"Son of God" is a biblical phrase from the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament. According to Christian tradition, it refers to Jesus, whom they believe to be the begotten son of God.
"Son of God" in Judeo-Christian terms
In the Hebrew Bible
In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase "sons of god" has multiple meanings:
- The Hebrew phrase Benei Elohim, often translated as "The Sons of God", may describes angels, demigods or immensely powerful human beings. See Genesis 6:2-4. Many Bible scholars believe that this is a reference to pre-Biblical near-eastern mythology.
- It is used to denote a human judge or ruler (Ps. lxxxii. 6, "children of the Most High"; in many passages "gods" and "judges" seem to be equations); and to the real or ideal king over Israel (II Sam. vii. 14, with reference to David and his dynasty; comp. Ps. lxxxix. 27, 28).
- The phrases "sons of God" and "children of God" are applied to Israel as a people (comp. Ex. iv. 22 and Hos. xi. 1), the Jewish people, and also to all members of the human race.
In the Hebrew Bible the term does not connote any form of physical descent from, or essential unity with, God. The Hebrew idiom conveys an expression of godlikeness (see Godliness ).
In Judaism the term "son of God" is rarely used in the sense of "messiah."
In the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha
This literature contain a few passages in which the title "son of God" is given to the Messiah (see Enoch, cv. 2; IV Esdras vii. 28-29; xiii. 32, 37, 52; xiv. 9); but the title belongs also to any one whose piety has placed him in a filial relation to God (see Wisdom ii. 13, 16, 18; v. 5, where "the sons of God" are identical with "the saints"; comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] iv. 10).
In Judaism, it is through such personal relations that the individual becomes conscious of God's fatherhood, and gradually in Hellenistic and rabbinical literature "sonship to God" was ascribed first to every Israelite and then to every member of the human race (Abot iii. 15, v. 20; Ber. v. 1; see Abba). In one midrash, the Torah is said to be God's "daughter" (Leviticus Rabbah xx.)
In the New Testament
The phrase "the only begotten son" (John iii. 16) is another rendering for "the beloved son." The Septuagint translates ("thine only son") of Gen. xxii. 2 by "thy beloved son." But in this translation there is apparent a special use of the root, of frequent occurrence in rabbinical literature, as a synonym of ("choose," "elect"); the "only begotten" thus reverts to the attribute of the "servant" who is the "chosen" one.
The Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John have given the term a meta-physical and dogmatic significance. Many hold that the Alexandrian Logos concept has had a formative and dominant influence on the presentation of the doctrine of Jesus' sonship in the Christian writings. The Logos in Philo is designated as the "son of God"; the Logos is the first-born; God is the father of the Logos ("De Agricultura Noe," § 12; "De Profugis," § 20). In all probability these terms, while implying the distinct personality of the Logos, carry only a figurative meaning.
Many biblical scholars hold that in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus never styled himself the son of God in a sense other than that in which any righteous person might call themselves "sons" or "children" of God. However Christians believe the Resurrection vindicates Jesus's claim to a unique relationship to the Father.
In modern English usage
In modern English usage, the Son of God is almost always a reference to Jesus Christ, whom Christianity holds to be the son of the Christian God, eternally begotten of God the Father and coeternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
"Son of God" in other mythologies
Human or part-human offspring of deities are very common in other religions and mythologies, however. For example in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest recorded legends of humanity, Gilgamesh claimed to be of both human and divine descent. Another well-known son of a god and a human is Hercules.
A great many pantheons also included genealogies in which various gods were descended from other gods, and so the term "son of a god" may be applied to many actual deities as well.
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Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01