Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Son of God = Possessing the Nature of God?

I first encountered this type of theological reasoning when reading the works of Charles Ryrie. It seemed "fishy" to me then and it appears highly suspect now. Can anyone provide solid lexical data that buttresses the claim that the phrase "Son/son of God = possessing the nature of God?

For instance, the Bible calls angels "sons of God," but do they possess the nature of deity, as this nomenclature is defined by Trinitarians?

Secondly, BDB Hebrew-English Lexicon supplies an example where the expression "son of" most certainly does not mean "possessing the nature of X." Take the idiom, "sons of the prophets" (1 Kings 20:35). Are we to assume that it denotes: "possessing the nature of a prophet"? Not according to BDB. Moreover, the phrase "son of a messenger" most clearly does not mean "possessing the nature of a messenger." That is why I am requesting those who take this stand to produce lexical evidence that supports this claim.

Another pertinent example is Ephesians 2:2. The Greek there reads: TOIS hUIOIS THS APEIQEIAS. This linguistic formula or construction does not signify: "possessing the nature of disobedience." It could simply refer to "disobedient [ones]" or "disobedient sons."

"hUIOI THS AP. Hebr. those given to disobedience" (Zerwick's A Grammatical Analysis of the GNT, p. 581).

For more details, see sections 42-44 of Zerwick's Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples.

NET Bible Footnote: "sn Sons of disobedience is a Semitic idiom that means 'people characterized by disobedience.' However, it also contains a subtle allusion to vv. 4-10: Some of those sons of disobedience have become sons of God."

Some argue that the expression "Son of Man" supports the notion that "Son of God" = "possessing the nature of God." Again, it appears that theology and not lexical semantics is controlling this discussion. Why should the title "Son of Man" have to mean "possessing the nature of a man"? As the Complete Word Study: Old Testament points out, the OT nomenclature "son of man" simply denotes "a man" or "an individual." One could also understand the terminology to connote a "mortal being of flesh." But "Son of Man" (in some contexts) also has "Messianic overtones" (Daniel 7:13-14). That is the way in which the Gospels primarily make use of the title or formula. Son of Man identifies Christ as the Messiah without needing to cart in a "possessing the nature of X" theory.


Edgar Foster said...

From Duncan:

Job_38:7 Psa_89:6

Mat_5:9 Rom_8:19 Gal_3:26

[Moderator note: I believe he meant for these verses to be placed under this entry-EGF]

omar meza solano said...

Excelente estudio

Anonymous said...

Hello Edgar,

very interesting question, which I discussed a bit earlier with friends from my congregation. We spoke about the different creeds (apostolic, athanasian, nicene-constantinopelian) and one of the question was about the nature of Jesus. I would say yes, Jesus has the nature of deity, actually he was called "a god" in John 1:1ff, within he has a divine nature.
According the other examples you give, I would even agree, that the angels have a divine nature. But I am not sure, if this understanding corresponds with the nomenclature as it is defined by Trinitarians.

Your example from Ephesians 2:2 makes me ask: why is it in your opinion wrong to say: "possessing the nature of disobedience"? Isn't that exactly what Paul wanted to say? And the same goes for "Son of Man" - sure was Jesus when he lived on earth in the nature of a human, a man. Or did I misunderstand your point?


Edgar Foster said...

Hello Bernd,

Good questions. One problem is how one defines nature. Trinitarians and most philosophers/theologians define "nature" as the essence (set of properties) of x. So in their view, if God's Son has the divine nature, then he has the Father's properties like omniscience and omnipotence. So most theologians would not say that the angels possess the divine nature.

While it may be true to say that the sons of disobedience have the Nature of disobedience, it does not seem that's what Paul meant to say. Besides the "sons of the prophets" example, think about the sons of light or sons of the night example. Are we meant to understand sons of light to mean, possessing the Nature of light?

Edgar Foster said...

See also Luke 3:38. Adam is son of God, but it's because Jehovah created him or gave him life.

Edgar Foster said...

One more text is Matthew 9:15, the sons of the bridechamber.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Edgar, I can see the difficulty now. (Sorry for coming back so late)

Another example came into my mind, which was used in the brochure "Guidance of God" (1999, p.20 - addressed to Muslims). It discusses the term in the light of islamic view and gives some examples from Arabic (son of the language, son of the road etc.), which shows the figurative use of it.

Noteworthy is the fact, that today's Arabic is still very close to the old Hebrew (which coined IMO together with Aramaic as daily language the thinking and way of expressing thoughts of the early Christians - more then Greek).

I think that is the main point: where ends a literal meaning and where starts a figure of speech.

For example, the revision of the NWT renders the old "sons of Israel" now as "Israelites", I think this expression had a more or less literal meaning, if we interpret "sons" as male and female descendants.

Even the term "son of God" for Adam is figurative to understand. So at the end of the day, I would say, that the term "son" in connection to "nature" has no deeper meaning. With other words, we can say Jesus is a god, but not because he is named "son", but because he is named "god".

Bernd (I hope I was able to express my thoughts in an understandable way)

Edgar Foster said...

Thank you, Bernd. I appreciate your interaction, and you communciated your thoughts intelligbly.

It's an interesting point you make about Arabic and ancient Aramaic. There's been a lot of scholarship in recent years on Aramaic and the possible role it played among ancient Jews. Did it supplant Hebrew as a regularly used language? How did it coexist with Koine Greek? Those are all good questions that are now being reviewed by scholars.

I'm still processing some of the changes you mention in NWT. Sons of Israel did communicate "males" IMO, but maybe that was not the intent. I would just like to add that many commentaries do say that "sons of disobedience" means those possessing the nature off disobedience; however, I'm trying to examine the matter lexically rather than theologically. It just seems that theology has often driven the understanding that "son of" = having the nature of X.

Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar,

I posted about this on Bowman's forum years ago. You can read my argument, here:

Here's a memory test for you: You provided one of the references I quote years ago. Can you remember which one? ;-)


Edgar Foster said...

Omar: Muchas gracias, mi amigo.

Kaz: I'll read your post, but I probably won't remember the source you're talking about. My hippocampus is gradually degenerating. :)

Edgar Foster said...

Very thorough and well-researched post, Kaz. I'm reminded of Geza Vermes:

"To a Greek speaker in Alexandria, Antioch or Athens
at the turn of the eras, the concept hUIOS QEOU, son
of God, would have brought to mind either one of the
many offspring of the Olympian deities, or possibly a
deified Egyptian-Ptolemaic king, or the divine emperor
of Rome, descendant of the apotheosized Julius Caesar.
But to a Jew, the corresponding Hebrew or Aramaic
phrase would have applied to none of these. For him,
son of God could refer, in an ascending order, to any
of the children of Israel; or to a good Jew; or to a
charismatic holy Jew; or to the king of Israel; or in
particular to the royal Messiah; and finally, in a
different sense, to an angelic or heavenly being. In
other words, 'son of God' was always understood
metaphorically in Jewish circles. In Jewish sources,
its use never implies participation by the person
so-named in the divine nature. It may in consequence
safely be assumed that if the medium in which
Christian theology developed had been Hebrew and not
Greek, it would not have produced an incarnation
doctrine as this is traditionally understood" (Jesus
in His Jewish Context, page 66).

Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar,

I had forgotten how long-winded I was when I wrote that post! I'm so sorry for putting you through that! :-)

I like the quote by Vermes, which sums things up well. I contacted him shortly before he died because Larry Hurtado wouldn't let me interact with him on Hurtado's blog (Hurtado can be a bit of a control freak). We had a brief but nice exchange, and he liked my take on Philippians 2:6, though he insisted that no Jew could have even uttered the words "equal with God" in relation to another, whether positively or negatively, I inferred. He certainly seemed to like my take (i.e. our take) better than Hurtado's, as Hurtado is in the Wright-ian camp vis a vis this verse, and I would agree with Vermes that Wright's interpretation is hardly likely.

Anyway, the quote that I got from you was the one by Walter Kasper, from his book "Jesus the Christ", p. 164:-)


Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kaz,

No problem on the length of your post. It was fun reading it. I also thank you for including the narrative concerning Vermes and your interaction with him. I respect Hurtado and Wright, but think they're often beholden to the party line of orthodoxy. Wright if brilliant; however, I believe he's wrong in how he understands Phil. 2:6. Maybe I can blog about that verse this summer, if something else does not prevent me from addressing that issue.

I do remember the quote from Kasper. His book was instrumental when I wrote my dissertation. Plenty of good stuff in his book too.

Best regards,


omar meza solano said...

Hello edgar ,Do you speack spanish??

Edgar Foster said...

Hello Omar, unfortunately I do not. Just a few phrases.