The term “son of God” was not applied to Jesus only in the New Testament. Jesus himself used the phrase “your father” in reference to God around 20 times in his sermons. In the majority of these instances (e.g. Mark 11:25; Luke 6:35; John 20:17), he was addressing his disciples, i.e. he called them sons of God:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
In one instance (Matt. 5:9), Jesus described “peacemakers” as “sons of God.”
In a confused account in John in which Jesus argues with people who “had believed in him” (John 8:31) and who call God their father (John 8:41), Jesus accuses them of not accepting his teachings and goes on to label them as sons of the devil (John 8:42-44). This suggests that Jesus called God the father of the believers only. It also shows that the term son of God, like son of devil, is used figuratively. The following passage, in which Jesus addresses his disciples, seems to suggest that only those who do good works would be sons of God:
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
First John also contains passages that seem to restrict the sonship of God to the righteous (also 1 John 5:1, 5:18):
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29)
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)
This restrictive use of the term is similar to its exclusive application in post-Biblical times to pious Jews.
Paul applies the term sons of God to all Israelites: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). Luke (3:38) calls Adam also the son of God.
Jesus’ reported application of the sonship of God to the righteous and not only himself and its application by New Testament writers to people are in line with the historical fact that this concept did not imply divinity and, therefore, was never considered blasphemous. As we shall see later in this chapter, the Jewish leaders’ alleged accusation of Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be the son of God is unhistorical. The four Evangelists attributed to the Jewish accusers of Jesus their own, late understanding of the concept of sonship of God. The Jews of the time of Jesus, like those who lived before him, never understood the term in this way.