and worshipped Yahweh and the king.” The king is also called ‘adon’ in Hebrew, meaning ‘lord’.

v.17 – The Davidic king receives the praise and adoration of the surrounding nations.

Psalm 72 — Here, again, we have a portrait of the idealized Davidic dynasty, set forth in language of exaltation and high honor. The heading of the psalm says, “Of Solomon”, which could mean either it was written by Solomon, or, for or about Solomon. The psalm seems most natural as a prayer/pronouncement of blessing by David for Solomon as he took the throne {see 1 Chron. 28 & 29}. His reign is depicted as emulating that of God’s rule, i.e. in righteousness and justice, in defence of the afflicted and oppressed (vv. 2,4,12-14). His reign is characterized by prosperity and abundance (vv. 3,7,10,15-16). His dignity and rule is honored by both his own people and the surrounding nations (vv. 9-11,15,17). All of his enemies are subject to him (vv. 8-11). Again, this is an idealized conception, not of the man Solomon but of the office which he fulfilled, i.e. King of Israel.

Psalm 82 —  Although it is becoming popular today to see this psalm as referring to the ‘Divine Council’ of supernatural beings, again, an idea made popular by Dr. Michael Heiser, I have to respectfully disagree. I believe the psalm is a poetic depiction of God calling to account the Kings of Israel (as well as those who rule under them, such as judges – see 2 Chron. 19:4-7) for  gross misconduct in their office. Isaiah 3:13-15 is a close parallel to this psalm.

v.2 – The charge against them — their rule is characterized by injustice and support of the wicked.

vv.3-4 – Here God lays out what was the duty of everyone who stood in a position in which they represented His rule (this being especially true of the Davidic kings) — maintain justice and equity among the people. That this was the duty of  those who ruled for Yahweh can be seen in the following passages: 2 Chron. 9:8; Psalm 72:2,4,12-14; Jer. 21:11-12; 22:1-5,15-16. To maintain justice and equity, to defend the cause of the oppressed and downtrodden was not the duty of supernatural beings of another realm, but of the human agents who represented God in the land.

v.5 – A highly poetic description of a society where those in power rule unjustly.

vv.6-7 – Here God himself calls those who represent His rule ‘gods’. This honorific title is then elucidated, ”you are all sons of the Most High.” We see from this that the royal appellation ‘son of God’ is attached to the office, not the man, for even these unjust, wicked rulers were so designated. In fact, in spite of their exalted position, they would die like any other man.

Also significant is Psalm 89:19-29. God’s choosing of David  and the resulting covenant is the subject, but again, more than just the man David is in view; verse 29 speaks of his “seed“, i.e. his descendants, and his throne. So whatever is being said of David extends to all his seed who ascend to the throne. Note the exalted language in vv.24b-27, “… in my Name his horn will be exalted. I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers. He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the rock my Savior.’ I will appoint him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. The word highest in Hebrew is ‘elyown’, a title used of God throughout the OT, translated as Most High. Of all ‘gods‘ that are worshipped Yahweh is the Most High; of all kings upon the earth, the Davidic king, reigning over God’s kingdom, is the most high.

The Biblical Hebraic View in the NT

I want to look at one passage in the gospel of Luke, which is the only place in the NT that clearly defines the meaning of ‘Son of God’ as a title of our Lord Jesus. We will see from this passage how the Hebraic or biblical theology of the OT carries over into the NT. But isn’t this what we should expect?

Luke 1:26-38 – In the fullness of time, when the Lord God was ready to confirm His covenant promise to raise up a ‘seed‘ of Abraham, through Jacob, through Judah, through David, He sent the angel Gabriel to a young virgin woman, whom He had chosen, to announce His intended purpose with these words: 30. ” … Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31. You will conceive in the womb and give birth to a son, and you will give him the name Jesus. 32. He will be great and will be called 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 (i.e. Israel) forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. 34. And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am unmarried (i.e. a virgin).” 35. The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For this reason also the holy  thing (i.e. seed) being born will be called Son of God.”

Observe the words of the angel in verse 32. He does not say that the one conceived in Mary and to be born from her ‘is‘ the Son of God, but “will be” (future tense) “called” (i.e. designated or given the title) Son of the Most High. The next word in the Greek is kai, which is usually translated as ‘and’ but which, I believe, is here explicative and has the force of ‘namely‘ or ‘that is to say’ (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon – kai , definition 3. under roman numeral I). In other words, “… the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David …”, is explanatory of him being called Son of the Most High. This accords fully with the OT concept of ‘Son of God’ { see again 1 Chron. 17:13; 28:6; Ps. 82:6}. Now look at the next line, ” … he will reign over the house of Jacob forever …” All of this fits perfectly with 1 Chron. 28:5-6 where David explains God’s word, “… I have chosen him (Solomon) to be my son …” in this way, “The LORD … has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel …”.

Now let’s look at verse 35, where in response to Mary’s inquiry as to how she will conceive, seeing that she is not in a sexual relationship with a husband, the angel Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For this reason also … (he) … will be called Son of God.” Here the angel is giving the reason why he will be called Son of God: because he will be conceived in her by a direct act of creation by God and not by procreation of a human father. God will literally be his father. As we saw earlier, in connection with angelic beings bearing the designation ‘sons of God’, the possibility of them being so called was perhaps their direct creation by God. This is probably the way we should also understand Adam being called “the son of God” in Luke 3:38. Adam was brought into existence by a direct act of God not by procreation through a human father. Therefore the reason given by the angel for the title Son of God, is that Jesus would be brought into being by a direct creative act of God. But the angel said , ” … For this reason also … ” The word in the Greek is again kai. Because of it’s placement in the sentence in the Greek it should be translated ‘also‘ meaning ‘in addition to’. This is pointing us back to verse 32 where the first reason was given. Therefore, we have been given, by revelation, two reasons why Jesus would bear the title Son of God, both of which are in agreement with the OT picture: 1.) He is the one chosen to sit on the throne (of David) over the  kingdom of Israel, and 2.) He was directly fathered by God. There is no hint in the angel’s explanation of a metaphysical, eternal relationship between Jesus and God. Such an idea would not have even entered the mind of a first century Jew. The idea that Jesus is an eternally generated, second person of a triune God, namely God the Son, is not in accord with the biblical Hebraic concept that we saw so clearly delineated in Scripture, but it is in accord with the prevailing  Greek and Gnostic philosophic concepts of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Without equivocation I assert, that these concepts, as well as the terms that define them (eternally-begotten, eternal generation, God the Son, Trinity, Second Person of the Trinity, etc.) are nowhere to be found in Scripture.

My friends, we must face the truth honestly. Those who claim the Protestant dictum, ‘sola scriptura’ i.e. scripture alone, must reexamine the traditions which have been inherited from church councils of the distant past. Anything that does not agree with the clear truths of Scripture must be abandoned. We must not just blindly accept what has been handed down from certain men, living at a certain time in history, as if their word has more authority than the Scriptures.

I hope this study has been a help; if so please leave a comment to let me know. God bless!

Note: in Part 2 of this study we will examine NT passages in which Jesus is called the Son of God, to see if the Hebraic understanding holds up throughout. Stay tuned.

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

7 thoughts on “Son of God (Part 1) – In The Hebrew Bible”

  1. Thank you for your detailed post, Troy. I agree that we should use the phrase “son of God” in the same way that the Scriptures do. This is particularly true for those of us who embrace the idea of sola scriptura. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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