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"Son of God" is a phrase which according to most Christian denominations refers to the relationship between Jesus and God, specifically as "God the Son".

Historical context

While "Son of God" is most widely related to Christian New Testament concepts, similar terminology was present, before, during and after the Apostolic Age, in the Gentile and Jewish cultural and historical background of Jesus: while in the Greek and Roman polytheistic culture rulers and heroes were called sons of Zeus or Poseidon or Apollo or some other god among many, Christians consider Jesus to be the unigenitus Dei Filius (lat. "only-begotten Son of God"), of the only God there is, and regard themselves as monotheists.[1] In Judaism the term "son of God" was sometimes used of the expected Jewish mashiach figure.

In Greek mythology, Heracles and many other figures, human and divine, were considered to be sons of gods such as Zeus, their highest god, and Zeus himself was represented as one of the sons of another god.

The Roman emperor Augustus was called "divi filius" (son of the deified Julius Caesar):[2] "Divi filius", not "Dei filius" (son of God), was the Latin term used,[3] and, in Greek, the term huios theou ("son of a god") was applied.[4]

Historians believe Alexander the Great implied he was a demigod by actively using the title "Son of AmmonZeus". (His mother Olympias was said to have declared that Zeus impregnated her while she slept under an oak tree sacred to the god.) The title was bestowed upon him by Egyptian priests of the god Ammon at the Oracle of the god at the Siwah oasis in the Libyan Desert[5] The title was also used of wonder-workers.[6]

"Son of God" according to Judaism

In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase "son(s) of God" has various meanings: there are a number of later interpretations. Our translation most likely comes from the Septuagint, which uses the phrase "Uioi Tou Theou", "Sons of God", to translate it.[7]

  • The Hebrew phrase Benei Elohim, often translated as "sons of God", is seen by some to describe angels or immensely powerful human beings. The notion of the word as describing non-divine beings most likely comes from the Targumic Aramaic translation, which uses the phrases "sons of nobles", "Bnei Ravrevaya" in its translation. See Genesis 6:2-4 and Book of Job 1:6.
  • It is used to denote a human judge or ruler (Psalm 82:6, "children of the Most High"; in many passages "gods" and "judges" can seem to be equivalent). In a more specialized sense, "son of God" is a title applied only to the real king over Israel (II Samuel 7:14, with reference to King David and those of his descendants who carried on his dynasty; comp. Psalm 89:27-28).
  • Israel as a people is called God's "son", using the singular form (comp. Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1).
  • Ephraim as a tribe (Jeremiah 31:8)

In Judaism the term "son of God" was used of the expected "Jewish mashiach" figure.[8] Psalm 2 addresses someone as both God's messiah (anointed king) and God's son.

In the Jewish literature that was not finally accepted as part of the Hebrew Bible, but that many Christians do accept as Scripture (see Deuterocanonical books), there are passages in which the title "son of God" is given to the anointed person or Mashiach (see Enoch, 55:2; IV Esdras 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52; 14:9). The title belongs also to any one whose piety has placed him in a filial relation to God (see Wisdom 2:13, 16, 18; 5:5, where "the sons of God" are identical with "the saints"; comp. Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] iv. 10).

It has been speculated that it was because of the frequent use of these books by the Early Christians in polemics with Jews, that the Sanhedrin at Yavneh rejected them around 80 CE.

"Son of God" according to the Christian Bible

Ressurection: God incarnate son Jesus triumphs over death.

Throughout the New Testament (see "New Testament passages", below) the phrase "son of God" is applied repeatedly, in the singular, only to Jesus. "Sons of God" is applied to others only in the plural.[9] The New Testament calls Jesus God's "only begotten son" (John 1:14, 3:16 3:18, 1 John 4:9), "his own son" (Romans 8:3). (It should be noted that while the use of the original Greek word "μονογενής, monogenhs" is often translated as "only begotten," another usage for it in the Septuagint is "one-of-a-kind" (Heb 11:17) where Isaac is described as μονογενής although he was not Abraham's only son according to the Old Testament.[10]) It also refers to Jesus simply as "the son" in contexts in which "the Father" is used to refer to God the Father.[11]

Jesus as divine

In mainstream Christianity the title of Son of God is used to describe Jesus as a divine being and a member of the Trinity. This is expressed, for instance, in the Nicene Creed, which refers to Jesus as God's only Son, true God from true God, who took human form in the flesh. This view interprets the New Testament as referring to or implying the deity of Jesus in, for example, Hebrews 1:8, which quotes Psalm 45:6 as addressing him as God, and in John 8:58, where Jesus states, "Before Abraham was, I am", seen in this view as referencing God's name "I am", revealed in Exodus 3:14. Also in John 5:18, John writes "but he [Jesus] was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God".

Jesus as godly

Another view is that, in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus styled himself the Son of God in the same sense as a righteous person was sometimes referred to as a son or child of God (though not the son of God), as in Wisdom 2:18. Since New Testament books present Jesus as without sin,[12] those who hold the first view, that of Jesus as divine, can hold this view too, but not as an exclusive interpretation.

Christians as children of God

See also: Divine filiation.

In the Gospel of John, the author writes that "to all who believed him and accepted him [Jesus], he gave the right to become children of God" [John 1:12]. The phrase "children of God" is used ten times in the New Testament.[13] To these can be added the five times, mentioned above, in which the New Testament speaks of "sons of God". The New Testament speaks of no individual Christian as it speaks of Jesus, as the son of God, not just a son of God.

New Testament passages

The devil or demons calling Jesus Son of God

Humans, including the New Testament writers, calling Jesus Son of God

Attributed to Jesus himself

Unclear whether attributed to Jesus himself or only a comment of the evangelist

  • ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (ho huios tou theou)
    • John 3:18 – with "μονογενής" (only-begotten)

Jesus referred to as ὁ υιός (ho huios)

Christian Apocrypha

"Son of God" is the "Word" in the gnostic The Teachings of Silvanus (115:15): "For all dwell in God, that is, the things which have come into being through the Word who is the Son as the image of the Father." Supporting this, The Apocryphon of John also has "light" as the "only-begotten child" of the Father—not Jesus, personally: "And he looked at Barbelo with the pure light which surrounds the invisible Spirit, and (with) his spark, and she conceived from him. He begot a spark of light with a light resembling blessedness. But it does not equal his greatness. This was an only-begotten child of the Mother-Father which had come forth; it is the only offspring, the only-begotten one of the Father, the pure Light." Trimorphic Protennoia has: "Then the Son who is perfect in every respect--that is, the Word who originated through that Voice; who has within him the Name; who is a Light--he (the Son) revealed the everlasting things and all the unknowns were known."


In Islam, Jesus (Arabic: عيسى`Īsā) is a messenger of God who had been sent to guide the Children of Israel (banī isrā'īl) with a new scripture, the Injīl (gospel).[15] The Qur'an, believed by Muslims to be God's final revelation, states that Jesus was born to Mary (Arabic: Maryam) as the result of virginal conception, a miraculous event which occurred by the decree of God (Arabic: Allah). To aid him in his quest, Jesus was given the ability to perform miracles, all by the permission of God. According to The Qur'an, Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but God raised him to himself. Some Muslims take this to be a physical ascension while others interpret it as a metaphorical rising of his status as a true Messiah. Islamic traditions narrate that he will return to earth near the day of judgment to restore justice and defeat al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl (lit. "the false messiah", also known as the Antichrist).

Islam rejects that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God, stating that he was an ordinary man who, like other prophets, had been divinely chosen to spread God's message. Islamic texts forbid the association of partners with God (shirk), emphasizing the notion of God's divine oneness (tawhīd). Numerous titles are given to Jesus in the Qur'an, such as al-Masīḥ ("the messiah; the anointed one" i.e. by means of blessings), although it does not correspond with the meaning accrued in Christian belief. Jesus is seen in Islam as a precursor to Muhammad, and is believed by Muslims to have foretold the latter's coming.

Although Jesus is thus a highly respected prophet in Islam, and considered to be the Messiah, Muslims do not believe that he was a son of God. They look on him as the son of the virgin Mary and as a great prophet like other prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad. They believe that associating others with God in any kind of worship, even if the associated person is an angel or prophet, is polytheism and is an unforgivable sin.

See, from the Qur'an, Mary, verses 15-38, Al-Imran, verses 44-61, Al-Ma'idah, verses 108-117 and Al-Ikhlas

Augustus as son of a Roman god

A denarius minted circa 18 BCE. Obverse: CAESAR AVGVSTVS; reverse: DIVVSIVLIV(S)

It is generally agreed that the language Jesus ordinarily spoke was Aramaic, even if he perhaps also spoke some Greek (see Aramaic of Jesus).[16] The lack of primary sources in Aramaic about the life of Jesus makes it impossible to determine whether he himself or others referred to him in that language as "a son of God" or as "the Son of God" or neither.

In 42 BCE, Julius Caesar was formally deified as "the divine Julius" (divus Iulius). His adopted son, Octavian (better known by the title "Augustus" given to him 15 years later, in 27 BC) thus became known as "divi Iuli filius" (son of the divine Julius) [17] or simply "divi filius" (son of the Divine One), [18][19] because of being the adopted son of Julius Caesar.[20][21] He used this title to advance his political position, finally overcoming all rivals for power within the Roman state.[22] The title was for him "a useful propaganda tool", and was displayed on the coins that he issued.[23]

The word applied to Julius Caesar as deified is "divus", not the distinct word "deus".[24] Thus Augustus was called "Divi filius", but never "Dei filius", the expression applied to Jesus in the Vulgate translation of the New Testament, as, for instance, in 1 John 5:5, and in earlier Latin translations, as shown by the Vetus Latina text "Inicium evangelii Ihesu Christi filii dei" preserved in the Codex Gigas. As son of Julius Caesar, Augustus was referred to as the son of a god, not as the son of God, which was how the monotheistic Christians referred to Jesus.[25]

Greek did not have a distinction corresponding to that in Latin between "divus" and "deus". "Divus" was thus translated as "θεός", the same word used for the Olympian gods, and "divi filius" as "θεοῦ υἱός" (theou huios),[26] which, since it does not include the Greek article, in a polytheistic context referred to sonship of a god among many, to Julius Caesar in the case of the "divi filius" Augustus. In the monotheistic context of the New Testament, the same phrase[27] can refer only to sonship of the one God.[28] Indeed, in the New Testament, Jesus is most frequently referred to as " υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" (ho huios tou theou), the son of God.[29][30]

Son of a god in other belief systems

Human or part-human offspring of deities are very common in other religions and mythologies. A great many pantheons also included genealogies in which various gods were descended from other gods, and so the term "son of a god" may be applied to many deities themselves.

Ancient mythology contains many characters with both a human parent and a god parent. They include Hercules, whose father was Zeus, and Virgil's Aeneas, whose mother was Venus.

In Plato's Apology, an account of Socrates' defence at his trial, Socrates meets the accusation of atheism by getting his accuser to admit that, since he had spoken of Socrates as believing in "spiritual agencies", he was admitting that Socrates believed in "spirits or demigods", and since spirits or demigods are "either gods or the sons of gods" (theon paidas not uioi theou), he was illogical in accusing him of atheism.[31]

In the Greek and Roman cultures in which early Christianity expanded after first arising within Judaism, the concepts of demi-gods, sons or daughters of a god, as in the story of Perseus, were commonly known and accepted.

In the Rastafari movement, Haile Selassie is considered to be God the Son, a part of the Holy Trinity. He himself never accepted the idea officially.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest recorded legends of humanity, Gilgamesh claimed to be of both human and divine descent.

According to the Radha Soami Satsang Beas teachings, known as Sant Mat or Teachings of the Saints, "Son of God" refers to a living Master who connects souls with the Creator through the Shabd or Holy Spirit.

There are no direct analogues in Chinese culture which has been essentially atheistic among the literate classes since Han times, but the Emperor was generally styled the Son of Heaven and his or her rule was justified by the Mandate of Heaven.


  1. "Jesus' unique sonship is antithetical to concepts of sonship popular in the ancient world. In Hellenism, people believed a man could be a 'son of the gods' in many ways: in mythology, by cohabitation of a god with a woman whose offspring was imagined to be superhuman; in politics, by giving generals and emperors high honours in the cult of Roman emperor worship" (Comfort, Philip W., ed., and Elwell, Walter A., ed., Tyndale Bible Dictionary 2001 ISBN 0-8423-7089-7, article "Son of God").
  2. Augustus. The Facts
  3. See Lewis and Short for the meanings of "divus". The distinction is remarked on also in the online Encyclopaedia Britannica: "It became customary — if emperors (and empresses) were approved of in their lives — to raise them to divinity after their deaths. They were called divi, not dei like the Olympian gods".
  4. Borg, Marcus, and Crossan, Dominic, The First Christmas, HarperCollins, 2007, p. 96
  5. "Not the least of the many extraordinary facts about Alexander is that both in his lifetime and after his death he was worshipped as a god, by Greeks and Ancient Macedonians as well as, for example, Egyptians (to whom he was Pharaoh). The episode that led to Callisthenes' death in 327 was connected to this fact. Greeks and Ancient Macedonians believed that formal obeisance should be paid only to gods. So the refusal of his Greek and Macedonian courtiers to pay it to Alexander implied that they, at any rate, did not believe he genuinely was a living god, at least not in the same sense as Zeus or Dionysus were. Alexander, regardless, did nothing to discourage the view that he really was divine. His claim to divine birth, not merely divine descent, was part of a total self-promotional package, which included the striking of silver medallions in India depicting him with the attributes of Zeus. Through sheer force of personality and magnitude of achievement he won over large numbers of ordinary Greeks and Macedonians to share this view of himself, and to act on it by devoting shrines to his cult."Cartledge, Paul (2004). "Alexander the Great". History Today 54: 1. 
  6. Bauer lexicon, 2nd edition, 1979, page 834. In Contra Celsus VI chapter XI, Origen uses the term of the Samaritan Dositheus, without saying he was a wonder-worker, rather saying that, in the case of Dositheus, the title was self-attributed: "Such were Simon, the Magus of Samaria, and Dositheus, who was a native of the same place; since the former gave out that he was the power of God that is called great, and the latter that he was the Son of God." The Samaritan Dositheus claimed to be the Messiah, which may be what Origen meant by saying that he gave out that he was the Son of God (cf. Catholic Encyclopedia: Dositheans).
  7. While some hold that in previous centuries the Israelites were henotheists, by the end of the Babylonian captivity, Judaism is strictly monotheistic. The Septuagint translation is later.
  8. Qumran scroll #4Q246 states: "He shall be called the Son of God; they will call him Son of the Most High" (quoted in Mark Eastman: Messiah—The Son of God?; also in Wise, Michael O. and James D. Tabor. The Messiah at Qumran in Biblical Archaeology Review, Volume 18, Number 6. (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, November/December, 1992), p. 61
  9. Five times explicitly (Matthew 5:9, Luke 20:36, Romans 8:14 and 8:19, Galatians 3:26, and implicitly in Galatians 4:6
  10. Translators' commentary in NET Bible at
  11. For instance, John 3:35-36, 5:19-27, 6:40, 17:1; 2 John 1:9; Matthew 28:19
  12. John 8:46,Hebrews 4:15
  13. The other nine instances are John 11:52, Romans 8:16, Romans 8:21, Romans 9:8, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1-2, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 5:2
  14. Only verses that contain a reference also to "the Father" are listed here.
  15. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, p.158
  16. While Franciscan Friar Massimo Pazzini claimed: "The hypothesis -- often aired in the last two centuries -- that Jesus spoke Greek or Latin is impossible to accept", Ian Young, who teaches Aramaic at the University of Sydney, expressed the general view referred to in the Wikipedia article on the subject: "Some scholars have pointed out that Jesus' homeland, Galilee, in the north of modern Israel, was at that time very cosmopolitan, with a heavy non-Jewish influence. If Jesus was, as the gospels indicate, a carpenter, he may have needed Greek to deal with customers. (...) So it is plausible that Jesus knew Greek."
  17. Inscription on Porta Tiburtina in Rome
  18. 'Augustus' Gaius Julius Octavius
  19. As noted below, Augustus was called "divi filius" not "dei filius", the phrase used of Jesus
  20. Augustus (31 B.C. - 14 A.D.) by Nina C. Coppolino
  21. John Dominic Crossan, writing in God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (2007), says, early in the book, that "[t]here was a human being in the first century who was called “Divine,” “Son of God,” “God,” and “God from God,” whose titles were “Lord,” “Redeemer,” “Liberator,” and “Saviour of the World.” ... [M]ost Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus. To proclaim them of Jesus the Christ was thereby to deny them of Caesar the Augustus. ... They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. Either that was a peculiar joke and a very low lampoon, or it was what the Romans called majestas and we call high treason." (Crossan, John Dominic (2007), God and Empire, p. 28).
  22. "Ostentatiously rejecting divinity on his own account, he rose to power via Caesar's divine image instead" (Augustus, by Pat Southern, p. 63).
  23. Coins of the Emperor Augustus; examples are a coin of 38 B.C. inscribed "Divi Iuli filius", and another of 31 B.C. bearing the inscription "Divi filius" (Auguste vu par lui-même et par les autres by Juliette Reid).
  24. "It became customary — if emperors (and empresses) were approved of in their lives — to raise them to divinity after their deaths. They were called divi, not dei like the Olympian gods" (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
  25. Writing more than a century after the death of Augustus, Suetonius included among a series of wonders associated with his birth a story recounted by a certain Asclepias of Mendes in Upper Egypt that the birth of the future emperor resulted from the impregnation of his mother, while fast asleep, by a serpent in the temple of Apollo, and that her child was therefore called a son of Apollo, an Olympian deity (a "deus"), not a "divus", the word in the title given to Augustus.
  26. Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon
  27. Used of Jesus in Mk 15:39; Lk 1:35; Rm 1:4
  28. In that context there are no other gods to which it could refer!
  29. Swindler, Leonard J. Biblical Affirmations of Women. Westminster: 1979, John Knox Press, pp. 216-217. ISBN 0-664-22176-9
  30. The following are instances of the use of " ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" in the New Testament: Mt 16:16; 26:63; Mk 3:11; Lk 4:41; 22:70; Jn 1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 11:4, 27; 20:31; Ac 9:20; 2 Cor 1:19; Ga 2:20; Ep 4:13; Heb 4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29; 1 Jn 3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12, 13, 20; Rv 2:18. "Υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" (huios tou theou) appears in Mt 4:3; Lk 4:3; Jn 10:36. Mark, according to most modern commentators the earliest of the gospels, uses " ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" once, attributing it to "unclean spirits" who were "making him known" (3:11-12) and "θεοῦ υἱός" (theou huios) in (15:39), putting it in the mouth of a pagan centurion. In the first verse of this gospel, some manuscripts have (in the genitive case) "υἱὸς θεοῦ " (huios theou), others "υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" (huios tou theou), others omit the phrase in either form; critical editions such as that published by the United Bible Societies therefore bracket the phrase to indicate that in the present state of New Testament textual scholarship it cannot be taken as completely certain that the phrase is part of the text. Paul the Apostle uses "θεοῦ υἱός" (theou huios) of Jesus once, in Romans 1:4, a letter in which he four times (1:9, 5:10, 8:3, 8:32) refers to Jesus as "his son" (literally "the son of him", not "a son of him"). He uses "his son", with "his" referring to God, also in other letters (1 Corinthians 1:9 and Galatians 4:4, 4:6) and uses " ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" three times (2 Corinthians 1:19, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:13).
  31. Translation by Benjamin Jowett

See also

External links