The expression “Son of God” primarily identifies Christ Jesus. Others referred to as “son(s) of God” include intelligent spirit creatures produced by God, the man Adam before he sinned, and humans with whom God has dealt on the basis of covenant relationship.
“Sons of the True God.” The first mention of “sons of the true God” is at Genesis 6:2-4. There such sons are spoken of as ‘beginning to notice the daughters of men, that they were good-looking; and they went taking wives for themselves, namely, all whom they chose,’ this prior to the global Flood.
Many commentators hold that these ‘sons of God’ were themselves human, being in reality men of the line of Seth. They base their argument on the fact that Seth’s line was that through which godly Noah came, whereas the other lines from Adam, that of Cain and those of any other sons born to Adam (Ge 5:3, 4), were destroyed at the Flood. So, they say that the taking as wives “the daughters of men” by “the sons of the true God” means that Sethites began to marry into the line of wicked Cain.
There is, however, nothing to show that God made any such distinction between family lines at this point. Corroborating Scriptural evidence is lacking to support the view that intermarriage between the lines of Seth and Cain is what is here meant, or that such marriages were responsible for the birth of “mighty ones” as mentioned in verse 4. It is true that the expression “sons of men [or “of mankind”]” (which those favoring the earlier mentioned view would contrast with the expression ‘sons of God’) is frequently used in an unfavorable sense, but this is not consistently so.—Compare Ps 4:2; 57:4; Pr 8:22, 30, 31; Jer 32:18, 19; Da 10:16.
Angelic sons of God. On the other hand, there is an explanation that finds corroborating evidence in the Scriptures. The expression “sons of the true God” next occurs at Job 1:6, and here the reference is obviously to spirit sons of God assembled in God’s presence, among whom Satan, who had been “roving about in the earth,” also appeared. (Job 1:7; see also 2:1, 2.) Again at Job 38:4-7 “the sons of God” who ‘shouted in applause’ when God ‘laid the cornerstone’ of the earth clearly were angelic sons and not humans descended from Adam (as yet not even created). So, too, at Psalm 89:6 “the sons of God” are definitely heavenly creatures, not earthlings.—See GOD (Hebrew Terms).
The identification of “the sons of the true God” at Genesis 6:2-4 with angelic creatures is objected to by those holding the previously mentioned view because they say the context relates entirely to human wickedness. This objection is not valid, however, since the wrongful interjection of spirit creatures in human affairs most certainly could contribute to or accelerate the growth of human wickedness. Wicked spirit creatures during Jesus’ time on earth, though not then materializing in visible form, were responsible for wrong human conduct of an extreme nature. (See DEMON; DEMON POSSESSION.) The mention of a mixing into human affairs by angelic sons of God could reasonably appear in the Genesis account precisely because of its explaining to a considerable degree the gravity of the situation that had developed on earth prior to the Flood.
Supporting this are the apostle Peter’s references to “the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days” (1Pe 3:19, 20), and to “the angels that sinned,” mentioned in connection with the “ancient world” of Noah’s time (2Pe 2:4, 5), as well as Jude’s statement concerning “the angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place.” (Jude 6) If it is denied that “the sons of the true God” of Genesis 6:2-4 were spirit creatures, then these statements by the Christian writers become enigmatic, with nothing to explain the manner in which this angelic disobedience took place, or its actual relation to Noah’s time.
Angels definitely did materialize human bodies on occasion, even eating and drinking with men. (Ge 18:1-22; 19:1-3) Jesus’ statement concerning resurrected men and women not marrying or being given in marriage but being like the “angels in heaven” shows that marriages between such heavenly creatures do not exist, no male and female distinction being indicated among them. (Mt 22:30) But this does not say that such angelic creatures could not materialize human forms and enter marriage relations with human women. It should be noted that Jude’s reference to angels as not keeping their original position and to them as forsaking their “proper dwelling place” (certainly here referring to an abandoning of the spirit realm) is immediately followed by the statement: “So too Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them, after they in the same manner as the foregoing ones had committed fornication excessively and gone out after flesh for unnatural use, are placed before us as a warning example.” (Jude 6, 7) Thus, the combined weight of the Scriptural evidence points to angelic deviation, the performance of acts contrary to their spirit nature, occurring in the days of Noah. There seems to be no valid reason, then, for doubting that the ‘sons of God’ of Genesis 6:2-4 were angelic sons.—See NEPHILIM.
First Human Son and His Descendants. Adam was the first human “son of God” by virtue of his creation by God. (Ge 2:7; Lu 3:38) When he was condemned to death as a willful sinner and was evicted from God’s sanctuary in Eden, he was, in effect, disowned by God and lost his filial relationship with his heavenly Father.—Ge 3:17-24.
Those descended from him have been born with inherited sinful tendencies. (See SIN, I.) Since they were born of one rejected by God, Adam’s descendants could not claim the relationship of being a son of God simply on the basis of birth. This is demonstrated by the apostle John’s words at John 1:12, 13. He shows that those who received Christ Jesus, exercising faith in his name, were given “authority to become God’s children, . . . [being] born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God.” Sonship in relation to God, therefore, is not viewed as something automatically received by all of Adam’s descendants at birth. This and other texts show that, since Adam’s fall into sin, it has required some special recognition by God for men to be designated as his “sons.” This is illustrated in his dealings with Israel.
“Israel Is My Son.” To Pharaoh, who considered himself a god and a son of the Egyptian god Ra, Jehovah spoke of Israel as “my son, my firstborn,” and called on the Egyptian ruler to “send my son away that he may serve me.” (Ex 4:22, 23) Thus the entire nation of Israel was viewed by God as his “son” because of being his chosen people, a “special property, out of all the peoples.” (De 14:1, 2) Not only because Jehovah is the Source of all life but more specifically because God had, in harmony with the Abrahamic covenant, produced this people, he is called their “Creator,” their “Former,” and their “Father,” the one by whose name they were called. (Compare Ps 95:6, 7; 100:3; Isa 43:1-7, 15; 45:11, 12, 18, 19; 63:16.) He had ‘helped them even from the belly,’ evidently referring to the very beginning of their development as a people, and he ‘formed’ them by his dealings with them and by the Law covenant, giving shape to the national characteristics and structure. (Isa 44:1, 2, 21; compare God’s expressions to Jerusalem at Eze 16:1-14; also Paul’s expressions at Ga 4:19 and 1Th 2:11, 12.) Jehovah protected, carried, corrected, and provided for them as a father would for his son. (De 1:30, 31; 8:5-9; compare Isa 49:14, 15.) As “a son,” the nation should have served to the praise of its Father. (Isa 43:21; Mal 1:6) Otherwise Israel would belie its sonship (De 32:4-6, 18-20; Isa 1:2, 3; 30:1, 2, 9), even as some of the Israelites acted in disreputable ways and were called “sons of belial” (literal Hebrew expression rendered “good-for-nothing men” at De 13:13 and other texts; compare 2Co 6:15). They became “renegade sons.”—Jer 3:14, 22; compare 4:22.
It was in this national sense, and due to their covenant relationship, that God dealt with the Israelites as sons. This is seen by the fact that God simultaneously refers to himself not only as their “Maker” but also as their “Repurchaser” and even as their “husbandly owner,” this latter expression placing Israel in the relationship of a wife to him. (Isa 54:5, 6; compare Isa 63:8; Jer 3:14.) It was evidently with their covenant relationship in mind, and recognizing God as responsible for the formation of the nation, that the Israelites addressed themselves to Jehovah as “our Father.”—Isa 63:16-19; compare Jer 3:18-20; Ho 1:10, 11.
The tribe of Ephraim became the most prominent tribe of the northern kingdom of ten tribes, its name often standing for that entire kingdom. Because Jehovah chose to have Ephraim receive the firstborn son’s blessing from his grandfather Jacob instead of Manasseh, the real firstborn son of Joseph, Jehovah rightly spoke of the tribe of Ephraim as “my firstborn.”—Jer 31:9, 20; Ho 11:1-8, 12; compare Ge 48:13-20.
Individual Israelite ‘sons.’ God also designated certain individuals within Israel as his ‘sons,’ in a special sense. Psalm 2, attributed to David at Acts 4:24-26, evidently applies to him initially when speaking of God’s “son.” (Ps 2:1, 2, 7-12) The psalm was later fulfilled in Christ Jesus, as the context in Acts shows. Since the context in the psalm shows that God is speaking, not to a baby, but to a grown man, in saying, “You are my son; I, today, I have become your father,” it follows that David’s entry into such sonship resulted from God’s special selection of him for the kingship and from God’s fatherly dealings with him. (Compare Ps 89:3, 19-27.) In a similar way Jehovah said of David’s son Solomon, “I myself shall become his father, and he himself will become my son.”—2Sa 7:12-14; 1Ch 22:10; 28:6.
Loss of sonship. When Jesus was on earth the Jews still claimed God as their “Father.” But Jesus bluntly told certain opposing ones that they were ‘of their father the Devil,’ for they listened to and did the will and works of God’s Adversary; hence they showed they were “not from God.” (Joh 8:41, 44, 47) This again shows that sonship with God on the part of any of Adam’s descendants requires not simply some natural fleshly descent but primarily God’s provision of a spiritual relationship with Him, and that such relationship, in turn, requires that the “sons” keep faith with God by manifesting his qualities, being obedient to his will, and faithfully serving his purpose and interests.
Christian Sons of God. As John 1:11, 12 makes evident, only some of the nation of Israel, those showing faith in Christ Jesus, were granted “authority to become God’s children.” Christ’s ransom sacrifice brought this Jewish “remnant” (Ro 9:27; 11:5) out from under the Law covenant, which, though good and perfect, nevertheless condemned them as sinners, as slaves in the custody of sin; Christ thus freed them that they might “receive the adoption as sons” and become heirs through God.—Ga 4:1-7; compare Ga 3:19-26.
As did Israel, these Christians form a covenant people, being brought into the “new covenant” made valid by the application of Christ’s shed blood. (Lu 22:20; Heb 9:15) However, God deals individually with Christians in accepting them into this covenant. Because they hear the good news and exercise faith, they are called to be joint heirs with God’s Son (Ro 8:17; Heb 3:1), are “declared righteous” by God on the basis of their faith in the ransom (Ro 5:1, 2), and thus are ‘brought forth by the word of truth’ (Jas 1:18), being “born again” as baptized Christians, begotten or produced by God’s spirit as his sons, due to enjoy spirit life in the heavens (Joh 3:3; 1Pe 1:3, 4). They have received, not a spirit of slavery such as resulted from Adam’s trespass, but “a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit [they] cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’” the term “Abba” being an intimate and endearing form of address. (Ro 8:14-17; see ABBA; ADOPTION [A Christian significance].) Thanks to Christ’s superior mediatorship and priesthood and God’s undeserved kindness expressed through him, the sonship of these spirit-begotten Christians is a more intimate relationship with God than that enjoyed by fleshly Israel.—Heb 4:14-16; 7:19-25; 12:18-24.
Maintaining sonship. Their “new birth” to this living hope (1Pe 1:3) does not of itself guarantee their continued sonship. They must be “led by God’s spirit,” not by their sinful flesh, and they must be willing to suffer as Christ did. (Ro 8:12-14, 17) They must be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1), reflecting his divine qualities of peace, love, mercy, kindness (Mt 5:9, 44, 45; Lu 6:35, 36), being “blameless and innocent” of the things characterizing the “crooked and twisted generation” among whom they live (Php 2:15), purifying themselves of unrighteous practices (1Jo 3:1-4, 9, 10), being obedient to God’s commandments, and accepting his discipline (1Jo 5:1-3; Heb 12:5-7).
Attaining full adoption as sons. Although called to be God’s children, while in the flesh they have only a “token of what is to come.” (2Co 1:22; 5:1-5; Eph 1:5, 13, 14) That is why the apostle, though speaking of himself and his fellow Christians as already “God’s sons,” could nevertheless say that “we ourselves also who have the firstfruits, namely, the spirit, yes, we ourselves groan within ourselves, while we are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.” (Ro 8:14, 23) Thus, after conquering the world by faithfulness until death, they receive the full realization of their sonship by being resurrected as spirit sons of God and “brothers” of God’s Chief Son, Christ Jesus.—Heb 2:10-17; Re 21:7; compare Re 2:7, 11, 26, 27; 3:12, 21.
Those who are God’s spiritual children, called to this heavenly calling, know they are such, for God’s ‘spirit itself bears witness with their spirit that they are God’s children.’ (Ro 8:16) This evidently means that their spirit acted as an impelling force in their lives, moving them to respond positively to the expressions of God’s spirit through his inspired Word in speaking about such heavenly hope and also to his dealings with them by that spirit. Thus they have the assurance that they are indeed God’s spiritual children and heirs.
Glorious Freedom of the Children of God. The apostle speaks of “the glory that is going to be revealed in us” and also of “the eager expectation of the creation . . . waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Ro 8:18, 19) Since the glory of these sons is heavenly, it is clear that such “revealing” of their glory must be preceded by their resurrection to heavenly life. (Compare Ro 8:23.) However, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 indicates that this is not all that is involved; it speaks of “the revelation of the Lord Jesus” as bringing judicial punishment on those judged adversely by God, doing so “at the time he comes to be glorified in connection with his holy ones.”—See REVELATION.
Since Paul says that “the creation” is waiting for this revealing, and will then be “set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God,” it is apparent that others aside from these heavenly “sons of God” receive benefit from their revelation in glory. (Ro 8:19-23) The Greek term rendered “creation” can refer to any creature, human or animal, or to creation in general. Paul refers to it here as being in “eager expectation,” as “waiting,” as “subjected to futility, [though] not by its own will,” as being “set free from enslavement to corruption [in order to] have the glorious freedom of the children of God,” and as “groaning together” even as the Christian “sons” groan within themselves; these expressions all point conclusively to the human creation, the human family, hence not to creation in general, including animals, vegetation, and other creations, both animate and inanimate. (Compare Col 1:23.) This must mean, then, that the revelation of the sons of God in glory opens the way for others of the human family to enter into a relationship of actual sonship with God and to enjoy the freedom that accompanies such relationship.—See DECLARE RIGHTEOUS (Other Righteous Ones); GREAT CROWD.
Since Christ Jesus is the one foretold to become the “Eternal Father” (Isa 9:6) and since the Christian “sons of God” become his “brothers” (Ro 8:29), it follows that there must be others of the human family who gain life through Christ Jesus and who are, not his joint heirs and associate kings and priests, but his subjects over whom he reigns.—Compare Mt 25:34-40; Heb 2:10-12; Re 5:9, 10; 7:9, 10, 14-17; 20:4-9; 21:1-4.
It may be noted also that James (1:18) speaks of these spirit-begotten “sons of God” as being “certain firstfruits” of God’s creatures, an expression similar to that used of the “hundred and forty-four thousand” who are “bought from among mankind” as described at Revelation 14:1-4. “Firstfruits” implies that other fruits follow, and hence the “creation” of Romans 8:19-22 evidently applies to such ‘after fruits’ or ‘secondary fruits’ of mankind who, through faith in Christ Jesus, gain eventual sonship in God’s universal family.
In speaking of the future “system of things” and “the resurrection from the dead” to life in that system, Jesus said that these become “God’s children by being children of the resurrection.”—Lu 20:34-36.
From all the foregoing information it can be seen that ‘sonship’ of humans in relation to God is viewed from several different aspects. In each case, then, the sonship must be viewed in context to determine what it embraces and the exact nature of the filial relationship.
Christ Jesus, the Son of God. The Gospel account by John particularly emphasizes Jesus’ prehuman existence as “the Word” and explains that “the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father.” (Joh 1:1-3, 14) That his sonship did not begin with his human birth is seen from Jesus’ own statements, as when he said, “What things I have seen with my Father I speak” (Joh 8:38, 42; compare Joh 17:5, 24), as well as from other clear statements of his inspired apostles.—Ro 8:3; Ga 4:4; 1Jo 4:9-11, 14.
“Only-begotten.” Some commentators object to the translation of the Greek word mo·no·ge·nesʹ by the English “only-begotten.” They point out that the latter portion of the word (ge·nesʹ) does not come from gen·naʹo (beget) but from geʹnos (kind), hence the term refers to ‘the only one of a class or kind.’ Thus many translations speak of Jesus as the “only Son” (RS; AT; JB) rather than the “only-begotten son” of God. (Joh 1:14; 3:16, 18; 1Jo 4:9) However, while the individual components do not include the verbal sense of being born, the usage of the term definitely does embrace the idea of descent or birth, for the Greek word geʹnos means “family stock; kinsfolk; offspring; race.” It is translated “race” in 1 Peter 2:9. The Latin Vulgate by Jerome renders mo·no·ge·nesʹ as unigenitus, meaning “only-begotten” or “only.” This relationship of the term to birth or descent is recognized by numerous lexicographers.
Edward Robinson’s Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (1885, p. 471) gives the definition of mo·no·ge·nesʹ as: “only born, only begotten, i.e. an only child.” The Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament by W. Hickie (1956, p. 123) also gives: “only begotten.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by G. Kittel, states: “The μονο- [mo·no-] does not denote the source but the nature of derivation. Hence μονογενής [mo·no·ge·nesʹ] means ‘of sole descent,’ i.e., without brothers or sisters. This gives us the sense of only-begotten. The ref. is to the only child of one’s parents, primarily in relation to them. . . . But the word can also be used more generally without ref. to derivation in the sense of ‘unique,’ ‘unparalleled,’ ‘incomparable,’ though one should not confuse the refs. to class or species and to manner.”—Translator and editor, G. Bromiley, 1969, Vol. IV, p. 738.
As to the use of the term in the Christian Greek Scriptures or “New Testament,” this latter work (pp. 739-741) says: “It means ‘only-begotten.’ . . . In [John] 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9; [John] 1:18 the relation of Jesus is not just compared to that of an only child to its father. It is the relation of the only-begotten to the Father. . . . In Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9 μονογενής denotes more than the uniqueness or incomparability of Jesus. In all these verses He is expressly called the Son, and He is regarded as such in 1:14. In Jn. μονογενής denotes the origin of Jesus. He is μονογενής as the only-begotten.”
In view of these statements and in view of the plain evidence of the Scriptures themselves, there is no reason for objecting to translations showing that Jesus is not merely God’s unique or incomparable Son but also his “only-begotten Son,” hence descended from God in the sense of being produced by God. This is confirmed by apostolic references to this Son as “the firstborn of all creation” and as “the One born [form of gen·naʹo] from God” (Col 1:15; 1Jo 5:18), while Jesus himself states that he is “the beginning of the creation by God.”—Re 3:14.
Jesus is God’s “firstborn” (Col 1:15) as God’s first creation, called “the Word” in his prehuman existence. (Joh 1:1) The word “beginning” in John 1:1 cannot refer to the “beginning” of God the Creator, for he is eternal, having no beginning. (Ps 90:2) It must therefore refer to the beginning of creation, when the Word was brought forth by God as his firstborn Son. The term “beginning” is used in various other texts similarly to describe the start of some period or career or course, such as the “beginning” of the Christian career of those to whom John wrote his first letter (1Jo 2:7; 3:11), the “beginning” of Satan’s rebellious course (1Jo 3:8), or the “beginning” of Judas’ deflection from righteousness. (Joh 6:64; see JUDAS No. 4 [Became Corrupt].) Jesus is the “only-begotten Son” (Joh 3:16) in that he is the only one of God’s sons, spirit or human, created solely by God, for all others were created through, or “by means of,” that firstborn Son.—Col 1:16, 17; see JESUS CHRIST (Prehuman Existence); ONLY-BEGOTTEN.
Spirit begettal, return to heavenly sonship. Jesus, of course, continued to be God’s Son when born as a human, even as he had been in his prehuman existence. His birth was not the result of conception by the seed, or sperm, of any human male descended from Adam, but was by action of God’s holy spirit. (Mt 1:20, 25; Lu 1:30-35; compare Mt 22:42-45.) Jesus recognized his sonship in relation to God, at the age of 12 years saying to his earthly parents, “Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” They did not grasp the sense of this, perhaps thinking that by “Father” he was referring to God only in the sense that the term was used by Israelites in general, as considered earlier.—Lu 2:48-50.
However, about 30 years after his birth as a human, when he was immersed by John the Baptizer, God’s spirit came upon Jesus and God spoke, saying: “You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.” (Lu 3:21-23; Mt 3:16, 17) Evidently Jesus, the man, was then “born again” as a spirit-begotten Son with the hope of returning to life in heaven, and he was anointed by spirit to be God’s appointed king and high priest. (Joh 3:3-6; compare 17:4, 5; see JESUS CHRIST [His Baptism].) A similar expression was made by God at the transfiguration on the mount, in which vision Jesus was seen in Kingdom glory. (Compare Mt 16:28 and 17:1-5.) With regard to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Paul applied part of Psalm 2 to that occasion, quoting God’s words, “You are my son, I have become your Father this day,” and he also applied words from God’s covenant with David, namely: “I myself shall become his father, and he himself will become my son.” (Ps 2:7; 2Sa 7:14; Ac 13:33; Heb 1:5; compare Heb 5:5.) By his resurrection from the dead to spirit life, Jesus was “declared God’s Son” (Ro 1:4), “declared righteous in spirit.”—1Ti 3:16.
Thus, it is seen that, even as David as a grown man could ‘become God’s son’ in a special sense, so, too, Christ Jesus also ‘became God’s Son’ in a special way, at the time of his baptism and at his resurrection, and also, evidently, at the time of his entrance into full Kingdom glory.
False charge of blasphemy. Because of Jesus’ references to God as his Father, certain opposing Jews leveled the charge of blasphemy against him, saying, “You, although being a man, make yourself a god.” (Joh 10:33) Most translations here say “God”; Torrey’s translation lowercases the word as “god,” while the interlinear reading of The Emphatic Diaglott says “a god.” Support for the rendering “a god” is found principally in Jesus’ own answer, in which he quoted from Psalm 82:1-7. As can be seen, this text did not refer to persons as being called “God,” but “gods” and “sons of the Most High.”
According to the context, those whom Jehovah called “gods” and “sons of the Most High” in this psalm were Israelite judges who had been practicing injustice, requiring that Jehovah himself now judge ‘in the middle of such gods.’ (Ps 82:1-6, 8) Since Jehovah applied these terms to those men, Jesus was certainly guilty of no blasphemy in saying, “I am God’s Son.” Whereas the works of those judicial “gods” belied their being “sons of the Most High,” Jesus’ works consistently proved him to be in union, in harmonious accord and relationship, with his Father.—Joh 10:34-38.