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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Son of God.
This expression occurs, and even with some frequency, in the plural before it is found in the singular; that is, in the order of God's revelations it is used in a sense applicable to a certain class or classes of God's creatures prior to its being employed as the distinctive appellation of One to whom it belongs in a sense altogether peculiar. It seems necessary, therefore, in order to obtain a natural and correct view of the subject, that we first look at the more general use of the expression, and then consider its specific and higher application to the Messiah.
1. SONS OF GOD viewed generally. We first meet with this designation in a passage which has from early times been differently understood. It is at Genesis 6:14, where, in reference to the growing corruption of antediluvian times, it is said, "The sons of God (bene Elohim) saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all whom they chose" (that is, having regard only to natural attraction). And again, "There were giants in the earth (literally, the nephilim were on the earth") in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare [children] unto them, these were the mighty men (the heroes, הִגַּבֹּרַי ) who were of old, men of renown." The sons of God in these verses, say many of the Jewish interpreters, were persons of quality, princes and nobles, and. the daughters of men they married were females of low birth as if the climax of disorder and corruption in the Bible sense were marrying below one's rank! Such a view carries improbability in its very front, and is without any support in the general usage of the terms. In the Apocryphal book of Enoch, then by many of the fathers, and in later times not a few Catholic and Lutheran theologians (including among the last. class Stier, Hofmann, Kurtz, Delitzsch), the sons of God is a name for the angels, in this case, of: course, fallen angels; who they think form the only proper contrast to the daughters of men. In other passages, also, angels are undoubtedly called "sons of God" (Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7; Daniel 3:25) and "sons of Elim," or the Mighty (Psalms 29:1; Psalms 89:7). There are, however, other passages in which men standing in a definite relation to God, his peculiar people, are so called. Israel, as the elect nation, is called his son, his first born (Exodus 4:22); but within this circle a narrower circle still bore the name of his sons, as contradistinguished from those who corrupted themselves and fell away to the world (Deuteronomy 32:5); and those who had backslidden, but again returned, were to be designated sons of the living God (Hosea 1:10). Also in Psalms 80:17, Israel in the stricter sense, as the elect seed, is named the son whom God (Elohim) made strong for himself. There seems no reason, therefore, for supposing that the expression "sons of God" should be understood of angels any more than of men. Its actual reference must be determined from the connection, and in the case under consideration angels are on various accounts necessarily excluded. For
(1) the procedure ascribed to. those sons of God — choosing beautiful women for wives and marrying them — cannot, without the greatest incongruity, be associated with angelic natures, among which there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage (Luke 20:35-36). Even carnal intercourse between such parties was impracticable; but the actual taking of wives (the, term, used being that uniformly employed to denote the marriage relationship) is still more abhorrent to the ideas set forth in Scripture as to the essential distinctions between the region of spirits and the world of sense.
(2.) If a relation of the kind had been possible, it would still have been entirely out of place in such a narrative, where the object of the historian manifestly is to trace the progress of human corruption-implying that the prominent actors in the drama were men, and not beings of another sphere. Hence, immediately after the first notice of the angels of God marrying the daughters of men, the Lord says, "My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (Genesis 6:3); as if the whole quarrel were with the partakers of flesh and blood.
(3.) The moral bearing and design of the narrative also point in the same direction, which undoubtedly aimed at presenting, from the state of things which drew on the Deluge, a solemn warning to the Israelites against those heathen marriages which brought incalculable mischief on the covenant people.
(4.) In like manner, the allusion of our Lord to the marrying and giving in marriage before the Flood as things which were going to be repeated after the same fashion before the second advent (Luke 17:27) requires them to be understood of earthly relationships, otherwise the allusion could have furnished no proper parallel to the state of things anticipated in the last days, and would have been beside the mark. (See Stosch, De Filiis Dei [Lingae, 1749]; Quintorp, ibid. [Rost. 1751]; Scholz, Ehe d. Sohne Gottes, etc. [Ratisb. 1866].)
We are therefore decidedly of opinion that by "Sons of God" in the narrative of Genesis is meant, as the great body of the best interpreters have understood it, a select class of men on earth, those who belonged to the line that had maintained in a measure the true filial relationship to God (the Sethites). Though fallen and sinful, yet, as children of faith and heirs of promise, they were the spiritual as well as natural offspring of one who was originally made in God's image, and who still through grace could look up to God as a father. From this select class the Cainites were cut off, the unbelieving and godless spirit they manifested showing them to be destitute of the childlike spirit of faith and love; whence Adam and Eve, by reckoning their seed only through Seth, had in a manner disowned them. Alienated from God, the offspring of Cain were merely sons of men, and their daughters might fitly be called in an emphatic sense the daughters of men, because knowing no higher parentage.
But the other class contained members of a family of God on earth; for, if in that olden time there were pious men, who, like Enoch and Noah, walked with God, or who, even if they did not stand in this close, priestly relation to God, made the divine image a reality through their piety and fear of God, then these were sons of God (Elohim), for whom the only correct appellation was ‘ sons of Elohim,' since sonship to Jehovah was only introduced with the call of Israel" (Keil). The name in question, "sons of God," was made prominent at the critical time when it was on the eve of becoming altogether inapplicable in order the more distinctly to show how willing God was to own the relationship as long as he well could, and how grievous a degeneracy discovered itself when the distinction belonging to them as God's elect began practically to be obliterated by their ungodly alliances with the world. It is impossible here to enter into the collateral arguments urged by those who oppose the view given in the text and understand by "sons of God" the fallen angels. They are chiefly two. They conceive the nephilim (q.v.), the men of gigantic energy, or superhuman might, mentioned in Genesis 6:4, to be the product of those unnatural connections, and a proof of it. But the text speaks of the nephilim as being on the earth before the improper marriages in question were formed; and it is not at all clear that the gibborim, or "mighty men" subsequently referred to, were the same or similar persons (see Keil, On Genesis 6:4). The other line of support is derived from the supposed reference, in Judith 6:7, to the wickedness of the fallen angels in a lustful and fleshly direction, as. if they left their proper habitation to mingle in the pollutions of sensual indulgence here; but this is quite a fanciful interpretation. The sensuality and defiling of the flesh spoken of have reference, not to them, but to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who indulged in wanton and rebellious courses like the angels, but in these took, of course, a different direction. Going after fornication, or strange flesh, implies, as Keil remarks, a flesh of one's own (ἴδια σάρξ ), which the angels had not.
It was thus plainly in reference to men's moral state and relationship that the epithet "sons of God" was applied to some before the Deluge; and so was it ever afterwards. In a mere physical sense, as having derived their being from God, men are not in Scripture designated his sons; though there is an approach to it in the appropriation by Paul of a passage from a heathen poet ("We are also his offspring," Acts 17:28), in order to give it a higher application. Israel, when about to be called out of Egypt, or when actually delivered. was called collectively the son of Jehovah, or, in the-plural, sons (Exodus 4:22-23; Deuteronomy 14:1; Hosea 11:1); and this because they were by special election and privilege called to be "a holy people unto Jehovah their God, and Jehovah had chosen them to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth" (Deuteronomy 14:2; Exodus 19:5-6). In this sense .are to be understood all the passages which speak of God as the Father, the Former, or Begetter, of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:18; Jeremiah 2:27; Isaiah 64:8; Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:10). The sonship they indicate is one of a moral or spiritual nature, having its origin in the free grace of God. and its visible manifestation in the peculiar relation of Israel to the knowledge, service, and blessing of Jehovah. They are also called God's first born, because the distinction thus conferred upon them was not to, be theirs exclusively; they only took precedence of others, and received their place and privileges in order that through them all the nations of the earth might be similarly blessed.
But from the manifest failing, on the part of the great body of the people, to fulfil their calling and destiny, the sonship was again, as it were, denied of the collective Israel, and limited to the better portion of them. The one had not the marks of true children (Deuteronomy 32:5), and the other alone could properly call God Father, or be owned by him as sons (Jeremiah 3:4; Hosea 1:10). And even in their case all was imperfect, and could not but be till "the time of reformation," when God's purpose of grace reached its full development, and the partakers of it attained to a far higher position in the gifts and blessings of the divine; kingdom. From that time it was formally as the regenerate, those who have been born again of God or have received from him the adoption, that they become members of the kingdom (John 1:12-13; John 3:3; John 3:5; Galatians 3:5, etc.); and the Spirit is conferred upon them, not with a kind of secrecy and reserve, but in the full plenitude of grace, and expressly as the spirit of sonship or adoption, leading them to cry in a manner altogether peculiar, "Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15). As compared with this higher stage of sonship, those who lived in earlier times, while they enjoyed the reality, scarcely knew how to use it. In the tone of their spirits and the general environments of their condition they approached al; nearer to the state of servants than that of sons. (See ABBA).
2. SON OF GOD, in its special application to Jesus Christ. Even in Old- Test. Scripture, and with respect to the participation of sonship by the common members of the covenant, there was, as already stated, a narrowing of the idea of sonship to those in whom it was actually realized: But within that narrow circle there was a narrower still of which divine sonship was predicated, and this in connection with the family of David, the royal house. Even in the first formal announcement of God's mind on the subject, when the prophet Nathan declared so distinctly that David's son should also be God's son, and that the throne of his son's kingdom should be established forever (2 Samuel 7:14-16), there was an elevation of the idea of sonship beyond what had yet been given in the revelations of God to his people. The king on the throne of Israel in David's line was to be in the most emphatic sense God's son — combining, therefore, royalty and sonship and this associated with actual perpetuity. Could such things be supposed to have their full accomplishment in a son who had about him only the attributes of humanity?
Must not the human, in order to their realization, be in some peculiar manner interpenetrated with the divine? Thoughts of this description could scardely fail to occur to contemplative minds from the consideration of this prophecy alone; but other and still more explicit utterances were given to aid, their contemplations and render their views in this respect more definite. For David himself in Psalms 2 speaks of the future God-anointed king of Zion as so anointed and destined to the irreversible inheritance of the kingdom, just because he was Jehovah's son and had a right to wield Jehovah's power and exercise his sovereignty to the utmost bounds of the earth. This seemed to bespeak for him who was to be king by way of eminence an essentially divine standing; and in Psalms 45 he is addressed formally as God, whose throne should be for ever and ever. The same strain was caught up at a later period by Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14), where it is said of the child one day to be born in the house of David of a virgin that he should be Immanuel (God with us), and, again, in 9:6, that the child so singularly to be given should be called "Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God (literally, the God hero), the Everlasting Father the Prince of Peace" — epithets which had been unmeaning, or at least extravagantly hyperbolical, if the destined bearer of them had not been possessed of strictly divine attributes. So, also, in the prophet Micah, the contemporary of Isaiah, it is affirmed of the future ruler of Israel, whose birth was to throw a peculiar glory around the little town of Bethlehem, that his goings- forth have been from old, from everlasting (5:2). It is but to give a specific application to these prophecies, and to many besides that spoke of the glorious powers and prerogatives of Him who should come as the angel or messenger of the covenant to redeem his people and rectify the affairs of the divine kingdom, when at the beginning of the Gospel era the birth was announced of one who should be called the Son of the Highest, and who should sit on the throne of David (Luke 1:32); and when this same person, as soon as he had begun to manifest himself to the people, was acknowledged as at once "the King of Israel and the Son of God" (John 1:49).
Nothing, however can be more clear from the records of New Test. Scripture than that the Jews, while they expected a Messiah who should be king of Israel, were all but unanimous in the rejection of the idea that he should be possessed of a nature essentially divine. They could scarcely doubt that he was to enjoy in a very peculiar manner the favor and help of God so as to occupy the very highest rank among God's messengers to men; but there is no evidence that they carried the matter higher (Schottgen's proofs [De Messia, vol. 3] to the contrary are insufficient); and, accordingly, whenever our Lord made declarations which amounted to an assumption of proper divinity, he was always met by an uncompromising opposition, except within the circle of his immediate disciples. Once and again, when he spoke in such a way as to convey the impression that God was his own (ἴδιος ) Father — Father in a sense that implied equality of nature — the Jews proceeded to deal with him as a blasphemer (John 5:18; John 8:59; John 10:30-33).
When assuming the divine prerogative of forgiving sins, they charged him in their hearts with blasphemy (Matthew 9:3) but, so far from desisting from the claim, he appealed on the spot to what should have been regarded as an incontrovertible proof of his right to maintain it — his power and capacity to perform an essentially divine work. When at a later period he challenged them, to reconcile their belief in the fact as to the Christ being David's son with David's own recognition of him as his Lord, they were unable to meet it (Luke 20:41-44), plainly because they were unprepared to allow any strictly divine element in the constitution of Christ's person. Finally, when driven from all other grounds of accusation against Jesus, they at last found their capital charge against him in his confession that he was the Son of the living God (Matthew 26:63-66). In all the passages referred to, and very specially in the last, it admits of no doubt both that Jesus claimed a really divine character and that his adversaries rejected the claim and held the very making of it to be a capital crime. Jesus knew perfectly that they so understood him, and yet he deliberately accepts their interpretation of his words, nay, consents to let the sentence pronounced against him run, its course rather than abandon or modify the claim to divinity on which it was grounded. The conclusion is inevitable on both sides: on the side of the Jewish authorities that the idea of divine sonship was utterly abhorrent to their view of the expected Messiah, while in the mind of Jesus it was only as possessing such a sonship that the real characteristics of the Messiah could be found in him. Stier, however, has conclusively shown (Words of the Lord Jesus, on John 9:36) that the title "Son of God" was not a mere equivalent for "Messiah."
The mistake of the Jews respecting the person of Christ did not come of itself; it sprang from superficial views of the work of Christ. The national king of Israel, such as they had come to anticipate in the Messiah, might have been a mere man only specially assisted by God. There was nothing in the contemplated office which lay above the reach of human capacity or prowess, and it could not appear otherwise than blasphemy to associate with it an incarnation of Deity. Had they seen the more essential part of the work to lie in the reconciliation of iniquity, and laying open, through an atonement of infinite value and a righteousness all perfect and complete, the way to eternal life for a perishing world, they would have seen that unspeakably higher than human powers were needed for the task. Misapprehending the conditions of the great problem that had to be solved, they utterly mistook the kind of qualifications required for its solution, and remained blind to the plainest testimonies of their own Scriptures on the subject. They alone saw it who came to know Jesus as the Savior of sinners, the Redeemer of the world; and their testimony to his divine character was, like his own, explicit and uniform. If, as has been well said gathering up the substance of their statements and our Lord's own on the subject — "if the only begotten and we beloved Son of God, who always was, and is to be, in the bosom of the Father, in the nearness and dearness of an eternal fellowship and an eternal sonship; who is the manifestation, the expression, the perfect image of God, such a reflection of his glory and express image of his person that whoever has seen the Son has seen the Father also; who is the agent and representative of God in the creation and preservation of the material and the spiritual universe, in the redemption of the Church and the reconciliation of the world and the government of both, in the general resurrection of the dead and the final judgment of men and angels, in all divine attributes and acts, so that he is manifestly the acting Deity of the universe if he is not God, there is no actual or possible evidence that there is any God" (Dr. Tyler, in Bibl. Sacra for October, 1865). (See SONSHIP OF CHRIST).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Son of God.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/son-of-god.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.