Son of God, Son of Man
By Mike Wingert
Much can be said of the terms "Son of God" and "Son of Man." These terms that we use to address the Messiah tell the story of not only Jesus Christ, but also of all humanity. It is in these terms that we experience one of the most profound teachings of Christ—mankind's struggle with immortality.
First off, what does it mean to be a son? In a general sense, a son is one that springs off from another within the same family, hence the English term, "offspring." The duty of the son has traditionally been one of obedience and responsibility, especially in cases where there is only one son present. Such instances also lead us to another facet of sonship: inheritance. In many cultures throughout the world, the son would receive the inheritance of the father. This is also true of the Hebrew culture in which the Christian Nasrani faith was nestled. (Deuteronomy 21:17)
The inheritance of the first-born, only-begotten, or unique son was especially prevalent in monarchies. The meaning conveyed by the father-son relationship shows us the equality of two, for both function in the same capacity--as king.
Often times in history, many myths (such as Heracles) as well as historical individual monarchs (Roman Emperors, Egyptian Pharaohs, Japanese Monarchs) have claimed a divine heritage. Whether part of a pantheon of Gods, avatars, or deified monarchs, none of these are comparable to the idea of the "Son of God" in Christianity.
Bar Aloho - Son of God
There are two major points to be made when discussing the title "Son of God." The first belongs to Christ, who is the ihidoyo Son of God—that is to say, "the unique" or "the only-begotten." It is in this respect that the same idea conveyed by the inheritance of a son is seen with the Messiah. The Kingdom of God, a term alluded to since the days of the Old Testament, has an heir in Christ Jesus.
It is in Christ that we see the archetype for all humanity. The Messiah's purpose here on earth was, in the words of St. Paul, "the mediator between God and men." (1 Timothy 2:5) This act of mediation is explained by the Cappadocian and Alexandrian fathers in the phrase: "God became man, so that man may become divine." It is the same for all humanity.
Therefore what are we? We too are sons (and daughters) of God, as evinced by the method in which the Christ taught us to pray: "Our Father, who art in heaven…" Throughout the New Testament, it is clear that God is our Father, as St. Paul often makes clear in the greetings of his letters "from God our father..." or as St. Peter writes in his epistle: "And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds." (1 Peter 1:17)
St. Philoxenus of Mabug teaches, "We became sons of God, although our nature was not changed, and Christ became a man by his mercy, although his essence was not changed." Again, we chant in our divine liturgy (the Holy Qurbono), "in offerings and in prayers, let's remember our fathers, who while alive taught us to become the children of God in this transitory world."
It is clear that in the New Testament age until present, we are considered sons of God. Though Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to the Christ being the Son of God abound, there are other examples of believers being referred to as the sons or children of God.
In the Old Testament, Israel is called the first-born son of God. (Exodus 4:22) More fascinating are perhaps the many references to those who seek a righteous path being called sons of God, or seeing God as their father; these instances are found especially in those books removed by the Jews who rejected Christt at the council of Jamnia in 70AD. One such example can be found in the second chapter of the book of Wisdom, where some suggest these passages foreshadow the suffering of the Christ.
The Logos as Son of God
Logos is often translated as "Word," in English language bibles, yet this is often an intellectual injustice, as the term "logos" carries a much deeper meaning in traditional Greek Philosophy.
As the Hebrews found themselves dispersed in many areas of the world, often times they would convey their ideas in the modes of thought of their adopted homes. One such philosopher called Philo [20BC - 50AD], a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, functioned as a bridge between the Semitic and Hellenic (Greek) cultures. He expressed certain Semitic ideas within the linguistic framework of Greek philosophy. Most schools of Greek philosophy used the term "logos" to designate a rational, intelligent and thus vivifying principle of the universe. Philo related this to God's utterances
The Logos has an origin, but as God's thought it also has eternal generation. It exists as such before everything else all of which are secondary products of God's thought and therefore it is called the "first-born." The Logos is thus more than a quality, power, or characteristic of God; it is an entity eternally generated as an extension, to which Philo ascribes many names and functions. The Logos is the first-begotten Son of the Uncreated Father: "For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he [Moses] calls the first-born; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns" (Conf. 63)
Here we can see that within Hebrew thought, the idea of Logos equates to the Son of God. In this context, we see the light of St. John the Apostle's comments in his Gospel narrative when he writes: "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God," (John 1:1) "And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father."
Bar Nosho - Son of Man
We have seen how the Christian faith teaches that Christ, the unique, prototypical, only-begotten Son of God leads the way that we may be adopted children of God. As we have seen St. John the Apostle begin his Gospel narrative, so do the other three Gospel narratives. St. Luke's genealogy concludes with an interesting twist, tracing Christ's line all the way back to Adam:
"Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli...
...the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Both St. John and St. Luke note the act of the incarnation of God's meaning (logos), but employ different literary techniques to explain this. While St. John employs concepts known to Greek philosophy and the Hebraic faith, St. Luke uses a genealogy to convey the same idea.
The key point we should focus upon is the "son of Adam." The story of the creation of mankind begins with Adam. What does the name Adam mean? Adam means "man;" so by calling reference to being the son of Adam, St. Luke is also calling to mind the name of another title: the Son of Man.
The first usage of son of man, is translated as ben adam, and like sons of God, can be applied to the whole of humanity. Over time, this begins morphing into the term ben enosh, as can be seen in the Psalms (114), and finally to its Aramaic usage, bar nosho. The holy prophet Daniel's use of this term is quite unique:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
- Daniel 7:13-14
It is in this sense, that we see the many New Testament references to Christ as the Son of Man. "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done." - Matthew 16:27 We needn't list the many citations from the New Testament regarding the term Son of Man. It is clear from the many references in the New Testament that a) Jesus Christ is the Son of Man, and b) that the Son of Man is both divine, as well as human -- exactly the point of St. Luke's geneaology.
Points of View - Christology in the Syriac Tradition
Christology is the study of Christ--who He is. Unlike the Greco-Roman tradition, the Syriac-Aramaic approach to Christology has been less philosophical and more poetic. In their worship, different authors have used different poetic devices to comment on Christ's Divine Incarnate nature. Even in our iconography, we use the colors of Christ's clothing to remind us that Christ is both divine (represented by the color red) and clothed in humanity (represented by blue), when he "put on Adam," as the holy Ephraim teaches.
Some of the Syriac-Aramaic fathers focused on the unity of Christ:
The Holy Ephraim, called the Harp of the Holy Spirit:
- "God saw that mankind, worship things created:
He put on a created body, that in our custom He might capture us.
Lo! in this our form, He that formed us healed us;
and in this created shape, our Creator gave us life.
He drew us not by force: blessed be He Who came in ours,
and joined us in His!"
Hymn 14 - On the Nativity
The two things Thou soughtest, in Thy Birth have been done for us.
Our visible body Thou hast put on; Thy invisible might we have put on:
our body has become Thy clothing; Thy Spirit has become our robe.
Blessed be He Who has been adorned and has adorned us!
Hymn 25 - On the Nativity
The Holy Aphrahat, the Persian Sage:
- Let us take pattern, my beloved, from our Saviour, Who though He was rich, made Himself poor;
and though He was lofty, humbled His Majesty;
and though His dwelling place was in heaven, He had no place to lay His head;
and though He is to come upon the clouds, yet rode on a colt and so entered Jerusalem;
and though He is God and Son of God, He took upon Him the likeness of a servant;
and though He was (for others) rest from all weariness, yet was Himself tired with the weariness of the journey;
though He was the fountain that quenches thirst, yet Himself thirsted and asked for water;
though He was abundance and satisfied our hunger, yet He Himself hungered when He went forth to the wilderness to be tempted;
though He was a Watcher that slumbers not, He yet slumbered and slept in the ship in the midst of the sea;
and though He was ministered to in the Tabernacle of His Father, yet let Himself be served by the hands of men;
though He was the healer of all sick men, yet nails were fastened into His hands;
though His mouth brought forth things that were good, yet they gave Him gall to eat;
though He injured no man and harmed none, yet He was beaten with stripes and endured shame;
and though he was Saviour of all mortals, He delivered Himself to the death of the cross.
All this humility did our Saviour show us in Himself.
Let us then also humble ourselves, my beloved.
When our Lord went outside of His nature, He walked in our nature.
Let us abide in our nature, that in the day of judgment He may cause us to partake of His nature.
The Holy Jacob of Serug:
- Daniel saw Him borne on the clouds, and coming
As a man to judge the kings and their empires.
Ezekiel, too, sees Him on the high throne, [He Who] was also God,
That likeness of the servant that He assumed within the womb [of Mary]
Was whispered on the wings of the heavenly beings (575:11-16).
Why was it necessary for the prophet to repeat [the description of] the vision,
then to say "above" and repeat [the same] about [what is] below in his prophecy?
He wanted to show the higher and lower [aspects] of the Son of God,
How that supernal Being had become earthly,
And that He had become a mediator [cf. I Tim 2:5], because He stood in the
midst between the [two] sides [i.e., heaven and earth]
In order to make peace [cf. Eph 2:14] between those and high and those below.
Thus He girded himself with peace in the prophecy,
For he [i.e., Ezekiel] saw something in the likeness of a [rain]bow
in the clouds accompanying Him,
A sign of the peace that He would come and make with those below. (576:18- 577:4)
Others focused on each aspect--the Son of God, and the Son of Man:
- He set out and departed to a desert place, as Man;
and He multiplied the bread and satisfied thousands, as God.
He ate and drank and walked and was weary, as Man;
and He put devils to flight by the word of His mouth, as God.
He prayed and watched and gave thanks and worshipped, as Man;
and He forgave debts and pardoned sins, as God.
He asked water of the Samaritan woman, as Man;
and He revealed and declared her secrets, as God.
Master John of Damascus:
- When we say that Christ is perfect God and perfect man,
we assuredly attribute to Him all the properties natural
to both the Father and mother.
For He became man in order that that which was overcome might overcome.
For He Who was omnipotent did not in His omnipotent authority and might
lack the power to rescue man out of the hands of the tyrant.
But the tyrant would have had a ground of complaint if,
after He had overcome man,
God should have used force against him.
Wherefore God in His pity and love for man wished to reveal fallen man
himself as conqueror,
and became man
to restore like with like...
...Therefore, God the Word,
wishing to restore that which was in His own image, became man.
Son of Man, Son of God--All of Us
Though such a study can continue into the ages, the core theme remains the same. Just as Christ is the penultimate Son of God and Son of Man, it is our duty as sons (children) of man, to become adopted sons of God. It is the heart of the Christian mind; God's meaning, His Logos, became man to lead us men to unite with God. Therefore, it is only fitting that we meditate upon these titles every day, until we forge ourselves into Christ.