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Scriptures, we are investigating the usus loquendi of a Shemitish dialect. This will of course be conceded, in regard to the phrase in the Old Testament ; and I may add, that all critics are now agreed, that although the words of the New Testament are Greek, the idiom is Hebrew
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
Almost any one who is conversant with the study of languages, would expect, from the usus loquendi of the Hebrew as already exhibited in respect to the word son, that the phrase son or sons of God, would be employed with considerable variety and latitude of meaning. It is the object of the present letter, to investigate the various senses in which this phrase is employed by the sacred writers.
To begin with the Old Testament. I find the phrase son of God, in the singular number, and in this form, only once in the Hebrew Scriptures; and this instance is in Daniel 3: 25. Nebuchadnezzar sees four men loose, in the fiery furnace, and the form of the fourth, he says, is like a son of God or the gods, i. e. like a supernatural being, angel or spirit, viz, resplendent, majestic. The rendering of our Version, the Son of God, obscures the sense, and, as I must think, misleads the common reader. It conveys a meaning entirely destitute of probability; for the words were uttered by an idolatrous heathen prince, who does not seem to have had, at least as yet, any knowledge of the Son of God.
In the plural number, used as a generic noun to designate the pious, sons of God is probably employed in Gen. 6: 2 and 4; The sons of God saw the daughters of men, &c. To apply the phrase here, as most of the ancient fathers did, to the angels, seems sufficiently absurd; and to apply it, as the Targum of Oukelos and many translators and commentators after it have done, to the sons of princes or noblemen (72727 32), seems to be very unsatisfactory; for why should the mixture of noblemen and common people occasion all that excess of wickedness, which followed the intercourse spoken of in the text? I must believe that here, then, for the first time in the Scriptures, sons of God is used to describe those, who professed to be pious or the children of God.
In Job 1: 6, and 2:1, sons of God seems to mean angels; for the congruity of the representation is destroyed, unless we suppose, that those with whom Satan came to present himself, were of the same order of beings with him.
In Job 38: 7, When all sons of God shouted for joy, is probably descriptive of the angels; so that the usus loquendi of this book is uniform, in respect to the meaning of the phrase.
Hosea 1: 10, “ In the place where it was said unto them, [the children of Israel] ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.” This is a clear case, again, of the use of the phrase to designate the pious.
In a similar way, God confers on the whole nation of Israel, who were his chosen people, and professed to love and serve him, the title Son. Hosea 11: 1, When Israel was a child I loved him ; and called my son out of Egypt. Exod. 4: 22, and 23, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first born. St. Paul, probably in allusion to this passage, speaks of the adoption of the Israelitish nation, as one of their privileges, in Rom. 9: 4. In Deut. 4: 1, it is said of Israel, Ye are the children of Jehovah.
In Ps. 82:6, princes or magistrates are called in a sons of the most high, viol vyrorou. The same designation, in the singular number, is applied by the angel Gabriel to the Saviour, who was to be born of the virgin Mary; Luke 1: 32.
In the New Testament, the phrase sons of God is so often applied to Christians, or pious persons, that it would be a waste of time to repeat all the instances in which this phraseology occurs. Peacemakers are called the sons of God, and the sons of the most high; those who bless their persecutors are sons of their heavenly Father; the good seed are the sons of the Kingdom ; saints at the resurrection are the sons of God, and the sons of the resurrection; as many as are led by the spirit of God are the sons of God; those who are born in a spiritual manner have the privilege of being the sons of God; God will be a Father to Christians, and they shall be the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty; those who have faith in Christ Jesus are the sons of God; Christians are exhorted to be harmless, that they may be the sons of God without rebuke; the Father's great love has made Christians the sons of God; they are noir the sons of God, but will be advanced in holiness and happiness hereafter.
It should be remembered here, (what however I have
not found remarked in any of the Lexicons or Commentaries which I have consulted,) that the phrase is never used in the singular number and applied in this way to designate an individual saint. When God calls Israel his Son and his first born, (in Ex. 4: 22, 23, and Hosea 11:1,) the singular number is plainly generic, or a noun of multitude ; just as the name Israel or Judah commonly is. It is rather remarkable, that in both the Old and New Testament, this usage should reign without exception. At least, after diligent investigation, I have not been able to find an exception, when it is applied simply to designate the character of a saint, or a professed disciple of Judaism or Christianity. Man of God we find applied to designate a prophet, and perhaps a pious man simply ; but child of God, or son of God, in the singular number, and with a singular sense, is applied by the sacred writers themselves, only to Christ; with the exception of a single instance, which I shall soon notice. pellation we find given to him, both in prophecy and in history
The exception to which I have just referred, is found in Luke 3:38; which contains the genealogy of Jesus traced back to Adam, who is called the son of God. The obvious reason of the appellation here, is the immediate derivation of Adam from the creative power of his Maker.
In a sense kindred to this, all men are sometimes represented as standing in the relation of children to God, both in the Old and New Testaments.
In respect to the pious, God is styled their father on a double account; viz, as the author of their being, or as Paul calls him in Heb. 12 : 9, the Father of spirits; and because they stand in a spiritual relation to him, in which
And this apthey are named and treated as children. Thus our Saviour has taught Christians, when praying, to say, Our Father. But instances of this usage are so common, and so universally acknowledged, that detailed proof is unnecessary.
In cases, however, where the rebellious Israelites and the heathen are spoken of, God is styled their father, because that he is the author of their being. Thus Moses, predicting the future corruption and perverseness of Israel breaks out into remonstrance with them; “ Do
thus requite the Lord ? O foolish people and unwise! Is he not thy father, that redeemed thee [from Egypt?] Hath he not made thee ?" Deut. 32:6. So the prophet, pleading with God for apostate Israel, says ; “ But now, O Lord, thou art our Father ; we are the clay, and thou our Potter ; and we are all the work of thine hand.” Isaiah 64: 8. So Malachi expostulates with the wicked priests of his time, in behalf of God; “If I be a father, where is mine honour ?" And in the same manner, rebellious and apostate men, under the image of the prodigal son, are represented as wandering from their Father's house ; and when penitent, they are permitted to come and say,
* Father, we have sinned." The apostle represents God as sustaining the same relation to the Gentiles, as their maker and preserver, which he sustained toward the Jews. “Is he the God of the Jews only ? Is he not of the Gentiles also ? Yes, of the Gentiles also." Rom. 3: 29. And as he has made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and bath determined--the bounds of their habitations ; so all “live and move and have their being” in him, “and—are also his offspring." Acts 17 : 26, 28.