A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Christians believe that Jesus has always been the Son of God, even in his prehuman existence, and that this is a point in which all the Gospels agree. However, Luke 1:35 shows that at least one Gospel writer didnt believe in Jesus eternal Sonship. This writer actually believes that Jesus became the Son of God as a result of the virgin birth, a position held by many biblical scholars such as the late NT scholar Raymond E. Brown.
The Lukan text specifically states that:
"And the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."
According to the objection, the phrase "therefore" is causative implying that the virgin birth resulted in Jesus being the Son of God, which means that he wasnt Gods Son until that moment in time.
Before we begin addressing the objection we need to first to quote the entire context in order to get a more complete picture:
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you! But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. And Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I have no husband? And the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." Luke 1:26-35
The angel announces to Mary that God will grant her a Son who will rule over Israel and on Davids throne forever. The language used here is a direct echo of the prophecy made by Isaiah the prophet:
"But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zeb'ulun and the land of Naph'tali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined For to us a child is born, to us A SON IS GIVEN; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7
Isaiah refers to the birth of the Messiah and plainly states that he is the Son who is given that happens to also be the Mighty God! Clearly, this proves the Messiahs prehuman preexistence since to be God is to be eternal.
This conclusion is inescapable when we realize that Isaiah applies this very same title, the Mighty God, to Yahweh God Almighty:
"In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean upon him that smote them, but will lean upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God." Isaiah 10:20-21
Hence, for Isaiah to call the Messiah the Mighty God indicates that the inspired prophet believed that he is the very human manifestation and appearance of Yahweh God Almighty.
Now recall that the angel Gabriel used the language of Isaiah 9 in announcing the birth of the Messiah, highlighting Lukes clear dependency on this chapter. The following passage provides further evidence that Luke is referring to the promise made in Isaiah 9:
"And his father Zechari'ah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel." Luke 1:67-80
Compare the italicized and bold portions with what is written in Isaiah 9:2 and you will see clearly that Luke is dependent upon this reference. In light of this clear dependency we can safely infer that Luke believed that the birth of John the Baptist and of the Lord Jesus fulfilled the predictions of Isaiah 9. Luke must have therefore believed that Jesus is the Son of Isaiah 9:6 who is the Mighty God coming to rule over Israel forever.
The reader may be wondering why this is important and how this is relevant in addressing the objection. The answer is rather simple. If Luke believes that the Isaiah 9 text refers to Jesus the Messiah then this provides indirect attestation that he also believed in the full Deity and eternal Sonship of Christ, refuting the assertion that he believed that Jesus only became Gods Son at the moment of his virginal conception. Lukes allusion to Isaiah shows that he believed that the Lord Jesus is the divine preexistent Son of God who had now come to deliver his people.
Furthermore, compare once again what Isaiah and Luke say about the Messiah:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name WILL BE CALLED Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6
"He will be great, and WILL BE CALLED the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, And the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born WILL BE CALLED holy, the Son of God." Luke 1:32, 35
Both Isaiah and Luke state that the Messiah will be called something, i.e. "the Mighty God," "the Son of the Most High," "the Son of God" etc. Notice that the Lukan text doesnt say that Jesus will be/become the Son of God. Therefore, Lukes statement that Jesus will be called Gods Son no more proves that he wasnt the Son prior to that moment than Isaiahs claim that the Messiahs name will be called Mighty God proves that he wasnt God prior to the time that he was actually called that. As we saw earlier, to be the Mighty God is to be Yahweh according to Isaiah himself. And we definitely know that Yahweh has always existed as God:
"Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kad'mi-el, Bani, Hashabnei'ah, Sherebi'ah, Hodi'ah, Shebani'ah, and Pethahi'ah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be thy glorious name which is exalted above all blessing and praise." Nehemiah 9:5
"LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God." Psalm 90:1-2
"The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved; thy throne is established from of old; thou art from everlasting." Psalm 93:1-2
Since the Messiah is the Mighty God this means that he is Yahweh and has therefore always been God. His being called that didnt make him God or imply that he only later became God. In a similar manner, being called the Son of God doesnt mean that Jesus only later became the Son.
What both Isaiah and Luke are essentially saying is that the people, specifically the believers, will apply all these titles to the Messiah Jesus in recognition of who and what he is. In other words, Jesus will be called Gods Son, the Mighty God etc. by believers when they come to realize who he truly is. In order to further illustrate this point, notice what the prophet Zechariah says will happen at the consummation of this age:
"And the LORD WILL BECOME king over all the earth; on that day the LORD WILL BE ONE and his name one." Zechariah 14:9
Does Zechariah mean to suggest that Yahweh is not king currently or that he and his name are not one at the present time? Are we to believe that Zechariah taught that Yahweh and his name will only become one, and will only begin ruling at the end of this age? Of course not, since his point is that when Yahweh ushers in judgment and terminates this present period the people will then realize that Yahweh alone is sovereign and he alone is God.
In a similar manner, Lukes point is that the virgin birth is a supernatural sign that will lead people to the realization that Jesus is Gods Son, much like Christs bodily resurrection was another sign that God provided to confirm that Jesus is his beloved Son:
"the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord," Romans 1:3-4
Putting it another way, the virgin birth didnt cause Jesus to be Gods Son. Rather, the virgin birth, as well as the bodily resurrection, causes and continues to cause (by the sovereign grace of God of course) individuals to realize who Christ truly is and to confess him as God's Son. As noted Bible expositor, the late John Gill stated in his commentary on Luke 1:32:
He shall be great
In his person, as God-man; this child born, and Son given, being the angel of the great counsel, the mighty God, and everlasting Father; (Isaiah 9:6) which is here referred to; and in his offices, in his prophetic office, being that great and famous prophet Moses spoke of, mighty in word and deed, in his doctrine and miracles; in his priestly office, being a great high priest, both in the oblation of himself, and in his prevalent intercession; and in his kingly office, being the King of kings, and Lord of Lords; and in the whole of his office, as Mediator, being a great Saviour, the author of a great salvation for great sinners; in which is greatly displayed the glory of all the divine perfections: great also in his works, the miracles that he wrought, as proofs of his Deity and Messiahship, the work of redemption, the resurrection of himself from the dead, and of all men at the last day; and in the glory he is now possessed of in human nature, at the Father's right hand, where he is highly exalted above all principality and power:
and shall be called the Son of the Highest;
that is, of God, of whose names is (Nwyle) , "the Most High"; see (Genesis 14:18-20) not by creation, as angels and men, nor by adoption, as saints, nor by office, as magistrates, are called "the children of the Most High", (Psalm 82:6) but by nature, being the eternal Son of God; of the same nature with him, and equal to him: for he was not now to begin to be the Son of God, he was so before, even from all eternity; but the sense is, that he should now be known, owned, and acknowledged to be the Son of God, being as such manifested in human nature, and should be proved to be so by the works he wrought, and declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead: (Source; underline italic emphasis ours)
Finally, it may be true that some (perhaps many) Christian scholars erroneously assume that Luke taught that Christs virginal conception made him Gods Son. Yet many other scholars do not hold to this position at all. Rather, they believe that Luke was showing that Jesus is Gods eternal Son and that Gods Holy Spirit miraculously created the human nature, the physical body, of Christ from the blessed virgin Mary.
Someone may interject here and say that the immediate context refutes our exegesis since the angel says to Mary that:
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." Luke 1:31
Much like the name Jesus was something which he only received at the time of his birth, in a similar manner "Son of God" was the name which he only received and became after the virginal conception.
On the contrary, this actually supports our position. The name Jesus was given in order to indicate who the child is and what he came to do. In other words, the name identifies the nature and function of the child, that he is Yahweh who had come to save his people:
"But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus (Yashua, "Yahweh saves"), for he will save his people from their sins.’" Matthew 1:20-21
The only reason why Jesus could even save people from their sins is because of who he was already, the Son of God. Hence, being called Jesus served to identify who he already was, not what he later became, i.e. he already was the Savior who decided to come and save sinners.
To put it another way, being called Jesus didn't make Christ Yahweh or turn him into a Savior. He was given that name because he is Yahweh God who had come to save:
"All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. FOR I HAVE COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:37-40
"The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus CAME INTO THE WORLD to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners;" 1 Timothy 1:15
In the same way, being called the Son of God didn't make him something he wasn't already. Rather, it served to identify who already was even before the virgin birth.
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