If this were a major study on “Son of God” as a christological title, the next step would be a detailed exegetical study, book by book and corpus by corpus, of all the occurrences of the title—or at least of well-chosen representatives of all the occurrences. Instead, in this chapter I shall direct my attention primarily to two extended passages, Hebrews 1 and John 5:16–30. The aim in both cases is to understand what the New Testament writers meant when they declared Jesus to be the Son of God, at least in these passages, and how they reached that decision by their reading of the Old Testament Scriptures they loved. I have chosen these two passages because they seem to me to be among the richest and most evocative of biblical passages to treat this title. In neither case, however, will I offer a phrase-by-phrase reading of the entire unit. That would make for a very long chapter. Rather, I shall pick and choose details in each passage, treating some at length while skipping by others and merely dropping hints. On the other hand, I shall feel free to draw in biblical texts and themes from outside the two primary passages I have selected, if by so doing we better perceive the sweep of biblical witness and move toward a theological synthesis in which the whole is even more compelling than the parts.
It will prove helpful to develop the argument by asking and answering six questions.
Why Is the Son Greater Than the Angels?
That is the claim made by Hebrews 1:4: the Son “became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” The justification of this claim is developed in the following verses. The first step is taken in verse 5: “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’?”
The superiority that is claimed does not turn on the mere word “Son,” as if the text were saying, “Jesus is called the Son, but angels are not so described in Scripture, so that proves Jesus is superior.” Anyone as well-versed in Scripture as the writer to the Hebrews cannot possibly be ignorant of the fact that sometimes Scripture does refer to angels as sons of God, as we saw in chapter 1. The comparison must turn on more than the mere word “Son.” This observation drives us to try to determine why the author thinks the two Old Testament texts he quotes, Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14, prove the superiority of the Son over angels, when angels are not mentioned in either text.
The problem becomes more acute when we recall that the first of the two quotations, Psalm 2:7, is cited three times in the New Testament, and on each occurrence taken to prove something different. Here it is taken to prove that Jesus is superior to angels. In Hebrews 5:5 the author appeals to the same verse to prove that Jesus did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. After all, when Aaron became high priest under the terms of the old covenant, he did not take this honor on himself, but rather was appointed by God (5:4), so when under the terms of the new covenant Jesus becomes high priest, he similarly has to be appointed by God. This appointment, the writer to the Hebrews insists, is demonstrated by the quotation from Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” The third and final occurrence of this quotation is found in Acts 13, in Paul’s evangelistic address in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Paul introduces the quotation with the words, “What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.23 As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father’” (Acts 13:32–33).