Jesus: The Son Of God, Part 2 of 2

In part 1 of this posting, I pointed out what God meant to first-century Palestine Jews and what they saw in the title “Son of God”.  I will use James DG Dunn and NT Wright, two conservative and traditional New Testament biblical scholars, as primary sources to tackle the task at hand.

Whether or not Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God is a question that raises a lot of difficulties for Christology scholars.[1]  However, given that we have no recorded autobiographical text of Jesus, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive way to make an argument in favor of either position.  Yet, Dunn argues that we can hope to penetrate into the mind of the first-century Palestinian Jew named Jesus, however implicitly through his words and actions, to learn of his own sense of divine sonship.  Dunn and Wright conclude that any movement that suggests that Jesus thought of himself as a divine person sharing in the divinity of God is ludicrous and does not take into account the historical context and development of the New Testament texts.  On the other hand, it is not altogether moot for us to approach the question “did Jesus ever claim his divine sonship?” since we have enough evidence from to the scriptural text, as well as other historical works, to insist that Jesus saw himself having an eschatological uniqueness in his relationship with God.

One argument for the self-knowledge of Jesus as having an eschatological uniqueness is his addressing of God as abba in the Gospel writings.  Dunn insists that this piece of evidence is a good starting point insofar as this way of addressing God was not very common in the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ time.  When Jesus addressed God as abba, it seems that there is an intimacy striking of someone familiar to the subject who is the object of his affection in a very familial way.  Distinctively, and worthy of noting, is when Jesus taught an adaptation of the Kaddish, where he addresses God as abba instead of the traditional ‘Lord of the world’ as how these prayers normally begin.  Further, Dunn points to Paul’s usage of abba as something distinctive for the Christians as another piece to the argument since, as Dunn argues, “had it been in common usage within any other large group or class within Palestine or Judaism Paul could hardly have thought of it in this way, as a distinguishing mark of those who shared the Spirit of Jesus’ sonship, of an inheritance shared with Christ.”

Yet, the question remains why it seems that Jesus saw himself as the great I AM in the gospel accounts, most prominently in the Johannine text.  Here, we find that the historical argument from the Johannine scripture is moderate, if not weak, for the self-knowledge of Christ as the Word of God, born before all ages.  In fact, Dunn, citing C.H. Dodd, argues that much of what is said about the person of Jesus as the pre-existent being proceeding forth from the Father in the Johannine tradition is a literary product of the author’s meditation or sermons.  This is the result of comparing the synoptic and the Fourth Gospel, which provides us with various sayings and affirmations that Christ made about himself which are present in the Johannine tradition, but are not present in the Markan, Matthean, and Lukan traditions.  This means that Jesus did not see himself as the very God of Israel who created all things from the beginning and to restore it to its former glory.

Conclusions

First century Judaism was situated amidst a variety of religious beliefs that saw god in various ways.  For the Jews of this time, God was seen in a twofold manner: the One existing before all things Who created all things and Who has called Israel to be his people and offer Himself to them as their God.  All of these religious traditions, along with Judaism, saw the title son of God in a variety of different ways.  Some pagan religious traditions and myths saw the title as a conferring of divinity by god himself to the one he has chosen, or that a god as copulated with a human being to give birth to a demi-god and so forth.  For Judaism, son of God is used in reference to one who lives in a holy manner and who has kept the Law of the Lord.  Accordingly, this title is used of various persons, as well as to refer to Israel and the Israelites themselves.

With this in mind, we do not think that Jesus thought of himself as the Son of God in the manner that modern Christians think of this Christological title.  There is little evidence to suggest that Jesus thought of himself as the same substance (homoousios) as that One God who created Heaven and Earth, and Who called Israel to be His people.  What little evidence we do have of this exists only in the Johannine tradition and, when placed side by side with the Synoptic traditions, does not provide a good enough argument for us to insist that Jesus understands himself as the Son of God with the same understanding that the Nicene Creed claims of him.  Yet, this in no way negates the expression of faith that the Nicene Creed claims of Jesus.  Instead, we must remember that the Nicene Creed is an extended proclamation of faith expressing in a more coherent manner what the early Christians understood by claiming Jesus as the Son of God.


[1] Cf. James DG Dunn “Christology In the Making”  and NT Wright “The Resurrection Of the Son of God”

 

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