Contemporary Biblical Scholarship on Our Being “Sons/Daughters of God”

A long history in Christianity proposes that Christmas and Advent are about our birth as other Christs, Cosmic Christs, sons and daughters of God. 

Christ in the poorest: “La Sagrada Familia” by Kelly Latimore, Iconographer. Reprinted by permission; see his gallery of powerful images here.

Amidst all the daily news of the perfidy of humans and our institutions it may be coming as something of a shock to be talking about our divine dimension.  But it is precisely in a time of darkness that we do have to remind ourselves of our greatness or potential greatness in order to inspire and keep going and to become better people.

Contemporary New Testament scholar Bruce Chilton very much endorses teachings on ourselves as “sons/daughters of God” when he speaks of St. Paul who “calls what was disclosed within him God’s ‘Son.’” 

Chilton goes on:

Readers today think exclusively of Jesus when they hear the words the ‘Son of God.’  But the phrase had a life of its own before it was applied to Jesus,…referring to angels (Genesis 6:2), the whole people called Israel (Hosea 11:1), and the king in David’s line (Psalm 2:7).  Direct revelation extends God’s favor to people and angels; each is ‘the Son,’ ‘the beloved,’ as Jesus became in his vision at his baptism (Mark 1:11).

“Baptism in the sea.” Photo by Etienne on Flickr.

It is in fact at Baptism, “according to Paul, [that] ‘God sends the Spirit of his Son into every believer, who cries to God, ‘Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4:6)’.”  The believer becomes a Son, just as Jesus called upon his father–Paul says in the same sentence, God sends his Spirit ‘because you are Sons.’  The moment of baptism, the supreme moment of faith, was when one discovered oneself as a Son of God, because Jesus as God’s Son was disclosed in one’s heart. 

It follows that for Paul

...this divine Son could become the holy divine center within every person, as Jesus had become within Paul.  Sonship, forgiveness, God imparting Spirit were all visionary realities that Paul encountered in Jesus, risen from the dead.  They amounted to seeing God making humanity anew.

“Pentecost” Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

What is this “new humanity” born anew at Christmas?  A humanity that puts compassion forward as the authentic meaning of Divinity.  “Be you compassionate as your Creator in heaven is compassionate.”  (Lk 6.36)

The fuller text from Galatians reads like this:

When the fullness of time came God sent forth his Son, born from woman, born under law, so that he might redeem those under law, in order that we might obtain Sonship.  And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba,’ Father!’ (4:4-6)

In Romans Paul writes:

Mural: “Tribute to Archbishop Oscar Romero” by Jamie Morgan, 2001, Balmy Alley, San Francisco. Photo by Franco Folini on Flickr.

Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God.  The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’  The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God.  And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.  (Rm. 8:14-17). 

Thus we see that Eckhart and other mystics draw on foundational Scriptural texts when they speak of our becoming sons and daughters of Divinity.

*See Bruce Chilton, The Way of Jesus: To Repair and Renew the World, pp. 139-143, 190. 

Consider Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 293-362.

Banner Image: Hebrew characters for “Abba” with the Our Father. Stained glass tympanum detail, Saint Peter Catholic Church (Millersburg, Ohio). Photo by Nheyob on Wikimedia Commons.

What does meditating on humanity’s deification mean to you?  How does it alter our understanding of Advent and of Christmas?

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2 thoughts on “Contemporary Biblical Scholarship on Our Being “Sons/Daughters of God””

  1. Matthew Fox

    A reader has sent this question via email:
    The Christian exclusivity in today’s meditation was disappointing. Aren’t all Children of God?

    Matthew responds:
    We are discussing over a several week period the meaning of “Advent” and “Christmas.”  Of course all people are sons and daughters of God and all beings–that is the meaning of speaking about the “Cosmic Christ” (and Buddha nature and image of God). 

    But I am trying to reach those who identify as Christian and celebrate Christmas who have often been hoodwinked by capitalist versions of Xmas that reduce it to a sentimental birthday party for baby Jesus.  A look back instead of a look inwards to oneself and therefore a look to the future.  In the earliest Xstian sources, there is emphasis on the “son of God” refrain and how Xmas is about adults, not just children, who have a vocation to grow up and act more god-like.  I am also addressing therefore the sometimes excessive emphasis put on Jesus by Christianity that sees only him as a son of God. 

    My video for today offers evidence why employing the term “son of God” of both Jesus and believers in Jesus in the first century literally resulted in the Empire–which saw Cesar as the only son of God–threw early Christians to the lions (literally).  It was a VERY political and controversial thing to say, believe and act on.  It was a big deal–it was a very dangerous deal–in the first century to talk about ordinary people being ‘sons and daughters’ of God.  It could cost you your life.

    Part of deep ecumenism or interfaith is to be willing to look at the sources of other peoples’ belief systems without being offended by them or reading them only in the context of 21st century sensibilities.  Many Christians–and non-Christians–are unfamiliar with this theme I am presenting from the mystics and from Xtian scriptures this season of advent.

  2. Avatar

    Thank you for this very clear explanation. I continue to learn so much. It is good to be reminded or learn for the first time the more expanded meanings of Advent and Christmas. I wish again that there could be a FaceBook page on these meditations so that we could discuss them amongst one another on an on-going basis.

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