What do they mean by the “Son of God”?

What does Jesus mean when He said He is the “Son of God”? If Jesus is the Son of God, then what makes Him different from everyone else? Aren’t we all “children of God” through faith [1]? Aren’t we called “children of God” because of the great love God lavishes upon us [2]? If everyone are “children of God” and Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters” [3], then why is Jesus given the special title as the actual Son of God that equates Himself to God?

I begin by questioning the basis where the Trinitarians argue for Jesus’ Godhood. The Lewis Trilemma, written by popular theologian, C.S. Lewis, [4] posit that — according to Jesus’ teachings in the scriptures — Jesus is either a Lunatic, a Liar, or truly the Lord. This Trilemma argues that Jesus is either mad, lying, or is speaking the “truth” when He speaks of His “Sonship” (of God). However, written in the background of confusion, many theologians and biblical scholars still cannot find concrete prove within the Bible that supported the argument that support Jesus to be God incarnate [5]. 

To understand Christ, we must analyse the scripture by peeling back its many layers. I do this by first separating the Scriptures into different segments. Within the New Testament, we split the scriptures into 1) what Jesus Himself said, as written by the apostles, and 2) what are the interpretations of what He said (this mainly refers to the Pauline Epistles). In the first segment about what Jesus Himself says, we can always find Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of Man. Though it was not sure what “Son of Man” might mean, but the Greek expression of “Son of Man” might simply refer to the speaker Himself, or “someone”, or “a human being” [6, and also in Ecclesiastes 3:18]. So there is no conclude linkage between the term “Son of Man” and “God’s actual Son”. Building onto this argument, we dig deeper. In some instances, we find Jesus referring to Himself as the “Son of God”. However, one must take note that the notion of someone being called the “Son of God” isn’t new. For instance, it was written in the Book of the Law that all Israelites or Hebrews are called “gods” themselves. 

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? — John 10:34, NIV.

It was also written by the prophet Jeremiah that God calls Himself the Father of Israel and Ephraim is His firstborn son.

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. — Jeremiah 31:9, NIV.

For all we know, when Jesus speaks of Himself being the “Son of God”, Jesus might just be reinforcing the fact that the identity of all Israelites are “gods” in the eyes of the Creator and that they are all “sons of God”. This was reinforced by Jesus’ counterargument in John 10:35-36, “If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”

For the fact that Jesus did not count Himself equal to God points us to the very truth that He isn’t. In a conversation with a rich man as recorded in the book of Luke and Mark, Jesus asked the ruler why did he call Him “good”. To that, Jesus added, “No one is good—except God alone.” (Luke 18:19, Mark 10:18). Sure, Jesus might have stunned the world with His miracles, His understanding of the scripture, and the way He share about His relationship with the Father (God), but none of it tells us that Jesus see Himself as God’s equal. In fact, the notion that Jesus was God’s equal was a latter addition in the Pauline Epistles and the latter writings. They were written by the apostles themselves. And within these writings, Jesus was not quoted in any speech that confirms His “divinity”.

Biblical scholars can argue that there is no one who can forgive sins except God alone. This argument pointed that the atonement of sin and the subsequent judgement are all “God’s doing”. Such a belief comes from ancient Jewish belief that no one can forgive sins but God alone (Mark 2:7). In the passage in Mark 2, Jesus was seen to have the authority not just to forgive sins, but also to heal (Mark 2:5-12). To many scholars, these two acts alone can account for His divinity. However, what many of these scholars ignored was Jesus’ other teachings that pointed that lay-believers have the authority to bind people on earth as well as in heaven and to forgive sins on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19, John 20:23). If common believers have the power to forgive sins, what makes Jesus so special? 

I think the early Christians are on to something. They are not trying to point us to the perceived “Divinity” of Jesus but the special “appointment” of Jesus Christ. To Paul, Jesus Christ was called according to God’s purpose. God foreknew Jesus, predestined Jesus, justified Jesus, and glorified Jesus, for doing what He had done. He was like anyone of us. He was the “firstborn among many brothers and sister” (Romans 8:28-30). He was, really, just one of us.

To better understand the Sonship of Christ, we look into the second segment — Paul’s description of Jesus in His epistles. Paul wrote, “the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Here, Paul pointed out that Jesus is not God but only an image of Him. Just like how Seth was not Adam but was born in the likeness of Adam, so is Christ in the image of God but not God. Then again, as we reflect on the scriptures, if anyone has the image of the Father, we are also Sons and Daughters of the Father. Building on this argument, shouldn’t all humankind who was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), be considered “Sons and Daughters of God”?

Or maybe there is a puzzle that we are missing here. Maybe, we haven’t been looking at the full picture. Paul tells us that we are all One Body and Jesus is the Head (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Colossians 1:18). If Jesus is truly One Body with all of us, then as a collective, we are all part of God. Considering this argument, we find that all past prophecies in the Old and the New Testament falling into place. We are called to be “gods” (Psalms 82, John 10:34), to be United with God and in God (John 17), to be in a Body, and to enjoy eternal fellowship together as “The Bride” (Revelations 22:17). We are all, as a collective, essentially, One God.

Is Jesus actually God? I think it doesn’t really matter. What mattered is whether we put our faith in God Himself; the God of Adam, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. Do we believe in God’s own teachings? Do we believe in those whom He sent? Do we believe in the promises He said? Do we believe that what He did was actually for us? Do we believe that He is our eternal high priest? Do we believe that He is always at the right hand side of God, interceding for us?

If we don’t, then are we good sons and daughters of He who created us? If we don’t, then are we truly part of this “One God”?


[1] So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith — Galatians 3:26, NIV.

[2] See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. — 1 John 3:1, NIV.

[3] For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. — Romans 8:29, NIV.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis%27s_trilemma

[5] Hick, J. (2006). The metaphor of God incarnate: Christology in a pluralistic age. (pp. 27-28). Westminster John Knox Press.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_of_man_(Christianity)

Image by Quang NGUYEN DANG from Pixabay
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