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Is the Messiah the Son of God?

Psalm 2

David the king hears YHWH say, "You are my son; today I have begotten you" (Psalm 2:7). The New Testament uses this verse to show that Jesus is divine, but what was its original meaning, and how did Jewish commentators explain it?

One of the main distinctions between Judaism and Christianity is the Christian faith in Jesus of Nazareth as both Messiah and "the only begotten" Son of God. Jews, on the other hand, not only reject that Jesus is the Messiah but, more importantly, see the idea of a divine "son of God" as conflicting with the fundamental belief of monotheism.

Early followers of Jesus used Psalm 2:7 to back up their claim, in which YHWH says to his "anointed" (Mashiach), "You are my son; today I have begotten you." They also saw the rest of the Psalm prophecies as the resistance Jesus and his followers would encounter and the final overthrow of Jesus's foes. On the other hand, Jewish interpreters had a different understanding of the verse and the entire Psalm.

A closer look at the original text will uncover more profound truths.

Psalm 2 is a royal psalm that focuses on YHWH's support of Judah's king against his enemies:


Ps 2:1 - Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2:2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against YHWH and his anointed.


The first two verses contrast the foreign kings with YHWH's "anointed one," a term that refers to the king who was anointed with oil at his crowning. The verse is talking about the king of Judah (and not of Northern Israel), as verse 6 shows by its location detail: 

Ps. 2:6 - I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.


The psalmist adopts the language of warfare to convey his trust in the Davidic king's triumph:

Ps 2:9 - You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.


The following verses (10–12) advise foreign rulers to be wise, obey YHWH, and show reverence. The Psalm reflects the real-life situation of a king's coronation. This is indicated by the word "His anointed one" (v. 2), which refers to the king's anointing, and by the oracle's mention of the "day" when the king's status is changed:


Ps 2:7 - I will tell of the decree of YHWH He said to me, "You are my son; today I have begotten you."


Why did YHWH address the king as "my son" at the coronation?

Possibility 1: The King Becomes YHWH's Son and so Becomes Divine

Although some Hebrew Bible texts imply that divine beings could have offspring with human women, this interpretation does not match the situation of the Psalm. However, a less extreme view that the king turns into YHWH's divine Son when he ascends to the throne is sensible here. Such a change is similar to Egyptian examples, where Pharaoh also becomes the "son of Ra" (one of his royal titles) when he takes the throne. We have information about how the Judahites crowned their kings or what they thought of the monarchy in the First Temple period. Still, Psalm 45, a song for a royal wedding, clearly shows that the Davidic king was regarded as divine since he is addressed as "God":


Ps 45:7 (or 6) - Your throne, O God is everlasting; your royal scepter is a scepter of equity.


According to this idea, using it as a backdrop for Psalm 2, YHWH tells the new king in v. 7 that he has become YHWH's Son as if YHWH has just given birth to him— "Today I have begotten you."

Possibility 2: YHWH's Metaphorical Son

Another way to understand Psalm 2 is to take it as figurative language. Many biblical descriptions of YHWH are figurative: He is, for example, king, shepherd, warrior, etc. A metaphor that illustrates this well is how YHWH describes himself in Deutero-Isaiah as a woman giving birth:

Isa 42:14 - I have kept silent far too long kept still and restrained Myself; now I will scream like a woman in labor, I will pant, and I will gasp.


The prophet does not claim that YHWH has a female body and feels actual labor pain. Instead, the verse illustrates how YHWH's deeds will emerge swiftly and unavoidably. Likewise, Psalm 2 shows the unlimited fatherly backing the Davidic king can count on from his God by making YHWH call him figuratively His Son. This explanation agrees with two related biblical images: YHWH is the parent of Israel, and Israel is the child of YHWH. This parent/child imagery is not as frequent in the Hebrew Bible as it is in early Judaism and Christianity, but it shows up in texts such as: 

Exodus 4:22 - Thus says YHWH: "Israel is My firstborn son." 

Deut 32:6 - Is not He the Father who created you, fashioned you, and made you endure!


Therefore, Psalm 2 uses the same father-son metaphor for Israel to show the close relationship between the Davidic king and Judah's God.

Son of God in a Royal Oracle

The psalmist presents the message as a "decree of YHWH," which suggests it is based on an earlier divine pronouncement. It could also be a fresh prophecy given by a Temple official (a cultic prophet) during the war/rebellion that the Psalm mentions (v. 3). The oracle may be a rewording of the prophet Nathan's message from YHWH to David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:14:


2 Sam 7:14 - I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.


The oracle in the Psalm and Nathan's oracle both use the same metaphor of father and Son, but they have different implications (i.e., the aspect emphasized in the metaphor). Nathan stresses the father's role in correcting his Son, and Psalm 2 stresses the father's role in supporting his Son in challenging situations. The Psalm tells the king that he does not have to fear the other kings around him because YHWH, his father, will protect him and crush his enemies. We see a similar use of this father-son metaphor and another possible reference to 2 Samuel 7 in Psalm 89:


Ps 89:27 - He shall say to Me, "You are my father, my God, the rock of my deliverance." Ps 89:28 - I will appoint him firstborn, highest of the kings of the earth.


As the metaphorical firstborn Son of God, the Judahite king is elevated above all other earthly kings.

Jesus as God's Son in the New Testament

By the first century C.E., the Hebrew word Mashiach/Greek Christos, "anointed," refers not only to someone crowned with oil but also to "messiah," an end-time figure—a meaning it lacks in the Hebrew Bible. This shift in the word's meaning is critical for understanding the New Testament, which rarely quotes Psalm 2 directly but hints at it throughout its books.

The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark, which is believed to be the earliest Gospel and likely dates to the 70s C.E., begins with the line, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). This title has similarities to a part of Psalm 2. Still, it also serves as Mark's response to Roman imperial propaganda that portrayed Caesar as "divi filia," the "divine son" or "son of a god." The Gospel's first scene, Jesus's baptism in the Jordan River, depicts how he comes to be associated with this title:


Mark 1:10 - And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 1:11 - And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."


Mark does not tell the story of Jesus's divine conception. Consequently, this voice from heaven—what the rabbis call a "bat qol" (literally, "daughter of a voice")—signals that at the moment of baptism, the "today" of Psalm 2:7, Jesus of Nazareth becomes God's Son. The baptism is disguised as the royal anointing.

At first glance, it seems contrasting when Jesus refers to himself as the "Son of Man," but he is sometimes called the "Son of God," especially in supernatural events. In Mark 3:11 and 5:7, "unclean spirits" and other evil supernatural beings address Jesus using this title.

During the Transfiguration, a scene in which Jesus radiates with glory, a voice proclaims, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" (Mark 9:7). The title "Son of God" makes one final appearance in the scene following Jesus's death, this time in the mouth of a Roman army officer:


Mark 15:39 - Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"


With this comment, Mark signals that Jesus, not Caesar, is the divine Son deserving of worship. For Mark, Jesus became God's Son when he was baptized, but other gospels portray Jesus as always having that status. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke start with stories of how Jesus was born, giving different accounts of how God conceived him, and the Gospel of John also declares that Jesus is both God and the only Son God ever fathered. These texts might refer to Psalm 2:7, but we are not sure about that, though we can see the influence of this Psalm on other parts of the New Testament.

Jesus's Opponents are Psalm 2's "Kings of the Earth" (Luke-Acts)

For Jesus's followers who believed he was the divine Son in Psalm 2, the Son's enemies in the Psalm must be the ones who attacked Jesus and his church. This idea shows up in Acts 4, where the apostles John (Son of Zebedee) and Peter are arrested for preaching about Jesus's resurrection (v. 2). When they are freed, John and Peter tell the congregation what happened, and they pray spontaneously, quoting the first verses of Psalm 2:


Acts 4:24 - When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 4:25 - it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant (Ps 2:1-2): 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? 4:26 - The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.' 4:27 - For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 4:28 - to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."


For Christians, Psalm 2 supported both God's anointed as his son and Jesus and his followers' persecution. The Book of Revelation also used phrases from Psalm 2, like "the kings of the earth" and "a rod of iron," to foresee Jesus' victory upon his return.

From David to Messiah Back to David

Psalm 2 was shaped by the historical situation of its time. The Psalm starts as a hymn for the crowning of a king from the line of David, in which the deity assures the king that he will have power over his foes by saying that he will make him his (literal or figurative) Son.

Jews interpreted the Psalm in the late Second Temple period as a prophecy and a promise. God would someday choose a new leader, the Messiah, who would save them from their oppressors (the Romans). This was how Jewish readers viewed the Psalm.

Since the Psalm refers to the Messiah (Greek: Christos) as the "son of God," early Christians saw this as a messianic prophecy. In response to this claim, Jewish commentators in the Middle Ages who lived under Christian rule stopped using the old messianic interpretation from the Second Temple period. They decided to interpret the Psalm as about David himself, almost returning to its original meaning in its context. Therefore, we learn that historical context is essential for interpreting the Psalm and its meaning and grasping how different faith communities have received and used it.

Is the Messiah the Son of God?

The scripture interprets itself, leaving no term undefined despite cultural nuances, political influences, or circumstantial impact. The question at hand is a matter of conviction. We all choose what to believe, our "true north." While divine truths are not solely a matter of cognitive agreement – although there is plenty of evidence to support them – they are a soul decision. We determine what our absolute truth is. If we choose scripture and the evidence it presents, we hold onto it as our moral compass and our guide in different situations, decisions, and relationships. Yet YHWH, desiring a relationship with us, provides his ever-present counsel for those of us in the Messiah, and there is no truth other than the conclusion that Yeshua is the Son of the living God. The fullness of this truth is our resting place.

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