The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Term applied to an angel or demigod, one of the mythological beings whose exploits are described in Gen. vi. 2-4, and whose ill conduct was among the causes of the Flood; to a judge or ruler (Ps. lxxxii. 6, "children of the Most High"; in many passages "gods" and "judges" seem to be equations; comp. Ex. xxi. 6 [R. V., margin] and xxii. 8, 9); and to the real or ideal king over Israel (II Sam. vii. 14, with reference to David and his dynasty; comp. Ps. lxxxix. 27, 28). "Sons of God" and "children of God" are applied also to Israel as a people (comp. Ex. iv. 22 and Hos. xi. 1) and to all members of the human race.

Yet the term by no means carries the idea of physical descent from, and essential unity with, God the Father. The Hebrew idiom conveys nothing further than a simple expression of godlikeness (see Godliness). In fact, the term "son of God" is rarely used in Jewish literature in the sense of"Messiah." Though in Sukkah 52a the words of Ps. ii. 7, 8 are put into the mouth of Messiah, son of David, he himself is not called "son of God." The more familiar epithet is "King Messiah," based partly on this psalm (Gen. R. xliv.). In the Targum the of Ps. lxxx. 16 is rendered (= "King Messiah"), while Ps. ii. 7 is paraphrased in a manner that removes the anthropomorphism of the Hebrew: "Thou art beloved unto me, like a son unto a father, pure as on the day when I created thee."

The Pious as Sons of God.

The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha contain a few passages in which the title "son of God" is given to the Messiah (see Enoch, cv. 2; IV Esdras vii. 28-29; xiii. 32, 37, 52; xiv. 9); but the title belongs also to any one whose piety has placed him in a filial relation to God (see Wisdom ii. 13, 16, 18; v. 5, where "the sons of God" are identical with "the saints"; comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] iv. 10). It is through such personal relations that the individual becomes conscious of God's fatherhood, and gradually in Hellenistic and rabbinical literature "sonship to God" was ascribed first to every Israelite and then to every member of the human race (Abot iii. 15, v. 20; Ber. v. 1; see Abba). The God-childship of man has been especially accentuated in modern Jewish theology, in sharp contradistinction to the Christian God-sonship of Jesus. The application of the term "son of God" to the Messiah rests chiefly on Ps. ii. 7, and the other Messianic passages quoted above.

The phrase "the only begotten son" (John iii. 16) is merely another rendering for "the beloved son." The Septuagint translates ("thine only son") of Gen. xxii. 2 by "thy beloved son." But in this translation there is apparent a special use of the root , of frequent occurrence in rabbinical literature, as a synonym of ("choose," "elect"; see Bacher, "Die Aelteste Terminologie der Jüdischen Schriftauslegung," s.v.); the "only begotten" thus reverts to the attribute of the "servant" who is the "chosen" one.

It has been noted that the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John have given the term a meta-physical and dogmatic significance. Undoubtedly the Alexandrian Logos concept has had a formative and dominant influence on the presentation of the doctrine of Jesus' sonship in the Johannean writings. The Logos in Philo is designated as the "son of God"; the Logos is the first-born; God is the father of the Logos ("De Agricultura Noe," § 12 [ed. Mangey, i. 308]; "De Profugis," § 20 [ed. Mangey, i. 562]). In all probability these terms, while implying the distinct personality of the Logos, carry only a figurative meaning. The Torah also is said to be God's "daughter" (Lev. R. xx.). At all events, the data of the Synoptic Gospels show that Jesus never styled himself the son of God in a sense other than that in which the righteous might call themselves "sons" or "children" of God.

The parable of the faithless husbandmen and the vineyard (Mark xii. 1 et seq.) certainly does not bear out the assumption that Jesus described himself as the "son of God" in a specific theological sense. The parable recalls the numerous "son" stories in the Midrash, in which "son" is employed just as it is here, and generally in similar contrast to servants. If these considerations create a strong presumption in favor of the view that the original gospel did not contain the title, the other Synoptics do not veil the fact that all men are destined to be God's children (Matt. v. 45; Luke vi. 35). The term is applied in Matt. v. 9 to the peacemakers. God is referred to as the "Father" of the disciples in Matt. x. 29, xxiii. 9, and Luke xii. 32. Several parables illustrate this thought (Luke xv. 11 et seq. and Matt. xxi. 28 et seq.). Much has been made of the distinction said to appear in the pronouns connected with "Father," "our" and "your" appearing when the disciples are addressed, while "my" is exclusively reserved to express the relation with Jesus, and then, too, without the further qualification "who art [or "is"] in heaven" (see Dalman, "Worte Jesu," pp. 157, 230). But in the Aramaic this distinction is certainly not pronounced enough to warrant the conclusion that a different degree or kind of sonship is conveyed by the singular pronoun from what would be expressed by the plural. In the Aramaic the pronoun would not appear at all, "Abba" indiscriminately serving for the apostrophe both in the prayer of a single individual and in the prayer of several.

The title occurs with a distinct theological significance in Rev. ii. 18 and xxii. 13, as it does in the Pauline documents (Rom. i. 3, 4; viii. 3, 4, 32 [Jesus is God's ἴδιος, i.e., own son]; and in Heb. i. 2, 3, 6; v. 5, 8). These writings indicate that the rise of the dogma was subsequent to the decades marked by the ministry of Jesus and his immediate disciples. See Fall of Angels; God, Children of.

K. E. G. H.
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