Bible Review 18:2, April 2002

Sharing in the Divine

What it means to be God’s son

By Herbert W. Basser

What does it mean when God calls Jesus “my Son”? Many modern readers interpret the phrase as a literal reference to Jesus’ virgin birth: Jesus was conceived by God’s divine seed. Others understand it as a metaphor for Jesus’ intimate relationship with God. But how did the earliest Christians understand the phrase?

In the Old Testament, God refers to angels, to the chosen people, to the king, to the messiah, and to the faithful Israelites as his “son.”1 The phrase clearly designates these people as being joined with God in some kind of special relationship, but obviously the phrase cannot be interpreted literally.

In the Gospels, God calls Jesus “my Son.” Most scholars agree it refers to an exclusive relationship between Jesus and God. But the precise nature of this relationship is disputed. Some say the phrase “my Son” simply designates Jesus as a human being who possesses God’s favor. Others say it designates Jesus as a divine being. Still others speculate that it means something in between—a superhuman who is both human and divine. (This was the special contribution of the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E.)

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