Among biblical theologians, Graeme Goldsworthy is a well-respected scholar with great passion for Christ and his church. His works on the Bible, the kingdom of God, hermeneutics, and preaching are treasures that help us see Christ in all Scripture.
More recently, he has put together a short book on the theme son of God. It’s called The Son of God and the New Creation. In what follows, I will try to encapsulate some of his observations and arguments in ten points.
Ten Points on The Son of God
1. The Bible is a unified book about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Goldsworthy begins with a description of biblical theology and the right and wrong ways to do a word study (18–22). In this context, he explains how the Son of God stands at the center of the Bible.
It is clear that Jesus, the apostles, and the early church regarded the Old Testament itself as Christian Scripture. In addition to the general historical continuity, the heart of this unity of the Testaments is the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. He is not only the central character and principal concern of the New Testament, but he is also regarded by the New Testament as the fulfillment of, and even the reason for, the Old Testament. (23–24)
In view of the Bible’s Christ-centeredness, we must read Scripture with Christ always in view. With respect to the theme ‘Son of God,’ this may be less difficult because it so directly relates to his person and work. However, as we will see, because son of God describes many persons in the Bible, keeping the Son at the center of the discussion about the son of God is not a tautology.
2. Every word study in the Bible must show how it relates to Jesus Christ.
Taking the last point one step further, Goldsworthy reminds us to read every God-inspired in relationship to the Word Incarnate.
Investigating words and their meanings, whether in the Old or the New Testament, is therefore an exercise in understanding their relationship to the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this study we will examine something of the momentum in the Old Testament that leads us to Jesus Christ in the Gospels, as we reflect together on the whole-Bible theme “son of God.” (24)
With Christ in mind, Goldsworthy unfolds his “strategy” for seeing the son of God in Scripture. Instead of beginning in the beginning, he starts with the full disclosure of Christ’s sonship in the New Testament; next, he identifies the way New Testament authors develop this theme from the Old Testament; then, after tracing the doctrine through the New Testament, he returns to the Old Testament to see types and shadows of Jesus’ sonship (25–26).
This approach is imminently eschatological and practical. Instead of chasing shadows in the Old Testament, he begins with the full shape of the New Testament substance. And only then does he return to the Old Testament with the aid of the New Testament revelation. This reading strategy makes great sense, and even if it is not the only way to approach biblical theology (as Goldsworthy admits, 29n13), it shows how the New Testament must confirm or deny any and all purported types or patterns in the Old Testament.
3. There are multiple ways the New Testament speaks about God the Son, the son of God, etc.
In making contact with Son of God in the New Testament, Goldsworthy lists 15 ways Jesus ‘sonship’ is described in the New Testament. These include: Son of God, “My [God’s] beloved Son,” the Son, His (God’s) Son, His (God’s) only Son, the only Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the firstborn son, “My son,” the carpenter’s son, the Son of the Highest, the son of Joseph, and the Christ the son of God (31–32).
This list reveals how central the theme of Sonship is for knowing Christ and yet how diverse. While there is some overlap in these terms, many of them carry different emphases. Some relate to Christ’s eternal divine Sonship, others stress his humanity and the messianic promise of his coming. In all, a thorough investigation—which Goldsworthy pursues—is necessary to understand the fullness of Christ’s Sonship.
Shadows in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ and the substance of Christ is foreshadowed through a kaleidoscope of types in the Old Testament (25).
4. There were four ways “son of God” is used in the Old Testament.
Before the New Testament, there were four ways in which “son of God” was primarily used. Goldsworthy lists, citing Alan Richardson (35),
- angelic sons of God (e.g., Gen. 6:2; Job 38:7);
- righteous men (mostly in Jewish wisdom literature written between the times of the Testaments);
- Israel (Exod. 4:22); and
- the king (2 Sam. 7:14)
Of these, the New Testament develops only two—Israel and the king. And with respect to these Old Testament developments, we see that Christ is the fulfillment of the pattern of sonship that starts with Adam, transfers to Israel, and climaxes in David. Thus, in the New Testament we find both fulfillment of this pattern and escalation. For the son of David is also God the Son Incarnate.
5. The New Testament presents Christ as a human son who fulfills all the promises of the Old Testament and God’s divine Son who mediates between heaven and earth.
Goldsworthy traces the evidence for Jesus’ Sonship through the New Testament and finds the Synoptics show Jesus’ human sonship, while John and Hebrews present his divine sonship.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke demonstrate that Jesus fulfilled the calling and requirements of the people of God presented in the Old Testament–from Adam to Israel to David. “Son of God” is the title that belongs to God’s people of whom the final and true Son is Jesus.
In John, and perhaps in Hebrews, the emphasis is also on the man from heaven. The Son of God is the Son of the Father and comes from the Father to do his work. The way we regard the Son is the way we regard the Father; we cannot separate the two persons even though they are clearly to be distinguished. Hebrews leaves us in no doubt that the person and work of Christ, though superior to the persons and works of the Old Testament, are nevertheless defined by them.
The various takes on “son of God” in the New Testament raise the question of whether the term indicates that Jesus is the man who stands as true Adam, ideal son of David, and true and faithful Israel–or does it indicate that he is God? The question is simply put: Is Jesus God or is he man? The answer we are driven to is: Yes! He is both. (55)
Goldsworthy rightly concludes from this that an orthodox Chalcedonian Christology is underscored by this biblical data. Of course, our goal is never to force Scripture to fit our creeds. But equally important, we see in this biblical theology how Scripture supports Nicea and Chalcedon.
6. The Old Testament develops an eschatological vision of sonship that prepares the way for Christ.
If the New Testament presents God the Son as the son of Abraham, the son of David, we need to see how the theme of sonship develops throughout the Old Testament. For our gospel hope does not rely on an orthodox construction of the hypostatic union (i.e., Christ is one divine person in distinct but undivided natures). Rather, the gospel proclaims how the son of God fulfills all the Old Testament promises.
Following the course of these promises, Goldsworthy shows how sonship begins with Adam, is carried on in Israel, climaxes (and falls) in the kingship of David’s sons, and returns with even greater promise in the Prophets. There’s too much to cover from this chapter on the Old Testament, but here are a few highlights:
- Image and likeness are terms of sonship. (61)
- “Whatever the significance of angelic beings referred to as sons of God, the title as applied to Jesus is too heavily anchored to the line of Adam-and-then-Israel for these references to greatly influence our understanding of his sonship.” (64)
- “Covenant and sonship will become a permanent feature of redemptive history.” (65)
- Through the genealogies of Genesis 4–11, “sonship is emerging as one key way of showing how a significant relationship exists and is transmitted through the ages.” (66)
From all these features (the image and likeness of God, genealogies, covenants), Goldsworthy shows how Luke might conclude that Adam was God’s son (Luke 3:38). Indeed, these early signs of sonship are made explicit in the life of Israel (Exod. 4:22; Hos. 11:1) and then David (2 Sam. 7:14). And importantly, they teach us to read the Old Testament (through one lens) as a story of God with his son.
In fact, Goldsworthy observes how kingship and covenant—perhaps the twin ideas that best capture the message of Scripture—both relate to sonship.
- “The restoration of the covenant people refer to the rehabilitation of the son of God.” (71)
- We can grasp the idea of ‘son of God’ only when we see that it is inseparable from the whole structure of the kingdom of God. “Son of God” means the people of God [men and women] in his kingdom.” (71)
Importantly, this theme of sonship is developed further in the Psalms (esp. Pss 2, 72, 110) and the Prophets (Isa. 9:6–7; 11:1–10; Jer. 23:3–6; 33:14–22; Zech. 3:8–10) (pp. 72–81). All in all, Goldsworthy’s look at the Old Testament helps us see the biblical-theological context of “the Son of God,” which in turn prepares us to read the New Testament again, with application to believers who are also called sons of God.
7. Jesus, who is God the Son, receives the human title “son of God” at this resurrection.
Stepping back into the New Testament, Goldsworthy shows how the resurrection is the key moment in Christ’s life when God the Son receives the covenant and royal title “the Son of God” (see Romans 1:3–4; Hebrews 5:5–10). Connecting Old Testament anticipation with New Testament fulfillment he writes,
Resurrection, then, is an Old Testament sharpening of the focus that begins with creation. We see this right from the beginning in the fact that the death of Adam and Eve in their ejection from the garden is not the end. The covenants promise renewal for the people of God.The sons of Adam experience a series of deaths by exile from the Promised Land and, by the grace of God, a series of new creations or new births. (95)
In other words, by following sonship through the Old Testament, we see how “sons of God” (e.g., Adam, Israel, David) inherited their title through various covenants of creation and redemption. This covenantal understanding of sonship also explains how they lost their title, or at least the attendant privileges (inheritance) of sonship. Thus, in Christ’s perfect obedience, he earned the right to sit on David’s throne, inherit Abraham’s land, and receive Adam’s title as the son of God.
8. Those who believe in Christ will also become sons of God, sharing all the covenant blessings and kingdom inheritance that he received.
If Christ is crowned the Son of God in his resurrection, then the New Testament also teaches that those who are raised to life with him also receive that title. There are a host of passages that bring this together. For instance, Luke 20:36 says, “For they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Likewise, Paul regularly speaks of believers as sons of God (Gal 3:23–29; 4:4–7) or co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). In all these ways, because faith in the gospel unites believers to the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3–6), the same resurrection that glorified Christ will also benefit all those sons and daughters who are in Christ.
Rightly, Goldsworthy devotes great attention to union in Christ and the covenantal representation of Christ for his people. And he concludes, “only if the Father should repudiate the sonship of Jesus could our sonship be repudiated” (105). Indeed, this is what it means that Christ has received all the blessings and shares them with all who trust in him (cf. John 1:12–13).
9. The one who receives the title “Son of God” is, in fact, God the Son.
When Goldsworthy pulls all of his observations together, he rightly asserts that one who receives the exalted human title is none other than the Incarnate Lord, the eternal Son of God. He concludes,
If my conclusions are correct, the title “son of God” is mostly tied to the incarnate God, Jesus, and his historical predecessors in the Old Testament. But this in no way precludes the divine emphasis in other places. And it in no way precludes the clear evidence that this Son of God is indeed God the Son from all eternity. We would expect that a true mediator should share the essence of both parties to be reconciled. And so it turns out. The real saving role of the mediator between God and men is exercised by the one who is true God and true man. (119)
10. To know God means knowing God the Son via the human son of God.
From all that has been said, we come to learn that Jesus is truly the central figure in the Bible. He is the one in whom all things hold together—this is true in creation (Ephesians 1:10) and in revelation (2 Corinthians 1:20). And so in reading the Bible, we ought not to shy away from seeking him in all Scripture. In fact, it is impossible to collapse God’s revelation into the person and work of Christ. Rather, by seeing all of Scripture through the lens of God’s Son, we learn how to read all the parts of the Bible.
In this way, to know the triune God means knowing God the Son, through the full revelation of God which culminates in the resurrection and heavenly session of Christ. The gospel depends on this fact, that the one who suffered and died for our sins has also been raised as God’s Son. As Scripture teaches us, Jesus Christ is this true Son of God. And for all who trust in him, he gives us the right to be called children of God with him (John 1:12).
This is a glorious wonder and one that we will marvel at for eternity. Until then it is a truth we must continue to ponder and apply to our lives, as we learn what it means to be children of God.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds