New Indian-Chennai News + more

Members Login
    Remember Me  
Post Info TOPIC: Was Jesus the Son of God? A Post-Christmas Analysis


Status: Offline
Posts: 23951
Was Jesus the Son of God? A Post-Christmas Analysis


Was Jesus the Son of God? A Post-Christmas Analysis

“Tis the season”–as the phrase goes, and despite the oft lamented “commercialism,” with the  reminders that Christmas is for giving not receiving, at the core Jesus remains “the reason for the season.” The sappy “Jesus” films and specials on TV, the blanket of media coverage from magazine stories to blogs, along with the manger scenes and millions of church services all attest to one affirmation–Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the virgin born Christ and Son of God.

Coin of Augustus Caesar

Denarius of Augustus Caesar 18 BCE: Divi Filius

Most of us who teach in the field of Christian Origins get asked from time to time by students or in public lectures, “Professor, do you believe Jesus was X.” Sometimes X is “Messiah,” other times it is “Divine,” but in my experience, most often, the question is “Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God.” In good Socratic fashion one is tempted to reply, “Well what do you mean by the term ‘Son of God,’ and such a counter question is certainly more than subterfuge. After all, a prime goal of a humanistic education is to “problematize” easy questions and test common assumptions by a critical examination of the past.

Scholars are aware of the rich and diverse ways in which the term “Son of God” is used in the Hebrew Bible, in subsequent Jewish literature, and in the New Testament writings themselves, not to mention various non-Jewish texts (including inscriptions and coins) of the Greco-Roman period. Here is a very simplified overview of the range of possibilities:

1) In the Hebrew Bible the precise phrase “son of God” does not occur, although the plural phrase “sons of God” (b’nai ‘elohim) occurs five times in the Masoretic text (Genesis 6:2,4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), likely referring to a group of “angelic” beings who comprise God’s heavenly court and are charged with the responsibility of overseeing, ruling, and reporting on human affairs. In Psalm 82:6 this group is directly addressed: “You are Gods, sons of the Most High all of you.” In the Dead Sea Scroll copies of Deuteronomy, the phrase “sons of God,” occurs two more times in the “Song of Moses,” also likely referring to these heavenly custodians of human affairs (Deut 32:8; 43), and these two additional references are also found in the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew from the 2nd century BCE. There is also an Aramaic reference (bar ‘elahin) to such a heavenly being who is said to be like “a son of the Gods” in Daniel 3:25.

2) The anointed kings of ancient Israel were referred to as “son of God.” Samuel tells David that God has promised to make a covenant with him and his royal descendants will rule as kings forever. Yahweh declares, according to Samuel, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7:14). According to a later Psalm, the Davidic ruler will cry “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation” and God will make him “the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:26-27). This is the background of Psalm 2, where Yahweh says to the king, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” Some scholars are convinced that this language was used in some kind of coronation ceremony, and various Psalms are classified as “royal Psalms,” in that they celebrate the reign of Israel’s King as Yahweh’s direct human agent (Psalm 45, 72, 110).

3) The people of Israel are called “God’s son.” Moses tells Pharaoh of Egypt “Thus says Yahweh, Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), and the prophet Hosea, looking back to that time, has God declare, “when Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (11:1).

4) In late 2nd Temple Jewish writings one who devoutly follows God is said to be his “son” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:16-18; 5:5; Sirach 4:10). For example, the various patriarchs such as Noah, Lamech, and Shem are addressed as “my son” regularly in 1 Enoch.

5) Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, and subsequent Roman emperors were regularly referred to as “son of God” (divi filius and later filius dei), on coins and inscriptions, as were a host of Greco-Roman “heroes” whom were called “divine men.” Some of these were said to have been “fathered” by a God, while others were honored for their extraordinary deeds. However, the terms “Lord,” “Son of God” and “Savior,” in the time of Jesus, was used rather widely in Greco-Roman materials to refer to such legendary, political, philosophical, or religious figures–see my university web site here for examples.

6) Adam, and by extension, all humankind, is called the “son of God” on the basis of being created in God’s image and likeness (Luke 3:38; Acts 17:26-29). This is akin to the general notion of God as Creator being “Father” of humankind.

7) Jesus at his baptism hears a voice from heaven that declares “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Mark records no birth narratives of Jesus at all. Matthew follows Mark here but there were versions his gospel in Hebrew that added the phrase “Today I have begotten you,” based on Psalm 2:7. This interpretation was referred to as “adoptionism,” meaning that Jesus was made and declared to be God’s son at his baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon him. Apparently such a view was held by some early Jewish followers of Jesus, associated with James the Just, the brother of Jesus, who came to be labeled in later years as “Ebionites.” We are told that they used the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, but in a version that lacked the virgin birth story of chapters 1-2, that they believed Jesus had a human mother and father, and that he was designated (“adopted”) as God’s son at his baptism as an indication of being chosen and favored as Messiah.

8) Jesus is said to be the “son of God” based on his mother Mary becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, with no human father, as explicitly stated in Luke 1:35. This idea of no human father is found in both Luke and Matthew. Even though the gospel of John has no explicit account of the “virgin birth,” his statement about the “Word (Logosbecomingflesh and dwelling among us” likely reflects this same idea of incarnation–the Son of God born in the flesh (John 1:14).

9) Jesus declared to be the “Son of God” by his resurrection from the dead. This idea is most explicitly stated by Paul in Romans 1:3-4, where he says Jesus is a descendant (“seed”) of David in the flesh, but a “Son of God” in the Spirit. The same idea, including the quotation from Psalm 2:6, “You are my son, this day have I begotten you,” is applied to Jesus through his resurrection from the dead in Acts 13:33. It is difficult to know whether Paul believed Jesus was born into the world with or without the agency of a human father but either way for him the definitive act of “divinization” for Jesus was his heavenly exaltation and glorification (Philippians 2: 5-10).

10) According to Paul those followers of Jesus who have received the Holy Spirit are made “sons of God,” and indeed, Paul says that Jesus is “firstborn of many brothers” (Rom 8:14-17; 29-30). Paul uses the term “adoption” to describe this idea that one becomes a “son of God” and calls God Father upon receiving the Holy Spirit. The writer of Hebrew speaks explicitly of these “many sons of God” who are to come (Hebrews 2:10). John expresses a similar idea of an extended family of “sons of God” based on a new spiritual “birth” for those who united with Jesus (1:12-13).

Given this complexity and diversity what one might mean by calling Jesus the “Son of God” could range from an affirmation of Jesus as God’s favored choice as Israel’s anointed king, to ideas of a preexistent Divine being who is born of a woman with no human father, and thus “becomes flesh” (Incarnation), with ranges of views in between.

My own view is that Jesus, like any other human in history, had a mother and a father, that he believed he had been called or chosen by God as the Davidic Messiah, that he was thoroughly apocalyptic in his outlook, expecting that his confrontation with the Roman and Jewish authorities in Jerusalem would usher in the Kingdom of God. He went to his death as a Jewish martyr with faith in God’s promise to redeem Israel and the world. What he most expected never came and the religion that eventually developed in his name he could not have remotely imagined. I expound this most fully in latter chapters of my book, The Jesus Dynasty and more briefly in my posts, A Thoroughly Apocalyptic Jesus and Did Jesus Claim to be the Messiah and Anticipate His Death and Sufferings?

Christmas for me, beyond its family connections, is a reminder of how quickly and thoroughly the historical figure of Jesus–that is Yeshua the Jewish proclaimer of the Kingdom of God–became the proclaimed–the thoroughly mythologized “Christ and Son of God” of Paul’s theology. I am less skeptical of our ability to “know” the historical Jesus than my colleague and friend Joseph Hoffmann, whose brilliant and entertaining piece “The Birth of the Messiah Legend” [link temporarily down, I will check with Hoffmann and correct if he reposts] I highly recommend, but most of us in the field agree that the “myth-making” process was thoroughly underway within 20 years of Jesus’ death. For that reason I have suggested elsewhere, somewhat tongue in cheek, that perhaps we should be celebrating the birth of Paul rather than Jesus.



Status: Offline
Posts: 23951


‘Tis The Season: Paul and the Invention of Christmas

One would not normally think of the apostle Paul around Christmas time since all of the focus of the holiday, beyond the shopping, gift-giving, and family gatherings–is on the birthof Jesus. Many biblical scholars would argue that Paul knows nothing of the “virgin birth” of Jesus but I argue differently in my book, Paul and Jesus--in fact I maintain that he “invented” it. If that be the case one could say that Paul is the real architect of Christmas.


Here are three posts that touch on this topic in various ways:

The Daily Beast: Should Christians Celebrate the Birth of Jesus or of Paul?

The Huffington Post: Did Paul Invent the Virgin Birth?

The Christian Science Monitor: Paul and Celebrating Christmas

Page 1 of 1  sorted by
Quick Reply

Please log in to post quick replies.

Tweet this page Post to Digg Post to

Create your own FREE Forum
Report Abuse
Powered by ActiveBoard