SON OF GOD/SON OF MAN
When Muslims seek to tie you up in knots concerning the terms Son of God and the Son of Man.
The Muslim sometimes does not use the Quran as a basis for his apologetics rather he turns to the Bible itself and quotes Christian sources. He seeks to make the Christian understand Christ through selected verses of the Bible which are in harmony with the Quran. The Christian will feel trapped as he hears verses from his own scriptures concerning Christ, which he cannot deny, placed before him in a different context, panic emerges and the believer may loose heart.
The correct usage of the Gospels and the Book of Acts
The Gospels particularly are used as a basis for Muslim arguments. In some ways the Gospels can be said to be at an intermediate stage for their facts needed to be completed before they were interpreted. Not ‘until the Son of Man is glorified’ can we expect to arrive at the stage where all the meaning, particularly concerning Christ, can be derived and the exposition of the gospel begun.
In the Gospels the disciples of all ages are brought into a position as though they were almost present with the Lord. Four times the great facts, which Islam denies, are brought before us; testimony upon testimony; portrait upon portrait; line upon line. Islam has reconstructed the gospel story, it has created fancies which in time have been exposed, but the Jesus of the gospels remains.
The writings of the evangelists do not present us with a scheme of doctrine as to the nature of Christ, they show Christ as he presented himself to men in order to win their confidence and trust. Men learned to know him and trust him before they fully understood who he was and what he did.
For additional support Muslims turn to the Book of Acts from which they insist that the very first recorded sermon of the early church spoken by Peter states that Jesus was a mere man, ‘a man from God’ (Acts 2:22); God’s servant and prophet (Acts 3:13, 22, 23, and 26) and that in the earliest confessions he is never referred to as ‘Son of God.’ They add, that it is these speeches that reflect the belief of the early church before they were influenced by Roman religion and Greek philosophy.
Christians have always confessed that Christ is ‘a man approved of God’ (Acts 2:22) but that he is a mere man is another question. It is most unfortunate that Muslims have tried to unsettle Christians by isolating one verse without drawing attention to the whole discourse of Peter. If they had looked at the full context of the sermon they would have found that this ‘man of God’ was ‘crucified’, ‘raised from the dead,’ ‘exalted to the highest place in heaven’ and preached that in him forgiveness of sins can be found (Acts 2:23,24,30-33, 36,47). Hardly in accordance with the teaching of the Quran.
The Book of Acts shows the direction of the gospel as it continually expands, it not an exposition of the nature of Christ for that we need to turn to the Epistles (rarely mentioned by Muslims). In Acts, Christ was preached as the Messiah and the nature of his Messiah-ship centred on a doctrine of ‘redemption by his blood even the forgiveness of sins.’ We only have summaries, indications, and sketches; apart from the debate in the Council of Jerusalem and the charge to the elders at Miletus all reported discourses were addressed to non-Christians and this naturally limits the teaching concerning Christ.
The Muslim Contention
Concentrating on selected verses from the gospels and the Book of Acts, the Muslim seeks to prove that Jesus did not use the expression ‘Son of God’ (the title meant nothing more than that he was the Messiah); that he was did not claim deity for himself nor was conscious of his own divinity; that he never considered himself an object of worship; and that the preferred title he designated for himself was the ‘Son of Man.’ These are the areas we now consider.
The usage of the term ‘Son of God’ in the Gospels
Muslims argue that the title ‘Son of God’ was not unique to Jesus and they point out that Jacob (Israel) and Solomon were referred to as the ‘son of God’ (Exodus 4:22,23; 2 Samuel 7:13,14). God makes promises to David ‘His Son’ and Ephraim is called my first born (Jeremiah 31:9). Angels are called the ‘sons of God’ and the first man, Adam is called ‘the son of God’ (Luke 3:38). They say Jesus refers to himself as the ‘Son of Man’ (Luke 9:22) and never refers to himself as the ‘Son of God.’
The idea that the title Son of God can rise no higher than that of its previous use in the Bible or the Apocrypha, or cannot rise above its significance in Philo or Josephus is absurd. All divine titles are transformed when applied to Christ. It is not something already present in the hearers culture and environment, but something new and astonishing: good news which almost defies belief.
The Messiah-ship of Jesus rested on something deeper than the meaning of the title Messiah for it rested on his being the son. He is the son before he is sent and he is sent as the Messiah because he is the Son. The Bible’s affirmation of Jesus’ Son-ship remains as persistent and vehement as the Quranic denial of it. To ignore its existence or to delete it from the Bible would be to corrupt the Bible. To understand its meaning is to understand what it does not mean as well as what it does mean.
When the New Testament confesses that Jesus is the Son of God it asserts his deity in strictly monotheistic terms > “I and my Father are one.” Christians are not establishing another god along side God. Nor are they suggesting that God had a physical relationship with a consort; nor are they elevating a man into a god, or a man and a woman into gods alongside God.
What precisely do we mean when we speak of Jesus Christ as ‘the Son of God’? How is it that we have come to use this phrase and what is our authority for so doing?
We use it on the authority of the New Testament. Please look up the following array of passages from the life of Jesus, recorded in the Gospels, which declare that he is the Son: At his baptism (Mark 1:11); at his Transfiguration (Mark 9:7); Gabriel declared Jesus would be called “Son of God”(Luke 1:35); John the Baptist called Jesus that name (John 1:34); so did the disciples of Jesus (Matthew 14:33, c/f 16:16; John 1:49; 11:27); Jesus used it of Himself (John 5:25, c/f 10:36, 11:4); The enemies of Jesus used it, implying that He also applied it to Himself (John 19:7, Mark 14:61, c/f Matthew 26:63,27:43; Luke 22:70);
There seems to be no doubt that Jesus used this phrase of Himself, or permitted its use by others, or let it be understood as being appropriate and applicable to Himself; moreover, we find that the Jews repeatedly took up stones to stone Him for what they considered blasphemous language on His part. And yet His offence, in their eyes, was not so much that He called Himself the ‘Son of God,’ as that by thus speaking, and by calling God His ‘Father,’ He made Himself ‘equal with God’ > “The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (John 10:33).
This, then, is the continuous and universal usage of this phrase in the Christian Church. It goes without saying that in no place is the phrase employed in a carnal sense, such as the Quran has in view for after all it is symbolic language, a metaphor, and is not to be taken literally.
Did Jesus use the term ‘Son of God’ of himself?
While it is true that Jesus preferred to use the term ‘Son of Man’ in referring to himself, it is wrong to infer that he did not speak of himself as the ‘Son of God.’ Just as the term ‘Son of Man’ is elastic so is the term ‘Son of God’ While it is wrong to see ontological meaning in every use it is also wrong to exclude it prematurely. Here are three verses from the Gospel of John which show that on certain occasions Jesus spoke of himself as the ‘Son of God.‘
> “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25,)
> “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:36)
> “When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4).
Was Jesus conscious of his own divinity?
The filial relationship of Christ with his Father is downplayed by Muslims and restricted to the term abba. Yet, this very expression in the New Testament contains the very special idea that the consciousness of Jesus towards God was a truly filial consciousness. God was to Him ‘Father’; He was to God ‘Son’.
The root element in the consciousness of Jesus was a sense of ‘son-ship’ to the divine Father. It was deeper, clearer, more intimate, more all-embracing and all-absorbing than was ever given to a child of man. Jesus was conscious of his filial affinity with God.
True, in the Synoptic gospels this filial relationship is felt as an underlying supposition of the narrative rather than directly expressed in it. Yet, even here it is occasionally mentioned as expressly stated by Matthew: > “No one knoweth the Son save the Father; neither doth any know the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). These words have been called “the greatest Christological passage in the New Testament” and are held to belong to “the very oldest and safest strand of evidence”.
The Gospel of John has this relationship as the continuous background of Jesus’ life as can be seen from the following verses John 4:34; 5:19-21; 8:42; 10:30; 13:3; 14:9; 17:5. But the best window we have into Jesus’ own self consciousness is the prayer of John 17. It has a special intimacy because it is spoken on the threshold of the cross. His prayer is that he will return to the position he enjoyed before the incarnation. The ascension does not mean access to a new and unknown kind of existence, but a return to what the Lord had been familiar before. He could say that His words and works were the words and works of God, and it is His perfect identification with essential deity that gives the utmost significance to that other saying of His:
> “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent ” (John 17:3)
Did Jesus ever consider he was an object of worship?
Generally in the New Testament people worship Jesus not because he tells them to do so but because they discover that he is the Son of God and therefore want to worship him. Worship of Jesus does not occur until after his resurrection from the dead, when his disciples finally realise that he is what he has always claimed to be (Matthew 28:16,17; Luke 24:51,52; John 20:26-29).
Jesus preferred to use the title ‘Son of Man’
The Sermon on the Mount, parables, discourses, instruct us in the original truths of the Fatherhood of God, heartfelt prayer, love and forgiveness, lowliness, truth, obedience, self-sacrifice, confidence in pardoning mercy are preliminary’s of faith. If we disregard the miracles and the few expressions of the mediatorial work of Christ we can come to the impression ‘Master we know that thou art a teacher come from God.’ The higher intimations concerning himself seemed at the time to be beyond the apprehensions of the hearers. They have to be because Jesus had not yet died nor had there been a resurrection. This is the context that Muslims want to restrain Christ and by applying the term ‘Son of Man’ they believe they can restrict Jesus into the above confines.
While in the Old Testament the term ‘Son of Man’ was used to convey different ideas: in Psalm 8:4 it was generic; Psalm 80:17 the reference is to the nation of Israel; Ezekiel repeatedly used the term in the vocative as God’s favourite way in addressing the prophet but on the lips of Jesus the term conveys concepts which are far from helpful for the Muslim cause.
1) The title expresses the exercise of one who has authority, power and glory and must be seen in the background of Daniel 7:13 ff where this superhuman being is like unto a son of man and comes ‘with the clouds of heaven.’ (Matthew 24:30, 26:64; Mark 13:26, 14:62) This coming in the clouds of course refers to one event, namely the second coming.
2) The title refers to one who gave his life to save the lost and give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 18:11 c/f 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10).
3) The title speaks of one who experienced humility, lived in lowly conditions, was betrayed, suffered, was lifted up on a cross, rose from the dead, and had power to forgave sins. (Matthew 8:20; 9:6;17:9,22; 26:24-28; John 3:13; 12:34);
4) Following the Passion, the disciples never used the term to him – this is true to the historical context.