Throughout scripture several titles are associated with Jesus Christ. Each designates a specific essence of His divine purpose, His being, His mission, His function. One controversial and misunderstood title is that of “The Son of God”.
As a scholar of biblical languages & theologian I am dismayed over the confusion that continues to exist about the proper comprehension of the term “son” when applied to Jesus Christ. The precise understanding revealed in scripture relative to Christ as “The SON of God” is UNIQUE. The very use of the definite article “THE” implies by the simplest interpretation a significant augmentation from merely “a” son.
To fully grasp the intent of the inspired writer’s use of the term it must be interpreted as it has been placed within the context of the greater phrases “the Son of God”, “the ONLY Begotten Son”, “the Son of Man”. Only by a proper grasping of these related phrases in WHOLE form (in which the term “Son” is merely a part), will their meaning be properly understood.
When “Son” is examined on its own (independent of the phrases) it certainly appears to be merely generic and can equally apply to ALL sons as “male offspring”. But within the context of the associated phrases, “Son” takes on a distinct and absolute UNIQUENESS.
It distinguishes a ONE of a kind, COMPLETELY different type of “offspring”. It designates a Being whose form was precisely and purposely prepared by GOD for GOD to inhabit.
The name “Immanuel” has often been interpreted as “God with us”. A more perfect transliteration by employing the same rules of systematic theology briefly explained above (regarding proper context within a phrase) provides a more precise translation = “God with us in His flesh”.
The phrase “Only Begotten Son” occurs in the Gospel of John.
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life“ – Jn. 3:16.
The phrase “only begotten” is translated from the Greek word ‘monogenes’. This word is variously translated into English as “only,” “one and only,” and “only begotten.”
It’s this last phrase (‘only begotten’) that causes problems. Several commentators have emphasized this phrase in an attempt to prove their teachings that Jesus Christ is NOT God; that Jesus isn’t EQUAL to God; that He is NOT divine and eternal. They point to the English word “begotten” and explain that Jesus is a created being because only someone who had a beginning in time can be “begotten”. They erroneously conclude that Jesus was literally “begotten” as in “produced” or “created” by God.
However, this fails to note that “begotten” is an English translation of a Greek word. As such, it is NOT the original meaning of the Greek word, which was transferred into several English translations of the text. As is too many times the case, the true meaning is lost in translation.
According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, the Greek word ‘monogenes’ has two primary definitions. The first definition is “pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship.” This is its meaning in Hebrews 11:17 when the writer refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only begotten son”. Abraham had more than one son, but Isaac was the only son he had by Sarah and the only son of the covenant. Therefore, it is the UNIQUENESS of Isaac among the other sons that allows for the use of the Greek word ‘monogenes’ in that context.
The second definition is “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.” This is the meaning that is implied in John 3:16 (and also Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:18; 1 Jn. 4:9). John was primarily concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is THE Son of God (Jn. 20:31), and he uses ‘monogenes’ to highlight Jesus as UNIQUELY God’s Son—sharing the same divine nature as God—as opposed to true believers who become God’s many sons and daughters b through spiritual adoption (Eph. 1:5). Jesus Christ is God’s “ONE and ONLY” Son.
A further distinction relevant to the UNIQUENESS of “The SON of GOD” is that of the Incarnation = God became man and dwelt among us.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”
– Jn. 1:1.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” – Jn. 1:14.
It is important that comprehension of the UNIQUENESS of The Son of God be carried over into EVERY aspect of His being. The concept of God becoming “flesh” is also absolutely UNIQUE to Christ. His “flesh” was a UNIQUE type of body (unlike any other human body) in that it was NOT the product of any human male seed. His “flesh” was conceived by the Holy Spirit (The Spirit of God). Scripture is adamant about this declaration and revelation.
“While he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” – Mt. 1:20.
Therefore, the product of this UNIQUE and miraculous conception most certainly must have peculiar qualities specific to the divine nature of its male seed. To further expound upon the UNIQUENESS of this flesh and blood vessel inhabited by God, consider this also.
Those who strive over the deity of Christ often point to the relational dialogue between the Son of God and “The Father”. They point out that Jesus must be a distinctly separate being from God because it is clear that the Father is NOT the Son. They contend that ONLY the Father is GOD; the Son is some lesser supernatural being, whom the Father confers power and authority upon because of His absolute obedience to the will of the Father.
While it is certain that Jesus was in fact ABSOLUTELY obedient in every way to the will of the Father, this does NOT support their conclusions that The Son is NOT fully GOD. Conversely, it actually supports Christ’s Deity, because Who but God could ever ABSOLUTELY conform to the perfect will of GOD.
In similar fashion that our own bodies are obedient to our personal will, so was the body God prepared for His in-habitation obedient to His will. The NT revelation of God is “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands“ – Ac.7:48; 17:24. Initiated through Christ, God dwelt among us, as one of us.
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory & the express image of His person, upholds all things by the Word of His power” – Heb. 1:1-3.
If scripture intended such a concept that The Son is NOT fully GOD to be embraced, thereby discounting the widely accepted understanding held by the majority of Christian theologians of the triune Godhead, then it would have declared the Father as the agent involved in Christ’s conception, NOT the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus would more appropriately have referred to the Holy Spirit rather than His Father, if ANY such distinction was important and truly meant to distinguish the Son as something other than Almighty Eternal God.
But such distinctions are NOT the intent of scripture in the multiple references to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The manifestations of God as part of His progressive revelation to man have each taken on relational differences, but are consistently ALWAYS referring to the ONE and ONLY Supreme Being and Eternal God.
That ALL three names (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are used interchangeably in reference to GOD by Jesus and the NT writers leaves little room for doubt that God has indeed chosen to manifest Himself in and by those three titles.
In the specific references to the “SON of GOD” it must be realized that there exists a peculiarity exclusive to the term “THE SON OF GOD“. There is absolutely no other similar usage related to ANY other being or “son”. Its appearance in scripture (both OT and NT) is expressly confined to the physical HUMAN form that GOD inhabits.
Therefore, it must NOT be considered equivalent to ANY other uses of the term “son”. This is a completely unique “SON“, unlike ANY and EVERY other “son”. Essentially, it refers to the miraculous flesh and blood body prepared by God specifically for His precise INCARNATION.
The greatest area of confusion regarding this miracle is in reconciling the idea of God in the flesh. Although a perfect comprehension of this incredible manifestation of GOD may indeed be beyond man’s ability in this natural realm, scripture never-the-less declares it (Jn. 1:14).
Just as God appeared numerous times in various forms in the OT (some of which were ‘Christophanies’), while it was GOD, the physical attributes necessary for visualization in this natural realm remained subject to this realm. Because God is essentially SPIRIT and cannot be seen with the physical eye, and because flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God (a property within the spiritual realm), in order for God to invade this physical realm, He took on a physical form.
While this is indeed incomprehensible by human logic, nothing is impossible for God. In order to fulfill His plan of redemption, He had to become the perfect man. In order to satisfy the penalty for sin, He had to become the perfect sacrifice. In order to provide the proper ransom for mankind, He had to die. In order to do THAT, He had to take on a physical body. Because GOD cannot die, He had to forsake His SON for a moment; the expiration of the physical life of the Son’s flesh and blood body.
God as Father is introduced ONLY in the New Testament.
Nowhere in the 490 references to “father” throughout the Old Testament is the term referring to GOD, with ONE exception. Isaiah 9:6 declares of the Son that He is the “Everlasting Father”.
Jesus introduced the Father as a means of revealing God’s divine plan and desire for the type of right relationship that God wants with mankind. His revealed purpose throughout scripture has been to initiate and maintain an eternal right relationship between God and Man.
God desires a family, of which He is the Head – as the Father.
Prior to Christ’s revelation and the initiation of the New Testament, the Old Covenant was established for the Jews, as a direct response by God to their demands for a system of ritual and ordinances by which they could pay homage to their God similar to the way in which they had observed the pagan cultures surrounding them worship their idols. Under the LAW the Jews relationship with God was subservient, NOT familial.
That system (the LAW) never provided a relationship with God in intimate personal interaction. They could never approach God personally; such interaction required a mediator, a priest. They never were considered God’s children, merely His people. But Jesus introduced the END of that system and along with it, a NEW relationship with God.
The phrase “the children of God” is unique to the New Testament.
It is NOT found in the OT. The revelation of GOD is only made personal through Christ, and Jesus introduces this fuller revelation in several expressions far more intimate than those revealed in the OT. God wants children, and so Jesus refers to Him as Father. But God is also the SON, in that ALL the fullness of GOD dwelt in Him bodily (Col. 2:9).
By use of the terms THE Father and THE Son, Jesus revealed this eternal desire of God for a family. Jesus was a proto-type; the first born of MANY brothers and sisters. In His flesh He demonstrated how to walk in the Spirit. God in Him demonstrated how God would ultimately be in every true believer, performing the same works as Jesus, and even “greater” (Jn. 14:12).
“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” – Jn. 15:15.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” – Jn. 20:17.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” – Jn. 1:12.
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” – Ro. 8:29.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” – 1Jn. 3:1.
God created man – male and female – and the product of their union produces offspring which become family. God was from the beginning showing man His desire for a relationship with man. God desires to have a family. God became man to produce His family. Christ was “the first born” (referring to His flesh and blood body, NOT His eternal essence) among many sons and daughters.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” – Ro. 8:14.
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” – Ro. 8:29.
“It was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” – Heb. 2:10.
It was by becoming one of us (in our physical form) that God purposed to relate to us in terms familiar to our existence. In this He “humbled Himself” to show how far He is willing to go to establish a right relationship with us.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in THE FORM OF GOD, did NOT consider it robbery to be EQUAL with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death on the cross” – Phil. 2:5-8.
Although it is helpful to research original languages, ultimately we walk by FAITH not by sight. Consequently, many spiritual truths (such as the Incarnation) may never be fully comprehended by the rational mind. Just as we can never fully understand how God has always existed without any beginning, or how He created everything from nothing, we are not asked to fully understand it, but to simply believe. Therefore, many such teachings must ultimately be accepted by FAITH.
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself ” – 2Cor. 5:19.