Son of God?




Jarrod McKenna

Jarrod McKenna’s Wednesday’s with Gandhi:



“Jesus expressed, as no other could, the spirit and the will of God. It is in this sense that I see him and recognise him as the Son of God.”

Gandhi, (October 1941) from “Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings” by John Dear, p. 79

How does Gandhi’s understanding of ‘Son of God’ sit with you?

I don’t think Gandhi was talking about the “hypostatic union” of the Father and the Son. I don’t think Gandhi had in mind the fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon considering the two natures of the Son of God. Nor did Gandhi have the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople and it’s discussion of, not just the two natures, but the two wills of the Son of God.

But in fairness to Gandhi, nor does the average evangelical Christian. While I don’t want to take away from any of the important spiritual lessons that can be learnt from studying the “Councils”, I’d like to suggest it’d be fruitful to consider what another non-Christian probably meant by “Son of God” and what the Apostle Paul meant in context.

The Unnamed Soldier

We don’t know his name. And there is little recorded about him. What we do know: He was a solider who’s job declared “good news”. The Good News of the ‘Son of God’ bringing salvation and justice to the world because he is now Lord of the whole world and calls for our allegiance. I know what your thinking,

“Jarrod, I thought you said he wasn’t a Christian?”

He’s not.

CaesarThat’s the language used by the fastest growing religion in Jesus’ day, the Cult of Caesar. The ‘Cult of Caesar’ announced Caesar as Divine and provided the spirituality for the Empire’s invasion, colonisation, oppression and continual domination. This unnamed soldiers job was his spiritual act of worship, to oversee the brutal and public humiliation of those who would challenge the hegemonic control of the world by it’s true Lord and Son of God, Caesar, the Roman Emperor. The Empire did this through Caesar’s saving methods, means, politics, ethics and spirituality; VIOLENCE. In particular for this centurion, his job was overseeing the violence of crucifixion which made a spectacle of would be revolutionaries that would challenge Caesar as Divine Ruler of the world.

Yet, one Friday the politics, ethics, spirituality and allegiance of this centurion of the oppressive Empire did a radical life changing back-flip. As Mark Gospel records it chapter 15:37-39:

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

“SON OF GOD?!” These words are not in the mouth of a Jew referring to the rich Jewish imagination associated with this term; the real King of Israel, the real liberating anointed leader (messiah). These words are instead in the mouth of someone who as a Roman Centurion knew the term “Son of God” to refer to his violent political leader, Caesar.

Yet, after maybe watching the death of thousands via crucifixion, something about the cry and the way this nonviolent messiah died, brought him to a conclusion that still threatens the heart of violent empires everywhere (including Burma this week). In this bloodied dying revolutionary he had seen and heard real power. Real leadership. Real sovereignty. Real divinity. The real ruler. The ‘Son of God’ that instead of ruling with violence would expose the “comic backfire” of violence and the structures which have institutionalised it’s reign, making a spectacle of it and triumphing over it “by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15)

Tom wrightAs N.T. Wright has said,

“A close comparison of the “good news” of the Caesar cult with Paul’s words shows that Romans is, among other things, a deliberate parody of the [violent] pagan message. Paul’s readers in Rome must have understood this, and he must have intended them to. Paul’s ideas do not derive from the Caesar cult, as some have suggested; they confront it.”

The Apostle Paul is not, as some liberal theologians have argued, (and sadder still, some evangelicals practice), lifting his ideas from the cult of Caesar worship in an act of political vasectomy to neutralise and hellenise a Judaism that would bow the knee to the Empire’s violent agenda. Instead the Apostle Paul is practicing the nonviolent ‘spiritual jujitsu’, (to nick Wink’s term), that Jesus taught to subvert the language Empire (and it’s spirituality of domination and violence) to expose and undermine it.

The early church, filled with the Holy Spirit, did just that and it often cost them there lives. Much like the unarmed actions of the Buddhist monks in Burma this week, the early church showed a fearlessness in the face of the rebellious principalities and powers. Yet unlike the monks and their brave actions (which I admire deeply) where not simply fueled by the desperation of the situation but by the resurrection of the Son of God; the dawning of God’s nonviolent dream for creation. Unquestionably they understood the cross to be what God has done for us, empowering us to “put away the sword” and to take up the cross as our way of defeating evil (as seen in the early churches refusal to fight wars for first three centuries of Christianity).

Tragically today we even have church leaders who accuse those who challenge the hijacking of Christianity in service the diabolical exploitation of God’s good earth and the poor as ‘twisting the Scriptures’. That accuse those who are calling the church to obey Jesus Christ and therefore love our enemies like he did, (through the way of costly love NOT the way of ‘smart bombs’ and preemptive strikes) of distorting Jesus for our own agenda.

I wonder if the challenge of a pagan solider at the cross of Jesus, the courageous unarmed Buddhist monks in Burma and the context of the Apostle Paul’s writing, will be enough for us to see how often we have made “Son of God” mean less than, (as Gandhiji put it), “Jesus expressed, as no other could, the spirit and the will of God”. More than that, I wonder if the Scriptures will be enough for Christians to believe like the early Church did that Jesus is not less than the Messiah, God incarnate, God revealed fully to be Love.

And calls us to live in ways that reflect such a love as revealed in Jesus.

here is one small way you can support the Burmese Protestors 

18 thoughts on “Son of God?

  1. I agree that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. And as the Son of God, the firstborn among many brothers (and sisters), he is the chief peacemaker over a newly formed tribe of peacemakers. There is no question that those of us who follow Christ would do well to heed the words, “Those who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

    And, I also agree that we should be careful not to distort Jesus for our own agenda. There is much more to peacemaking besides refusing to fight in wars. Peacemaking is teaching how to live in harmony with God, others, ourselves, and His creation. Taking up our cross as Jesus (The Good Shepherd that gives us abundant life.) took up his cross is to give our lives in order that others may have life and trusting that God will raise all who trust Him into new life.

    I think to say that Paul and the early church was martyred for simply refusing to fight wars is to cheapen their discipleship. For example, John the Baptist (Matthew 14) was killed because he questioned Herod’s taking of his brother’s wife. The chief priests plotted with others to kill Jesus because of their fear that “they would lose their place and their nation” (John 11). Paul was imprisoned for ruining a business by driving out a spirit that allowed a slave girl to predict the future (Acts 16). Paul ended his two year stay in Ephesus after business owners started a riot since fewer people were buying their wares of Artemis because of more people’s newfound allegiance to Jesus (Acts 19).

    Sigh. There is much healing to be done against much opposition, isn’t there?

  2. Lance, peace making does include a lot more than standing against wars, it means making peace with each other, with our environment, with our neighbors, with our God, and also not killing each other. At the Christian anarchist’s gathering in Brisbane this year there was a workshop on how to live in community and stay non violent.

    But one problem that needs to be addressed is how we can stand prophetically against the system of violence and war. In todays culture we can no longer just not take part. For in modern warfare they do not need us to make war, they can make war just fine without us. A few men, a few planes, a whole bunch of smart bombs and we are good to go. What the nations need to wage war now, is not longer the support of the entire population, but rather a select few, and the rest of us need only go about our business and keep the machine running. In such a culture we must look for imaginative ways to say to Herod, you cannot keep killing people, or taking your brothers wife!


  3. A more literal translation of Mark’s gospel would actually be, “Truly this man was son of God” (or “a son of God”) rather than “the”…no definite article in the Greek.

  4. what ya saying Simo?

    You going the righteous man line like in Lukes gospel?

    what you think of the cultural stuff of him being a centurion?

    when you played frezbee with cops where you were saying more than righteous man yeah?

  5. Pingback: Gandhi and ’son of God’ « Peace Interactive

  6. Hello Jarrod,

    In the Quaker tradition, as we read in George Fox’s Journal, he and James Nayler described themselves as the ‘son of God’ during an investigation into their supposed blasphemy in Lancaster in 1652/3.

    I won’t bore you with the trial details; suffice to say with the help of Justice Fell, Margaret Fell’s spouse, Fox, Nayler (and Thomas Lawson) were set free.

    The term ‘Son of God’ was often flaunted by the first Friends, particularly in the revolutionary period of the 1650s, when they proclaimed themselves as sons and daughters of God. They saw in it not a filial relationship but an expression of authority to proclaim, as prophets of the new messianic age (the new covenant, the new Israel), the Kingdom of God that was ‘come’ and ‘coming’. Its use was apocalyptic, therefore, as well as an expression of a realised and realising eschatology. The Kingdom of God had already arrived, that is, the Second Coming had already taken place. The task at hand now was to live it and to bring it to fruition ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. There was a clear ‘now’ and ‘yet to come’ apect to this Kingdom. ‘But hey’, I hear people saying, ‘didn’t you just say the first Friends affrimed that the parousia is already here, that it won’t happen again.’ Yes: what they meant by ‘is coming’ or ‘yet to come’ was the consummation of all things in the Christ Spirit in the fullness of time, i.e. when all would turn to the Christ Spirit.

    Curiously the first Friends are both orthodox in their Christianity and because of that they are revolutionary as well. It is a theology that speaks to our times and would certainly disturb our friend, N. T. Wright. Would it disturb Gandhi?

    Interesting stuff, eh?

    I hope you are well,


    Gerry Guiton

  7. This post has more to do with G.Bush than Gandhji…but bear with me.

    As much as it would have been hard for the Christians of the first three centuries to refuse to fight Wars and be non-violent in what ever ways they could, it surely would have been even MORE of a challenge when the state subsequently endorsed Christianity and started telling people that God was on their side in battle…. Good ol’ Constantine….

    Imagine trying to suggest to the state (which allegedly claimed to believe in the same archetypal ‘son of god’ figure as you….) that actually, it might not be Christ’s will that you support violence, eradicate those who didn’t agree with your worldview by means of war, terrorism etc. I’d be willing to bet they might have been labelled seditious heretics quicker than the world shouted ‘guilty at last!’ at OJ Simpson last week…..

    Which brings me to George Bush; Now I’m not suggesting his middle name should be Herod (we all KNOW what the W stands for …) but what should I do when Mr Bush speaks these tragically hypocritical words the UN general assembly: “Together, we are working to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” when I know for a fact that America is one of the biggest producers of WMD’s on the planet? How do I raise a loving voice of dissent and non violent protest when I KNOW that I’ll be dismissed as a heretic with a subversive agenda… (which I don’t mind for a second, but it kinda kills my aim of engagement and transformation….)

    Much like the adoption of Christianity when it ‘suited’ the Roman empire, Mr. Bush’s pledge of the USA being ‘committed to a strong and vibrant United Nations’ when it ‘suits’ him (as I seem to remember a distinct ‘with us or against us’ rhetoric in the run up to his illegally waged Iraq war) rings about as true as ‘The Chaser’ boys telling us all their going to stop the sarcastic social commentary stunts because their just not sure it’s that funny….but how are this Empire and its blatantly blindfolded followers to be engaged?

    My question is this….how can we respond to the Herod’s, the Constantine’s and actively engage them without being dismissed as Anarchists/Lefty loons/Heretics just because we hold a view of Jesus which flies in the face of such violent dominion? If the answer is “We’ll be labelled ALL of those things and more” then fine, bring it on, but I am finding it increasingly annoying that those who have ears to hear, but don’t like what the non-violent crew are saying simply block their ears and accuse us of ‘twisting scripture’ or watering down the message of your aforementioned ‘son of God.’


  8. Why just focus in on “Son of God”, there are a number of strong christological titles, Son of God is a stronger hellenistic title but it does have roots in the dead Sea scrolls too….

    I think I am correct in saying that Jesus never refers to himself as the son of God but refers to his relationship with his heavenly father. So the apologetic of the Gospels to a hellenistic culture is a good point from Tom Wright. Peter Bolt gives good background in his reader response commentary on Mark to the caesar cults.

    I think it is worth keeping the other christological titles in mind too, especially “Son of man” since Jesus regularly uses that of himself and it has much strionger hebrew roots to the apocalyptic of Daniel 7:13 etc….

    The OT Messianic titles broaden our understanding of the purpose of Jesus mission on earth…

    Jesus is big! (in a hitch hikers guide to the galaxy kind of big! Let the reader understand)


  9. PS in Matthew’s Gospel, generally more recognised as Jewish in flavour it is the demons and Satan who call Jesus “the Son of God” but are silenced for it ….

    Later it is Peter with the disciples who slowly come to see this …. “You are the son of the living God”

    Perhaps it is the spiritual realm who see the full significance of what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, The Cosmic Lord of all. The centurion at the cross, speaks for the nations not just the jews and so the title has cosmic significance as does his offer of a substitutionary death to free us from slavery to death.

    “Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14

    Jesus on the cross is bigger!


  10. I suppose we heed Jesus warning of the coming of false Messiahs

    And ?then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. ?False christs and false prophets will arise and o?perform signs and wonders, ?to lead astray, if possible, ?the elect. 23 But ?be on guard; ?I have told you all things beforehand.

    Mk 13:21-23

    But who really thinks George W is the new ceasar anyway? He is on his way out… Not even his wife thinks that…

    Who really thinks America is enforcing Christianity?

    David Brooks:

    “When I look around the world, I see that it is often the Christian politicians who are most useful, because they understand something, they understand that human beings are not just profit-maximizing creatures who respond to incentives. They understand the dark aspects of human nature because the doctrine of original sin is core to their being…And so when they look at the middle east and see that someone will commit suicide just to kill people, that is not a surprise to them, because the Bible has prepared them for depravity.

    I was in Africa recently and I went to a hospital—with Michael Gerson in fact—where 848 women were being treated for AIDS…They were trying to bring their male partners in to get tested for HIV as well. Out of the 848 women, 8 men came in. This is not self-interested, rational, profit-maximizing behaviour, And to me the Christians and people with strong religious faith have understood the reality of human nature, which is the core lesson of the post 9/11 world.”

    And this

    “And so with me, when I look at the role evangelicals are playing, I’m where Lincoln was. I don’t share a lot of the beliefs, I certainly don’t share some of the faiths…but I know that evangelical Christians, people who have a sense of right and justice in the world, have provided many of the most important civil rights movements in the country. Whether it’s abolitionism, or the civil right movement—and I would recommend a book called The Stone of Hope which argues that the civil rights movement was not a political movement with a religious taint, but a religious movement with a political taint—and Lincoln said that I’m not with these people. I’m not among these people, but I am with these people…”

    The authentic Christians shine even in a right wing government

    Aussie cynicism rescues us from false religious patriotist of the US.

    When the true Son of Man comes it will be obvious to all…

    And then they will see ?the Son of Man coming in clouds ?with great power and glory. And then ?he will send out the angels and ?gather a?his elect from b?the four winds, from ?the ends of the earth ?to the ends of heaven. Mk 13:26-27

    Be on your guard!


  11. You make some interesting points Gav….

    While I wouldn’t suggest for a minute that America is enforcing Christianity (directly) what they certainly are doing is enforcing (very violently) a regime of profit maximising behaviour which oppresses the poor and anyone who stands in their way (enter the similarities with Caesar).

    Profit maximising behaviour is undoubtedly the reason why they went into in Iraq….or if it really was to oust Saddam under the guise of being an evil political dictator, then maybe they’ll go rushing into Burma on a day that the government allegedly started shooting monks….to oust the unfair mode of government there….Or if not maybe into Zimbabwe, or North Korea?

    While America doesn’t ‘enforce’ Christianity, it does enforce a very crusade “you’re WITH us or AGAINST” us message, which uses rhetoric that you could argue is almost biblical, so there are undeniably issues of entanglement and misrepresentation here. George Bush is misrepresenting, it the Christian (and therefore inseparably Western) attitude to those who aren’t ‘with’ you….ie: it’s ok to scapegoat the bad guys and start a manhunt…

    Ultimatly, in the words of Ellul; “At issue here us whether the state (be that America, Australia, or shock horror the Queen’s England) can be legitimized by Christians, As we have seen, legitimization means the moral approval given to a political order and the power it exercises. If that power is typically and necessarily and by definition organized in ways that are contrary to fundamental principles of Christian ethics, then how could Christians provide it with legitimization?”

    Most all nation states are exercising profit maximising behaviour over, above, and at the tragic expense of love maximising behaviour…. Where does that leave our response?

    God help our voice of love to cut through the dollar signs…

  12. Not saying anything in particular Jarrod, not going for any specific ‘line’, just trying to make sure we don’t say more than scripture says. I find it a helpful distinction, particularly when people use this passage to “prove” Jesus was the one and only son of God.

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