5

On a different question I got an answer and some comments. One of which said:

Generally, when a Christian says that Jesus is the "Son of God" they are referring to the doctrine of the Trinity, where Jesus is a person of a three-part godhead. It's a complicated doctrine that necessitates antinomy. As for your friend's reasoning, it is sound, and is the same reason we call Adam, from Genesis, the son of God also, for he also had no human father, instead God fashioned him from the clay of the Earth and breathed life into him. – fredsbend yesterday

If that is what Trinitarians usually mean when they call Jesus the "Son of God", what do non-trinitarians mean when they say it?

  • A clone is copied from an original organism... which has a father. That father is genetically the father of the clone. – bruised reed Aug 5 '15 at 7:57
  • @bruisedreed In the same way Jesus was son of Mary. And father of Mary was Joachim. Then father of Jesus becomes Joachim not God according to your answer!!! – Rehan Ullah Aug 5 '15 at 8:00
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – bruised reed Aug 5 '15 at 8:12
  • 2
    @RehanUllah I think there's a lot of unnecessary information in your question. I'm going to edit it; you can edit it back if you think I didn't capture the essence of the question. – 3961 Aug 5 '15 at 15:28
  • 1
    @ThaddeusB I have not added canonical rather it is wording of this site. What I am looking for is that the answer should describe maximum number of non-trinitarian sects with references from their Holy leaders or scriptures. – Rehan Ullah Aug 8 '15 at 16:33
4

I've come across a few different meanings. Here are three examples:

  1. Adoptionism: Jesus was born just a man, but was adopted as God's own Son. There are a few reasons that are given for this (simply from God's grace; Jesus was the supreme religious expert for two examples). Those who defend this position often point to Jesus's baptism as the moment that this adoption took place.

  2. Arianism: Jesus is from a divine substance like the Father, but of a different divine substance than the father. Obviously, the parts of the Nicene creed came from this, declaring that Jesus was begotten before all ages.

  3. Unitarianism: Jesus is a religious exemplar, and we should aspire to have the religion of Jesus, not a religion about Jesus.

There are all manner of permutations of these ideas, as can be seen in the article on Wikipedia about Christological heresies.

  • You said "I've come across a few different meanings" Do you mean there are more? By the way thanks and +1 for explanation. – Rehan Ullah Aug 7 '15 at 3:58
  • As I said, there are many many more, with all sort of sub-beliefs and different emphases. If you want a full list, check out the wikipedia link for Christological heresies. – James Kingsbery Aug 7 '15 at 13:18
4
+50

I agree with previous answers, but I would like to take a look at a different angle of the question.

Asking about "non-Trinitarians" is extremely broad, since there are many groups from many different time periods. I will focus on one (albeit still extremely broad) group, namely, what would a (hypothetical) person in the Ancient Near East from the Israelite/Jewish people think when they heard or read of an individual (such as Jesus) being referred to as a "son of God" or even as a "god/God". There were a number of different types:

  1. Powerful angelic beings, usually those who made up God's inner council/ministry/cabinet (Job 1, possibly Psalm 82:1, 6 and Deuteronomy 32:8 LXX). In the Enochian school of thought, Enoch son of Jared ascended to heaven and was transformed into the angel Metatron (Similtudes of Enoch), who was referred to as the Lesser (or Little) LORD (3 Enoch). One of his other angelic names was Yahoel, a combination of the divine names for God and LORD, and he was believed to be the angel whom God's Name resided within (Exodus 23:20-21). The "sons of God" in Genesis 6:2-4 may refer to angels or human beings, the passage has been interpreted both ways historically: e.g., the Enochian school considered them angels (see 1 Enoch), while rabbinic opinion generally considered them humans. The "us" in Genesis 1 on the other hand is rabbinically interpreted as God speaking to the divine council (see Bereshit Rabba on Genesis 1 and 6).

  2. The entire people of Israel as a single corporate entity (Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1; 4Q504 1-2) (hence every single Israelite being a son/daughter of God, cf. John 8:41-42), over time this was expanded to cover all members of the entire human race (Pirke Avot 3:15, 5:20; Mishnah Berachot 5:1; Midrash Megilla Rabba 10). This appears to be the model for members of the early Christian community referring to themselves as "sons of God": e.g., "But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be sons of God" (John 1:12).

  3. A king of Israel, particularly a king of the Davidic line was referred to as a god/God (elohim) (Psalm 2:7-8, 45:6, cf. 89:27-28; 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13; 4 Esdras 7:28-29, 13:32, 37, 52, 14:9). Moses, the original ruler of the Israelite nation, is also compared to a god/God (elohim) by God (Exodus 7:1). Samuel, a later ruler of Israel, is referred to as a god (elohim) coming up from the earth, by the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:13).

  4. A powerful person such as a judge or ruler, or group thereof (Exodus 21:6, 22:7-9; Psalm 82:1, 6). Many non-Jewish rulers in the Ancient Near East also frequently referred to themselves as sons of their deities (for more information, see Martin Hengel's "Son of God: the origins of Christology").

  5. An extremely righteous person (a 'pious one', 'righteous one', 'just one' etc), who by their exceedingly high level of virtue and good works prove themselves to be of similar nature to God and are even in effect "adopted" by God; see Wisdom of Solomon 2:13, 16, 18, 5:5; Sirach 4:10.

  6. Miracle-workers, who mostly wandered from place to place doing miraculous wonders, in the manner of Elijah and Elisha (hence often referred to as "men of deeds", see e.g., Mishnah Sotah 9:15) - Hanina son of Dosa (Bavli Taanit 24b, Berachot 17b, 61b), Hanan the Hidden (Bavli Taanit 23b), Honi the Circle-drawer (a.k.a. Honi the Righteous) (Mishnah Taanit 3:8; Josephus Antiquities 14.2.1), Abba Hilkiah (Bavli Taanit 23a, b), and Rabbi Meir, who was known as baal ha-ness (meaning, "lord of the miracle") (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5). For more information, Geza Vermes has written a series of books on this topic (the most well-known being "Jesus the Jew"). The most famous of these miracle-workers was Rabbi Simon son of Yochai (he was later referred to not only as God's son, but explictly as the LORD, and that his mouth was the LORD's mouth, etc; see Zohar 1:223a; 3:59b, 201b).

  7. A person directly created by God, and hence has no other progenitor - i.e., Adam (Luke 3:38).

(On a side note, there are two women who were referred to explicitly as "daughters" of God, both of whom were Egyptian. (1) Batya/Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh, who adopted Moses [see Exodus 1]. Her name even means "daughter of the LORD". [See Leviticus Rabba 1:3] (2) Asenath, the husband of Joseph [see Joseph and Asenath]. Although later tradition considered her the granddaughter of Jacob [Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 35, 37]. In addition, the Law of Moses itself was personalized and considered to be the Daughter of God [Vayikra Rabba 20] and Wisdom referred to in Proverbs 3.)

In short, a Near Eastern non-Trinitarian could consider Jesus as any of these types of "god/God/son of God", except (7). (e.g., the book of Hebrews appears to be directed, at least in part, to a group of people who considered Jesus to be an angelic being, see chapter 1.)

  • Great answer! I wonder if there are many current groups who do use one of these meanings primarily? – curiousdannii Aug 10 '15 at 0:43
  • Nice answer indeed. As you have written "Asenath, the husband of Joseph" isn't it "Asenath, the wife of Joseph". Well this answer is worth of bounty but it would be more nice if you could mention some example sects of Christianity which consider Jesus the son of God according to the types from 1-6 you have discussed, along with the your explanation(in the end of each type). It would ease my study. Thank you very much for the detailed answer. – Rehan Ullah Aug 10 '15 at 3:53
  • @RehanUllah, thanks for your kind words! Yes, it should be "wife", good spotting! Some examples: 1) probably the group the book of Hebrews was written to, otherwise unknown (#1); 2) probably the Jewish-Christian group behind the text "Joseph and Asenath", also otherwise unknown (#1/5/6); 3) Arians (#1/3/4/5/6); 4) the Mormon church (LDS) (#2/5); 4) Christadelphians (#3/4/5/6); 5) Jehovah's Witnesses (#1/7); 6) Unitarian Universalists (#5/6); 7) Polish Brethren (#1/5/6); 8) The Way International (#3/5/6); 9) the Unification church (Moonies) (#3/5/7). There are many more examples! – Meir Illumination Aug 10 '15 at 16:50
2

I can answer this for one particular group of non-trinitarians: the "Swedenborgian" denominations that accept the Christian theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Swedenborg rejected the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, saying that God is not three persons, but one person, in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three "essential components" (Latin essentialia). (For a Swedenborgian presentation of the Biblical basis against the doctrine of the Trinity, along with a brief explanation of Swedenborg's non-trinitarian doctrine of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as together constituting one person of God, see: What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?)

For those who accept Swedenborg's theology, "the Son of God" is not a separate person, but rather the human manifestation of God's eternal divine nature (which is called "the Father" in the New Testament). "The Son of God" is also the divine truth, which is called "the Word" in John 1:1, 14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here is how Swedenborg states the meaning of "the Son of God" as God's human manifestation, in True Christianity #92:

The "Son of God" is the human manifestation in which God sent himself into the world. The Lord [Jesus] frequently says that the Father "sent" him, or that he "was sent" by the Father (for example, Matthew 10:40; 15:24; John 3:17, 34; 5:23, 24, 36, 37, 38; 6:29, 39, 40, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28, 29; 8:16, 18, 29, 42; 9:4; and very often elsewhere). The Lord says this because "being sent into the world" means coming down among people, which he did through the human manifestation he took on through the Virgin Mary.

The human manifestation really is the Son of God, in that he was conceived by Jehovah God as the Father, as it says in Luke 1:32, 35. (links added)

Here is how Swedenborg states the meaning of "the Son of God" as divine truth, in Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven) #7499 (in a somewhat archaic translation):

In the Word [the Bible] the Lord is called "Jehovah" in respect of Divine Goodness, for Divine Goodness is the Divine itself, and the Lord is referred to as "the Son of God" in respect of Divine Truth. For Divine Truth goes forth from Divine Goodness, as the Son does from the Father, and is also said to be born from it. But something more must be said to show what this implies. When the Lord was in the world He made the Human He had assumed Divine Truth, and at that time called Divine Goodness, which is Jehovah, His Father. He did so because, as has been stated, Divine Truth goes forth and is born from Divine Goodness.

In other words, "the Father" is the divine good, or the divine love; and "the Son" is the divine truth, or the divine wisdom. Together with the Holy Spirit—which, in Swedenborg's theology, is "the divine proceeding," or in contemporary language, God's love and truth flowing out into the universe with power—these three "essential components" constitute the single person of God.

  • Very much thanks for your answer. +1 for explaining the swedenborgian. – Rehan Ullah Aug 7 '15 at 3:57
  • Lee, I continue to appreciate your unique perspective in this community, and the depth of knowledge demonstrated in your answers. Thank you! – Andrew Aug 7 '15 at 16:15
  • @Andrew Thank you. And thanks to Rehan Ullah also. – Lee Woofenden Aug 7 '15 at 16:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.