What does the bible mean when it refers to Jesus Christ as the Son of God? There are varying opinions that have surfaced in the history of Christianity and the discussion continues even in our generation. Many theologians have written on the subject from the perspective of the Trinity and the purpose of the coming of the Son of God as well as the pre-existence of the Son. Few however have really delved into a biblical study of the usage of this title.
While many works tend to focus on the title “Son of God” in the grander view of the Trinity, D.A. Carson has given us this important book Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (To purchase in Moncton, please go here) focusing entirely on the title Son of God. The book was published by Crossway in 2012 and is approximately 108 pages in length spreadout into three chapters.
Carson begins the book with a survey of the shorter version of the term in the usage of “son of” in scripture. He points out that the term “son of” without a modifier generally refers to a biological son. With this in mind, this is not the only sense the title has. Carson explains that the title “son of” is used in a metaphorical sense as well (son of a bow, sons of thunder). It also takes on an indicative reference of who has trained an individual or a reference to your master (Son of the devil) or can even signify your trade (sons of the singers). Carson brings out that in this study that the term “son of” can also demonstrate the heir of a promise and it is not always biological. The Sons of Abraham were heirs by faith not by physical hereditary entitlement (Galatians 3:7). Carson has some really interesting information on the translation of the title “son of” and how in some modern translations it can sometimes be muddied with an over emphasis on a translational methodology called dynamic equivalency. This will become important in his argumentation in the 3rd chapter.
Carson then moves on to demonstrate how the full title “son of God” is used for beings other than Jesus. He explains that it can refer to angels, Adam, Israel collectively, NT Covenant people and even David. These would probably be better seen as types and shadows of the fulfillment that is found in Christ. Carson then addresses the references that the title Son of God is used for Jesus Christ. His focus is to show that the term “Son of God” in relation to Jesus, while referring to His deity, is used in various ways and it is linked with His Sonship to rule as the promised Davidic King (Luke 1:31-33, John 1:49 etc). In other words the Son of God title is really a Christological title often in the context of the heir of David and promised Messiah.
In chapter 2, Carson expands on this claim by exegeting two very important passages of scripture which present Christ as the Son of God as a Christological title. These two texts are Hebrews chapter 1 and John 5:16-30. Carson’s exegesis of these texts was thought provoking as He brings out many questions that makes you examine these texts with more precision. I appreciated how he went back to really examine certain OT quotations in Hebrews 1 such as Psalm 45 to really bring out the usage of the text. I also appreciated the background he supplied on halakhac debates relating to the context of John 5 which provides some real depth to the context.
The third chapter is titled “The Son of God in Christian and Muslim Context”. This is a much needed discussion in our day and age. Carson begins this chapter by spending some time on how Christians should approach the title “Son of God” when referring to Christ. He reminds the reader that we must not approach the title with a reductionist attitude by thinking that the title is used in the same way in every instance. We must explore its usage in each instance where the context leads us. He also addresses bible trajectories and the importance of remembering that there can be some difficulty in relating the title from an exegetical to a systematic theology approach. Carson also reminds the readers that Christians must be willing to unpack the title in regards to evangelism and worship. Finally, Carson deals with the current debate on the translation of the title. There are numerous newer translations today that are being produced that refrain from using the title in order to abstain from offending Muslims who view “Son of God” as blasphemous during evangelistic efforts. Carson addresses the main arguments from these translators and explains that it is our responsibility to unpack this important and non-negotiable title to all the world.
While the book was fairly short, I felt that Carson was able to really grant his readers some direction on how to approach this title with care and thought. I would have liked to have seen more discussion on other key texts relating to this theme but I understand that his intent was more or less to give a summary and a starting point for further study. I still found much of the book thought provoking and it certainly leaves you with a desire to do further research on this essential title. One point that Carson made that really touched home with me was how in today’s society people are biblically illiterate. They could not help but have strange ideas when asked what it means that God has a Son. We as Christians must take time to unpack the doctrine of God! As Carson states ” Must as Paul provides much of the bible story line when he preaches the gospel to biblically illiterate pagans (Acts 17:16-31) – se we have to unpack more of the doctrine of God, and thus of the Son… (P. 85)
I believe that many Christians would benefit from reading this book in order to get a good sense of the title as it pertains to the Lord Jesus. It will also be a useful help when speaking to Muslims or even Unitarians who believe that Son of God is referring to the Father creating the son.