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Bible Dictionaries
Son, Sonship

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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υἱός, which definitely = ‘son,’ is of commonest occurrence in the Gospels, though the more indefinite τέκνον is also frequently used interchangeably with υἱός. The use of τέκνον in the vocative as an affectionate form of address (‘child,’ ‘my child’) is specially noticeable (see, e.g., Mark 2:5, Luke 2:48; Luke 15:31, Matthew 21:28). The latter term is several times rendered ‘son’ in Authorized and Revised Versions without discrimination. Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , indeed, usually indicates ‘child’ in mg. as the exact equivalent, but this is not always the case (see Matthew 21:28 τέκνα).

1. The duties and privileges of the filial relation find frequent incidental illustration in the Gospels. The son has a natural claim on parental bounty (Matthew 7:9); he is the object of deep parental love and solicitude (Matthew 10:37; Matthew 20:20 f.). (A peculiar appeal to such solicitude is made in Luke 14:5, if we are to follow the best attested reading (see (Revised Version margin) ); though the collocation of υἱός and βοῦς is so odd that it is a temptation to defy the canons of textual criticism, and, following rather the analogy of kindred passages (Luke 13:15, Matthew 12:11), still read ὄνος). By consequence, strife between father and son is a most painful form of estrangement (Luke 12:53), whilst the restoration of a happy relationship between those who have been so estranged calls for the highest rejoicing (Luke 15:22-24). The natural heirship of the son appears in Mark 12:6 (and parallels) and in Luke 15:12, where the technical term (τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος) for the heir’s portion occurs (see Deissmann, Bible Studies, English translation p. 230). In the former instance—the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen—the position of an only son as carrying with it sole heirship is emphasized. The ὁ υἱὸς ὁ ἀγαπητός of Luke 20:13, in this connexion, appears to be tantamount to ὁ υἱὸς ὁ μονογενής (John 3:16), as denoting an only son (cf. also Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5 etc.). In the latter case (Luke 15:12) we have a son claiming and obtaining his inheritance during his father’s lifetime. This serves the purpose of the parable; but it may be doubted whether such an occurrence was common in actual life. The counsels of ancient Jewish prudence (Sirach 33:19 ff.) were, at any rate, dead against it. The more usual course is exemplified in the case of the elder son, whose share in the patrimony was still in his father’s hands (Luke 15:31), but was fully assured to him in spite of his complaint in Luke 15:30 (ὁ καταφαγών σου τὸν βίον). A special instance of a son’s privilege is made use of in Matthew 17:25 f.; the sons of ‘the kings of the earth’ are exempt (ἐλεύθεροι) from the tribute exacted from their subjects.

On the other hand, the duty of sons to render obedience, service and help to parents similarly appears. The parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28 ff.) thus illustrates filial dutifulness and undutifulness. The significance of our Lord’s words, ‘Behold thy son,’ in John 19:26, is at once understood as securing loving care and provision for His mother (v. 27). Christ’s interpretation of the Fifth Commandment as involving the duty of helping and supporting parents in case of need, is accompanied by a biting denunciation of the Pharisaic ruling that such duty could be nullified by a vow (Mark 7:10 ff. Corban).

It is clear that Jesus found in sonship an instrument of prime importance for the illustration and enforcement of His teaching. It is certain His exemplification of the filial relationship in His own life was perfect. The scanty hints of Luke 2:40-52 (in such striking contrast to the volubility of the Apocryphal narratives) may be accepted as witnessing to such a fulfilment of filial duties during the long years of silence as makes Him the very ‘flower and pattern’ of all good sons. Mary’s surprised expostulation in Luke 2:48 suggests the perfect dutifulness of His childhood’s years; and we may be sure the child was ‘father of the man,’ as to what He was in the after-time as (probably) the mainstay and head of the home at Nazareth on the death of Joseph. Yet the day also came when He illustrated in His own experience His own exacting demand (Matthew 10:37), and showed how filial regard must yield to higher claims, summing all up in the impressive logion of Mark 3:34 f. (= Matthew 12:49 f., cf. Luke 8:21). Luke 11:28 embodies a similar sentiment.

2. Arising out of the notion of the filial relation in its natural sense, we have the idiomatic use of the phrase ‘son of’ as a familiar characteristic of the Gospel phraseology. A poetic feeling underlies the description of a wise man as a ‘son of wisdom,’ and at the same time its appropriateness is self-evident, υἱός and τέκνον both occur in this connexion, and instances of the use of the idiom found in the Gospels may be grouped as follows: (a) = belonging to, connected with, or destined for. Persons are described as sons ‘of the kingdom’ (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:38); ‘of this world’ (age) (Luke 16:8; Luke 20:34); ‘of the bridechamber’ (Mark 2:19 ||); ‘of Jerusalem’ (= inhabitants) (Matthew 23:37); ‘of the Pharisees’ (followers, adherents, Matthew 12:27 = Luke 11:19): ‘of the evil one’ (Matthew 13:38; Twentieth Cent. NT renders simply ‘the wicked,’ evading a personal significance in τοῦ πονηροῦ); ‘of Gehenna’ (Matthew 23:15); ‘of perdition’ (John 17:12); ‘of the resurrection’ (Luke 20:36). (b) = characterized by certain qualities: ‘sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17); ‘of peace’ (Luke 10:6); ‘of light’ (John 12:36); ‘of wisdom’ (τέκνα, Matthew 11:19 = Luke 7:35); as similarly ‘of consolation’ in Acts 4:36 (this without reference to the correctness of the etymology indicated). (c) = descendants: ‘sons of them that slew the prophets’ (Matthew 23:31); ‘of Israel’ (Matthew 27:9, Luke 1:16); ‘of Abraham’ (τέκνα, John 8:39; υἱός, Luke 19:9; cf. Luke 13:16).

Deissmann (Bible Studies, pp. 161–166) labours to modify the common explanation of such circumlocutory forms as Hebraisms and due to ‘the Oriental spirit of language’ (Buttmann, quoted in loc. cit.). As features of NT diction he is willing to see in them a ‘Hebraism of translation’ (due to Semitic originals rather than to a Hebraistic style or habit in the writers themselves), but is eager to maintain that such constructions are not foreign to the genius of Greek. He is not, however, entirely successful. Of course, the use of the phrase ‘sons of’ as = inhabitants or descendants, may be widely paralleled in various languages (as, e.g., the Homeric υἷες Ἀχαιῶν = Ἀχαιοί); but in manifold other uses, especially as in (b) above, the case is different. The expression υἱὸς τύχης (in Horace, filius fortunœ) is noteworthy, but ‘one swallow does not make a summer’; and, moreover, Plato s use of ἔκγονος, specially adduced by Deissmann, hardly affords a true parallel. In Phœdr. 275 D [Note: Deuteronomist.] , e.g., τὰ ζαγραφίας ἔκγονα, denoting the productions of art, a painter’s works, falls short of such uses as are indicated in (b), whereby personal qualities are described. The expression is, on the other hand, so characteristic of Semitic speech as to amount to an idiom, and the OT writings abound in it. Its occurrence in the NT is best explained in this connexion: and it is difficult to think that it might have occurred in exactly the same way had the writers been writing in an independent Greek style.

3. An arresting feature in the teaching of Jesus is His description of men as the sons (υἱοί, τέκνα) of God. The most conspicuous name that He uses for God in His relation to men is that of ‘Father,’ usually with the Jewish addition of ‘in heaven’ or ‘heavenly.’ Some of His most noticeable parables and illustrative sayings are based on the relation of father and son as best representing the relation between God and man (see, e.g., Luke 15:11 ff., Matthew 7:9 ff.). See artt. Children of God, Son of God.

Notice may be taken of the curious phrasing of Luke 20:36 υἱοί εἰσιν θεοῦ τῆς ἀναστάσιως υἱοὶ ὄυτες. This per se seems to limit the description ‘sons of God’ to those who are accounted worthy to attain the resurrection life (Luke 20:35). They ‘are sons of God through being sons of the Resurrection’ (Weymouth). Or perhaps we may equally well interpret by saying that the fact of their having risen shows that they are God’s sons. It has to be pointed out, however, that this is part of an expansion of our Lord’s reply to the Sadducees quite peculiar to Lk., presenting a striking divergence from the Synoptic parallels. It seems to be merely an amplification of the term ἰσαγγελοι, itself a Lukan ἅπαξλεγ. for the simpler ὡς ἀγγελοι of Mt. and Mk. At any rate, it cannot be pressed so as to conflict with the general representation of men as being all God’s sons in one way and another, found so often in the Gospels. A connexion with Romans 8:19 may be suggested (cf also phrasing in Romans 1:4).

4. The term ‘son’ is used of Jesus Himself in various ways. (α) In the ordinary sense of the word He is described as ‘the son of Joseph’ and ‘the son of Mary.’ See Mark 6:3 = Matthew 13:55 = Luke 4:22, John 6:42 (cf. John 1:45) is also in close agreement with Luke 4:22, with the interesting addition, ‘whose father and mother we know.’ (This is one of the smaller points in which the Johannine Gospel stands on a basis of common tradition with the Synoptics). The expression in Matthew 13:55 ὁ τοῦ τέκτονος υἱός, may possibly have originally meant no more than ὁ τέκτων in Mark 6:3. Cheyne’s conjecture, that ‘Jesus the son of Joseph’ may mean ‘Jesus a member of the house of Joseph’ (EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] ii. 2598), may be ingenious, but is an unnecessary departure from tradition. We cannot arbitrarily push aside the plain suggestions of the Birth-narratives and the genealogies as to the personality of Joseph in this connexion.

It is to be pointed out that it is only in the account of the visit to Nazareth, as above, that the Synoptists explicitly indicate such a designation of Jesus. (The Johannine instances are in quite different connexions). Corresponding references to His parentage are found, however, in such passages as Luke 2:22-51 (‘his father and his mother,’ ‘his parents,’ ‘thy father and I’) and Mark 3:31 ff. with its parallels. τέκνον as applied to Jesus occurs just once, in Luke 2:48. The dominant presentment of our Lord in the Gospels transcends the interest attaching to simple human relations. See also the following three articles.

J. S. Clemens.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Son, Sonship'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/son-sonship.html. 1906-1918.
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