Azhar Goraya, Mexico
This is article is the summary of a comprehensive study done into the historical context of the term ‘son of God’ used for Jesus (as). For a detailed, in-depth look into the subject, read ‘Jesus, ‘the ‘Son of God’ – The Historical Context.’
One of the most fascinating and theologically relevant studies of Christianity are those that deal with the origin of Jesus and his divinity. Over the centuries, many arguments have been proposed and many proof-texts presented as affirming the divinity of Jesus.
Nevertheless, these are polarizing statements, and not accepted by all who revere Jesus (as). Muslims, based on their understanding of the Old Testament, the words of Jesus (as) and the Islamic scripture, affirm that Jesus (as) was a special prophet of God, but not divine.
Whenever there are such differences of opinion, it becomes a challenge to not build walls around ourselves and our pre-conceived ideas. Rather, to foster a better understanding of the issues on hand, it is important to study the issue based on the original source texts.
One of the arguments put forward by Christians in trying to prove the divinity of Jesus is that they claim he was called ‘Son of God’ – a title of divinity. They claim that Jesus was declared the son of God by God Himself (Matthew 3:16), Angels (Luke 1:30-35), his disciples (Matthew 14:32), demons (Matthew 8:29) and Gentiles (Matthew 27:54). He accepted the title for himself, for which he was tried and deemed guilty of blasphemy by the Jews. In their minds, it seems like a clear case of a claim to divinity.
Amongst all the titles attributed to him, ‘Son of God’ is perhaps the dearest to Christians and most used to try and prove his divinity. After all, the ‘Son of God’ must be divine like his father.
It is imperative that when trying to find the truth about the nature of Jesus (as), that we first understand the words of Jesus (as) and the context in which those words were said, without the filters that are placed upon them through later interpreters.
In contrast to the Christian understanding, Muslims have a different understanding of the term ‘son of God’. A careful study of the Old Testament and the words of Jesus (as), through the guiding light of the Qur’an and basic common-sense monotheism, leads us to conclude that Jesus (as) was not divine. Jesus (as) was a monotheist that never claimed to be God (Mark 12:29). He interpreted the title ‘son of God’ as being completely metaphorical and in no way used it to promote or validate the idea that he was divine (John 10:34-36).
Jesus (as) was Jewish. His followers were Jewish. His words should be understood within a Jewish context. ‘Son of x’ was a common Hebrew construction that was used to loosely relate one party to another. For example, ‘son of strength’ refers to a brave soldier, i.e., an elite fighting soldier (2 Samuel 17:10).
Likewise, the term ‘son of God’ is based on the above paradigm which finds its origin in the Old Testament. The term has been used in reference to kings (Psalms 2:7), judges and prophets of God (Psalms 82:6), not to mention angels (Psalms 89:6) and more generally all who do the will of God. In relation to Jesus (as), the term ‘son of God’ must be understood in its Jewish context – Jesus (as) was a ‘son of God’ in terms of him being a mortal prophet of God.
Moreover, it was a term that Jesus (as) probably only used very sparingly for himself, preferring the terms ‘son of man’, and most likely the term ‘servant of God’. These latter two titles more closely reflected the prophecies about the coming Messiah in the Old Testament and his station as a humble prophet of God, whereas the title ‘son of God’ was a secondary title for the awaited Messiah and Davidic King.
The question thus remains as to how Jesus (as) came to be understood as a divine son of God, rather than just a mortal one. It seems that the Jewish leadership that had him tried for blasphemy promoted the idea that he had used the term ‘son of God’ for himself literally. When Christianity began to spread amongst the pagan gentile Roman population, these unwitting converts began to believe this propaganda. In all likelihood, it was probably something they accepted without much hesitation, given as they were to polytheistic beliefs and superstitions. Therefore, when gentile Christian converts repurposed their polytheistic beliefs to fit within their new Christian religion, the divine son of God came to be born.
Read an in-depth article about the historical context of the term ‘son of God’ here.
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.