Episode 58: “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God”
In keeping with the season, Paul and Dan consider the concept of “the Son of God”. They consider examples of that phrase throughout the Bible, but concentrate on what it means for Jesus to be the only son of the Father. How can Jesus uniquely be called the Son of God? Does calling him the Son of God make him Deity in any sense? What is Jesus claiming when he says he is the Son of God? All these questions and more are considered – including which are Paul and Dan’s favourite carols!
After setting the objective of the episode, Paul and Dan begin in John 3:16, the most famous verse in the Bible.
With Christmas just around the corner, they ask the question about whether or not this verse is about God giving his Son by sending him in the incarnation. The context however argues against this; the “giving” of God’s Son is paralleled with the Son being lifted up in his death on the cross, as commentaries note.
God’s only Son
Zooming in on the phrase “only Son” to try and understand what it means for Jesus, Paul and Dan use the NET Bible note to help clarify that this phrase. It is not necessarily about being the singular Son of God, but about being the unique and one-of-a-kind Son, like Isaac was the unique child of promise to Abraham, despite Abraham fathering other sons. This becomes important to remember, that Jesus is unique and one-of-a-kind, not just a regular guy!
Paul asks about other people in the Bible called sons of God, and so they discuss the implications of this. As Jesus is the unique Son, these other individuals and entities are sons in a different way. These include:
- The nation of Israel is metaphorically called God’s son, (e.g. Exodus 4:22-23 and Hosea 11:1).
- “Sons of God” took the daughters of men as wives in Genesis 6:1-2. Paul and Dan briefly comment on how this narrative has been expanded imaginatively in the book of Enoch to form the basis of extra-biblical angelology and demonology. But whatever this passage is about, the individuals are clearly something very different from Jesus as the unique, one-of-a-kind Son of God.
- Later in the New Testament we come across passages that talk about believers becoming adopted sons and daughters of God. Again, this demonstrates the uniqueness of Jesus as the one-of-a-kind Son.
The birth of the Son of God
The next key passage Paul and Dan turn to is about the arrival of the angel Gabriel to Mary, to announce that she would give birth to Jesus.
This passage explains why and how Jesus is the unique Son of God. Previous miraculous births had occurred in previous Old Testament events, (e.g. Abraham and Sarah), and this was now also seen in the pregnancy of the previously barren Elizabeth. But since Mary was a virgin, Jesus was uniquely the Son of God in a very real sense.
Is the Son of God part of the Trinity?
Having examined these two key verses, Paul and Dan note that Jesus as the Son of God doesn’t imply that he is part of God himself or part of the Trinity. However this realisation often provokes questions and concerns, so they consider a couple of these.
They consider C. S. Lewis’ famous trilemma, which claims that Jesus had to either be a liar, Lord or lunatic. If he isn’t LORD God himself, then he must have been either deliberately deceptive, or mad. However, the claims Jesus made about himself were that he was the Son of God, the Messiah, God’s appointed King. So Lewis misses out a fourth and important option, which corresponds with the biblical evidence.
Another concern often raised is that Jesus must have been God on the cross to atone for sins effectively. Paul and Dan briefly comment on this, noting that Hebrews 2:14-18 says the very opposite – Jesus had to be human to be an effectively sacrifice.
What about the incarnation in Christmas carols?
The Bible presents the birth of Jesus as the Son of God because God miraculously overshadowed Mary to conceive and bear a Son. But the language of Christmas is often littered with other terms that are overtly about the incarnation, something that isn’t identified in the scriptures.
Paul and Dan discuss some examples of incarnation language in Hark the Herald Angels Sing, (noting how the title “Immanuel” comes from another baby born many years earlier in Isaiah 7 who definitely wasn’t God incarnate), but share their personal favourite carols that straightforwardly celebrate the birth of Jesus as the Son of God in a biblical way.
- Jesus as a true human forms the basis of our episode on stress and anxiety.
- Our Matthew series included a discussion on “God with us” and who Jesus is.
- Several previous episodes discussing the trinity, beginning with Thinking about the Trinity.
- Blog: The birth of Jesus – A Christmas statistic that makes sense
- For a deeper dive, try Dale Tuggy’s Trinities podcast on every aspect of the trinity you can think of.
 Traditionally, the first part of 3:16 has been interpreted so as to highlight the ‘degree’ of God’s love for the world, that is, ‘how much’ he loved the world: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. While it is true that the degree of God’s love for the world was demonstrated by his giving his Son (cf. Rom. 5:8), this may not be what the evangelist is saying here. The word translated so (understood by many to mean ‘so much’) is houtōs, a word used frequently elsewhere in the Gospel of John, but never to denote degree (how much) but always manner (in what way) (3:8, 14; 4:6; 5:21, 26; 7:46; 11:48; 12:50; 13:25; 14:31; 15:4; 18:22; 21:1).Further, houtōs indicating ‘in what way’ always refers back to something previously mentioned, not something about to be explained. Allowing these things to guide us, we would translate the first part of 3:16 as follows: ‘For in this way [referring to something already mentioned] God loved the world.’ An understanding of the way God loved the world would, then, be sought in the preceding verses, 3:14–15, where Jesus speaks of the Son of Man being ‘lifted up’ just as the snake was lifted up on the pole by Moses, something God allowed to show his love of the world. (Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. Eckhard J. Schnabel, Second edition., vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2017), 122–123).
 “From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant. 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind”…” (NET Bible note)
“The child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God”
Paul: Hi, it’s Paul from Bible Feed and I’m here with Dan Weatherall. And we are going to cover one of our biblical themes in this episode. So first of all, welcome Dan. How are you?
Dan: Hi, Paul. Very good, thanks.
Paul: Good, not too cold in this icy spell that we’re having.
Dan: Certainly got a wintry blast here in the UK, haven’t we? Which tends to happen every winter, but, everyone just seems to make a meal of it all the time. It’s like, oh, temperatures are dropping below zero. And that’s, that’s what happens, isn’t it!?
Paul: Yeah. We can’t possibly cope, thick jumpers on and time to talk about a Biblical theme or concept where we are going to pick a phrase and see how it’s used throughout the Bible and in different parts of the Bible and aim to get a really clear view of what that phrase means in the Bible, what the writers were meaning to communicate to us through it.
And the [00:01:00] topic this time is quite an important one, it’s the son of God. What does that phrase mean, what does it mean for something or someone to be the son of God? And clearly that’s relevant to this time of year as we approach Christmas and when many people are thinking about Jesus, the son of God. So that’s the concept that we want to think about, so where do you want to start with this?
Dan: Yeah, that’s right. The first thing probably to say is that this is a huge theme. A lot of the themes we do try and tackle are, aren’t they? And I suppose just to make it a little bit easier to deal with, we are really concentrating on what does it mean for Jesus to be the son of God.
But by doing that we are having a look at passages and other instances where entities, different individuals have that name, that designation. So that will help a little bit. So yeah, in that way we’re not going to answer every question.
But I think there’s a natural question that comes out of this right from the outset, which is that there’s sometimes the assumption that the [00:02:00] term the Son of God, or the fact that Jesus is the Son of God comes with the assumption that he is part of God, he is divine, he is part of the trinity, he is God the son, for example.
It’s very much tagged along to those ideas, and I suppose that’s part of what we’ve got to try and work out Biblically. Is that part of what the Bible is trying to communicate?
Paul: Okay, so we’re going to be focusing on what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, and in particular, whether it’s right to assume from that a level of divinity that might often be associated with that in the concepts of the Trinity. But we want to deal with it Biblically. So let’s get into a Bible verse or two.
Perhaps the most well-known, most recognized verse about Jesus is John chapter three and verse 16. Which is, you know, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son that [00:03:00] whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” So that’s, sometimes a verse that is associated with God sending his son.
Paul: You know, in my memory sometimes I’m not quite sure whether the verse is God sent his only son or God gave his only son. And therefore might appear to be about his birth and you know, God soooo loved the world, you know, there’s so much love on display there. So, so tell us about that verse.
Dan: Yeah. Okay. it’s the Good News Translation I think that translates it “for God loved the world so much that he gave his only son”. And, you know, God does love the world so much. There is a huge immeasurable amount that he loves. But actually the way this verse should be translated, or the way it should be understood isn’t so much about how much he loves but it’s more about the way in which God loved the world.
God loved the world in this way. God so loved the world in doing this. [00:04:00] So I think that’s a helpful thing, you pretty much get that in every commentary that you read about this. So that’s the way this verse, this sentence is structured.
So God loved the world in this way. So how did he love the world? Well, he loved the world by giving his only son. So that’s a phrase that you could interpret in lots of different ways, couldn’t you? Just out of context, we could think, yeah, this is him sending his son but actually the context, as always, is really relevant, really important. Just a few verses earlier. We’re reading about Moses verse 14, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life for God’s so loved of the world in this way that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
So you can see there’s a bit of a parallel there with what the previous verses are talking about. And actually, what’s it talking about? Well, it’s talking about [00:05:00] the son of man, which is interesting, that’s another title of Jesus there, isn’t it? The, the son of man is lifted up so that people that believe in him can have eternal life.
And that lifting up is the same as God giving his son, and you know, what’s the lifting up of Jesus refer to?
Paul: I mean, it sounds very much like it’s more to do with the crucifixion, his sacrifice.
Dan: It is. I mean later on in the gospel, he talks about the son of man must be lifted up so that all people will be drawn to him, and then John explicitly writes, “he said this about his death”. So really this is talking about the death of Jesus. God loved the world in this way by giving his son, allowing his son to be lifted up in death. We’re sort of skipping around the term son and only son and what that means, I suppose, at this moment.
Paul: Yeah, and you can see the clear parallel between verse 14 and 16. They’ve both got the phrase that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. But [00:06:00] while it’s good and helpful to understand that this is about the way in which God demonstrated his love to the world by giving his only son, which is more about his sacrifice than his birth, that’s not telling us much yet about who Jesus is and what it means to be an “only son”. It’s talking about God’s love, but there is that phrase, “his only son”, or in some translations it’s the only begotten son in the King James version I think. So let’s unpack that phrase, that concept.
Dan: Yeah. So the phrase only begotten sounds like this is something almost metaphysical or, you know, this is about the way in which he was begotten. There’s a lot of theology that was riding on that phrase, lots of theological discussions in the past. But actually it’s the phrase that’s now often just translated “only son” in that sense.
Dan: It means one of a [00:07:00] kind, sort of unique as it were. So the NET Bible, the note in the NET Bible is pretty helpful with this because it talks about where that Greek word is used in different places and, for example, it’s used as a description of Isaac, who is not Abraham’s only son, but was one of a kind, because he was the child of the promise. So the word means one of a kind, so it’s designating Jesus as a son who is unique and special and, what’s the way to describe it, the apple of God’s eye. This is the real unique son that God gives. So it’s not talking here about metaphysics. It’s not talking about how he was begotten, how he was generated, an eternal generation or anything like that, it’s talking about the fact that here is God’s special, unique son.
Which means that Jesus is really important. He’s not just a regular person. He’s not just any old person that God decided to give and lift up on a cross. [00:08:00] you know, this is his special son, that has done this and that’s why it’s showing his love, because he’s giving his special unique son.
Paul: Yeah, and it’s very relevant in the context of that phrase, isn’t it? This is the way in which God loved the world, in that he was prepared to give something of which there was only one.
Paul: So, you said there that that word means Jesus is uniquely the son of God. You’ve referred to that phrase “only son” being used of other people like Isaac. So it’s not a phrase that is uniquely used about Jesus. And I can think of a couple of examples from the Old Testament, but maybe just run through how that phrase is used elsewhere.
Dan: Yeah, so that’s right. I think it is helpful to realize this. So for example, in the Old Testament, Where this phrase is [00:09:00] used in a number of places is to describe the nation of Israel. So that’s almost like a metaphor, as it were, isn’t it, for God’s special relationship with this people Israel.
In Exodus, Israel is my son, my firstborn son, therefore let my people go, you know, that kind of thing. And you get for example Hosea 11, when Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt, I called my son. And that’s referring to the nation of Israel in the first instance, and how the more they were called, the more they went away.
So they’re a disobedient son of God as it were in that prophecy of Hosea.
Paul: And interestingly that same phrase is quoted about Jesus in Matthew.
Dan: It is, yeah, that’s right. And maybe the parallel, or more importantly, the contrast, is being drawn by Matthew when in quoting that alongside lots of other quotations from the Old Testament, is drawing on Israel’s designation, as God’s son. And then [00:10:00] showing that Jesus is now God’s son and is succeeding. He, Jesus succeeds, resists temptation in the wilderness. Jesus is called out of Egypt and is the obedient son, not the disobedient son. So that’s another way I think that the gospels are highlighting that Jesus is the unique son of God, the one of a kind, the absolute pinnacle of this.
So that’s helpful just to remember, the nation of Israel in one sense are metaphorically called the, the son of God.
And then, and then you get the, the phrase in the plural, sons of God, don’t you, quite a few times? There’s that one example, very bizarre and difficult passage, very enigmatic passage in Genesis six, which increasingly people seem to flock towards, because of the intrigue in Genesis six where the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were attractive. They took as their wives as they chose. And you know, I just use this as one little [00:11:00] example of the way this term is used in a very, very different context. And you know, it’s expanded so much more in much later writings like the Book of Enoch where some assumptions are made about what this is talking about.
Paul: All the gaps and questions that are there in Genesis six are filled in by imagination!
Dan: Exactly. And then suddenly you get a whole sort of an angelology and demonology and things that come from that.
But then sometimes what’s done is a line is drawn from this passage about, well these are sons of God, divine figures (which is not necessarily correct). That’s one view which is influenced by Enoch, but the line is then sometimes drawn from these divine figures. Therefore, when we see Jesus call the son of God, oh, he’s therefore a divine figure. And he’s perhaps, the pinnacle of those sons of God. And I think we’ve seen John 3:16 the one of a kind son. We’ve seen already that he’s different from the way Israel is called as the son of God.
We don’t need to draw this line, this connection [00:12:00] between the way the term is used to describe whoever it’s describing in Genesis six. It’s just showing the diversity of the way it’s used.
Paul: And I guess just thinking about the logic of that, even if you were to take the view that the sons of God in Genesis six are divine beings of some nature, angels, whatever, they would be created beings. And so even if you draw the line from that to Jesus and say, Jesus is one of these divine beings, he’s still a created being, which is not how God the son is presented as part of the Trinity. So even drawing that line doesn’t really get to supporting that position.
Are there any other examples of sons of God in the Bible?
Dan: I suppose just jumping right to the New Testament, then, after Jesus, you get the idea that we can all be called the children of God, the sons of God. You know that comes out in quite a few of the [00:13:00] letters. For example, John’s letter, 1 John 3 in that sense, we can all become Sons of God or daughters of God, as it were, children of God.
But it’s different again, in that in Romans, Paul talks about adoption, doesn’t he, this whole metaphor of being adopted as it were into the family of God. So again, I think that’s probably a slightly different way that it’s used from John 3:16, God’s only son, where he gave his unique one of a kind son.
But it’s important to see that God’s willing to embrace people into his family. That’s a really valuable and important message to hear, isn’t it?
Dan: So, I think that’s all part of the mixture. There’s all these different peripheral ways that this term, this idea, is used, but right at the centre of it, we have Jesus, God’s only son, God’s unique one of a kind son.
We need to consider what that means really in context, what it means when we apply that term to Jesus.
Paul: [00:14:00] Okay. So there’s a variety of ways in which the phrase is used and applied to some quite different situations and contexts as we just do that brief survey of the concept of the son of God in the Bible. And we’ve seen, I think, the parallel between Israel being called my firstborn and, and that being then applied to Jesus, you know, almost the same phraseology used from the Old Testament and then applied to Jesus.
So while the phrase son of God is applied to Jesus that’s not necessarily uniquely applied to Jesus. But there is some sense in which Jesus is a one of a kind, is unique, and the way he was produced as the Son of God is unique.
So, let’s look at the key passage that talks about that in Luke’s gospel and chapter 1. I’ll just read the the key section there and then maybe you can tell us all about it. It’s Luke chapter 1 and I’m going to start at verse [00:15:00] 26. So here we go.
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary, and he came to her and said, greetings O favoured one, the Lord is with you. But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be, and the angel said to her. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the most high. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.
And Mary said to the angel, how will this be since I am a virgin? And the angel answered [00:16:00] her, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your relative, Elizabeth, in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the six month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Dan: Yeah, there we go. It’s quite a famous passage, isn’t it? Especially this time of year, about the angel appearing to Mary. It’s a fascinating passage because clearly this child that was going to be born, Jesus, is the son of Mary, “you shall bear a son”, that’s very clear.
And it says, the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father, David. So there’s this certainty that there is human lineage he is father David, his ancestor is David. And you know, that’s linking him to the, the promises of the kingship, the kingdom restored, all those ideas that we talk about on our podcasts. [00:17:00] So that’s a really important part of this, that Jesus is linked through ancestry to, to his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom, there will be no end. So that’s really half of the message, isn’t it?
But then you get this as well. He will be called the son of the most high. And you think, well, why is that? What does that mean? The son of the most high, the son of God? Well, how can he be called the son of the most high? Well, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, says the angel and the power of the most high will overshadow you.
Therefore, this child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
And she’s a virgin, she hasn’t been with a man. This is impossible! Except it isn’t impossible because it’s with God. This is the unique, miraculous event, something really special and really unique.
It is, we could say, one of a kind. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Bible. This is one of a kind, this miraculous conception of Jesus here. But it’s [00:18:00] linked to the fact that your relative, Elizabeth, in her old age has also conceived a child.
And she was called barren. So there’s a link there, I think, there’s a line drawn between the miracle there, well, that’s John the Baptist, who is going to be born from Elizabeth and Zachariah. So that’s a miracle, they were old and then they conceived in their old age. But then Mary’s is more unique as it were. When you go back through the Old Testament, there are these events where God causes miracles, barren women to give birth. You go right back to Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Samuel.
There’s all these occasions God is intervening and causing his purpose to be fulfilled. And then ultimately there’s this pinnacle, this one of a kind event where this miracle is, if this is the way of saying it, the most miraculous of them all! I don’t know if you can have something more miraculous…
Paul: Well, I suppose, in those [00:19:00] other examples, there’s a man involved and the resulting child is not given the title, the Son of God. They’re miracles, but this is a unique miracle that leads to the phrase “the Son of the Most High” or the “Son of God”.
Dan: And that’s how God shows his love, remember, he’s giving his only unique one of a kind, son. So this is his son, you know, this isn’t anyone else’s son. This isn’t Joseph’s son, Joseph helped I’m sure to bring him up. But this is God giving his only son. So that really does show the extent and the manner of love that he’s shown to us.
Paul: Yeah. and there are other places in the gospels where Jesus is called the Son of God. In some ways there are times when that claim is being tested, you know, “if you are the son of God…” then you should be able to do this.
And even right at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, “The beginning of the [00:20:00] gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God…” So that claim is there throughout the gospels.
So I think where we’re getting to is that Jesus being called the son of God, doesn’t necessarily automatically make him divine in the full sense of the meaning of that.
But perhaps just to think about that and think about, for example, the way that CS Lewis puts the way that we should think about Jesus, you know, he’s either liar, lord or lunatic.
And so there is this, it’s not a dilemma because there’s three of them, it’s a trilemma. He’s either liar, lord or lunatic. And I think in the context of that CS Lewis says Lord, he means God himself. If he isn’t God, then he must be one of those other two. A liar or lunatic. Mad or bad.
Dan: Yeah, so that’s one characterization of a very common reaction to understanding Jesus as being the Son of God, but not referring [00:21:00] to any form of divinity so we’ve not seen any of those pointers and often there’s this reaction, well if that’s not the case, then he was a liar. If that’s not the case, then he must have been crazy. This is what CS Lewis said, wasn’t it?
So is he right or is he wrong? He’s sort of right in that, if we change it a little bit, if we understand what the word Lord can also mean, as in master, Jesus is often called Lord, the master, the ruler, the king. Then in that sense, yes, if he’s going around claiming to be the ruler, the Messiah, the designated anointed one of God, then he either is that or he’s lying about, or he’s mad. So that kind of works, he’s claiming to be the son of God, the king designated by God.
Paul: So it’s more about what is he claiming to be, than jumping to an immediate assumption about what he is claiming to be?
Dan: Yeah, no, that’s absolutely [00:22:00] right. I mean, there’s passages aren’t there that in the gospels. So for example, in Matthew 16, it comes up in the other gospels as well, where he’s talking to his disciples and he says, well, who do people say that the son of man is?
He’s talking about himself, and they say some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, but then he says, who do you say that I am? And Simon Peter says, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. So, Jesus says, well done, blessed are you Simon, you’ve understood this from God. So yeah, that’s a really key passage about how Jesus viewed himself and how his disciples viewed him. And it’s, well, he’s the Christ, he’s the Messiah, the one who’s going to be king. Remember Luke 1, sit on the throne of his father David, and he’s the son of the living God.
Which is exactly what we’ve seen in Luke 1 as well. So Jesus claimed to be that Messiah. He claimed to be the special, unique, one of a kind Son of God. And so far, none of it is about claiming to be God in that [00:23:00] sense.
Paul: Okay. So maybe it’s time to just drop back to John 3:16 again, which we started with because, that was about God loving the world and giving his only son. So this raises the question, isn’t it necessary for Jesus to have been God, to be divine, for that work of sacrifice to be effective? If he’s not God, he’s something else, then doesn’t that nullify the effectiveness of his sacrifice to save humanity?
Paul: Is there some perspective we can put on that?
Dan: So that’s another common response or a common concern I think people often have. Well if this is the case, doesn’t that just mean there was some regular guy up on the cross? You know what, couldn’t it just have been anyone? God could have just picked anyone [00:24:00] to go up on the cross to save us. And, how does the blood of anyone, any regular guy, how does that save anyone? That’s the way it’s often characterized. But, and I suppose one thing we need to think about is, well, nowhere have we seen that Jesus is just any old person, is he?
All the way through this he’s been the unique, the one of a kind. That this is the way that God’s shown his love by allowing his only special, unique, one of a kind son to go and give his life. So, he didn’t just pick anyone at all.
But then underlying all of this though, is there scripturally anywhere that says, well God had to die, or, you know, part of God had to give himself to atone for the sins of the world? Well actually no, there isn’t anywhere, I’m not aware of anywhere. And there’s something that says the very opposite. So Hebrews chapter 2 is [00:25:00] talking about the sacrifice of Jesus. So this is how the love of God was shown in giving his son. And it describes this Hebrews 2, verse 14.
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself (talking about Jesus) likewise, partook of the same things, that through death, he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil.”
Verse 16. “Surely it is not angels that he helps, he helps the offspring of Abraham.” So the point there is he’s not there to save angels, divine beings, he’s not there to save anyone else other than humans, the offspring of Abraham human beings.
Therefore verse 17, “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful, faithful, high priest in the service of God to make propitiation for the sins of the people. And because he himself has suffered when tempted, he’s able to help those have been tempted.”
So the whole point of this passage is, for Jesus to suffer, to die, and to be an effective propitiation, however you understand that, the [00:26:00] point is to be effective he had to be human, that’s the message here.
Paul: So the challenge is, you know, if it’s important that God dies on the cross, this is actually a contradiction of that. It’s actually a human, a unique human albeit, but it’s a human that needs to die on the cross.
And if God was interested in saving angels, then it would be an angel that needed to die, is kind of implication of that logic there.
Dan: yeah. That’s right. And it wasn’t just anyone I think we need to emphasize this over and over again. This was Jesus, his special son that he gave. And I think that starts to get to the heart of what’s really going on on the cross. It’s God giving his own son, which then should cut to our hearts and start to make us realize what we are made of, and who we should be rather than who we often make ourselves to be.
Paul: Okay, shall I try and summarize where we’ve got to?
So we’ve looked at the phrase the Son of God [00:27:00] and we’ve seen it appear in different parts of the Bible about different people and groups of people and used in different ways. The phrase Son of God isn’t about someone being God, although I think we’ve emphasized and we’ll emphasize it repeatedly, Jesus as the Son of God, represents a unique divine intervention in the normal course of events, the normal course of history, it’s God reaching out, intervening, doing something and producing a son.
And actually in Luke chapter 1 where that was described, that conversation between the angel and Mary, there’s an unusual level of detail given about how that happened. You know, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will overshadow you, and you will conceive. It’s very, very clear there’s a miracle there, a unique miracle. So, it isn’t clear from that that this is about God becoming human or God entering humanity.[00:28:00]
And the language of John 3:16 that we’ve looked at, God gave his only son, isn’t about God giving himself, but it’s a very relatable concept of a father giving his son, his only son, this unique, one of a kind son. And that’s a measure of love, in this way God showed his love. We can really easily understand and relate to that.
So just moving on from that. The language that we hear around this time of year, around Christmas, is often a word, and I think you used it earlier, the word that’s used is incarnation. This word used about, you know, Jesus appearing on earth, being born, is incarnation. God being human, God with us.
And there’s, you know, the carols we might hear, for example:
Hark the Herald Angels sing, veiled in flesh, the Godhead seen [00:29:00] hail the incarnate deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
And that’s meaning God with us. So what, what do we make of that? I mean that’s clearly a concept that’s out there?
Dan: Yeah. And this is the difficulty navigating all of this at this time of year, isn’t it? I think we’ve been, I think hopefully, very Biblical in looking at these passages like Luke, John, where we’ve explored this idea and really there’s a real stark contrast, I think, between what we’ve read in Luke 1 and other passages and then now suddenly the lyrics of this carol, really that’s not the sort of language we’ve seen in the Bible.
It is very different from Luke 1. Very different from the way Matthew 1 talks about it. We do get that name Immanuel, Jesus our Immanuel. Which comes directly from Matthew.
Paul: Yeah. I was going to say it talks about angels singing, you know, Immanuel. But the phrase that jumps out that I don’t see in the Bible, is “the incarnate deity” [00:30:00] but it’s got scriptural things wrapped around it.
Dan: yeah. I mean, veiled in flesh as well, the Godhead is sort of sitting behind a flesh curtain, is that really what’s going on? Rather than Jesus being literally a human being. So you’re right. Immanuel comes directly from Matthew 1.
It is a scriptural thing, Matthew tells us ‘God with us’. So often there’s that leap made, oh therefore Jesus is God, he’s God with us. But you need to go back to where it comes from. This is a quotation that Matthew uses and it comes from Isaiah chapter 7. A child is born at the time of the prophet Isaiah at the time of the of King Ahaz who is given the name Immanuel. And that child is to be a sign for the king at that particular time that God was working with his people to save them from their enemies.
So you know, the child in Isaiah’s time wasn’t God. He wasn’t the Godhead veiled in flesh, he wasn’t the [00:31:00] incarnate deity. It was a regular child as it were, a child of promise, a child of sign. That was a way of showing or proving that God was working with his people and that God was with his people to save them.
So that’s what’s happening again, really. I think that’s the claim with the designation Immanuel. Jesus, again, is this sign and again, the unique special one of a kind, sign you know, it’s the virgin Mary conceiving and bearing a son. So this is a unique sign that God is working with his people to save them and that God is with us. So that’s what I think is going on there.
But the language this time of year in a lot of Christian writings, hymns, carols is this language of incarnation and it’s sometimes inescapable. Just for example the Christianity Today, Advent blog in November, some days ago talked about this week of Advent: “we focus on the events surrounding the nativity. When the promised one, the mighty God, the prince of peace, [00:32:00] the light of the world entered into humanity as a newborn child.”
And again I can see very scriptural terms used, sort of wrapped around the phrases that don’t appear in Luke 1 or Matthew 1 or anywhere else.
God hasn’t entered into humanity as a newborn child, that’s not what we’ve seen is it? It’s very different from how it’s described with the power of the highest overshadowing Mary, therefore this child to be born will be called the son of God. That’s a very different explanation, isn’t it?
I mean there are some really good carols for this time of year that don’t have any hint of incarnation language in them. My favourite is, “Oh, holy night” which is such a great one.
Paul: Okay. Yeah, I know it.
Dan: Oh, holy Night. The Star is brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
You know, great. No hint of incarnation, and it talks about the world in sin and then till he appeared, the soul felt its worth, the thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices. Great. The night when Christ was born.
It really quite straightforward [00:33:00] actually in its language, but quite powerful. So yeah, there’s some great carols that we can sing wholeheartedly and be moved by.
Paul: Yeah. My personal favorite is the by Gustav Holst “In the Bleak Midwinter”, which it’s mostly about the weather, which is a very English topic of conversation!
Paul: Well thank you very much Dan for helping us to see where that concept of the Son of God appears through the Bible and how it applies uniquely to Jesus. I think we can as always point to a few more episodes or resources that we have on Bible feed.
For example, there’s an episode that was a very popular one actually on stress and anxiety. What came through from that was the importance of a human Jesus, you know, that having himself suffered, being tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
That was a really useful episode. And, we seem to [00:34:00] recommend this one every time, there’s a series of episodes on Matthew, one of them specifically covers the concept of Immanuel and I think the final one covers “who is Jesus?” So is there anything else, Dan?
Dan: Yeah, to go more to the theological discussion side, we’ve had a few, haven’t we, specifically and openly talking about the Trinity and whether or not it’s got a founding in the Bible and thinking of alternatives and evaluating that. So I think there’s about three episodes there that are related to that idea that I think you’ve got involved in most of those.
But another helpful resource, a different podcast actually, to specifically dive into this in a much deeper way, is Dale Tuggy’s podcast called “Trinities”
Dan: It’s a popular podcast and he is a bit of an expert in the field and delves into all sorts of different niche topics within that.
So that’s if you want something very deep dive. [00:35:00]
Paul: And I suppose when we set out to do this podcast, we never claimed to be highly trained, qualified theologians in an academic sense. Dale, I think is approaching it more from that angle and that’s really useful. So while we come from a Unitarian perspective, that’s not the only thing we talk about. We’re not a one trick pony in that sense! You know, we try and cover lots of different aspects of the Bible and the hope of the Bible.
Okay thanks. So look up those resources and have a look around on biblefeed.org for some of the other things we’ve done.
So just to close out this episode, I think we’ll probably have time for one more episode this year. But as 2022 draws to a close, it kind of feels like the world is a strange and uncertain place. But we hope that these podcasts, thinking about the Bible as ordinary people are helpful in focusing on something a little more certain that might be an anchor for the [00:36:00] soul.
So stay safe, everyone, and stay warm. And if you’re unsure what to do, take a look at biblefeed.org!