The Christian “Sonship of God”

 

The title “son of God” is applied to Jesus not only in the canon, but in apocryphal sources also. For instance, in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy idols are made to tell Egyptian priests that Jesus was the son of God (AraIn. 4:11). Studying the use of this term in apocryphal writings, however, adds almost nothing to what we can already learn from the New Testament, so we will focus on the latter.

Jesus is called the “son of God” numerous times in the New Testament, but the authors used this term in a number of different ways and gave it various connotations and meanings. Before we study the different usages, we need to be aware of evidence that suggests that this significant title was at times added by the Evangelists. More specifically, the title “son of God” appears in Matthew’s version of some events but is absent from Mark’s account of the same events (e.g. Mark 6:47-51; Matt. 14:24-33). In one example Mark (8:29) makes Peter say that people thought that Jesus was “the Christ” but in Matthew’s (16:16) account Peter’s words have an interesting addition: “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Given that it is generally accepted that Mark’s Gospel is older than Matthew’s and Luke’s and that these two were partly based on the former, we should conclude that in such instances Matthew has discretionally added the title “Son of God” to the original text.

Comparing texts of the same event in different Gospels can reveal such significant changes and additions. But, unfortunately, straightforward comparisons are not always possible, and it is often difficult to identify changes to the text. This caveat should be kept in mind as we look into the different meanings of the title “son of God” in the Gospels, although this warning applies to the study of the New Testament in general.

          

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