God doesn’t have a son

God doesn’t have a son

It all depends on what you mean by the word son. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel was called God’s son, the king was called God’s son, and the angels were called God’s sons. Is it any wonder that the Messiah, the ideal representative of Israel, the king of all earthly kings, and the one more highly exalted than the angels, should be called God’s Son? More than anyone else who has walked this earth, Jesus the Messiah is uniquely entitled to be called the Son of God.

Obviously, none of us believe that God had a son in the same way that a human father would have a son. We are fully aware that the creator of the universe wasn’t married. What then do we mean when we say that Jesus is the “Son of God”?

Christian theologians often explain that Jesus was “eternally begotten of the Father,” yet that is not the easiest concept to grasp. Technical terms such as circumincession, coinherence, subordinationism, and prolation don’t help us much either. (To tell you the truth, I’m not too sure I can even tell you precisely what each of these words means.)54 So rather than getting too theological, let’s think through some issues with regard to the concept of “son of God” in the Bible, and as we study these issues, remember this one important fact: We believe that the Son of God is truly divine, eternal, and not created. When he came down to earth, he took on human form, and from that point on, we have known him as Jesus the Messiah. The eternal Son of God made himself known to us as Yeshua, the Jewish carpenter, rabbi, Messiah, and Savior of the world.

Turning to the biblical concept of “son,” any student of the Semitic languages knows that the word son (Hebrew, ben; Aramaic, bar; Arabic, ibn) has many different meanings. It can refer to literal offspring (such as one’s physical son or distant descendant) as well as to metaphorical offspring (such as “the sons of the prophets,” meaning the disciples of the prophets). When applied to the Israelite king, it means “son” by divine adoption (e.g., 2 Sam. 7:14: “I will be his father, and he will be my son”), and it can even apply to the people of Israel as a whole, since they were specially chosen by God (see Exod. 4:22–23: “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my first born son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me” ’ ”). In this sense, it could also apply to the obedient people of Israel as individuals (Hosea 1:10: “They will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”).

Another meaning of “son” has to do with those who belong to the same class of being. Thus the angels are called benei ʾelohim, “sons of God,” meaning those who share in the qualities of ʾelohim: partaking of heavenly, spirit nature as opposed to the earthly, flesh nature of humans.

Therefore, the angels, the kings, and the nation could be called “sons of God.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, it seems that God had many sons! And Israel was even called his “firstborn.” But neither the angels nor the king nor the people of Israel were literally sons of God, as if the Lord consorted with a goddess who then gave birth, the way the gods and goddesses did in pagan mythology. Unfortunately, some traditional Jewish teachers have understood the concept of Jesus the Messiah as “Son of God” in a crassly literal way, and some segments of the church may have contributed to this. It is important, then, that we understand in exactly what ways the Messiah is the Son of God.

Israel, the Lord’s “firstborn son,” was specially singled out by God and appointed to a specific mission. In a unique sense, God himself was Israel’s Father. So, too, Jesus the Messiah was specially singled out and appointed to a specific mission, and in a unique sense, God was his Father. But, quite obviously, the sonship of Jesus goes well beyond the sonship of Israel. What about the sonship of Israel’s king? There are a number of important Scripture passages to consider.

I previously quoted 2 Samuel 7:14, in which the Lord tells David that he will establish a dynasty for him, treating the future ruling sons of David as his own sons. Speaking of Solomon he said, “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” In Psalm 2:7, the king (David? Solomon? a later descendant of David?) says, “I will tell of the decree. The Lord said to me, ‘You are My son; this day have I begotten you.’ ”55 When did the Lord utter those words? They were probably spoken by a prophet at the time of the king’s coronation, when the descendant of David became recognized as a “son” of God, and they may have become a regular feature of that momentous ceremony, whenever a new king would begin his reign.56

But there’s something more. Note carefully those final words: “today I have begotten you” (ʿani hayyom yelidtika; yalad is the standard Hebrew verb used for a woman giving birth to a baby or a man fathering a child). Either this is a direct prophecy of Jesus (and there are many Christians who would say it is!), or else it indicates that when David (or one of his sons) became king, his adoption by God was recognized as some kind of divine begetting.57The choice of words is quite bold! “Today I have begotten you.”

But the plot thickens. Many times in the psalms, the Lord and his anointed king are described in equally exalted terms, and similar reverence is required for both. Consider these following clear parallels (which I have translated for greater clarity): In Psalm 83:18, God is “the Most High over all the earth,” while in Psalm 89:28, it is the Davidic king, designated significantly as “firstborn,” who has been appointed “the most high of the kings of the earth.” In Psalm 86:9, “all nations will bow down” to the Lord, yet in 72:11, the foreign kings will bow down to the Davidic king. First Chronicles 29:20 is even more to the point: “They [i.e., the people] bowed down and did obeisance to the Lord and to [David] the king.” So also in Psalm 2:11 and 100:2, the rulers and peoples are exhorted to worship/serve the Lord, while in 18:44 and 72:11, it is the Davidic king whom they must worship/serve.

Both God and his anointed king are worthy of praise (see Ps. 67:4, where the peoples are called on to extol God, and 45:17[18], where it is the king whom they will extol forever), and both are clothed with “glory and honor” (cf., e.g., Ps. 96:6 with 21:6). Of the royal king it can be said, “All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him” (Ps. 72:11); for “I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted [elyon] of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27[28]). “I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers” (Ps. 89:25[26]), and “I will establish … his throne as long as the heavens endure” (Ps. 89:29[30]). “Therefore the nations will praise [him] for ever and ever” (Ps. 45:17[18]).

God’s “son,” the Davidic king, was quite an exalted figure! Is it any winder that Scripture declares that in the Messianic era the people “will serve the Lord their God and David their king” (Jer. 30:9)?

Let me state these facts again clearly: According to the Hebrew Bible, the Davidic king was called God’s son and firstborn, and he was described as begotten by God. He was to be praised, extolled, served, and adored.58 How much more could this be said of the supreme Davidic king, the Messiah, the ultimate “Son of God”?

We know, of course, that as Jews we are to have no other gods aside from the Lord. That is the first of the Ten Commandments, and, as we saw in answering the last objection, a true, New Testament faith in Jesus the Messiah agrees with this both in letter and in spirit. But here is something interesting to consider: Even if you didn’t understand that the Messiah was both divine and human (and therefore, in praising and adoring him we really are praising and adoring God), you would still need to recognize that every major Hebrew word for worship, praise, service, adoration, and obeisance that is used in the Bible with reference to God is also used with reference to the Messiah, the Davidic king. These are indisputable facts.59

This is in harmony with what Jesus taught in John 5:22–23: “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

These words are in complete harmony with the verses we just read from the Tanakh: God and his Son, the Davidic Messiah, are to be honored and revered. This is also the picture painted in John’s heavenly visions in Revelation 5:13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ ” These words are the fulfillment of that which was promised in the psalms: All peoples will praise and glorify God and his anointed one, the Messiah.

The reason I quote these New Testament verses here is so that you can see firsthand exactly what these Scriptures declare, helping to do away with prejudice and misunderstanding. If you really adhere to the words of the Hebrew Bible, you will have no problem adhering to the words of Jesus and his followers as recorded in the New Covenant Scriptures.

For now, however, we will return to Psalm 2 in the Tanakh in light of a homiletical Rabbinic commentary called Midrash Tehillim. The midrash is addressing the words, “I will declare the decree. The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.’ ” Which decree, the rabbis ask, is being referred to here? First, it is answered, the text refers to “the decree of the Torah,” Exodus 4:22, where God calls Israel his firstborn son. In other words, just as Israel was God’s son, so also the king was God’s son. Next, it refers to “the decree of the Prophets,” citing Isaiah 52:13 (“Behold, my servant will act wisely”) and Isaiah 42:1 (“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight”). Now, what is interesting here is that neither of these verses makes reference to the term son, yet they are among the most famous Messianic prophecies in the entire Bible, often pointed to by Christians with ultimate reference to Jesus. And the midrash ties them in with the king being called God’s son in Psalm 2:7!

Next, the rabbis point to “the decree of the Writings” (i.e., the remainder of the Tanakh), citing Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand,’ ” a verse quoted by Jesus himself to demonstrate that as Messiah, he was more than just David’s son, since David in Psalm 110 called him “my lord” (see Matt. 22:42–45). And all this is given in explanation of “the decree” proclaiming the Davidic king as God’s son. But it gets even better.

The final verse cited is Daniel 7:13: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” Thus, in light of this Rabbinic compilation of Scripture, the exalted figure coming in the clouds of heaven is none other than the Davidic king, the Son of God! (Remember this is Rabbinic midrash not New Testament commentary.) From a Messianic standpoint, this verse in Daniel is of critical importance. It goes on to say:

He [i.e., this one like a son of man] approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13–14

What an exalted figure!

Now, let’s put this all together: According to this Midrash, the justification for calling the king the son of God is based on: (1) God calling Israel his firstborn son; (2) prophecies from Isaiah referring to the faithful servant of the Lord, clearly Messianic references; and (3) a royal psalm in which God says to the king, “Sit at my right hand,” and the glorious “son of man” prophecy from Daniel. If I didn’t read this myself in the Hebrew Midrash Tehillim, I would have thought that a Messianic Jew put these verses together. They are some of the most common texts that we quote, all with reference to Jesus the Messiah. And here the rabbis tie them in with the Davidic king as son of God. In fact, Rabbi Yudan states explicitly that the words “you are my son” refer to the Messiah.

There were a number of Davidic kings in our history, some of whom were great, like David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah, and each of whom would have been called “God’s son.” But none of them sat down at God’s right hand (Psalm 110), none of them were (or are) worshiped and adored by people of every nation and tongue (Daniel 7), and only Yeshua, who called himself both “Son of man” and “Son of God,” will return in the clouds of heaven (again, Daniel 7). He fulfills that which was prophetically spoken of the Davidic king, the anointed (mashiach) of the Lord, in the Prophets and Psalms.

In fact, according to Psalm 45 and Isaiah 9, this anointed king was even called “God.” Let’s look first at Psalm 45. To help you understand this psalm, spoken to the Davidic king, I will leave the Hebrew word ʾelohim (“God”) untranslated in the following verses:

You are the most excellent of men

and your lips have been anointed with grace,

since ʾelohim has blessed you forever.…

In your majesty ride forth victoriously

in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness;

let your right hand display awesome deeds.…

Your throne, O ʾelohim, will last for ever and ever;

a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

You love righteousness and hate wickedness;

therefore ʾelohim, your ʾelohim, has set you above your

companions

by anointing you with the oil of joy.

Psalm 45:2, 4, 6, 7[3, 5, 7, 8]

So this royal descendant of David is called ʾelohim: “Your throne, O God [ʾelohim], will last for ever and ever”! To attempt to translate the key verse with “your divine throne” or “your throne is God” is forced, to say the least. The most natural and obvious meaning is, “Your throne, O God,” spoken to the Davidic king!

When I first started studying Hebrew in college, I asked my professor, a very friendly Israeli rabbi, to translate for me the words kisʾaka ʾelohim ʿolam waʿed. He replied immediately, “Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” explaining, “These are praises to the Almighty.” I then asked him to read the rest of the psalm, clearly addressed to the king, and his face dropped. How could this earthly king be called ʾelohim? To repeat: This is the most natural and obvious meaning of the Hebrew, and no one would have questioned such a rendering had the entire psalm been addressed to God.60 How then can the earthly king be called ʾelohim

Obviously, when we apply this verse to Jesus the Messiah, there is no question or difficulty. In fact, he is the answer to the question and the solution to the difficulty. But this psalm was originally addressed to an entirely human “son of God” and later applied in its fullest sense to Jesus, the last and greatest Davidic king. How can this be?

Jewish scholars have sometimes forced the translation of the key words in order to avoid the powerful implications of the text. This is seen clearly in the 1917 Jewish Publication Society Version, which rendered Psalm 45:6[7] as, “Your throne, given of God,” even though the translators created the words “given of God” out of thin air.61 On the other hand, Christian scholars, in applying the words to Jesus alone, have sometimes failed to explain the original context of the psalm, which was addressed to an earthly king. How can we be faithful to both the original text and the original context?

The answer is very important and helps to provide a key to understanding Messianic prophecy. The word ʾelohim can mean God, god, gods, or angels, all of which refer in some sense to “divine beings.” It is also important to note that in the Ancient Near East, the kings of Mesopotamia and Egypt were considered gods themselves.62 This, however, was not the case in Israel. Rather, the Davidic king was a highly exalted human, recognized as God’s unique son. Here in Psalm 45, the Hebrew language was stretched to its limit, speaking of the Davidic king as ʾelohim, a “divine one.”63 But this daring concept serves as the perfect introduction to the real divine sonship of the Messiah. He truly is ʾelohim! So this verse applied in a limited sense to the earthly, Davidic king, and it applies in its full sense to Jesus, the Davidic Messiah.64

This may seem a little complex, but it really is very simple. Every time a new Davidic king was installed, there was an elaborate ceremony, and it appears that psalms such as Psalm 2 were read, proclaiming the king to be God’s son, the anointed (mashiach) of the Lord (cf. Ps. 2:2), and promising him rulership over the entire world (see Ps. 2:8–9). Eventually, these psalms became part of our Hebrew Bible, and as each new king failed to live up to the high prophetic expectations, disappointment set in. But these were God’s words and God’s promises. How could they fail to reach their fulfillment? It was this kind of tension that caused the people of Israel to begin to look for a greater son of David, the anointed one (mashiach) par excellence.

When Jesus the Messiah finally came into the world, these royal psalms reached their goal. Here was one who truly was God’s Son, who in a unique way was ʾelohim among us, and who was David’s lord, to be worshiped and served by all mankind. Thus, the royal psalms had their partial application to the earthly sons of David, but they were only fulfilled through Yeshua, the greater son of David. This understanding alone does justice to the truth of the Hebrew Bible and the truth of history.

The same principle applies to Isaiah 9:6–7[5–6], a prophetic announcement of the birth of a new Davidic king whose kingdom would be established forever, words that became famous around the world through Handel’s Messiah. The NIV, a traditional Christian translation, reads:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

Who is this child and what is the meaning of his name? The verses preceding this glorious prophecy refer to the fall of Assyria, the great enemy of the Jewish people seven hundred years before Jesus. So the birth announcement could refer to a Davidic king born in that general time frame. But no king born at that time fulfilled what was promised. Just read the verses again, ignoring for a moment the names of the child. The only godly king of that era, Hezekiah, hardly lived up to any of the promises given, and before he was dead, the prophet Isaiah informed him that his descendants would be taken into exile in Babylon (see Isaiah 39). Other interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, have argued that this is a Messianic prophecy, plain and simple, since the prophets always saw the Messiah coming on the immediate horizon of history. In this vein, the Targum explicitly calls the child born “Messiah.”

Actually, I believe there is truth to both interpretations: These prophetic words, spoken over a Davidic king born in Isaiah’s day, were never fulfilled. They only reached their goal when the Messiah came into the world. It really is simple. It’s not that the prophets spoke falsely or the psalmists wrote falsely. Instead, they were sometimes inspired by the Spirit to speak of each Davidic king as if he were the Davidic king, painting a picture for us of who the Messiah would be and what he would do. This helps to clear up many misunderstandings that both Jewish and Christian scholars have had with these texts. These verses had their immediate, incomplete application in the days when they were spoken, and they have their final, complete application in the Messianic era, an era that began when Jesus came into the world.

But let’s look back at the names of the child according to Isaiah 9:6[5]. How can he be called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Father Forever, Prince of Peace”? There is no problem with “Wonderful” and “Counselor,” nor does “Prince of Peace” present any problem for a human being. As for “Father Forever” (which is a better translation of the Hebrew ʾabi ʿad), when it is understood that the king as shepherd, protector, and leader of the people was their “father,” then this too can be applied to a human being. But “Mighty God”?

The Targum, in a valiant but futile attempt to get around this, paraphrases, “And his name will be called before the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God who exists forever, ‘Messiah,’ for peace will abound upon us in his days.” So instead of heaping up names on this royal child—a common ancient Near Eastern practice at the time of enthronement—the Targum heaps the names on the Lord! This is not only farfetched, it is a grammatical monstrosity, as is widely recognized by translators and commentators of every background.

Modern Jewish versions attempt to find different solutions to the problem,65 but the most obvious reading of the Hebrew text—just as in Psalm 45—is that the titles are descriptive of the king himself, including “Mighty God” (ʾel gibbor), and this view is commonly found in the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 94a) and later Rabbinic writings,66 and it is expressly supported by the brilliant medieval commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra. In fact, in section nine of the Huppat Eliyahu in Otsar Midrashim, all of these names are given as titles of the Messiah.67 Ibn Ezra, reflecting views expressed elsewhere in Rabbinic literature, explains the words as follows:

The correct view in my opinion is that all these are names of the child.68 peleʾ—because the Lord did wonders in his days; yoʾets—such was Hezekiah [as it is written], “And the king took counsel” [see 2 Chron. 30:2]; ʾel gibbor—because he was strong, and the kingdom of the house of David was prolonged because of him; [ʿobi]ʿad—the word ʿad has the same meaning as “dwelling in eternity” [in Isa. 57:15]; sar shalom—because there was peace in his days.

There is only one problem with Ibn Ezra’s interpretation: He explains how the word gibbor (strong one, hero, warrior) could apply to Hezekiah, but he fails to explain how the word ʾel, “God” could refer to him!69 Once again, we are faced with a problem that only Jesus the Messiah can solve, namely, how the Davidic king could be human and yet more than human, David’s son and yet David’s lord, both son of God and Son of God. In this text, the prophet Isaiah, almost bursting the bounds of the Hebrew language, called the Davidic king, “mighty God,” a title reserved elsewhere for Yahweh alone (see Isa. 10:21). That’s the gospel truth. The text says what it says, and there is no way to get around this profound fact: No Davidic king could bring to reality the full meaning of these words except Jesus the Messiah. It is the Hebrew Bible itself that indicates that the Davidic Messiah would be the “Son of God” in a unique way, even bearing divine qualities and in a real sense being divine.

Once again, we see that it is only through Jesus the Messiah that all the varied pieces of the puzzle fit together. Far from being idolatrous, the New Testament doctrine of the Son of God is the culmination of the dream of Israel’s prophets and psalmists, the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, the hope of mankind. And the doctrine of the virgin birth is not some borrowed, pagan myth.70 Rather, it explains how the eternal Son of God could enter our world as a “divine human.” His origins were both earthly and heavenly, as the angel Gabriel announced to Miriam, the Messiah’s mother: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke l:35).71

As you read through the New Testament on your own, you will learn that Jesus is called the Son of God because he came forth from God the Father, because he was born to a young Jewish virgin, because he had an intimate and unique relationship with his Father, and because he was the Davidic king. This is what Paul meant when he spoke of Yeshua, “who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus [the Messiah] our Lord” (Rom. 1:2–4).

Later church theologians, trying to explain the mystery of how the Son of God could also be God the Son, stated that he was eternally begotten, not made. But such a statement does not lessen the mystery of God and his Son. Rather, it heightens the mystery, the wonder, and the awe. One with God, and yet God; called the Son, and yet eternal; and now, in the person of Jesus the Messiah, forever uniting God with man. It really is profound, wouldn’t you agree?

I leave you with this riddle, written more than twenty-five hundred years ago, and found in our Hebrew Bible in Proverbs 30:4. It says, “Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!”

Do you know the name of his son? I do!72

54 For discussion of some of these terms and the theological debates surrounding them, see R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T & TClark, 1988).

55 The Hebrew of this verse is perfectly clear, but I have intentionally followed the traditional Jewish translation of the Judaica Press Complete Tanakh so that no one would think I was trying to impose a “Christian” translation on the verse. With specific reference to this verse, Harris Lenowitz, professor of Hebrew at the University of Utah, notes, “A quasi-divine nature is established, in the preexilic period, for the messiah to possess forever or for as long as those biblical texts remain potent.” See his important work, The Jewish Messiahs: From the Galilee to Crown Heights (New York: Oxford, 1998), 11.

56 Cf. Rashi to Psalm 2:7; for further references to the historical background of Psalm 2, see the commentaries of H.-J. Krauss; Peter C. Craigie; A. A. Anderson; and Franz Delitzsch.

57 The view of G. Buchanan Gray, ‘King’: The References to the ‘King’ in the Psalter, in their Bearing on Questions of Date and Messianic Belief,” Jewish Quarterly Review 7 (1895): 658–86, that yelidtika here, as well as yullad in Psalm 87:4–6, “is simply a metaphor for ‘brought into existence’ ” overly downplays the force of y-l-d in Psalm 2. Saul Levin, The Father of Joshua-Jesus (Binghamton, N.Y.: State University of New York, 1978), 178, while referring to Psalm 2:7 as “the only verse in the Old Testament where the Lord uses the vocabulary of ordinary reproduction,” argues that “the context within that very verse shows this is the language of adoption, addressed to one already alive.” While Gray claims that a reference to actual begetting in Psalm 2 would have required a different verbal form (namely, holadtika, especially with regard to the male role; see Levin, The Father, 178, n. 4), yalad is frequently used in this sense as well (according to some lexicons, as many as twenty-two times in the Hebrew Bible; cf. the genealogical formulae in Genesis 5 and 10). Rashi explains Psalm 2:7 to mean that at his coronation the Davidic king would be called God’s son (over the people of Israel, who were corporately called God’s son in Exod. 4:22), a view similar to Levin’s. However, Hebrew yalad means “bear, bring forth, beget,” not simply designate someone “son.”

58 I have drawn some of these points from a still unpublished paper I delivered at the 1988 annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, entitled, “gîlû birəʿ adâ and naššəqû bar (Ps. 2:1 1b–12a): Toward a Satisfactory Solution.” See also vol. 3, 4.22.

59 Key verbs would include ʿavad (serve; worship); hishtahavah (do obeisance to; bow down before); yadah (praise); Aramaic pelah (worship).

60 There are at least two instances in Rabbinic literature in which this verse, removed from its context, is explicitly understood to mean, “Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” and is cited to prove that God’s throne is eternal; see Otsar HaMidrashim, Hekhalot, sec. 3; Shnei Luhot HaBerit, Sefer Bamidbar-Devarim, Parashat Shofetim, Torah Ohr, 2. This provides eloquent testimony to the fact that I have stressed in my discussion, namely, that no one would ever question the obvious and proper translation of this verse had it been in a different context.

61 For a thorough discussion of the translation issues dealing with Psalm 45:6 [7], quoted also in Hebrews 1:8, see Murray J. Harris, “The Translation of Elohim in Psalm 45:7–8,” Tyndale Bulletin 35 (1984): 65–89; Murray J. Harris, “The Translation and Significance of ho theos in Hebrews 1:8–9,” Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985): 129–62. The rendering of Mitchell Dahood, Psalms 1–50, Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), 269, “The eternal and everlasting God has enthroned you!” has found little or no scholarly support (rightly so). The NJPSV, in contrast to the 1917 JPS version (cf. Metsudat David), renders, “Your divine throne is everlasting,” with reference to 1 Chronicles 29:23, a verse cited by Ibn Ezra in his commentary to Psalm 45:6[7], where he interprets the phrase in question to mean, “Your throne is the throne of God.” Rashi (along with an anonymous interpretation cited by Ibn Ezra, with support from Exod. 22:27), finds a lesser meaning for ‘elohim, namely, “prince, judge” with reference to Exodus 7:1. Rosenberg’s English translation of Rashi accordingly renders ʿelohim with “judge” (Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach with Rashi, CD ROM [Brooklyn, N.Y.: Davka Corporation and Judaica Press, 1999]. Note also that ʿelohim does not mean “judge” at Exodus 7:1, contrary to Rashi, as indicated also by the usage of naviʾ, prophet, in the same verse, and as recognized by most English translations; cf. the NIV’s, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.’ ”) All this underscores the difficulty this phrase in Psalm 45 presents for translators and interpreters, especially those coming from a traditional Jewish background.

62 H.-J. Kraus, a leading German Old Testament scholar, notes that “the deification of the king in the ancient Near East can be documented in the greatest variety of examples” (Psalms 1–59, trans. H. C. Oswald [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988], 455). He translates Psalm 45:6[7] as, “Your throne, O divine one, (stands) forever and ever.” According to John J. Collins, one of the top Dead Sea Scrolls scholars in the world, “Already in the Hebrew Bible there were intimations of divinity in some of the royal psalms, most obviously Ps. 45:6[7], where the king is addressed as ʿelohim.” See his important study The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 208.

63 Note 1 Samuel 28:13, in which the NSRV correctly renders ʿelohim as “divine being”; contrast the Septuagint, Vulgate, AV, and RSV.

64 A related Jewish concept is that in every generation there is a potential Messiah who could be revealed should Israel prove worthy (see also b. Sanhedrin 94a, which states that God wanted to make Hezekiah the Messiah, but he fell short). Thus, in theory, certain Messianic prophecies could have been fulfilled in the prophet’s generation, but, in fact, will not be fulfilled until the Messiah is finally revealed. See below, 3.24.

65 The JPSV of 1917 simply transliterates the Hebrew; the NJPSV renders, “The Mighty God is planning grace; the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler,” a novel, yet grammatically possible interpretation, but one that somehow escaped Jewish rabbis, translators, and interpreters until a few years ago, pointing out just how novel—and too ingenious?—a rendering it is.

66 According to Midrash Bereshit 97:6 and Midrash Ruth 7:5, these verses speak of the six qualities of Hezekiah; see also Pesikta Rabbati 46:4, which refers these titles to Hezekiah; cf. also Otsar Midrashim, Yaakov Avinu, sec. 6.

67 See also Otsar Midrashim, Rabbeinu HaKadosh, sec. 7.

68 Ibn Ezra’s interpretation here also counters the argument that in the Bible names such as Jeremiah (meaning Yahweh is exalted), or Isaiah (Yahweh is salvation), or Jehoshaphat (Yahweh is judge) tell us about God, not the people themselves, and so names such as Mighty God refer to Yahweh, not the child. Such an argument, however, does not work for several reasons: (1) In the Bible, many names are reflective of the person himself; Solomon was given the name Yedidiah (beloved of Yahweh) because the Lord loved him, and Yaakov (Jacob) received his name because he grasped the heel (ʿekev) of his brother; (2) It is one thing to call someone Raphael, meaning “God healed”; it is another thing to call someone Mighty God!; (3) Even the Targum recognizes that the king here is called Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) because there would be peace in his days. Without doubt, the titles are descriptive of the child, not God.

69 In Michael Friedländer’s English translation of Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Isaiah, The Commentary of Ibn Ezra on Isaiah (New York: Feldheim, n.d. [the original edition was published in 1873]), 52, he renders ʿel gibbor as “mighty chief,” a completely-forced rendering but a necessary one in light of Ibn Ezra’s application of the verse to Hezekiah.

70 See vol. 3, 5.9; and cf. Oskar Skarsaune, The Incarnation: Myth or Fact?, trans. Trygve R. Skarsten (St. Louis: Concordia, 1991).

71 There is a striking parallel to this verse in the Dead Sea Scrolls (remember, the Scrolls are Jewish not Christian documents), written in the decades immediately before Jesus. In the so-called “Son of God” text (4Q246), it is written of a Messianic figure: “Son of God he shall be called, and they will name him Son of the Most High.… The sword will cease from the earth, and all cities will pay him homage.” For discussion, see Collins, The Scepter and the Star, 155. For other possible Son of God texts, see ibid., 164–65; for general discussion with references, see ibid., 154–72.

72 Regardless of what interpretation you put on this verse, I am using it here as a starting point for discussion. For the difficulties it presented to a traditional Jewish commentator writing last century, see Malbim on Mishley, abridged and adapted in English by Rabbi Charles Wengrov (New York: Feldheim, 1982), 300–301: “The five parts of the verse denote a series of questions on the creation of the universe” in the last of which “the questioner asks about the First Cause and its emanation, the primary Intellect, which two of the classical philosophers called Father and Son.” According to Christian Old Testament scholar Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979; henceforth cited as EBC), 5:1019–1020, “The parallel reference to ‘son’ was identified as Israel in the Midrash or in other places as the demiurge [according to Gnostic beliefs, the first emanation of God, kind of a diminished deity], the Logos, or a simple poetic parallelism for ‘his name.’ Christian interpreters have seen here a reference to the Son of God (a subtle anticipation of the full revelation in the NT).” According to Rashi, the words “what is his name and what is the name of his son,” mean, “If you say that there already was one like him, tell me what his son’s name is, i.e., what family is descended from him, and we will know who he is” (Rosenberg translation).

Brown, M. L. (2000). Answering Jewish objections to Jesus, Volume 2: Theological objections (38). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

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