Yeshua the Anointed – Part 12: Messiah and Son of God

In this part of the series, I will be exploring the idea of the Messiah as the Son of God. This, of course, has enormous implications for the early Christian understanding of Jesus—how, and in what way (or ways), he is believed to be God’s Son. This article will be divided as follows:

  • Old Testament and Jewish Background
  • The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • The (Synoptic) Gospel Tradition
  • The Gospel of John
  • Christological Development in the New Testament and Other Early Writings

The Old Testament and Jewish Background

There are three relevant concepts or traditions in the Old Testament related to the expression “son of God”:

1. The plural “sons of God” as a reference to heavenly beings (‘Angels’):

  • <yh!ýa$h* yn}B= (b®nê-h¹°§lœhîm)—certain in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7, and virtually certain in Gen 6:2, 4; cf. also in Deut 32:8 LXX and 4QDt
  • <yl!a@ yn}B= (b®nê °¢lîm)—Psalm 29:1; 89:6
  • /olu# yn}B= (b®nê ±elyôn, i.e. “sons of the Most High”)—Psalm 82:6, though the interpretation of this passage is disputed, thought by some commentators to refer to human beings (judges)

The only occurrence of the singular is in Daniel 3:25, Aramaic /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn). Cf. the supplemental note on this verse.

2. The people of Israel as God’s “sons” or (collectively) as “Son”, in a symbolic or spiritual sense—”My (firstborn) son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9); “sons of the living God” (Hos 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]); “(My/His) sons” (Deut 14:1; 32:19; Isa 1:2-3; 30:1; 43:19; Jer 3:22). For YHWH as the “Father” of Israel, cf. Deut 32:6; Isa 64:8, etc. The only direct reference to Israel as “son of God” is in the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom (Grk ui(o\$ qeou=, Wis 18:13).

3. The king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense—Psalm 2:7; 89:26-27; 2 Sam 7:14.

The last of these had the clearest influence on Messianic thought, especially with regard to the figure-type of the Davidic Ruler who was expected to appear at the end-time. For more on the Messianic interpretation and development of these passages, cf. Parts 6 and 7 of this series. The first two aspects developed and were combined several ways in Jewish tradition:

  • The Messiah was associated with the end-time Judgment of God on the wicked/nations of the world—only the righteous and/or repentant of God’s people would pass through the judgment and enter/inherit the Kingdom. This follows the tendency, especially in Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period, to refer specifically to the righteous as God’s “sons”, cf. Sir 4:10; Wisd 2:18; 5:5; Esth 16:16, etc.
  • Beginning at least with the book of Daniel (depending on how one dates it), a distinct parallel and connection formed in Jewish thought, between the people of God (i.e. the righteous/holy ones on earth) and the “Sons of God” (Holy Ones) in Heaven. This is perhaps best expressed in the 7th chapter of Daniel—the precise parallel between the heavenly “one like a son of man” (vv. 13-14) and the “(people of the) holy ones” (vv. 22, 26-27). For other expressions of the relationship between Angels and the righteous in Daniel, cf. Dan 3:25ff; 8:15-17; 10:10-21; 12:1-3.
  • In the Qumran texts (primarily from the 1st century B.C.), the righteous remnant of the end-time is identified specifically with the Community—i.e. those who have joined together, correctly observing the Torah and following the instruction passed down by the “Teacher of Righteousness”. As we have seen, there were strong eschatological and Messianic components to this self-identity; the Community Rule documents, along with other texts, show that they expected the appearance of several end-time (Messianic) figures who would serve as rulers/leaders (the Community itself being the effective embodiment of the Kingdom). In addition, the heavenly beings (“Holy Ones”) were seen as functioning in tandem with the “holy ones” (the Community) on earth, and would join together more closely at the end-time.
  • This inter-connection between the righteous/holy ones on earth and heaven, was made even more precise in the figure of the “Son of Man” (also called “Righteous One”, “Elect One” and “Anointed One”) in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, early 1st century A.D.?). For more detail, see Part 10 of this series.

There are definite similarities in thought and expression between the Qumran texts, the Similitudes of Enoch, and early Christian tradition. It is significant, perhaps, that the latest of the Qumran writings, and probably the Similitudes, were roughly contemporary with the time of Jesus and the Gospel tradition.

The Qumran texts and Jewish writings of the Period

In examining these writings (c. 150 B.C. – 100 A.D.), it is important to focus on texts which: (1) specifically use the expression “son of God” or similar wording, (2) mention “son” or sonship in a distinctly Messianic context, and (3) are either pre-Christian or show little sign of Christian influence. There are, in fact, very few surviving texts which are directly relevant to the discussion. Apart from traditional references to the heavenly beings (Angels) as “sons of God” in Wisdom 5:5; Jubilees 1:24-25; 1 Enoch 69:4-5; 71:1, etc., I highlight here passages from seven documents, including five from the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls.

Qumran Texts (cf. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 137-47)—First, from the Florilegium (4Q174), a collection of Scripture verses with glossed interpretations, which have a clear eschatological and Messianic orientation. In lines 10-13, the Davidic promise of 2 Sam 7:11-14 is explained as referring to “the Sprout/Branch of David who will…sit on the throne in Zion at the end of days”. For “Branch of David” (dywd jmx) as a Messianic title, cf. Parts 67. This indicates the possibility of understanding the Royal/Davidic Messiah of the end-time as “God’s son”. Next, there are two passages which appear to speak of the “birth” (by God) of a Messianic figure:

  • 1QSa [1Q28a] 2:11-12—”[This is the sit]ting of the men of the name [i.e. of renown] [called] to the appointed place (of meeting) for the council of the Community, when He [i.e. God] will cause the Anointed One to be born with [i.e. among] them…” The verb restored as “cause to be born” i.e. “beget” (d[yl]wy) has proven somewhat controversial, having been read by other scholars as “bring [forward]” (iylwy), and other restorations have also been suggested. If the verb dly is correct, then the idea presumably derives from Psalm 2:7, where, in its original context, the king is begotten/born as God’s “son” (symbolically) upon his enthronement; here it would be his installment as ruler over the Community that is the occasion of his being “born”.
  • 4Q534 frag. 3 col. i, lines 8-11:
    “[and] he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the Elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be for ever.” Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:1071 (italics mine).
    It has been suggested that the lacuna in lines 10-11 be restored “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God…]”, which is certainly plausible and is favored by a number of scholars (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, pp. 144-5).

In the highly fragmentary text 4Q369, which appears to be an apocalyptic/eschatological work, there is reference to what certainly seems to be a Messianic (and presumably Davidic) figure in column ii of fragment 1:

“…for his seed according to their generations an eternal possession, and al[l…] and your good judgments you explained to him to […] in eternal light, and you made him for you a first-bo[rn] son […] like him, to (be) a prince and ruler in all /your/ inhabited world […] the c[row]n of the heavens, and the glory of the clouds you have placed [on him …] and the angel of your peace in his congregation and… […] […] for him (?) righteousness rules, as a father to [his] s[on…]” (lines 4-10) Translation Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:731 (italics mine).

Unfortunately, the surviving portions are too incomplete (especially the tiny fragments 2-4) to be certain of the context. Finally, we must note the now-famous Aramaic (Pseudo-Daniel) 4Q246, the so-called “Son of God text”. I have discussed this document in some detail, especially with regard to the parallels with Luke 1:32, 35, in earlier posts. That the context is eschatological and Messianic (influenced, in large measure, by Daniel 7) seems reasonably clear to me. A coming Ruler, parallel to the “rise” of the people of God, is called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High”. His rule is contrasted with that of the nations, and his kingdom is connected with the “everlasting Kingdom” and dominion of the people of God.

Other Jewish Writings—I find only two other writings from the period to be especially relevant:

  • In Joseph and Aseneth 6:3-5ff; 13:13(10), Joseph is referred to as God’s “son”, probably in the sense that this can be said, from a symbolic and ethical standpoint, of righteous Israelites and Jews (cf. above). However, it is somewhat unique to have the idea or expression applied this way to a specific exemplary person, and may hint at something deeper. It is also not clear whether, or to what extent, this has been colored by Christian influence; scholars today typically date the book somewhere in the 1st century B.C./A.D.
  • In the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (or 4 Ezra), the Anointed One (Messiah) is called God’s “Son” in 2 Esdr 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52. The introduction to this work is Christian (cf. 2 Esdr 2:42), but the core of chapters 3-14 (late 1st-century A.D.) is Jewish and shows little or no Christian influence. Chapter 11-13 are clearly influenced by Daniel 7, merging together the Son of Man and Davidic Messiah traditions, much as we see in the Gospels and early Christian writings.

In none of these Jewish passages does “son” indicate deity in the developed Christian (Christological) sense. At most we see: (a) the “Messiah” as a heavenly/angelic figure, or (b) righteous human beings identified in some manner with heavenly beings.

Gospel Tradition

According to the approach taken throughout this series, I begin with the core Synoptic tradition as represented by the Gospel of Mark; the title “Son of God” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] qeou=) occurs four times:

  • Mk 1:1, in the heading to the Gospel—”(The) beginning of the good message {Gospel} of Yeshua (the) Anointed, [Son of God]”. Some manuscripts (a* Q 28c al) do not have “Son of God” (cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 62).
  • Mk 3:11, where it is narrated that the unclean spirits, when cast out by Jesus during healing (exorcism) miracles, would cry out “You are the Son of God [su\ ei@ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=]!”; par Lk 4:41, and similarly in Mk 5:7 / Matt 8:29 / Lk 8:28 (Luke has “Son of the Highest”).
  • Mark 15:39, at the death of Jesus, the centurion standing nearby exclaims “Truly this man was (the) son of God!”; par Matt 27:54, but Luke’s version is quite different—”This man really was just/righteous [di/kaio$]!” (Lk 23:47).

We should also note the following five passages in the triple-tradition:

  • Mark 1:11 par, the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism—”You are my (be)loved Son…”; several MSS of Lk 3:22 instead have a quotation from Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”). The voice at the Transfiguration, Mk 9:7 par, is very similar (esp. the form in Matt 17:5, while Lk 9:35 is somewhat different).
  • Mark 8:29 par, the confession by Peter (cf. below).
  • Mark 12:6ff par, in the parable of the ‘Wicked Tenants’.
  • Mark 14:61-62 par, the question of the High Priest / Sanhedrin to Jesus (cf. below).

To these may be added:

  • Matt 4:3, 6 (par Lk 4:3, 9), by the Devil in the Temptation scene—”If (indeed) you are the Son of God…”.
  • Matt 14:33, the disciples declare “Truly you are the Son of God”, matching the declaration by the centurion in Matt 27:54. This is an addition to the miracle scene (Mk 6:51, cf. Jn 6:21), and is unusual in the way it precedes Peter’s confession, contrary to the literary and dramatic development of the narrative in Mark-Luke.
  • Matt 27:40, 43, where the identification of Jesus as Son of God (by way of the High Priest’s question in Matt 27:63f) has carried forward into the taunts by the crowd delivered against Jesus while he is on the cross.

Interestingly, in all of these instances, the expression “Son of God” is used by others, not Jesus himself; indeed, a number of the occurrences are actually by persons or beings hostile to Jesus (the Devil, unclean spirits, the Sanhedrin, mocking crowds). Not once does Jesus use the title himself in the Synoptic Gospels. The closest we come to a direct affirmation by Jesus are in two (parallel) episodes—the confession by Peter, and the interrogation of Jesus before the Sanhedrin:

The confession by Peter (Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20; Matthew 16:16)

In all three Gospels, Jesus’ question to his disciples is the same: “but who do you count/consider me to be?” The pronoun “you” (u(mei=$) is emphatic—others have said that he is a Prophet (Elijah, etc), but now Jesus asks his own followers directly. In Mark, Peter’s response is simply “You are the Anointed (One)”. It is not entirely clear what Peter means by “Anointed One” in this context. As we have seen throughout this series, there were several Messianic figure-types which could be in mind; many of the references throughout the period of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry seem to involve an Anointed Prophet figure—Moses, Elijah or the Anointed of Isa 61:1ff. It is the latter that Jesus identifies himself with directly in Lk 4:18-21; 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), etc. If Peter has in mind a Messiah of the Davidic Ruler type, this is by no means obvious from the text. It is interesting to see how Peter’s confession appears to expand, almost before our eyes, through the Synoptic tradition:

Mark 8:29
“You are the Anointed One”
Luke 9:20
“(You are) the Anointed One of God
Matthew 16:16
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God

Critical commentators have questioned the historicity of Matthew’s version, the idea being that Peter (or any of the disciples) would not have formulated such an apparently advanced statement of Jesus’ deity at this early stage in the narrative. However, this perhaps reads a bit too much into the text. While it is certainly possible that Matt 16:16 represents an early Christian gloss or explanation of Peter’s statement, on the other hand, Peter need not have had in mind an especially advanced idea of Jesus’ deity (cf. Hosea 1:10 [Hebrew 2:1]). Also, it should be noted that in Matt 16:17 Jesus’ declares that Peter’s confession is the result of inspiration by God; in all likelihood, then, Peter would not have understood the full significance of his own words.

Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-62; Matt 26:63-66; Luke 22:66-71)

In Mark (and Matthew), the High Priest addresses Jesus, either as a question (Mk) or an adjuration (Matt):

Mk 14:61
“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?”
Matt 26:63
“I require an oath of you according to the living God, that you say to us
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

In Luke’s version, it is the Council collectively which asks the question, divided into two parts in the narrative:

Luke 22:67
“Are you the Anointed (One)?”
Luke 22:70
“Then you are the Son of God?”

There is an obvious parallel between this question and Peter’s confession, which in Matthew’s version is made all but explicit:

Jesus’ question / Peter’s confession
“You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God” (16:16)
“…by the living God… if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God” (26:63)
Jesus’ declaration / Peter’s denial (26:64ff)

In examining Jesus’ response to the Sanhedrin’s question, we find two points in common between the three accounts—(1) some form of affirmation by Jesus, and (2) his identification with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure. Here is a comparison of Jesus’ response:

Mark 14:61-62

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?”

“I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi)
Son of Man saying—”and you will see the Son of Man…”

Matthew 26:63-64

“…that you tell us if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”

“You said (it)” (su\ ei@pa$)
Son of Man saying—”from now on you will see the Son of Man…”

Luke 26:67-69

“If you are the Anointed (One), tell us”

“If I tell you, you will not trust/believe (it)…”
Son of Man saying—”but from now on the Son of Man will be…”

“Then you are the Son of God?”

“You say that I am” (u(mei=$ le/gete o%ti e)gw/ ei)mi)

Here it is possible that Luke preserves a more complete account, and that Mark and Matthew (independently?) record a simplified version. Certainly Jesus’ ultimate response in Luke (“You say that I am”) seems to combine the versions in Mark-Matthew (“I am” + “you say/said”). In Mark, this response is an unqualified affirmation (“I am”); not so in Matthew-Luke, and commentators have various opinions as to how this should be understood, with three main possibilities:

  • As an affirmation—i.e., “You have said it (and it is the truth)”, “You have said (correctly)”, etc
  • As a reluctant/defiant response—i.e. “That is what you say”, “You said it, not me”, “(Those are) your words, not mine”
  • As a qualified affirmation—i.e., “You say it, but…”, perhaps in the sense of “Yes, but more than that…”

Jesus’ initial response in Lk 22:67-68, and his general silence before the Sanhedrin, makes an unqualified affirmation rather unlikely. Many modern commentators are inclined toward the second interpretation, i.e. that Jesus is unwilling to affirm the question as they have put it, turning their own words back on them. The use of the conjunctive particle plh/n by Jesus in Matthew to introduce the Son of Man saying suggests the third view—instead of answering their question directly, he shifts the focus to the eschatological image of the Son of Man. It is a difficult and sensitive matter, since this is the passage in the Synoptic tradition which most clearly expresses Jesus’ own view of his identity as the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God. Again, there are several possibilities that should be considered:

  • In referring to himself, in the Synoptics Jesus always uses the title/expression “Son of Man”, never “Anointed” or “Son (of God)”, and continues to do so here, answering their question in terms of the “Son of Man”
  • They will get their answer when the see him in his glorious/exalted state, presumably at his end-time appearance
  • It is meant as a warning of the impending Judgment by God, marked by the appearance of the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus himself)
  • In a number of passages, Jesus’ clearly does not want his identity as the Anointed One (or Son of God) to be made known publicly prior to his death and resurrection, perhaps to avoid popular misconception and misunderstanding

In my view, the some combination of the first and fourth options provides the best interpretive solution. This will be discussed further in the concluding sections to this Part, which, due to the length required, will continue in a second article. For more on the Son of Man sayings of Jesus, see my earlier Easter season notes and Part 10 of this series.

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