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Language Studies

Hebrew Thoughts

Bên - בּן (Strong's #1121)
Son, offspring, descendant

בּן bên 'son, child, grandson' (Strong's #1121) from בּנה bânâh (Strong's #1129) would normally be a noun of the form בּנה bêneh but which has lost the weak final ה 'h'. The very first use in Genesis 3:16 is the plural בּנים bânîym (as if the singular were בּן bân) meaning both 'sons and daughters'. [Arabic uses ’ibn, Phoenician b-n, but Aramaic has בר bar (Strong's #1247), as in barmitvah - son of the commandments, from בּרא ber⒠'to create/procreate'].

'Sons and daughters' is more fully expressed by בּנים ובנות bânîym ûbhânôwth (e.g., Genesis 5:4,7,10,13). The idea of a child in general is perhaps paramount since passages such as Jeremiah 20:15 speak of a בּן־זכר ben-zâkhâr 'a-son, a-male-one', as if a son could be female!

'Son' could also be used for 'grandson', as in Genesis 29:5 where Laban is referred to as בּן־נחור ben-nâchôwr the 'son of Nahor', whereas in fact he was the son of Bethuel and grandson of Nahor (Nâchôwr).

'Grandsons' could also be pedantically described as בּני בּנים benêy bânîym the 'sons-of sons' since there was no specific word for them (e.g., Exodus 34:7; Proverbs 13:22; 17:6).

More metaphorically בּן bên could be used of anyone under the authority of another, as a subject to its king, a son to his father; 2 Kings 16:7 speaks of Ahaz calling himself a servant and a 'son' to the king of Assyria in his plea for assistance. Genesis 15:2-3 uses the phrase בּן ... בּיתי ben...bêythîy 'a-son-of-my-house' to describe a steward or servant (Eliezer in Abraham's house).

It could imply tutored discipleship as with the later rabbis and their disciples and in the Biblical period בּני־הנּביאים benêy-han'nebhîy’îym 'sons of the prophets' (e.g., 2 Kings 2:3-7). This idiom applies equally to non-human obeisance such as in the phrase בּן־מות ben-mâveth 'a-son-of-death' (1 Samuel 20:31; 2 Samuel 12:5) or 'subject to death' translated as "doomed to die" in the AV.

On the same principle 'a son of' a particular virtue or even vice describes a person or creature with that characteristic. For example 1 Kings 1:52 speaks of Adonijah showing himself to be בּן־חיל bhen-chayil 'a son of might/integrity' rather than wicked. Job 5:7 uses the brief phrase ובני־רשף ûbhenêy-resheph 'sons of fiery coals/darts' either to describe the swift and natural flight of birds (as the Greek Septuagint OT and some Jewish commentators think) or to depict the offspring of fire which may be 'sparks'. The king of Babylon (Lucifer) is called not 'morning star' but literally בּן־שחר ben-shâchar 'son-of-the-morning'.

In the New Testament, literal Greek translation betrays the underlying idiomatic Hebrew use of 'son' in 'a son of peace' (Luke 10:6) and Jesus' description of the repentant Jew Zacchaeus as 'a son of Abraham' (Luke 19:9), he was already a son of Abraham by birth, but now he was a son by deed. Compare also, Jesus' apparently harsh words "you are [sons] of your father the devil" (John 8:44), in other words, 'you do his works' in character or deed. In the New Testament parable of the two sons, the true son was the one who 'did' the work required not the one who only 'said' he would. Ephesians 2:2 speaks of "sons of disobedience/unbelief".

On this basis we could go down the path of suggesting that Jesus' divine sonship as 'son-of-God' was more his imitation of God's character and works rather than any familial tie or reference to Graeco-Roman offspring of the gods. Equally, Jesus' preferred title 'son-of-man' has been seen by some to mean simply 'a human one'. David was God's son when he exhibited trust and displayed God's mercy and character. Jesus as the messianic 'son-of-David' was both of David's line and was in character the true Davidic king; as Son of Man he was the figure of Danielic expectation rather than just a man; and as Son of God, he was committing heresy to his hearers in making himself equal and one with God. So, "son-of-..." as an idiom of character rather than childbirth does not really offer a way out of the "was Jesus God?" question, it simply adds another dimension to our understanding of his godlikeness.

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