What Did Jesus Mean When He Called Himself the “Son of God”?

Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God.” This title does not mean Jesus is God’s biological Son. Neither does the term “Son” imply inferiority anymore than a human son is inferior in essence to his father. A son shares his father’s DNA, and although he is different, they are both men. Scholars say that the term “Son of God” in the original languages refers to likeness, or “of the same order.” Jesus meant by it that he has divine essence, or in 21st century terms, the “DNA of God.” Professor Peter Kreeft explains:

“What did Jesus mean when he called himself the ‘Son of God’? The son of a man is a man. (Both ‘son’ and ‘man,’ in the traditional language, mean males and females equally.) The son of an ape is an ape. The son of a dog is a dog. The son of a shark is a shark. And so the Son of God is God. ‘Son of God’ is a divine title.”¹

In John 17, Jesus speaks about the glory he and his Father shared before the world began. But by calling himself the “Son of God” is Jesus claiming equality with God? Theologian J.I. Packer answers:

When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of his distinct personal deity.”²

Thus, the names Jesus used for himself point to the fact that he was claiming equality with God. But did Jesus speak and act with the authority of God?

Forgiving Sin

In the Jewish religion, forgiveness of sin was reserved for God alone. Forgiveness is always personal; someone else cannot do the forgiving for the person offended, especially if the Person offended is God. But on several occasions Jesus acted as if he was God by forgiving sinners. The simmering religious leaders finally erupted at Jesus when he forgave the sins of a man with palsy right in front of them.

“The scribes who heard him said blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins!” (Mark 2:7)

Scholar and former atheist C. S. Lewis imagines the stunned reactions of all those who heard Jesus:

‘Then comes the real shock,’ wrote Lewis: ‘Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God … But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.’³

Those who listened to Jesus, observed his moral perfection, and saw him perform miracles, wondered if he was the long-promised Messiah. Finally his opponents surrounded him at the Temple, asking:

“How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered,

“The proof is what I do in the name of my Father.” He compared his followers with sheep saying, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” He then revealed to them that “the Father is greater than all,” and that his deeds were “at the Father’s direction.” Jesus’ humility must have been disarming. But then Jesus dropped a bombshell, telling them, (John 10:25-30)

“The Father and I are one.”

If Jesus had meant that he was merely in agreement with God, there would have been no strong reaction. But, the Jews picked up stones to kill him. Jesus then asked them, “At my Father’s direction I have done many things to help the people. For which one of these good deeds are you killing me?”

They replied,

“Not for any good work; but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, have made yourself God” (John 10:33).

There was no doubt in the minds of the Jews as to what Jesus meant.  There should be no doubt in ours either.

This post has been excerpted from the Y-Jesus article, Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

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¹ Peter Kreeft, Why I am a Christian, Norman L. Geisler, Paul K. Hoffman, eds, “Why I Believe Jesus is the Son of God” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 223.

² Packer, 57.

³ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1972), 51.