When Did Jesus “Become” the Son of God?

I have added a Greek text + my slightly revised translation, and I answer Luke 1:35. Now, in my mind there is no doubt about the answer.

The doctrine about Jesus “becoming” the Son of God on earth or at his birth is a variation on Adoptionism. Let’s call the variation Adoptionism-plus or Adoptionists-plus.

Luke 1:35 says: “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Adoptionists-plus say that they can’t find Scripture that clearly says he was the Son of God before his incarnation.

So let’s begin.

The Son of God in eternity past, earthly ministry, and eternal exaltation

1.. In eternity past (this section is the most important, since the Adoptionists-plus deny it).

Matt. 12:27: “All these things have been given to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father and anyone to whom the Son of Man decides to reveal him.”

Grant R. Osborne: “Matthew’s use of ‘know’ ([epiginōskō (pronounced eh-pea-gih-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard as in “get”] the present tense is gnomic, knowledge shared in eternal past, present, and eternal future) here is critical … it is likely that there is perfective force in the prefix [epi] –with the meaning ‘know exactly, completely, through and through’ (BAGD, 291), with the added idea of recognizing and acknowledging” (comment on 11:27).

The bottom line is that the Greek present tense is timeless and supports the notion that the Father and Son knew each other intimately for eternity, in the past, present and future—forever. Jesus did not become the Son at his birth or baptism (Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2010], p. 440).

John 1:1-2 says that God and the Logos existed before creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)

This verse further clarifies the identity of God and the Logos: they are Father and Son:

The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as the only and unique Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Then Jesus says the same thing about the Father:

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had in your presence before the world existed. (John 17:5)

So how does Jesus have the status of being the Logos, and how does God have the status of being God before the world existed but do not have the status of the Father and Son before creation?  Actually, Jesus is simply clarifying who God and the Logos were in John 1:14 and 17:5. They are Father and Son (who is praying the prayer in 17:5).

John 1:18 says: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (NIV). Jesus more fully reveals their status and nature–Father and Son–beyond God and Logos. It seems the Father was in heaven with his Son before the incarnation and birth.

Jesus says that he was in the presence of the Father: “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence” (John 8:38). “presence” can be translated as “alongside” or “next to” the Father. The point: they were in close relationship as we see in John 1:1-2, 14 and 17:5. This relationship in the Father’s presence happened before the incarnation. To be the Father, he had to have at least one son in his presence. That Son is Jesus.

John 3:16 says that God sent his Son. It seems that this verse affirms that Jesus was the Son before he was sent.

Heb. 1:2 says: “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” That verse says that the Son was the person through whom God made the universe. He was the Son before creation, long before his birth.

1 John 5:20 says: “And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” This verse teaches that his Sonship is the same as his “Godness.” It seems odd that Jesus was always God, but not always the Son. Rather, he was eternally both.

Col. 1:9-20 is particularly clear that Jesus was the Son before creation and earth-time, that is, in eternity past: This is my translation. I add my comments in brackets:

Colossians 1:9-20

9 Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἀφ’ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσαμεν, οὐ παυόμεθα ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι καὶ αἰτούμενοι, ἵνα πληρωθῆτε τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ, 10 περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν, ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ, 11 ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει δυναμούμενοι κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ εἰς πᾶσαν ὑπομονὴν καὶ μακροθυμίαν. Μετὰ χαρᾶς 12 εὐχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρὶ τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί· 13 ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ, 14 ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·

15 ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως,

16 ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα
ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς,
τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα,
εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες
εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι·
τὰ πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·

17 καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων
καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν,

18 καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας·
ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή,
πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν,
ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων,

19 ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι 20 καὶ δι’ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [δι’ αὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

9 Because of this, we also, from the day we heard [of it], have not stopped praying for you and asking that you would be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, 10 to walk worthily of the Lord, to please [him] fully, in every good work, producing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, 11 [you Colossians] being empowered with all might according to the power of his glory, for all perseverance and patience; with joy 12 [Colossians] giving thanks to the Father who qualified you [Colossians] for a [actually “the”] share of the inheritance of the saints in the light, 13 who [Father] rescued us from the authority of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom [shifts to Son, the nearest antecedent] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, 15 who [the Son] is the image of the invisible God, firstborn [Sonship again] over all creation, 16 for by him [the Son] all things were created, in heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether rulers or authorities—all things were created through him [the Son] and for him [the Son]; 17 and he [the Son] is before everything and everything consists in him, 18 and he [the Son is still the subject of these clauses] is the head of the body, the church, who [the Son] is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he [the Son] would be preeminent in everything, 19 because in him [the Son] all the fullness [of God; cf. 2:9] was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him [the Son] to reconcile all things to himself [God or Christ], making peace through the blood and his [Son’s] cross—whether on the earth or in heavens.

That long passage is stark and clear. He was the Son before creation, that is, before his earthly birth. Evidently, the editors of the Nestle-Aland Greek text believes that verses 15-20 should be indented because it may be an early hymn. The titled question has been answered. Jesus never “became” the Son of God. He was always the Son, eternally the Son.

2.. On earth (this section is not in dispute, so we don’t need to spend much time here)

As noted, Luke 1:35 says that he shall be called the Son of God (implied: he was not the son of Joseph, but Jesus’s conception was of God). People calling him the Son of God ≠ His being the Son of God before creation. Luke 1:35 is written for the people’s perspective. He will be called the Son of God after his baptism–even Satan calls him the Son of God after Jesus’s baptism (Luke 4:1-13). Actually, Satan says if you are the Son of God. Satan’s witness is to degrade him–if you are. So whether the people or Satan call him the Son of God during his ministry, other Scriptures testify that he was the Son of God before he was born. Gabriel was simply informing his mother of his calling and destiny. We should not let people’s limited perspective guide the eternal perspective. We should not let Luke 1:35 dominate all other verses, as if it settles the matter.

See the next point:

Throughout his ministry, he was called the Son of God by people (Matt. 14:33; 27:54; Mark 1:1 John 1:49), demons and even Satan (Matt. 4:3, 6; 8:29; Mark 3:11). Of course his Father called him his Son (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Humans, Satan and demons, and the Father called him the Son of God during his ministry. Why wouldn’t they? This is what Luke 1:35 predicted. It was a public acknowledgement of his nature. But Luke 1:35 does not say, “He was not the Son of God before his birth” or “This will be the first time he is the Son of God.” The verse, instead, merely reveals to Mary who her son really was going to be called, so get ready for it.

He was appointed the Son of God with power at his resurrection (Rom. 1:4 Acts 13:33). He was already the Son, but his resurrection confirmed it with power. However, to follow Adoptionist-plus logic, we have to conclude that he was not the Son of God until his resurrection. In reply, there are plenty of Scriptures that proclaim he was the Son before his resurrection. We should not allow a title late in his life (resurrection) go backwards and deny his Sonship during his ministry. Likewise, we should not allow Luke 1:35 to deny that he was the Son before his birth or baptism–before creation.

All of the verses work together to reveal who he was from eternity past to eternity future.

3.. In heaven (likewise, this section is not in dispute, so let’s not spend much time here)

He is the high priest, and Hebrew 5:5 seems to say that at this moment he is called God’s Son (cf. 5:9; 7:28): “In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’” (Heb. 5:5).

Therefore Jesus was always the Son of God and will always be the Son of God, in eternity past, while he was on earth, and in eternity future.

4.. Possible reply to those three points

Adoptionists-plus agree that he will be the Son for all eternity future and was the Son of God during his ministry. However, they say that the NT authors didn’t know about the Sonship of Jesus until he was born; therefore he was not the Son in eternity past because he became the Son only after he was born! The NT authors merely projected the title “Son” in their epistles for convenience, not because he was actually the Son before his birth.

Apparently, Adoptionists-plus wants the NT authors to write something like this (boiled down):

The Father existed as the Father before creation. The Son existed as the Son before creation.

Instead, they wrote (boiled down):

The Father existed before creation (John 1:18; 8:38; 17:5; 1 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 3:14-15). The Son existed before creation (John 1:18; Col. 1:14-17).

The demand of the Adoptionist-plus is too pushy. Scripture is clear enough, as written.

References to the Father before creation

In Eph. 3:14-15 we read: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. So his Fatherhood is lifted from the earth to the families in heaven. where eternity exists.

However, Adoptionism-plus could say that his Fatherhood began when he made the families in heaven, a moment in time, not in eternity past. In reply, the verses about Jesus being the Son before creation clarifies that he really was the Son in eternity past.

1 Cor. 8:6 reads: “one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live.” A Father has to have at least one child, and the Son of God fits the role–all before creation.

Further, Adoptionism-plus could again claim that since the NT authors didn’t know about these titles / attributes until Jesus was born, they proleptically (“forward-fitted”) applied the title / attribute “Son” and “Father” to their later writings after they found out about it, either by personal revelation or the birth and life of Christ. So the Father was not eternally the Father (but see the next two points for a reply).

Conclusion

There is enough biblical evidence to affirm that the Trinity’s Fatherhood and Sonship are not new or tacked on only at the exact moment the Second Person was conceived in the womb or at his baptism. Their Fatherhood and Sonship are every bit of who they are as their mercy and love and holiness (etc.) are. Since Fatherhood and Sonship are essential to who they are, the titles are eternal and cannot be added or shed.

The Trinity has been, is, and shall forever be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, eternally!

So how do I get to know Jesus more deeply?

The title “the Son of God” is an indispensable description of the Second Person of the Trinity. No Christian should abandon it and reduce the Second Person to a mere human prophet or teacher or rabbi or human son of man or messenger or make him so distant that they were to call him merely “the Second Person.”  Rather, his Sonship reveals who he eternally was in relation to his Father. Now he shows us who his Father is.

The Second Person of the Trinity was never adopted as the Father’s Son, nor did he merely and only acquire the title “Son” at his birth or conception or baptism. He was eternally the Son.

However, we humans can be adopted. We can become the Father’s sons and daughters.

Closing verses:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are also the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Rom. 8:14-17)

Those verses are full of truths that can transform you. You are his children and co-heirs. We may have to suffer persecution or we just have to die to self—his sufferings. But then we will also share in his glory. Whatever happens, you are his sons and daughters by adoption.

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