Q&A: Eternal Sonship and Luke 1:35

Eternal Sonship and Luke 1:35

Question

In reference to Luke 1:35 and the “therefore” clause, did Jesus become the Son of God at his birth or was he always the Son of God?

Answer

Luke 1:35: And the angel answered 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."

There are some who assert that the “therefore …” in Luke 1:35 is causative, implying that the virgin birth resulted in Jesus becoming the Son of God. In other words Jesus wasn’t the Son of God until his birth. However, this would also imply there was a time when Jesus wasn’t holy either [1] – see Footnote 1 below.

The Son of God has always existed. He is God and always has been God. He’s holy and has always been holy. He is eternal.

In Luke 1:26-35 the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that God will grant her a Son who will rule over Israel and upon David’s throne forever. However, this Lukian pericope is an echo and fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7. Notice the word "son" in the Isaiah 9:6 text - “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In prophesying about the birth of the Messiah whose name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Isaiah plainly states “a son is given.” And since one can’t logically give that which is non-existent, Isaiah implies that the Son already existed.

Let’s further compare Isaiah to Luke:

Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Luke 1:32, 35 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 answered 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.

Neither Isaiah nor Luke states that the Messiah will become the Son of God, but only that he shall be called the Son of God. Things may exist long before they are given a name. For instance, God made gravity at creation and long before Newton named it in1680.

Luke’s point is that the virgin birth is a supernatural sign. As such it will lead people to the understanding that Jesus is God’s Son (cf. Mark 12:6-7). This is emphasized even further in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Paul states in Romans 1:3-4:

…concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Notice once again that Jesus didn’t become the Son of God when he rose from the dead, but that he was declared to be the Son of God. So, neither the birth nor resurrection of Jesus caused him to become the Son of God. The Second Person of the Trinity has always been the Son of God.

The Son of God is God and is eternal. He “came down from heaven” to do the will of the Father (John 6:37-40). The fact that he “came down” emphasizes his pre-existence — “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). So, being called the Son of God didn't make him something he wasn't already. Rather, it serves to recognize who he already was even before his birth. Jesus is eternal God (John 10:30; Col. 1:17). He is the great I AM. (Please see “What's the meaning of I AM?” below.)

Jesus is God. He has always existed and always will.

Footnote

[1] Luke 1:35 states, “… therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” To state that Christ only became the Son of God after his birth, one must also assert that Christ only became “holy” after his birth. However, such an assertion means there was a time that Jesus wasn’t holy! But even the demons know Jesus is holy (cf. Mark 1:24; Luke 4:24) – and they know he is the “Son of the Most High God” as well (cf. Luke 8:28).

Jesus – God – has always been holy (Isa. 57:15; Rev. 15:4; cf. Isa. 6:3). He is immutable in his being. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” So, if there was ever a time when Jesus wasn’t holy, then he couldn’t be God as holiness is part and parcel of his unchanging being. As Hebrews 7:26 states of Jesus, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” Christ didn’t become holy at his birth, because as God he has always been holy.

Related Topics

What's the meaning of I AM?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).