Christianity Facts From Fiction

Jesus, the ‘Son of God’ – a Term of Endearment


Azhar Gorya, Mexico

God referred to Jesus (as) His ‘son’ in the New Testament as a term of endearment. Jesus (as) was thus a figurative son of God, not literal. He was a prophet of God that was in no way divine. 

What do we understand when someone calls another person their son? There are two possibilities: that the term is used literally, or that it is used figuratively. If it is used figuratively, then the next step is to ascertain its correct interpretation.

For example, someone says ‘its raining cats and dogs’. If someone correctly deduces that the phrase is not literal, but thereafter claims that it means that it’s snowing, or that it means that its only drizzling, we will conclude that they had not understood its correct meaning.

In the same way, when we speak of Jesus (as) being a ‘son of God’, we must first understand whether it’s meaning is literal or not. If it is not acceptable that its meaning be literal, then we must ascertain its correct metaphorical meaning.

In the first instance, it is incorrect to claim that Jesus (as) was the literal ‘son of God’, owing to it’s startling implications.

Literally, a son refers to a male biological offspring produced through sexual reproduction, where both the mother and father provide equal genetic information. If we state that Jesus (as) was the literal son of God, what we are implying is that God had physical relations with Mary and that Jesus was his male offspring. Obviously, this is unacceptable and something that cannot be attributed to a Perfect and Holy Creator. The Holy Qur’an tells us:

وَأَنَّهُ تَعَالَىٰ جَدُّ رَبِّنَا مَا اتَّخَذَ صَاحِبَةً وَلَا وَلَدًا

‘And the majesty of our Lord is exalted. He has taken neither wife nor son unto Himself.’[1]

The Old Testament tells us much the same thing. It cautions us against falling into such anthropomorphic interpretations of God. In one moving passage, where God speaks in quite human terms about the tribe of Israel as his ‘child’ and ‘son’, and about how he raised the tribe of Ephraim by ‘taking them by the arms’, he also confirms that he is not a human and should not be viewed as being mortal and subject to its inherent weaknesses:

‘I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.’[2]

This leaves us with a metaphorical understanding of the term son of God. What remains is to ascertain its correct metaphorical meaning.

In the figurative sense, a son can refer to a male who is not our biological offspring, but someone whom we love and care for as if they were our own.

This use of the term is also found in the Old Testament. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon uses the term ‘son’ to refer to the reader. It is a term of endearment to demonstrate the fatherly love he holds for those whom he is trying to teach:

‘Hear, my son (bani בְּנִי) your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching;’[3]

We also find the same type of endearment used by Joshua when speaking to Achan, a man who was not literally his son:

‘Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son (bani בְּנִי)  give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.’[4]

Now compare this to where Jesus (as) was called ‘my son’ by God:

‘And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’[5]

The gospel writer qualifies the saying of God. He explains how Jesus (as) was God’s son – not because he was God’s physical offspring, nor because he shared the same divine essence as Him. No, God states that Jesus (as) is His son because he is one ‘whom I love’. Meaning, the term ‘son’ is used as a term of endearment, granted to him figuratively because of the love God had for him, a love similar to that of a father for his child. His sonship was a result of the love God had for him, and not the cause of it.

The Promised Messiah (as)

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi,

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, was the awaited Messiah and Mahdi of this age. Born in Qadian, India in 1835, he also claimed to be the second coming of Jesus (as), sent to clarify the teachings of the historical Jesus (as). He writes in one place about how the term ‘son of God’ is a term of endearment for those are loved by God:

‘Allah has mentioned in the Holy Qur’an a saying of the Jews, and that saying is ‘we are the sons of Allah and His beloveds’. In this place, Allah has not rejected the term ‘sons’ by declaring it as blasphemous, rather He states that if you were the beloveds of God, then why does He punish you? Thereafter, He does mention ‘sons’ again at all. From this it is understood that in the books of the Jews, the beloveds of God were called His sons as well.’[6]

Most Christians would not deny the idea that Jesus (as) was a son of God in the above sense. They claim that he enjoyed a relationship of love and closeness with Him. Muslims agree – the term ‘son of God’ refers to those servants of God who enjoy a special degree of closeness with Him.

Where Muslims disagree is when Christians attempt to jump without justification from a figurative, monotheistic, non-divine sonship of Jesus (as), to the idea that he was a divine son of God, God himself, or part of God.

Jesus (as) was a figurative ‘son of God’, no different from other figurative ‘sons of God’ in the Old Testament. These include David (Psalms 2:7), Israel (Exodus 4:22) or the tribe of Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:20). They were not divine merely because God called them His ‘sons’. The term was adoptive and granted by way of merit, and not through inheritance.  The same was the case for Jesus (as) – he merited the term ‘son of God’ because of his beliefs and actions, but did not receive it by right, as a biological or true ‘son’ would.

If he was a figurative son of God, then he was a creation of God like the other ‘sons of God’. As a creation of God, he was not God himself, rather an entity that was separate from Him. As the Holy Qur’an explains:

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ  خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكَ فَلَا تَكُن مِّنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ

‘Surely, the case of Jesus with Allah is like the case of Adam. He created him out of dust, then He said to him, ‘Be!,’ and he was. This is the truth from thy Lord, so be thou not of those who doubt.’[7]

God creates many things in a variety of wondrous ways. At times, he creates without the use of the normal agencies and means. Adam is a prime example. A man is usually born through the agency of both man and woman, yet in his case he was brought into creation through the special power of God. Nevertheless, we do not claim that he was divine because of the unusual nature of his birth. The same logic would apply to Jesus (as).

The term ‘son of God’ was thus used as a term of endearment to demonstrate the love that God had for Jesus (as). It was not used a term given to demonstrate his divinity.

About the Author: Azhar Goraya is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada. He is currently serving as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mexico. He is also the Central American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.


[1] The Holy Qur’an 72:4

[2] Hosea 11:9

[3] Proverbs 1:8

[4] Joshua 7:19

[5] Matthew 3:17 (Compare with similar texts Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35)


خدا تعالیٰ نے یہودیوں کا ایک قول بطور حکایت عن الیھود قرآن شریف میں ذکر فرمایا ہے اور وہ قول یہ ہے کہ نَحْنُ أَبْنَاءُ اللهِ وَأَحِبَّاؤُهُ ؂ یعنی ہم خدا کے بیٹے اور اُس کے پیارے ہیں۔ اِس جگہ ابناء کے لفظ کا خدا تعالیٰ نے کچھ ردّ نہیں کیا کہ تم کُفر بکتے ہو بلکہ یہ فرمایا کہ اگر تم خدا کے پیارے ہو تو پھر وہ تمہیں کیوں عذاب دیتا ہے اور ابناء کا دوبارہ ذکر بھی نہیں کیا۔ اِس سے معلوم ہوا کہ یہودیوں کی کتابوں میں خدا کے پیاروں کو بیٹاؔ کرکے بھی پکارتے تھے۔

(حقیقة  وحی، روحانی خزائن جلد ۲۲،  صفحہ ۶۷)

Haqiqatul Wahi (The Truth about Revelation), Ruhani Khazain (Spiritual Treasures) vol. 22, pg. 67

[7] The Holy Qur’an 3:60-61