Christ in the Old Testament (Part X)

Christ in the Old Testament, Theology

Christ in the OT 10 Christ the Son of God

Christ: The Son of God

In the NT, a phrase occurs identifying Jesus Christ as “The [only begotten] Son of God” (John 1:14, 18; 3:16; 1Jn 4:9). It is familiar enough, but its origins might not be. This exact phrase does not appear in the OT LXX, so where might it come from? In this post we will look at two Psalms (Ps 2, 82) and Genesis 1 along with some NT reflections (John 10; Col 1) on these passages for an answer. The most obvious place where we see something conceptually similar is Psalm 2:6-7. “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you” This passage is cited several times by the NT as referring to Jesus (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5).

There is a fascinating and deliberate connection between this Psalm and Psalm 82. Consider these two verses: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps 2:8). “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” (Ps 82:8). The former verse has the Son inheriting the nations, while the later has “God” inheriting them. The conceptual parallels between the two Psalms would suggest that the Son is God. But we can see this in Psalm 82 all by itself.

The first verse has “God” taking his place in something called “the divine council” (ESV), where “in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.[1] These “gods” are called “sons of God” in vs. 6, and when they judge badly, the foundations of the whole earth shake (vs. 5). The “sons of God” (beney ha-elohom) are the heavenly beings that were praising God while he was creating the universe (Job 38:7). In both the Bible and neighboring nations, they were considered God’s heavenly royal family.[2]

Jesus cites Psalm 82:6 to the Pharisees (John 10:34-35). For a host of reasons[3] (not the least of which is the connection between Ps 2 and 82), the best interpretation of this passage is to see Jesus as claiming to be one of these heavenly beings. After all, he has “come down from heaven” (seven times in John 6). This is why they still want to kill him for blasphemy after he quotes the verse. Yet, he is also different from them, for he has a unique relationship to the Father, as he is “in” the Father and the Father is “in” him (John 10:34:36-38), or as Psalm 2 informs us, he is “begotten.”

The NT comes along and uses the word “only begotten” (monogenes) and applies it to Jesus. This word means “unique” or “one of a kind,” as is easily seen by the fact that Isaac is the “only begotten” son of Abraham (Heb 11:17), even though Abraham had Ishmael 13 years earlier (I think it is actually a double entendra, as it can also means “begotten”[4]). Thus, anytime we see “sons of God” or even “gods” in the OT, our thought should go to the unique Son of God, the one who created any others who “may be called gods” (1 Cor 8:5).

prototokosSpeaking of this creation, in Colossians 1:15-18, the Apostle Paul, reflecting upon creation and Genesis 1 (we talked about this in the previous post) explains, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (15). “God” seems to refer to the Father here. The word “firstborn” is the word prototokos. It comes up again in vs. 18 where it says, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn (prototokos) from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” But Paul has not given up his treatment of creation in between these two verses, much less is he saying that this firstborn was created. For he says, “For by him [the firstborn] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (16-17). Notice how predominate the creation of heavenly beings is in this text.

“But who is this “he,” this “firstborn,” this “beginning?” Psalm 8 called him “Wisdom.” But here, he is deliberately called “His beloved Son” (13). What is amazing about this is how the Church Fathers knew of translations of Genesis 1:1 that went this way: “In the beginning, God became a Son” or “In the beginning, God made for himself a Son.”[5] Depending on the exact Greek terms, these are most likely heretical ideas. However, the Latin Father Jerome states the opinion of people saying, “Most people think that in the Hebrew is contained In the Son, God made heaven and earth.[6] This is perfectly orthodox, but how could anyone possibly get this from Genesis 1:1?

The word reshith can mean either “beginning” or “first” or even the idea of a “firstborn” in Hebrew (cf. Gen 49:3). Thus, the Bible in Basic English reads, “At the first God made the heaven and the earth” (Gen 1:1 BBE). In English, “first” can have the idea of either time or rank (the same is true in Greek and Hebrew). If I say, “She was the first in class,” I could mean either that she was the first to arrive to the classroom, or that she was had the best grades in his class (in my experience, girls were usually first in class). Paul may in fact have this idea in mind and may be capitalizing on it in Colossians, though as John 1:1’s “in the beginning” shows, this would clearly be seen as a flexible idea. So it is strangely possible to translate Genesis 1:1 with the firstborn in mind, even as we have seen that it also includes ideas of the word and wisdom as well. All of this relates to Christ as the Son of God. The NT is not making the idea that Christ is the only begotten Son of God up. It is getting it from the OT.

In the next installment, we will look at Christ: The Glory of God.

 

[1] I realize there is controversy surrounding who these “gods” are among Evangelicals. For reasons why they cannot refer to humans see Cyrus Gordon, “אלהים (Elohim) in Its Reputed Meaning of Rulers, Judges,” Journal of Biblical Literature 54 (1935): 139–144; W. S. Prinsloo, “Psalm 82: Once Again, Gods or Men?” Biblica 76:2 (1995), 219–228; Lowell Handy, “Sounds, Words and Meanings in Psalm 82,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 47 (1990), 51–66; Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158:629 (Jan-Mar, 2001): 60-72 [52-74].

[2] I have written about this in the Introduction to my book Giants: Sons of the Gods. There is a host of other literature that delves into this as well. Perhaps the best place to be introduced to this whole fascinating subject is the Divine Council website of Dr. Michael Heiser who did his dissertation on the subject.

[3] See Michael S. Heiser, “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism’s Use of Psalm 82,” FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 221–266.

[4] On “begotten” see Lee Irons, “The Eternal Generation of the Son,” last accessed 8-15-2014. Basically, two etymologies have been proposed for monogenes. “Gennao” (Ps 2:7 LXX) means “to bear, beget.” “Genos” means “unique, class, kind.”

[5] See Tertullian, Against Praxeas 5.1.

[6] Jerome, Questions in Hebrew, in Genesis i. 507. Quoted in Saint Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis, trans. C.T. R. Hayward (Oxford: Oxford University Pres, 195), 30.

(By: Doug Van Dorn)

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