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Son of God

Son of God is a phrase found in the Hebrew Bible, various other Jewish texts and the New Testament. In the holy Hebrew scriptures, according to Jewish religious tradition, it is related to many diverse subjects, as to angels, humans and even all mankind. According to most Christian traditions, it refers to the relationship between Jesus and the God Yahweh (see God the Son) as well as a relationship achievable by believing Christians: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.

Similar terminology was present before, during and after the Ministry of Jesus and in his cultural and historical background. The Roman emperor Augustus was called "divi filius" (son of the deified Julius Caesar): "Divi filius", not "Dei filius" (son of God), was the Latin term used. In Greek, the term huios theou was applied to both, but, while huios theou is used of Jesus three times in the New Testament, he is usually described as ho huios tou theou, not just "a son of God", but "the son of God".

It is generally agreed that the language Jesus ordinarily spoke was Aramaic, even if he perhaps also spoke some Greek (see Aramaic of Jesus). The lack of primary sources in Aramaic about the life of Jesus makes it impossible to determine whether he himself or others referred to him in that language as "a son of God" or as "the Son of God" or neither.

Historians believe Alexander the Great implied he was a demigod by actively using the title "Son of AmmonZeus". (His mother Olympias was said to have declared that Zeus impregnated her while she slept under an oak tree sacred to the god.) The title was bestowed upon him by Egyptian priests of the god Ammon at the Oracle of the god at the Siwah oasis in the Libyan Desert The title was also used of wonder-workers.

While in a polytheistic culture rulers and heroes were called sons of Zeus or Poseidon or Apollo or some other god among many, Christians, being monotheists, consider Jesus to be the son of the only God there is.

By historical method

In the Gospels, the being of Jesus as "son of God", corresponds exactly to the typical Hasid from Galilee, a "pious" holy man that by divine intervention performs miracles and exorcisms, an opinion not shared by all (see, below, "Son of God" in the New Testament).

"Sons of God" according to Judaism

In the Old Testament, the phrase "son(s) of God" has an unknown meaning: there are a number of later interpretations. Our translation most likely comes from the Septuagint, which uses the phrase "Uioi Tou Theou", "Sons of God", to translate it.

  • The Hebrew phrase Benei Elohim, often translated as "sons of God", is seen by some to describe angels or immensely powerful human beings. The notion of the word as describing non-divine beings most likely comes from the Targumic Aramaic translation, which uses the phrases "sons of nobles", "Bnei Ravrevaya" in its translation. See Genesis 6:2-4 and Book of Job 1:6.
  • It is used to denote a human judge or ruler (Psalm 82:6, "children of the Most High"; in many passages "gods" and "judges" can seem to be equations). In a more specialized sense, "son of God" is a title applied only to the real king over Israel (II Samuel 7: 14, with reference to King David and those of his descendants who carried on his dynasty; comp. Psalm 89:27, 28).
  • Israel as a people is called God's "son", using the singular form (comp. Exodus 4: 22 and Hosea 11:1).

In Judaism the term "son of God" was used of the expected "messiah" figure. Psalm 2 addresses someone as both God's messiah (anointed king) and God's son.

In the Jewish literature that was not finally accepted as part of the Hebrew Bible, but that many Christians do accept as Scripture (see Deuterocanonical books), there are passages in which the title "son of God" is given to the anointed person or Messiah (see Enoch, 55:2; IV Esdras 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52; 14:9). The title belongs also to any one whose piety has placed him in a filial relation to God (see Wisdom 2:13, 16, 18; 5:5, where "the sons of God" are identical with "the saints"; comp. Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] iv. 10).

It has been speculated that it was because of the frequent use of these books by the Early Christians in polemics with Jews, that the Sanhedrin at Yavneh rejected them around AD 80.

"Son of God" in the New Testament

Throughout the New Testament (see "New Testament passages", below) the phrase "son of God" is applied repeatedly, in the singular, only to Jesus. "Sons of God" is applied to others only in the plural. The New Testament calls Jesus God's "only begotten son" (, ), "his own son" (). It also refers to Jesus simply as "the son" in contexts in which "the Father" is used to refer to God.

John Dominic Crossan's interpretation

John Dominic Crossan writing in God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (2007), says, early in the book, that "(t)here was a human being in the first century who was called 'Divine,' 'Son of God,' 'God,' and 'God from God,' whose titles were 'Lord,' 'Redeemer,' 'Liberator,' and 'Saviour of the World.'" "(M)ost Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus." Crossan cites the adoption of them by the early Christians to apply to Jesus as denying them of Caesar the Augustus. "They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majistas and we call high treason. "

Augustus as son of a Roman god, not Son of God (Yahweh)

In 42 BC, Julius Caesar was formally deified as "the divine Julius" (divus Iulius), His adopted son, Octavian (better known by the title "Augustus" given to him 15 years later, in 27 BC) thus became known as "divi Iuli filius" (son of the divine Julius) or simply "divi filius" (son of the Divine One), because of being the adopted son of Julius Caesar. He used this title to advance his political position, finally overcoming all rivals for power within the Roman state. The title was for him "a useful propaganda tool", and was displayed on the coins that he issued.

The word applied to Julius Caesar as deified is "divus", not the distinct word "deus". Thus Augustus was called "Divi filius", but never "Dei filius", the expression applied to Jesus in the Vulgate translation of the New Testament, as, for instance, in 1 John 5:5, and in earlier Latin translations, as shown by the Vetus Latina text "Inicium evangelii Ihesu Christi filii dei" preserved in the Codex Gigas As son of Julius Caesar, Augustus was referred to as the son of a god, not as the son of God, which was how the monotheistic Christians referred to Jesus.

Greek did not have a distinction corresponding to that in Latin between "divus" and "deus". "Divus" was thus translated as "θεός", the same word used for the Olympian gods, and "divi filius" as "θεοῦ υἱός" (theou huios), which, since it does not include the Greek article, in a polytheistic context referred to sonship of a god among many, to Julius Caesar in the case of the "divi filius" Augustus. In the monotheistic context of the New Testament, the same phrase can refer only to sonship of the one God. Indeed, in the New Testament, Jesus is most frequently referred to as " υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" (ho huios tou theou), the son of God.

Jesus as divine

In mainstream Christianity the title of Son of God is used to describe Jesus as a divine being and a member of the Trinity. This is expressed, for instance, in the Nicene Creed, which refers to Jesus as God's only Son, true God from true God, who took human form in the flesh. This view interprets the New Testament as referring to or implying the deity of Jesus in, for example, , which quotes as addressing him as God, and in , where Jesus states, "Before Abraham was, I am", seen in this view as referencing God's name "I am", revealed in Exodus 3:14.

Jesus as godly

Another view is that, in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus styled himself the Son of God in the same sense as a righteous person was sometimes referred to as a son or child of God (though not the son of God), as in . Since New Testament books present Jesus as without sin, those who hold the first view, that of Jesus as divine, can hold this view too, but not as an exclusive interpretation.

Christians as children of God

In the Gospel of John, the author writes that "to all who believed him and accepted him [Jesus], he gave the right to become children of God" [John 1:12]. The phrase "children of God" is used ten times in the New Testament. To these can be added the five times, mentioned above, in which the New Testament speaks of "sons of God". The New Testament speaks of no individual Christian as it speaks of Jesus, as the son of God, not just a son of God.

"Son of a god" in other belief systems

Human or part-human offspring of deities are very common in other religions and mythologies. A great many pantheons also included genealogies in which various gods were descended from other gods, and so the term "son of a god" may be applied to many deities themselves.

Ancient mythology contains many characters with both a human parent and a god parent. They include Hercules, whose father was Zeus, and Virgil's Aeneas, whose mother was Venus.

In the Greek and Roman cultures in which early Christianity expanded after first arising within Judaism, the concepts of demi-gods, sons or daughters of a god, as in the story of Perseus, were commonly known and accepted.

In the Rastafari movement, Haile Selassie is considered to be God the Son, a part of the Holy Trinity. He himself never accepted the idea officially.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest recorded legends of humanity, Gilgamesh claimed to be of both human and divine descent.

According to the Radha Soami Satsang Beas teachings, known as Sant Mat or Teachings of the Saints, "Son of God" refers to a living Master who connects souls with the Creator through the Shabd or Holy Spirit.

New Testament passages

The devil or demons calling Jesus Son of God

  • υιὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (huios tou theou)
  • ὀ υιὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (ho huios tou theou)
  • [ὀ] υιὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ([ho] huios tou theou) - vocative case is normally without article

Humans, including the New Testament writers, calling Jesus Son of God

  • θεοῦ υιός (theou huios)
  • υιὸς θεοῦ (huios theou)
    • (of doubtful authenticity)
  • ὀ υιὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (ho huios tou theou)
  • his son", meaning God's - equivalent to ὀ υιὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (ho huios tou theou)

Attributed to Jesus himself

  • ὀ υιὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (ho huios tou theou)
    • (equivalent expression)

Unclear whether attributed to Jesus himself or only a comment of the evangelist

  • ὀ υιὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (ho huios tou theou)
    • - with "μονογενής" (only-begotten)

Jesus referred to as ὀ υιός (ho huios)

  • etc.

References

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