In a recent discussion about the validity of Trinitarian theology there was some questions about the use of the term “Son of God” as applied to Jesus. Some have argued that (1) the Son of God can’t technically be part of the Godhead since the Son is the physical manifestation of the Word. The basic argument is that “Son of God” is temporal language (like Jesus) which can only come into proper usage when the Son is born (Luke 1:35-this one will be called the Son of God). Others argued that (2) “Son of God” is an ambiguous term completely interchangeable with “Jesus Christ” and “The Word of God”. Yet others argue that (3) the term “Son of God” has been imbued with new (and exegetically unsound) theological meaning by the New Testament writers.
Starting with their own presuppositions they each make some solid points but I would argue that contra (1) the term refers to something with intent that can only be realized with a preexistent Sonship; contra (2) the term has specific meaning; and contra (3) the terminology’s usage has been properly realized by the New Testament authors.
Usage of “Son of God”
“Sons of God” appears early in Scripture, specifically Gen 6:2-4 to a group that married the daughters of men. There are several interpretations of this term as applied to this group (here you go) but all I want to say here is that with whichever interpretation one goes with, neither of them attest to a connection via progeny of Deiity.
The important thing about the usage of it here (then in Job, and Deuteronomy, Psalms, etc) is that the connection to God is to something He does by nature and is evidenced in those with Sonship. For example: Angels are Sons of God because of their spiritual activity and being; the Sethite line are Sons of God because they’ve been elected to take over the ruling role of Adam (who Luke calls the Son of God) and so they receive special promises from God (thus culminating in Israel as a whole who has been called God’s Son); a group of Kings would be Sons of God because they’re functioning as sovereign over the people just as God is sovereign over all.
We see the same language used in Psalms 2:7 where God speaks to His anointed (presumably King David looking back to the event in Samuel) and tells him “You are my Son; Today I’ve begotten you.” Of course, God isn’t saying “You are my male-born child because today you were born”. God is performing a declarative action which takes the anointed individual and makes him a Son in a very specific function: King. He’s not God’s Son in every sense (he’s not creating, he’s not the ultimate giver of life) but in the sense as being King over the nations, he’s very much God’s Son.
Functional Sonship Evidenced
This is evidenced all over middle-eastern culture, and attested to in the Gospel accounts. Jesus isn’t a Carpenter merely by trade (Mark 6:3), but because he was the Son of a Carpenter (Matt 13:55). The Jews, when arguing with Jesus claim that their father is God. In so doing, they stand on the side of God’s promises and truth: they think they have claimed the high ground with Them under God, and God on their side.
When Jesus turns and says that their real father is the Devil, He is not saying that they’re slaves to the Devil or born from Satan (as I’ve actually heard some Christians argue). He’s saying that insofar as the Devil lies and murders, this group of individuals are liars who plan to commit murder (John 8). In this respect, they are Sons of the Devil.
The sermon of the mount makes use of this functional sonship. Christ says things like “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Sons of God.” He’s not saying that peacemakers will be called Christians or believers but as much as they are folk who promote shalom (peace and rest) they are functioning (in that single aspect) as a Son, or copier, of God.
The term even winds up being applied to Christians as Sons of God (albeit by adoption: Gal 4:5). Believers are gifted with the Spirit of God and those who are led by that spirit are subsequently called Sons of God (Rom 8:14). Since God is love, argues John, those who know God must themselves love. John understands that Christians will fail (and thus points to Christ the advocate) but openly acknowledges that although we are currently children (in place of Sons) of God when the time comes we will be fully like the Father-putting emphasis on the transformation of the being in how he or she acts.
This usage shouldn’t surprise us. When my son acts really weird, waving around a lightsaber my wife turns to me and says “That’s you’re Son.” She’s not denying the fact that he’s actually her son too, but she’s saying in the way the boy is acting, it reflects outward, revealing me as his father.
Christ as Son of God
When the terminology is applied to Christ it follows this same connection to function (albeit a much different level). So whereas each King or Angel or Christian or Israelite is narrowly functioning as a Son, Christ’s function would entail of all things. He’d say things like “everything the Son sees the Father doing, He Himself does” and then proceeds to show how this means in matters of giving life, of raising the dead, and even in judging. Jesus takes the function to such a level that the Jews immediately think “He’s functionally making himself out to be a god on par with God.” In other words, they saw this Sonship as pitting Christ God Versus Yahweh God.
Christ’s argument is that His Sonship is not in opposition to God, but in functional subjection to God while simultaneously working equally as God the Father.
Whereas you have a King being declared a functional son of God in regards to ruling and anointed, we now have Christ who was the sent Son with all these other entailments tied into His position. Whereas you have Adam, the Son of God, to be God’s vice-gerent over the created order yet fails dramatically bringing it all down with him, we now have Christ, the Son of God who dramatically obeys before the incarnation (setting aside his own prerogatives) becoming a servant obedient to death on the cross, raising again and bringing all of creation up with Him. Whereas you have Israel, the Son of God, as a nation of priests; we now have Jesus Christ, who is both priest and king.
So Christ not merely becomes, but is the Son of God par excellence. All previous mentions looked forward to someone who would encompass all these different aspects and reflect absolute functional Sonship.
Therefore we can see that (Contra (3)) the New Testament writers haven’t imbued new theological and exegetically unsound meaning but have followed the various threads of functional Sonship to the one big ball of yarn tied up in Christ; (Contra (2)) the term has very specific meaning in regards to function in relation to God but in regards to Christ this is exemplified above and over being God’s Anointed while simultaneously including the Anointing aspect. All Kings (even the bad ones) are functional sons of God, but The Son of God par excellence would necessarily include Messiahship with Shalom-promoter, Eternal Father, Judge, and Giver of Life to the Dead; (Contra (1)) One can see that these threads weren’t merely God’s attributed functions being coincidentally appropriated in Jesus Christ. They each reflected a functional aspects of God (including creative ability, self-existence, imagination-the list is endless) which would necessarily result in a being that already has all those things. Jesus wasn’t born \to become the functional Creator of the World-the Sent Son would have had to have done that already (John 1:1-3). Jesus wasn’t born to become the bringer of shalom, as the Sent Son He would have already been a promoter of shalom