Son of God (Part 3)

Category 5 – Jesus Himself

Now we will examine those passages in the gospels where Jesus refers to himself as Son of God or as the Son. It is surprising to find that there are only three occurrences (if we exclude parallel passages), in the synoptic gospels, of Jesus’ use of this title. But this is because Jesus’ favorite self designation is Son of Man rather than Son of God. There are 11 examples in the gospel of John; in 10 of these Jesus calls himself ‘the Son‘, and once the ‘son of God’. Our purpose, once again, is to see if Jesus’ usage of this title requires the traditional or ‘orthodox’ understanding, i.e. that of a pre-existent metaphysical being, an eternally begotten, second person within the Godhead; or will his usage comport with the Hebraic concept found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Matthew 11:27 (Luke 10:22) – “All things have been committed to me by my Father“. All things have been committed to the man, Jesus, as the one who represents God and rules for God over God’s kingdom. Things like the judgment of the world {Acts 17:31}, the resurrection of the dead {1 Cor. 15:21; John 5:28-30}, the establishment of the kingdom of God upon the earth {1 Cor. 15:24-25}, and the imparting, to the saints, of immortality {Phil. 3:21}. The Greek word for “committed” is paradidomi, and according to Thayer’s Lexicon means “to give over into (one’s) power or use.” The word is in the passive voice which means that Jesus is passive in receiving this commission, i.e. all things have been given into his power by another, the Father {see also Matt. 28:18}. It would be quite strange for a co-eternal, co-equal Son of God to have to be given something that should have been his by nature.

The next part of the verse reads, “No one knows the son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the son and those to whom the son should choose to reveal him.” Here the popular commentaries are replete with eisegetical notions regarding a presupposed metaphysical relationship between the Father and the son. But as the verse stands, nothing in it requires that interpretation. Only the one who approaches this text already believing in this metaphysical relationship will see it there. The verse speaks of the close and confidential relationship between the Father and His chosen representative, the anointed of the LORD, Messiah. This close association between God and His anointed one is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures:

Awake, o sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man, My Associate, declares LORD Almighty.  Zech. 13:7a NASB

Let your hand rest on the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you have established for yourself.   Psalm 80:17

These verses speak of the LORD’s anointed one and the nearness of association between him and his God. Note that the one in this position of close association with God is unambiguously called a man. This closeness includes the fullness of knowledge of each other. The son knows the fullness of the Father’s will, plans, and eternal purposes and determinations; for the executing of all these things is committed into his hands. The Father only (at the time Jesus spoke these words) knew fully, not only the extent of the son’s glory, his rule, his dominion, his power, etc., but also his humiliation, rejection, suffering, and his ignominious death. There is nothing in these words of our Lord which demand the traditional interpretation; that interpretation is simply read into these words.

Matthew 24:36 (Mark 13:32) – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of the heavens, nor the son, except the Father alone.”  Now here is a statement of Jesus upon which the ‘orthodox’ quite often stumble. For how could it be that a co-eternal, co-equal member of the Deity, not know what another member of that Deity knows. Jesus says plainly that there is something which the Father alone has knowledge of; he expressly denies having this same knowledge. Not only that, but what of the Holy Spirit, the supposed third member of the Deity; he must also be devoid of this knowledge which the Father alone possesses. This is not the only time we see Jesus lacking knowledge of something, which is a strange thing, only if you think he is ontologically God. In the gospels we see Jesus acquiring knowledge of things he presumably did not know. A few examples can be found in John 11:3-6, 17, 34; Luke 8:30, 44-46; Matt. 16:13-16; Mark 9:16, 21; 10:40; John 1:37-38. Because in the gospels, Jesus has knowledge of many things, it is often assumed that he has knowledge of all things. This is also assumed based on the ‘orthodox’ view of the son being co-equal with the Father. But I think you can see from the verses listed above that this is just not the case. Jesus’ knowledge of ‘all things’ is not automatic, but dependent on what the Father makes known to him. Some apologists and commentators will point to John 16:30 as evidence that Jesus had perfect knowledge of all things. But the Greek word for ‘know’ there is not what you would expect if that were the case. John does not use epiginosko (full knowledge), but rather eido, which specifically refers to knowledge that is learned or acquired through experience (i.e. by seeing, sensing, observation, instruction, by being informed, etc.). The verse would be better translated and interpreted this way – Now we have come to see (Gr. eido) that you have discerned (Gr. eido) all things ( relating to God and His kingdom), and have no need that anyone should question you.” Hence, there is no reason to understand this as an exhaustive knowledge of everything in the universe. So the statement in our verse (Matt. 24:36) is consistent with the Hebraic concept of son of God as a man, but incompatible with the traditional view of the eternally begotten son of God.

Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Here is where the ‘orthodox’ traditionalist rejoices in the assurance that his doctrine is unmistakably founded upon Scripture. Popular commentators come across like proud fathers gushing forth exuberantly at the birth of a longed for son. But is all of this warranted by the words Jesus spoke? First of all, not withstanding the glowing affirmations of the commentators, there is no mention in the verse of a co-equality between the three mentioned there. Of course, the whole NT has to do with the Father, who is alone true God {John 17:3}; and with the Son, who is the one raised up and sent by the Father {Acts 3:22-26; 13:32-33}; and with the Holy Spirit, which is the extension of God’s power active in and upon people (an in-depth analysis of the holy Spirit is beyond the purpose of this present study, but will be examined in the future). What we have in Scripture is not the Trinity (three co-equal persons within the one God), but a triad, which we, as believers, have in common.

There is one body and one Spirit … one hope …one Lord (i.e. Lord Messiah), one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.   Ephesians 4:4-6

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service but the same Lord(Messiah). There are different kinds of working , but the same God (the Father) works all of them in all men1 Cor. 12:4-6

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Messiah, and the love of God (the Father), and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the fellowship produced among believers by the Spirit) be with you all2 Cor. 13:14

Just like our verse in Matthew, these passages are also absent any of the language of ‘orthodoxy’, such as ‘one substance’, ‘co-equal’, ‘three persons’, ‘three in one’, etc. In all of these passages, taken at face value, the Son (or Lord) and God (the Father) are distinct beings; God being the Creator and Source of all things, and the human Son, Lord Messiah, being the man through whom God is accomplishing His eternal purpose {see also 1 Cor. 8:6}. When traditional orthodox Christians read verses like these, their emotions get the best of them and they make much to-do over nothing.

Now, as to the phrase, ” … baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit … “, it is often asserted by Trinitarian apologists, that the use of the singular “name” denotes that all three mentioned bear the same name, and hence are one God. But there is no ground for this assertion. The use of the word ‘name‘ should not be taken literally, but idiomatically. It could just as easily have been said, “ baptizing them into the Father, and into the Son, etc.” But even if it were to be taken literal this would be no support for the Trinity doctrine , but rather for the Oneness doctrine, for one name would imply one person. But the singular use of ‘name‘ does not even demand we understand that they all share the same name. Could I not say to someone, “What is the name of your father and of your mother and of your brother?” Certainly that is acceptable; the noun only has to be used before the first subject and is understood to apply to the others separately. In asking that question of someone I surely would not be implying that the father, mother, and brother all had the same name. We know that the Father’s name is Yahweh {see Eph. 1:17 with Micah 5:4}, the name of the son is Jesus {Luke 1:31-32}, and the Spirit is no where in Scripture given a proper name. Furthermore, to be baptized into someone’s name meant one would be openly identified with that one, in an allegiance and submission to him. This can be seen in 1 Cor. 10:2 where Paul says that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses“, i.e. from the moment of their departure from Egypt they were publicly identified with Moses as their leader and gave their allegiance to him, to follow him. This can also seen in 1 Cor. 1:12-13 where to be “baptized into the name of Paul” is to say “I follow Paul.” Throughout the book of Acts people are called upon to be baptized into the name of Jesus. This is not talking about the correct formula to use when baptizing, the mere recitation of Jesus’ name over the one being baptized. It was a call to publicly identify with Jesus of Nazareth, to give him their allegiance as the one chosen by God to carry out His purposes. Only after one had done this was he considered a disciple of Messiah.

So we should understand the verse to be saying that the disciples were being sent out to the nations to make other disciples from those nations, turning them from their pagan religions to a faithful allegiance to the Father, as the only true God and Creator of all things {see 1Thess.1:9-10}; to the Son, as the man chosen by God to rule His kingdom on His behalf; and to the Spirit, as the extension of God’s (and now also the Son’s) presence and activity in and among men. Surely this is how Jesus’ Jewish followers would have understood him, based on their own Scriptures. To foist upon these words of Jesus, a Greek philosophical concept, which came into vogue at a later period, is gross anachronism.

John 5:19-27 – v. 19 “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly I tell you, the Son is not able to accomplish anything out of himself, unless he should perceive the Father doing something; for whatever the Father might be doing, the Son is likewise doing.’ ”  (my translation based on the Greek). Could an eternally begotten Son, who is co-equal with the Father, seriously say such a thing? The traditionalist will say that Jesus is here referring to his human nature. But he did not say, “I, Jesus of Nazareth am not able … ” but “the Son is not able …” The statement is congruous with a fully   human representative through whom God is working.

v.20  “For the Father delights in the Son and shows to him all things that he himself is doing. And even greater tasks than these He will show him, in order that you all  might wonder in amazement.” Consider with me, that if this Son was a co-equal with the Father in possessing all of the attributes of deity, why would it be necessary for the Father to show him anything, wouldn’t he just already know what the Father is doing. Again, the statement is not consistent with the traditional view, but fits well the biblical Hebraic view.

v.21 “For just as the Father raises up the dead and makes alive, in like manner also the Son makes alive those he wills.” Now here the traditionalist wants to isolate this verse, as if it stood alone. So they say the Son has the same ability as the Father to give life arbitrarily to whom he wills, therefore implying co-equality. But the verse does not stand alone but continues the thought of the previous verses. He has already said that the Son can do nothing out of himself, therefore this ability of the Son to make alive must be a derived power rather than an innate one. This exegesis is confirmed in verse 26 where the Son is granted or permitted to have life in himself. Such would not be the case if the Son was co-essential with the Father. Furthermore, the phrase “those he wills” may be referring to the Father, based on the following verses: John 4:34; 5:19,30; 6:38; 7:16-18; 8:28-29; 10:25; 11:41-42; 12:49; 14:10-11.

v.22 “For the Father does not even judge anyone, but the judgment of all has been given over to the Son …” Does this require the son to be more than human? The apostle Paul did not think so {see Acts 17:31}. I believe the judgment spoken of here is that of determining who may enter into the kingdom of God, once it is established upon the earth; and who will be excluded. This role has been entrusted to God’s Messiah.

v.23 “… so that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who is not honoring the Son is not honoring the Father, the one who sent him.” I have heard apologists use this verse to prove the deity of the Son. Their reasoning is that if the Son is to receive the same honor as the Father he must also be God along with the Father. But this is making more than is necessary out of these words. The meaning is simple, and any Jew hearing Jesus would have understood his meaning. This is a clear description of the concept of agency: when one (always the greater in status) sends another (always lesser in status) to carry out some business or deliver some message on his behalf, the one sent should be treated by those he was sent to as they would treat the one who sent him. To receive or to reject the one who is sent is tantamount to receiving or rejecting the one who sent him. For example, the Davidic kings were chosen by God to rule over His kingdom and as such were to be honored as God’s ordained and anointed representatives. To honor the king was to honor Yahweh; to rebel against the king was to rebel against Yahweh.{see 2 Chron.13:1-12}Also the agent (the Son) is to be honored in accordance with the dignity of his position, just as the principle (the Father) is to be honored in accordance with the dignity of His position.

v.24 The following is an interpretive translation giving the meaning of Jesus’ words. “Truly, truly I say to you, that the one giving heed to my message and is believing the one who sent me, has (the hope of ) eternal life (by promise), and will not be condemned (in the judgment), but has changed his destiny, from one doomed to death to one destined for everlasting life.” The Scriptures no where teach the concept of spiritual death or life. These are Greek ideas that later replaced the biblical Hebraic view and have become the common understanding among Christians. This view is based on a wrong interpretation of this verse along with 1John 3:14 and Ephesians 2:1-5. No one is born spiritually dead (there is no such thing), but rather destined for death {see Rom. 5:13,15,17; 1 Cor. 15:21-22}. When one believes in Messiah he crosses over from among those doomed to death to those destined for life in the age to come.

v.25 “Truly, truly I say to you, the time is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those hearing will live.” I believe Jesus is referring to the literal raising of the dead which took place, at least three times, in his ministry {see Luke 7:11-15,22; 8:49-56; John 11:38-44}. Jesus spoke these words early on in his ministry and at that point had not yet raised the dead. These incidents in Jesus’s ministry were, you might say, his training for the ultimate resurrection at the end of the age.

v.26 “For just as the Father has life in himself, in like manner, He has granted to the Son to have life in himself.”  This is not something Jesus possessed until his resurrection, at which point he “became … a life-giving spirit.” {see 1 Cor. 15:45} It is spoken of in past tense in the same way that God said to Abraham, “I have given to you and to your offspring after you … all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession.” {Gen. 17:8} It was given to them in the purpose and plan of God before they ever had possession of it. So it was given to the Son, in the plan and decree of God, by virtue of being the first to be raised to immortality, to be the source of immortality (i.e. everlasting life) to all who receive him { 1 Cor. 15:20-23}. Again, if the Son was an ontologically divine being, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, why would this ability have to be given to him? Would not he already possess it by nature? The Son has been entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of overseeing the resurrection of all the dead, as we see in vv.28-30.

v.27 “And he (the Father) has given to him (the Son of God) authority to execute judgment (see v.22) because he is son of man.” Again, the Son is given authority he would otherwise not have. Now the reason given for the Son of God being given this authority is that “he is son of man.” ‘Son of man’ is a Hebraism which simply means man. This is clear from the synonymous parallelism in Psalm 8:4:

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him.” {see also Ps. 80:17 and 144:3}

What we have here is very interesting, for the Son is not given this authority because he is some divine being but precisely because he is a man. This is confirmed by Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:21:

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man.

So the logical deduction is this: Son of God = Son of man; Son of man = man; therefore Son of God = man.

John 6:40 – “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have everlasting life and I will raise him up at the last day.” No need to comment on this verse, as it presents the same thought as the previous verses, that the Son is the source of everlasting life in the age to come by virtue of his overseeing the resurrection and subsequent judgment.

John 8:36 – “Therefore, if the Son shall set you free you shall be truly free.” Again, there is no reason to import the concept of ‘Son of God’ from the traditional, orthodox view, into this text. Nothing in the immediate context would require that understanding. The words are explicable from the Hebraic understanding. In fact, just a few verses down, at v.40 Jesus explicitly calls himself an anthropos, i.e. a human being.

John 10:36 – ” … what of the one who the Father set apart and sent into the world; are you saying , ‘You blaspheme’ because I said, ‘I am Son of God’.” In vv.31-33 the Jews want to stone Jesus for blasphemy ” … because you being a man are making yourself God.” It is strange that ‘Jesus is God’ apologists use this verse to prove that Jesus did indeed claim to be God, and so they take their stand with the unbelieving who misunderstood Jesus. But is it even reasonable to think that these Jews were actually accusing Jesus of claiming to be Yahweh, their God? I think not. What they were accusing him of was usurping the place of God or that he was acting as if he were God. Have you ever accused someone of ‘playing God’ or ‘acting like you are God’. You most likely were not saying that that person was actually making a claim to be the actual Creator of the universe, but that they were acting in a way that, to your mind, only God has a right to act. If Jesus were openly claiming to be the God of Israel, why did they not bring up this charge against him at his trial before the Sanhedrin {see Matthew 26:59-66}.

Now Jesus responded in this way:

Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said you are gods.’ ? If he called them ‘gods’, to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be done away with …” vv. 34-35

Here Jesus calls their attention to the passage of Scripture, from Psalm 82:6, in which it is primarily the Davidic kings who are addressed (and perhaps judges who rule under the kings authority) as ‘gods’ [for more detail see my post Son of God (Part 1)] In the psalm, immediately after it says “you are gods,” it says “you are all sons of the Most High.” Obviously, the Scripture is not speaking literally, that these rulers were literally gods i.e. metaphysical beings; but as God’s representatives they played a role in which they were called upon to act as God would, i.e. to “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” {vv.3-4}. Jesus points out, that if these rulers, who for the most part were wicked, as vv. 2,5 and 7 of the Psalm shows, and yet could be addressed as ‘gods’, what about that special, predestined ruler, the Messiah; should he be accused of blasphemy for saying, “I am the Son of God?” No, he has every right to that title. Again we see, that Jesus is not claiming to be the God of Israel, but the son of the God of Israel, in accordance with the biblical Hebraic understanding of that title as laid out in Son of God (Part 1).

John 11:4 – ” … This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the son of God might be glorified through it.” Nothing here to suggest the orthodox view, in fact, the son being glorified is said to be “for the glory of the Father.” It can only be said of a lesser being, that the glory and honor he receives redounds to another, who must be the greater. The exaltation of any man by God, at any time in history, always reflected back to God.

John 14:13 – “I will do whatever you might ask in my name, in order that the Father might be glorified in the Son.” Now some suggest that if Jesus can hear and answer prayer then he must be more than human. First of all, we have no reason to believe that this promise extends beyond those in the room with him at the time he said this. Jesus is telling the Twelve that they will carry on his work after he is gone. “In my name” here signifies whatever they ask for in the carrying out of his business. Just like Jesus was sent in his Father’s name {John 5:43}, so he is sending the Twelve out in his name {John 17:18; 20:21}. In his glorified state, with all of God’s power and authority behind him, he is able, by the Spirit, to extend that power on behalf of those who carry out his work. Most orthodox Christians can not even imagine that one who is purely human would or could be given such power by God, but this is precisely what God has done in his son.

John 17:1 – ” … Father, the time has come; glorify your Son, in order that your Son may glorify you …” Again the glory of the lesser is reflected back to the greater. Only after Jesus is glorified can he glorify the Father to a degree he could not do before. The subsequent verses also show the inferiority of the son to the Father:

” … seeing that you have granted him authority over all flesh, so that he might give everlasting life to those you have entrusted to him. Now this is everlasting life: that they may know you, the one alone, true God, and Jesus Messiah, whom you sent.”  vv.2-3

Once more, we see that Jesus is granted authority and is entrusted with people, to give them life; all things that should not be said of one who is, by nature, God. Then we have the most explicit, most unambiguous declaration from the lips of our Lord Jesus himself, stating that the Father alone is true God and that he is sent by the Father. Back in 13:16 Jesus had said:

“… no servant is greater than his master, nor is one who is sent forth greater than the one who sent him.”

This is a Hebraism meaning that a master is always greater than his servant, and the one who sends another is always greater than the one he sends. So again, these words of Jesus accord well with the Hebraic view of the OT, while militating against the traditional view.

Category 6 – Misc. others

One final notice in the gospels of the title ‘son of God’ is found in Matthew 27:54 and it’s parallel passage in Mark 15:39. It tells of the centurion standing at the cross as Jesus was dying. Seeing all that was happening, the darkness, the earthquake, etc., the centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the son of God.” Now what could this pagan soldier have meant by this? As a Roman centurion he certainly would have been accustomed to the use of this title in reference to the Roman emperors. In that context it denoted one who ruled with divine authority, i.e. at the behest of some god or gods. Let us not forget the charge brought against Jesus by the Jewish leaders — that he claimed to be “Messiah, a king.” {see Luke 23:1-2} Pilate had questioned Jesus on this point, as recorded in all four gospels, and the placard placed above Jesus on the cross designated him “the king of the Jews.” So the logical conclusion is that this centurion came to believe, based on the phenomena he saw happening around him, that this man truly was the son of Israel’s god, i.e. the one chosen to rule at the behest of that god; and that this god was displaying his displeasure at what was happening to his son.

Conclusion

Having finished our survey of the use of the title ‘Son of God’ in the four gospels, we can readily conclude that the Hebraic perspective, drawn from biblical exegesis of the OT, dominates the landscape of these texts. It should also be clear that to find the traditional view – that of a metaphysical son of God, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father – in these pages is illusory, eisegetical and anachronistic. I appeal to ‘traditional’ believers everywhere to consider carefully the thesis presented in this study of Son of God; and to critically examine, as well, all that you have accepted as ‘truth’, to see if, indeed, it is truly derived from the Scripture rather than from man’s tradition.

In part 4 we will assay the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul. I pray that this study is a help to many. If it is to you please leave a comment to let me know. Comments that challenge any aspect of what I have written are welcome as well. God bless!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 55 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 32 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 36 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.

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