Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Son of God

Additional Links

SON OF GOD.—As the word ‘Christ,’ which was at first a title, has come to be a proper name, this change being, indeed, accomplished even in the NT, so the title ‘Son of God’ is now appropriated to the Second Person of the Trinity; and the ordinary reader of the Bible assumes this to be the meaning wherever he finds the phrase. He has only, however, to read with a little attention to perceive that this is an assumption which ought not to be made without inquiry, because in Scripture there are many ‘sons of God.’ (1) The angels are thus designated, as when in the Book of Job (Job 38:7) it is mentioned that at the dawn of creation ‘the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.’ (2) The term is applied to the first man, when, in Luke 3, the genealogy of the Saviour is traced back to Adam, ‘who,’ it is added (Luke 3:38), ‘was the son of God.’ And, if the general scope of Scripture may leave it questionable whether the same high title can be applied to all the first man’s descendants, the authority of our Lord may be claimed, on the ground of the parable of the Prodigal Son, as deciding the question in the affirmative. (3) The Hebrew nation collectively is frequently thus designated, as when, in the land of Midian, Jehovah sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message: ‘Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn, and I say unto thee, Let my son go’ (Exodus 4:22 f.). Whether, according to Scripture usage, it was applicable to individual Israelites, is not so clear, but probably it was; for not only did the Jews, in speaking to Jesus, claim, ‘We have one Father, even God’ (John 8:41), but Jesus Himself said, ‘Let the children first be filled’ (Mark 7:27). (4) It was a title of the kings of Israel. Thus, in Psalms 89:26 f., an ancient oracle is quoted in which Jehovah says of King David, ‘He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation; also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.’ Similarly Jehovah says of King Solomon (2 Samuel 7:14), ‘I will be his Father, and he shall be to me a son.’ (5) In the NT the title is conferred on all who believe in the Saviour. Thus, in the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John, it is said, ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name’ (John 1:12); and, in his First Epistle, the Evangelist exclaims, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God’ (1 John 3:1).

It would require some investigation to determine what is the reason for the bestowal of this lofty title in each of these cases, and in all probability the reasons might be different in the different cases. In the case of the angels, the relation suggested may be that of the Creator to His creatures; and this notion may cover also the application to men in general, who were made in ‘the image of God.’ The application to the nation of Israel refers undoubtedly to the choice which the grace of God made of the Hebrew people from among all the nations of the earth; and In the Jewish kings this grace reached its climax. In the case of Christians, the reasons are obvious in the texts quoted in reference to them. It is usual to lay all the emphasis on the sentiments entertained by God towards those honoured with this title, as if it expressed solely His choice of them; but Nösgen (op. cit. infr.) contends that in all cases at least some reason for the designation must lie in the qualities or history of the person designated; and this is a contention which seems to have common sense on its side.

It will thus be seen that ‘the son of God’ was a phrase much in use in the world before it was attached to our Lord; and the question naturally arises, from which of its anterior uses it was that its transference to Him took place. In all probability it was from the fourth mentioned above—that is, its application to the Jewish kings. If the application to the nation culminated in that to the kings, so the application to the kings culminated in Him who was to be the fulfilment of the regal idea in Israel. That is to say, the term is, in the first place, politico-Messianic. But it does not follow, as is too often assumed, that this is its only sense. On the contrary, in all the deeper passages where it occurs, whether in the Synoptics or in Jn., it points strongly to the personal qualities of Him who bears it, and to an intimate relationship with Him whose Son He is said to be. The political title rests upon personal qualities and experiences; He is not the Son of God because He is the Messiah, but, on the contrary, He is the Messiah because He is the Son of God. That is to say, the term is ethicoreligious. But it does not follow, as is often assumed, that because it is official-Messianic and ethicoreligious it is not also physical or metaphysical. On the contrary, the closeness of the ethicoreligious relation may be such as to demand a metaphysical relationship of an intimate and peculiar kind between Father and Son. It seems to be strangely forgotten in many quarters that ethical intimacy is, in all cases, limited by the closeness of metaphysical relationship; the limitation of the intimacy between a dog and a man, for example, is due to the lack of metaphysical unity between them, whereas the closeness of sympathy and intimacy possible between a woman and a man is due to their metaphysical oneness. There is no reason whatever why all the three kinds of relationship indicated above should not be united; in point of fact, they often are. The kingship of a king, for example, may be, first, official, he being actually the reigning monarch; secondly, personal, he possessing the ethical qualities which become and secure his position; thirdly, physical or metaphysical, because he is of the blood royal, and has in his composition the hereditary instincts of long descent. In like manner the Messiahship of Jesus may rest on a spiritual and ethical relationship to God; but this may be of so intimate a kind as to demand a peculiar relationship to the Father physically or metaphysically; and in all the Gospels there is reference, more or less, to all the three.

1. The Synoptics.—In the Synoptics Jesus does not, of His own motion, call Himself in so many words ‘the Son of God.’ But the title is applied to Him in about twelve passages in Mt. and fully half that number each in Mk. and Lk., and in several of these eases He treats this application in such a way as to show that He adopts it. On several occasions (six times in Mt., once in Mk., thrice in Lk.) He denominates Himself ‘the Son’ ‘in such a way as to prove unmistakably that He regards Himself as ‘the Son of God’; and many times in all three Gospels (over a score of times in Mt., thrice in Mk., nine times in Lk.) He in the same way refers to God as His Father. (The quotations in detail will be found on p. 86 of Stalker’s Christology of Jesus, mentioned below in the List of Literature).

(1) Beyschlag observes (NT Theol. i. 68) that the occurrence of the term in the mouths of others shows that it has its roots in the OT and was already current in Israel, and therefore, that for the sense in which Jesus applied it to Himself we must go back to the OT. It is also usual to state that it is employed in the pseudepigraphic literature of the period between the OT and the NT as a synonym for the Messiah. If, however, the only two passages of this sort supplied by Dalman (op. cit. infr.) be referred to, it will be found that this notion rests on a very slender basis. If the Textus Receptus of Mark 1:1 be correct,—‘the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,’—it would be rash to limit the Evangelist’s intention to the Messiahship; but the reading is suspected. In Luke 1:35 the reason why Jesus is to be called ‘the Son of God’ is supplied in the memorable statement to Mary, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.’ This is a physical explanation of the term, which it is rather surprising never to find elsewhere. The nearest approach to it in the Gospels would be the exclamation of the centurion at the Cross, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ (Mark 15:39); but it is dubious what a heathen may have meant by such an observation.

Still more dubious, one would suppose, must it remain what the demoniacs intended by calling Jesus by this title, though it is usually taken for granted that they must have used it in the Messianic sense, because they also sometimes acknowledged Him as the Messiah. When Satan, in the Temptation, played with the title, he was obviously referring back to the voice which, at the Jordan during the Baptism, recognized Jesus as ‘the Son of God’; but how much that voice intended, or how much the Tempter understood of what it meant, might require considerable discussion.

When ‘they that were in the ship’ on the occasion when Jesus stilled the tempest and rescued St. Peter from the sea, ‘came and worshipped him,’ saying, ‘Of a truth thou art the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33), the most natural interpretation may be that they were acknowledging Him as the Messiah. If they were, they anticipated, in a remarkable manner, the subsequent confession at Caesarea Philippi; and this raises a doubt which may incline us to understand their language rather as an involuntary recognition of the Divine in Jesus, occasioned by the sight of a remarkable miracle.

Undoubtedly the most convincing case for the identity of meaning in the terms ‘the Messiah’ and ‘the Son of God’ is the confession of the Twelve, through the lips of St. Peter, at Caesarea Philippi; because, whereas St. Matthew reports them as confessing, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16), the other two Evangelists omit the second phrase (Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20). Now, it is argued, they could not have omitted this, had it contained a momentous addition to the acknowledgment of the Messiahship; against which the only caveat that can be hinted is that there are many examples to prove that it is perilous to rest much on the silence of one or more of the Gospels.

Another passage which is confidently appealed to as demonstrating the identity of meaning between the two terms, is the demand addressed by the high priest to Jesus, on His trial, to say whether He were ‘the Christ, the Son of God.’ Yet, in reporting this incident, St. Luke excites doubt as to the identity, because he represents Him as being asked first simply if He were ‘the Christ’; but when He wound up His reply with the imposing words, ‘Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the power of God,’ they proceeded, ‘Art thou, then, the Son of God?’ and the affirmative answer to this second question seems to have shocked and irritated them far more than the answer to the first, occasioning a tempest of rage and insult in all present, with a unanimous agreement that He had been guilty of blasphemy (Luke 22:69). H. J. Holtzmann, who writes with extraordinary feeling on this subject, recently, in a review in the Theologische Literaturzcitung, declaring it to be a shame that Protestant scholars should even doubt the identity, affirms that ‘the blasphemy can only have been found in the fact that a man belonging to the lower classes, one openly forsaken of God and going forward to a shameful death, should have dared to represent himself as the object and fulfilment of all the Divine promises given to the nation’; but the blasphemy is far more obvious if the claim to be ‘the Son of God’ was understood to mean more than even Messiahship.

From the foregoing examination of the passages in the Gospels where the phrase is used of Jesus by others than Himself, it will be perceived that there is considerable variety of meaning and application; it certainly is Messianic, but it is not uniformly or exclusively so.

(2) When we turn to the passages in which Jesus speaks of Himself as ‘the Son,’ or calls God His Father, the oflicial-Messianic element is almost entirely absent, the language being that of intimacy and confidence. Here and there, indeed, there may be Messianic associations involved, as when Jesus promises to the Twelve that, in the day of the full manifestation of the Kingdom, they shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), or when He predicts that on the judgment-day He will appear in the glory of His Father and of the holy angels (Mark 8:38); but, as a rule, one might read the greater number of these sayings without being reminded that they proceeded from the lips of one claiming to be the Messiah. The consciousness to which they give expression is that of a personal relationship, as when, in Gethsemane, He prays, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’; and, farther on, ‘O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done’ (Matthew 26:39-42); or when, on the cross, He cries, ‘Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do’; and, farther on, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23:34; Luke 23:46).

The climax of this ethicoreligious sentiment is reached in the great saying of Matthew 11:27, || Luke 10:22 ‘All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.’ In recent times this passage has attracted great attention, not a few looking upon it as the profoundest utterance of Jesus in the Synoptics. Holtzmann, indeed, hesitates between such a decision and a suggestion of Brandt’s that it is a cento, put into the mouth of Jesus, of words borrowed partly from other Scripture and partly from the Apocrypha; but by Keim it has been reverentially interpreted, and scholarship has, on the whole, knelt before it as expressing the innermost mystery of the consciousness of Jesus. The words were spoken at a crisis, when He was roused out of deep depression at the apparent failure of His mission, by the return of the Seventy, bringing a joyful account of the results of their labours. ‘In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight’ (Matthew 11:25 f.). Then followed the words already quoted. The first of them, ‘All things are delivered unto me of my Father,’ may be best understood, as is suggested by Lütgert (op. cit. infr.), of the Messianic dominion in its widest extent, as it had been promised in prophecy from of old; while the next words, ‘For no man knoweth the Son but the Father,’ etc., express the consciousness of His own right and ability to fill this position, because He has all the resources of the Divine nature to dispense to those who come to Him. This is why He proceeds immediately to say, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 5:28). The mood in which He was consisted of a joyful uprising within Himself of the consciousness of all He was able to do for those who trusted Him; and this was due to His intimate and perfect union with Deity.

Most scholars, however, hasten to add that this sonship was purely ethical, and was not different from that to which He was prepared to introduce His disciples. He showed, it is remarked, the true pathway to this position, and the one by which He had reached it Himself, in such sayings as the following: ‘Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust’ (Matthew 5:44 f.). Certainly this sonship of Jesus is ethicoreligious, and this indicates the pathway by which the disciples of Jesus may participate in His sonship; but that His sonship and theirs are in all respects identical is contradicted by the unfailing usage of Jesus in speaking of God as ‘my Father’ and ‘your Father,’ but never as ‘our Father.’ Of this difference Holtzmann makes light in the same way in which he lays down the wholly unsupported assumption that Jesus prayed the Lord’s Prayer with the disciples, including the fifth petition; but the fact is a radical one; and the conclusion to which it points is not without other confirmation.

Thus, in the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, the owner of the vineyard, after sending servant after servant to negotiate with the labourers, sends his own son, Mk. adding ‘his well-beloved,’ by whom Jesus obviously intends Himself. Of course, it may be said that the Messiah was different from all the prophets, and that this difference may be indicated by the difference between a son and a servant; but the analogy would be closer if a more intimate and personal relationship were assumed.

One of the most striking passages pointing in the same direction is one that, at first sight, seems to point the opposite way. In Mark 13:32, speaking of a date in the future, Jesus says, ‘But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.’ Naturally this has been often quoted as a conclusive disproof of the orthodox doctrine of the Sonship of our Lord, and it has been one of the chief occasions for the invention of the kenotic theories, as they are called, of His Person; but, on the other hand, it is one of the clearest indications of a consciousness superior to mere humanity, for it places the speaker above both men and angels so obviously, that even Holtzmann, in an unwonted outburst of concession, exclaims: ‘This is the single passage in which the Son, while opposed along with the angels to the Father, appears to become a metaphysical magnitude’ (NT Theol. i. 268).

The inference appearing to follow from the passage just quoted is that Jesus was a Being above both men and angels, but inferior to God. But a more profound and true knowledge is supplied by the most impressive passage of all on this subject in the Synoptics—the words of Jesus with which the First Gospel concludes: ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:19 f.). The close resemblance will be noted between the opening words of this statement and the opening words of the saying in Matthew 11:27, already commented on. The promise, ‘Lo, I am with you alway,’ has likewise a parallel in Matthew 18:20 ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ But the association of ‘the Son’ with the Father and the Holy Ghost is the most remarkable expression in the Synoptics of the self-consciousness of Jesus. How much it implies is a problem for dogmatic theology; but it is enough to remark here that it undoubtedly runs up into the ontological or metaphysical. Of course, its authenticity as a saying actually proceeding from Jesus has been fiercely disputed, and in certain quarters the air is affected of treating it as beyond dispute an addition to the actual words of Christ; but its place in the ordinance of baptism connects it closely with the Author of that rite; and there is no reason for rejecting it which would not, at the same time, imply the rejection of the whole section of the life of our Lord which follows His death on the cross.

2. The Fourth Gospel.—When we turn from the Synoptics to the Fourth Gospel, we are immediately conscious of being in a different atmosphere and at a different altitude, and the effect is at first bewildering. Instead of a studied reticence on the subject of who and whence He was, such as we encounter in the previous Gospels, Jesus places this subject in the foreground, and instead of letting His higher claims escape only at rare intervals and in the society of His chosen friends, He proclaims them to all and sundry, and, as one might say, from the housetops. This raises many questions as to the origin and purpose of this Gospel, which cannot be fully discussed in this place; but it may be said that, if both representations are to be accepted as historical, we must conceive the words of Christ as having ranged over a wider area than is usually assumed. If in His mind there were circles of thought as diverse as those of the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel, there must have been ample spaces round both circles, in which the outer elements of both might touch and blend. There is a tendency, due to the preoccupation of study, to narrow the life of Christ down to what has been actually recorded; but this is in many ways misleading, and it is mistaken. It is certain that the acts recorded of Him are only a few stray flowers thrown over the wall of an ample garden; and it is not unreasonable to infer that the same is true of His words.

As, however, we grow accustomed to the new environment in the Gospel of St. John, we begin to perceive that the figure which stands in the midst is not so different as it appears at first sight from the one we have just been studying. He is still ‘the Son of Man’ as well as ‘the Son of God,’ though the proportion in which these names occur is reversed. The way in which He here calls Himself ‘the Son’ and God His Father is exactly similar to the usage in the Synoptics, only He has these terms far more frequently on His lips. Not a few of the most astonishing statements He makes about Himself are substantially anticipated in the verse of an earlier Gospel so frequently referred to, Matthew 11:27. He does not hesitate, even in Jn., to say ‘my Father is greater than I’ (John 14:28), or to speak of God as ‘my God’ (John 20:17). We have here the same three elements in the sonship as formerly—the theocratic. Messianic, the ethicoreligious, and the physical or metaphysical—only they may be mingled in somewhat different proportions. The Messianic we see in its most unmistakable form in the testimonies of the Baptist (John 1:34), of Nathanael (John 1:49), of Martha (John 11:27), and of others; but the boundaries of the other two will require more careful investigation.

Two things are new—the description of the Son as ‘only begotten’ John 1:14; John 1:18, John 3:16; John 3:18), and the claim to pre-existence on the part of Jesus.

(1) The adjective μονογενής describes the unique Sonship of Jesus. St. John is not unaware that there are other sons of God. So far from it, his Gospel opens with the great statement, already quoted, ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name’ (John 1:12); and in his First Epistle he exclaims, ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2); but such are not sons of God in the same sense in which Jesus is ‘the Son of God.’ Wherein, then, does the uniqueness consist? It cannot lie in the ethico—spiritual region; for it is there that in this respect Jesus and those who receive Him are one, except in degree of intimacy with the Father. Most assume that it lies in Messiahship; and, no doubt, in being the Messiah, Jesus is unique. Even Weiss takes it for granted that this is where it lies, contending again and again that nothing metaphysical is suggested. This, however, is a mere piece of dogmatism; for the uniqueness might quite as well lie in this quarter. In fact, the verbal idea in the adjective rather suggests it; and it is very significant that St. John treats the claim of Jesus to Sonship as involving equality with God. In John 5:18 we read, ‘Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God’; and in John 10:35 ‘The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not, but because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God,’ this being because He had stated, ‘I and my Father are one’ (John 5:30).

The force of this is turned aside by Wendt with the assumption that these notes are from the pen of a redactor, who, both here and elsewhere, has wrought confusion in the record emanating from the disciple whom Jesus loved. Beyschlag takes the bull more boldly by the horns with the suggestion that these remarks of the Jews arc quoted as evidences of their perversity and stupidity, the sayings of Jesus on which they were comments not having implied at all what they supposed. But it may be left to everyone to say whether or not this is a natural manner of reading St. John’s narrative. At all events, as a historical statement, it is of the utmost importance that by the contemporaries of Jesus His claim to be the Son of God, put forward as it was by Him, was interpreted in this way.

(2) The passages in which Jesus claims pre-existence are four—John 6:62 ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?’; John 8:58 ‘Verily I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am’; John 17:4-5 ‘I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was’; and especially, John 17:24 ‘Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me; for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world’; to which may be added John 16:28 ‘I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.’ In all these cases, not excepting the last, the leaving of the world—surely a real, historical event—is put in the plainest terms in opposition to His entry into the world, which must, therefore, be equally a real, historical event.

Beyschlag attacks the pre-existence with vigour, and displays remarkable ingenuity in explaining it of an ideal existence in the mind and purpose of God. Thus, before God thought of Abraham, He was thinking of Jesus, who was anterior and superior in the Divine plan. But, after the laborious analysis is over, these great sayings draw themselves together again and stare the reader in the face as a united and coherent aspect of the self-consciousness of Jesus. Wendt applies to these texts his favourite device of showing that what is said of Jesus, and is supposed to imply something superhuman, is also applied to others of whom nothing superhuman can be predicated. Thus, if Jesus (John 8:38) says to the Jews, ‘I speak that which I have seen with my Father,’ He adds, ‘And ye do that which ye have seen with your father,’ explaining, further on, ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do’ (John 5:44); and the argument is, that if this implies that Jesus pre-existed with God, it must imply also that the Jews with whom He was contending had pre-existed with the devil. But how futile this kind of argumentation may sometimes be, is shown when the statement of St. Paul, that ‘the saints shall judge the world’ (1 Corinthians 6:2), is used to take all the greatness and solemnity out of the statements of Jesus as to the position which He is to occupy at the Last Day as the Judge of the quick and the dead. Wendt habitually reduces the great sayings of Jesus to the lowest possible terms, and then assumes that this must be the meaning in every case. But the reader wearies of such a process: he feels that surely Jesus cannot have put the minimum of significance into His words on all occasions; or, if so, how is He to escape the charge of employing big language to express small ideas, or confusing His hearers with enigmas which might easily have been cleared up, had He only uttered a few plain words of explanation? Holtzmann gives up the attempt to read a commonplace meaning into words like these. Such sayings, according to him, are not genuine words of Jesus: they are utterances of Christianity rather than of Christ, and of Christianity after it had passed through the mind of St. Paul (op. cit. infr. ii. p. 433). But the situation is in all probability the reverse: the deep resemblance between the Christology of St. John and that of St. Paul, which undoubtedly exists in spite of superficial unlikeness, is due rather to what St. Paul learned from the older Apostle either directly or through the knowledge and ideas of the beloved disciple being diffused in the atmosphere of that age; while the consent on this great subject, not only of these two but of the primitive Church as a whole, may be traced back without hesitation to the tradition of our Lord’s own testimony to Himself.

The witness of Jesus to His own pre-existence is not confined to the texts just quoted, remarkable as these are, but pervades the whole mass of His words in the Fourth Gospel, and forms the presupposition of all the rest of His utterances about Himself. It is by commencing at this starting-point and following this clue that the student finds everything expanding before him as he goes on, and all the various ideas arranging themselves in their places on the right hand and on the left.

Whether there be any analogy to the consciousness of Jesus at this point in what some of the ancients believed about this life being a reminiscence of a life preceding, or in what some of the modern poets have hinted about human beings trailing clouds of glory from an antecedent home, may be left to everyone’s own judgment; but Jesus habitually spoke as if He were conscious of having had an anterior existence, where He had seen and heard what He repeated during His earthly life, and had received commandment how He should afterwards act. Thus to Nicodemus He says (John 3:11-13), ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.’ In the great intercessory prayer He says to His Father (John 17:8), ‘I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.’ Cf. also John 6:46-62, John 7:28-29, John 8:23; John 8:26-27; John 8:38, John 12:49, John 14:31, John 15:15, John 17:8.

Out of this pre-existent state Jesus was conscious of having been ‘sent’ into the world. This recalls the mission of the prophets of the OT, who, though not haunted by any reminiscence of a previous state of existence, yet were all profoundly conscious that they had been chosen and ordained to do a particular work at a particular time; some, like Jeremiah, being told that even from the womb they had been destined to. their peculiar vocation. With this prophetic consciousness that of Jesus was in close analogy; yet the references to it suggest a deeper mystery. Corresponding with this sending on God’s part is a ‘coming’ on the part of Jesus Himself; and in some of the passages in which He says, ‘I am come,’ there is the same suggestion of something weighty and more than usually significant. Not infrequently both conceptions are blended, as in John 6:38 ‘I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me’; or John 7:28-29 ‘Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am; and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not; but I know him; for I am from him, and he hath sent me’; or John 8:42 ‘If God were your Father, ye would love me; for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.’ Cf. John 5:23-24; John 5:36-38, John 6:44, John 7:16; John 7:33, John 8:16; John 8:18; John 8:26; John 8:29; John 8:42, John 9:4, John 10:36, John 11:42, John 12:44; John 12:49, John 14:27, John 15:21, John 16:5, John 17:8; John 17:18; John 17:23, John 20:21; also John 6:33; John 6:38, John 7:14, John 9:39, John 10:10, John 16:27-28.

The object or purpose for which He was thus ‘sent’ and ‘came’ into the world is expressed in a great variety of forms, all of which, however, are more or less suggestive of the dignity and uniqueness of Him of whom they are predicated, though of course some make this impression more than others. Thus He comes to reveal the truth and to glorify God thereby. So He said to Pilate, ‘To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth’ (John 18:37). In His great High-Priestly prayer He says to the Father, ‘I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do’; again, ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world’; and again, ‘I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it; that the love where with thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them’ (John 17:4; John 17:6; John 17:26). So illuminating and comprehensive is this revelation, that He calls Himself ‘the light of the world’ (see John 8:12, John 9:5, John 12:36; John 12:46). Sometimes He comes to judge. He even goes so far as to say,’ The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son’ (John 5:22). Sometimes He comes to ‘save,’ as in John 10:9 ‘I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture’; or John 12:47 ‘I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.’ But oftenest His mission is to give life, this being expressed in a great variety of forms. Thus, in John 10:10, He says, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ Sometimes the opposite alternative is tragically suggested, as in the well known John 3:16, where ‘to perish’ stands in contrast with ‘life’; or in John 8:51 ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death,’ where death awaits those who do not receive ‘life’ from Christ. Frequently the adjective ‘eternal’ is joined with life. It is a peculiarity of the Fourth Gospel to conceive of eternal life as capable of being enjoyed even in the present world; but it also comprehends the future, and this is sometimes the ruling idea. The intimate connexion of Jesus Himself with the bestowal of this life is extremely significant. Thus, in John 5:26, He claims, ‘As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.’ At the grave of Lazarus He exclaimed, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; be that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.’ The communication of natural life is interchanged with that of spiritual life; in John 5:21, for example, He says, ‘As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will’; and farther on, at John 5:25, it is added, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.’ The personal share of Jesus in all this is further indicated in His claim to be the bread of life (John 6:27; John 6:32-33; John 6:47; John 6:51), and to give the water of life (John 4:10; John 4:14, John 7:37-38). In view of such sublime statements, the term ‘Messianic’ is frequently used in a way that is a delusion and a snare. What explanation of such pretensions is it to say that He who made them differed from other men and prophets by being the Messiah? The possession of no office whatever is able to make a mortal capable of such functions: there must be something far above the competency of mere man in any one who can be the subject of such predicates. In Cur Deus Homo Anselm develops the argument that, the Person being such as He was, the work must be Divine; but the logic tells equally in the opposite direction: the work being such, the Person must be Divine.

Some of these works are, however, invisible, because spiritual, and some belong to the distant future. Hence Jesus could not show Himself in the act of doing them. But He did works, which all could see, that were signs and guarantees of these. He healed the blind, in order to prove that He was the organ of revelation; He raised the dead, in order to prove that He would be the Lord of the resurrection at the Last Day. So He Himself interpreted His miracles; and He appealed confidently to their evidential power, ‘If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but, if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works; that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me and I in him’ (John 10:37-38; see also John 1:48, John 4:16, John 8:18, John 10:25, John 11:4; John 11:15, John 14:11, John 17:23-24; John 17:26.

All the time, however, whilst doing His works on earth, He was in uninterrupted communion with His Father in heaven, actually speaking of Himself once (John 3:13) as ‘in heaven,’ if the reading can be trusted. Such expressions have been used to break down the testimonies to His pre-existence, as if none of these might mean any more than such an ideal presence elsewhere. But this is a distinct aspect of His testimony to Himself, and there is no inconsistency between the two. His doctrine, His words, His works He knew to be all the Father’s (John 7:16, John 8:26, John 14:10; John 14:24, John 5:19-20). He could say, ‘He that sent me is with me; the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please Him’ (John 8:29). With the most touching naïveté He spoke of the Father’s love to Him and His own love to the Father (John 10:17, John 17:23-24; John 17:26). He strives for language strong enough to express the unity between His Father and Himself (John 6:36, John 10:38, John 14:10, John 17:21). At last the climax is reached in the utterance which brought down on His head the charge of blasphemy, ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30).

Though, however, thus united with God on earth, He longs for return to the other world, which is His true home. To this He often refers, not infrequently connecting the thought of going thither with that of having come from the same place; and what could be more natural? Thus, in John 8:14 He says, ‘Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true; for I know whence I came and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come and whither I go’: and in John 16:28 ‘I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.’ See also John 6:62, John 7:33-34, John 8:21, John 13:33, John 14:2; John 14:12; John 14:28, John 16:5; John 16:7, John 10:16, John 17:11; John 17:13, John 20:17.

Such is a slight sketch of the Christology of Jesus as presented by St. John. Not every statement is expressly connected with ‘the Son of God’ in so many words; but this is the phrase that embodies all these various elements. The summits of the testimony are such verses as John 5:23; John 5:26, John 8:58, John 10:15; John 10:30, John 11:4; John 11:25, John 12:45, John 13:31-32, John 14:6-7; John 14:9, John 13:14. Longer passages specially worthy of consideration are John 3:10; John 3:21, John 5:19; John 5:47, John 6:35; John 6:40, John 8:42; John 8:47, John 15:17. In one passage He deals directly and deliberately with the charge that, in calling Himself ‘the Son of God,’ He was making Himself equal with God. Here was an opportunity of disclaiming anything of the kind, and explaining, as many are now forward to do for Him, that the question was only of function and character, not of nature. He did, indeed, refer to some who, in the OT, were called ‘gods’ on account of function alone; but He set His own claim above theirs as supported by a far higher reason: ‘If he called them gods unto whom the word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken, say ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God?’ (John 10:35 f.). And He goes on to affirm, ‘The Father is in me and I in him’ (John 5:38). It is true that it is arguable whether in these words only function is referred to, but the point is that something deeper is not only not excluded but suggested. Those who believe that all such expressions have reference to superiority of function and character, but not of nature, have no difficulty in finding words by which this distinction can be made perfectly intelligible. Why then did Jesus, when thus directly challenged, not find such words? The numerous sayings quoted in the foregoing paragraphs amply prove that, in speaking of His own origin and the source of His authority, He habitually used language of dazzling splendour and magnificence. Was this an exaggerative manner of expressing what was ordinary, or was it an effort to body forth in human speech what was too glorious to be expressed? The halo round the head of ‘the Son of God’ is not an invention of primitive Christianity or ecclesiastical councils—for whatever excesses of superstition or dogmatism these may be answerable—but is due to the consciousness and the testimony of Jesus Himself; and by the character of Him who was ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ as well as by the conviction of His power to save wrought by centuries of experience into the mind of Christendom, the acknowledgment is demanded that it is not an exhalation from beneath, but an emanation from the eternal throne.

Literature.—The relevant portions of the works on NT Theology by Weiss, Beyschlag, H. J. Holtzmann, Stevens, Bovon; also of Wendt’s Teaching of Jesus, Dalman’s Words of Jesus, Nösgen’s Gesch. Jesu Christi, and Beyschlag’s Christologie des NT. See also Grau, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu; Nösgen, Der Menschen-und Gottessohn; Gore, Bampton Lectures and Dissertations; Stevens, The Johannine Theology; Weiss, Der Johanneische Lehrbegriff; Lütgert, Die Johanneische Christologie (1899) and Gottes Sohn und Gottes Geist (1905); Stalker, Cunningham Lectures, The Christology of Jesus2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (1900); F. W. Robertson, Serm. ii. 136, 235; P. Brooks, Law of Growth, 346.

James Stalker.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Son of God'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Son of David
Next Entry
Son of Man