It is without controversy that the Church has always confessed (since Nicaea officially) that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity incarnate. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. He is the eternal Son begotten of the Father before all worlds, very God of very God.
Nor does modern doubting scholarship worry us when it fumbles about with Bible verses, explaining with a slight blush and a pre-pubescent voice cracking in the microphone of academia that enlightened Christians don’t *really* believe all that rubbish about the virgin birth, God of God, Light of Light, and the resurrection.
Yet, I wonder if it worries some evangelical Christian scholars, anxious to keep the orthodox faith firmly fixed to the ground with all the corners nailed down in all the right corners. On this note, it seems like one example of this over zealousness can be seen in reading “eternal, begotten Son” into every title of Jesus. It seems like the old hammer and nails problem. To be sure, all of those titles have that reality woven into them *because* the incarnation is true. But there is also the fact that many of the Messianic titles have a huge baggage train of meaning and connotations which ought not be left in the dust of our high Christology.
One specific title is “Son of God.” The concern of course is that if “Son of God” does not mean “second person of the Trinity become man” then how can we defend this doctrine. Aren’t you giving your rifle to the enemy and asking him to shoot first? First of all, loyalty to Scripture is never conceding any ground; nor is it in any way compromise. If Scripture uses terminology in a certain way, and we have come to use terminology differently then we would do well to make sure that our terminology is at least consistent with Scripture and consider whether we would do well to change our terminology or at least specify our definitions carefully. Secondly, my contention is *not* that “Son of God” doesn’t mean “second person of the Trinity become man.” My suggestion is rather that it meant a good deal many other things first, and while it surely had this implication in the salvific purposes of God, it did not come to hold this meaning in its fullness until the resurrection.
Of course all of the gospel accounts were written after the resurrection, so evangelical scholars want to know what the problem is. My only point is that there is a rich theology of “sonship” deep in the story of Scripture that cannot be ignored or forgotten. When the gospel writers name Jesus as the “Son of God” surely they have in mind the God-ness of Jesus, but that is wound around and through a rich panoply of other images and motifs. Consider Adam as the first son of God (Lk. 3:38), Israel as son of God (Ex. 4:22-23), and the promise of the Davidic covenant where God promised that David’s son would be his own son (2 Sam. 7:14).
For the gospel writers and first century Jews to declare Jesus to be the Son of God was first to declare him to be a new Adam, a new Israel, and the Messianic King. Of course part of the promise is that this Messianic King will be Yahweh come to save his people (e.g. Mal. 3, Jer. 23:3-6), but even here this One coming is coming as King to save and remake his people.
Again, just to guard against the heresy hunters, the concern is not to down play the ontological deity and eternal pre-existence of the eternal Son. Nor am I suggesting that “Son” is any way a problematic term with which to refer to the second person of the Trinity. My concern is to make sure that we are reading with the eyes of a full-orbed, Biblical (and particularly Hebraic) mindset that recognizes deeper implications for the title Son of God. For the New Testament to declare Jesus the Son of God is to declare him King. It is to declare that the Davidic covenant has been kept, and the resurrection declares this even louder (Rom. 1:4). It is to declare that He is the faithful Adam, the perfect image of God, the righteous ruler of the garden, the keeper of God’s sanctuary, and God’s Elect One for the salvation of the nations — as Israel was intended to be. Of course no mere human could ever be any or all of these things perfectly (as the Old Testament so clearly illustrates). Only God himself could come and be and do all these things for us. But to immediately run to the Nicene doctrine of Christ is miss the typology, to miss the weight of this title. Yes, it is God-the-Son who has come to be with us in the flesh, but he has come to be King.
Of course liberal scholars are probably quick to emphasize this fact too, but then they conclude that this literary motif finds its reality in the emotional high that it gave the disciples and how it gives various people existential feelings of self affirmation. To which conclusions I humbly give the fig. No, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God means that the gospel is a royal proclamation, a declaration of the Lordship of this King, the forgiveness found in his death and resurrection, his conquest of this world, and the final judgment which will come when the kingdom is handed over to the Father. Yes, this king is God himself, it is Yahweh who has come to us in the flesh. In this sense, Jesus is the Son of God more fully and truly than any other could be. But this reality is not an otherworldly affirmation of an ontological truth that does not mess with any one’s hair.
It was after all the claim of Octavian to be the son of God. Caesar claimed to be the son of God. Was this a claim to divinity? Surely. But was it an ontological claim about his eternal pre-existence? (Of course our Christology should not be based on what pagan emperors meant, but these cultural contours cannot escape our attention when we consider all of the other royal implications of the title resident in the Scriptures.) Therefore, when the the New Testament affirms that Jesus was the Son of God, we have to at least allow for the possibility that what is meant is a serious attack on the emperial aims of certain Romans. The title “Lord” was certainly meant to be this very thing. To claim that Jesus was the Son was to claim that Caesar was not, and therefore not the rightful ruler of the world, the proper Lord of the empire. Caesar is a pretender to the throne. Rather, Jesus is the Son of God and as such is this world’s rightful King, Emperor, and Lord. And all the others who claim this supremacy are traitors and pretenders to this one true throne.