At a recent Bible study class, I was asked if, since “begotten son” is the one-and-only son of God, is it a false belief that we are children of God? No, certainly not. We are children of God through Christ. The well-known Nicaean statement, “We believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,” is not intended to suggest we are not children of God. Instead, it points out that we cannot become as Jesus is but the good news is that through adoption/faith we can become children and heirs of God’s promise through Jesus.
If you are wondering why I wrote “adoption/faith” it is because the Greek word for son can be translated into adoption or faith. Believe it or not, being adopted and having faith, in a Greek sense, is the same word.
The New Testament and the Nicene Creed were written in Greek. The Greek word used for “son” is “vios” pronounced as “h-wee-os.” Vios is not a simple word. It has two main definitions 1) a male who is in a kinship relationship either biologically or by legal action and. 2) a person related or closely associated as if by ties of son-ship.
The first definition – biological or legal action – has four subsets a) the direct male issue of a person, b) … of an animal, c) descended son, d) accepted or legally adopted as a son.
Letter “d” caught my attention. There is no clear proof that “Son of God” was ever used to describe the Messiah prior to Christianity. Before Jesus, however, some polytheistic (multi-god) believers claimed to be sons of God like Caesar Augustus, wise philosophers like Pythagoras, and also wonder-workers. These men claimed son-ship based on letter “d.” But, none of them claimed to be the Messiah.
In Psalm 2, written around 1,000 years before Jesus was born, the attributed author, King David, wrote “I will tell the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.’” The intention here was not that David is God’s son; rather, God revealed to David that the Messiah would be. Mary – a descendant of David – was told her child would be called the son of the Most High and be given the throne of David. (Luke 1.32) When Jesus was baptized, those in attendance saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and heard directly from God, “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus was thus set apart from others who claimed divinity/son-ship with God. Jesus was both the Messiah and the one-and-only son of God. But what does this say about the rest of us who have been promised that if we believe in Jesus we too will be daughters and sons of God?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” (Mt 5:9) He tells us to love our enemies so that we may be children of the Father. (Mt 5:45) John, our church’s namesake, wrote, “All who receive Jesus, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1.12). There are many other Scriptures that state believers are called children of God. The point is that the two examples of vios are by legal action – adoption, and by close association – actions. (If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…) As such, we are children of God because of our ties, belief, and action in Christ.
Jesus left us two things, the water of baptism and the celebration of communion. Through our baptism and the receiving of Jesus’ body and blood, we are legal descendants, adopted, individual members of a large group, and identify with God through Christ. Because of this, rest assured, we are God’s children.