Monday, September 13, 2021

Anonymous Asks (162)

“Are angels God’s sons?”

The Old Testament contains five occurrences of the phrase “sons of God”; three in Job and two in Genesis. All five appear to me to be referring to angels. The New Testament gives us a further six mentions. Every one of these six refers to redeemed members of the human race.

That requires a little more explanation, but hey, that’s why we do this. Let’s go back to front, since the question is about angelic sons.

First, a necessary clarification:

The Son of God

The phrase “Son of God” (singular), often (but not always) accompanied by the definite article in English [ho in Greek], is only used of Jesus Christ. That title is uniquely his. God has many sons, but only one merits such a distinction.

Sons of God in the New Testament

In the New Testament, John famously tells us in his first chapter that “to all who did receive him [the unique Son of God], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become sons of God”. (The Greek word used for “sons” in John and many places elsewhere means offspring, including daughters, and so the passage is more frequently translated “children of God” these days.)

So then, with salvation comes sonship, not through original creation, but by virtue of a new creation. Paul uses the phrase twice in Romans 8, first to tell his readers that the leading of the Spirit of God is evidence of sonship, then to reveal that with sonship comes future glory, the redemption of our bodies, and the transformation of creation. In Philippians he tells us the sons of God shine as lights in the world, “without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation”. In all cases it is clear the phrase “sons of God” applies only to those who receive the Lord Jesus. Those who do not receive him are not called sons, but “a crooked and twisted generation”.

Finally, John uses the phrase to tell believers that being sons of God makes the glory of Christ-likeness inevitable for the Christian. “When he appears we shall be like him.”

All to say, I like the New Testament use of the term better than the Old, but that’s probably a bit of self-interest coming out.

Sons of God in the Old Testament

As for the Old Testament references to “sons of God”, there can be no doubt at all what type of beings the phrase refers to in Job. The sixth verse of its very first chapter reads, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” If Satan was among them, then we know they were all beings of the same order as Satan, who is referred to as a “guardian cherub” in the book of Ezekiel. The most logical conclusion is that we are privileged to view one in a regular series of heavenly gatherings of angelic beings — a divine council, if you like (or at very least a heavenly business meeting). The same thing occurs in Job 2. In chapter 38, God himself speaks of laying the foundation of the earth, when no human being had yet been created, and he adds, “... the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy”. In Job at least, the “sons of God” are indisputably angelic.

The two references in Genesis are the subject of more than a little theological disagreement. Genesis 6 twice reports that “the sons of God came in to the daughters of men”, taking human women as their wives and producing offspring who were “mighty men”, “giants” or nephilim.

One school of thought is that the phrase refers to the godly line of human beings headed by Adam’s son Seth, as opposed to the wicked line headed by Cain, the first murderer. But there is really no reason (other than a visceral dislike of the idea of angels taking mortals as wives) to reject the interpretation that these “sons of God” were the very same beings mentioned in Job. The two passages are thought to be roughly contemporary, and it has even been suggested Moses was the author of both, though this cannot be demonstrated conclusively. I believe these too are references to angelic beings.

Psalm 82 also makes mention of a divine council and “gods, sons of the Most High”. Again, there are at least two major sets of opinions about which order of beings is referenced in that passage. (The Lord’s editorial commentary on the psalm in John is hardly definitive on that count.)

But regardless of what one thinks about the Genesis and Psalms references, the Job passage is conclusive: angels are indeed called God’s sons in scripture, probably in the sense that they are created beings who owe their existence to him, just as we do. The difference is they are sons by way of original creation; we are God’s sons through the new creation.

Ark graphic by Fernando Shoiti Schatzmann [CC BY 2.0]

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