In Mark God declares Jesus to be his son at his baptism: "You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased" (1:11 NRSV; cf. 9:7).1 The unclean spirits (3:11) and the Gerasene demoniac (5:7) also call Jesus son of God. A Roman centurion, on the other hand, does not make the Christian confession but recognizes his divinity by numbering him among the many sons of God in the Graeco-Roman tradition: "Truly, this man was a son of God" (15:39). Jesus himself accepts the appellation; when asked by the high priest "Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?" (14:61), he replies affirmatively, "I am" (14:62). Nowhere in Mark, however, is that term defined.2
The terms son of God (Exod 4:22; 2 Sam7:14; Ps 2:7) and sons of God (Gen 6:1-4; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Deut 32:8) are also used in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 6:1-4; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Deut 32:8). I have never thought of these expressions as the influential background to explain the terms in the New Testament. It does not seem reasonable to me that these few references to son/sons of God in Hebrew Bible would have triggered the complicated concept of the Christ in NT literature and Christian Orthodoxy. If Mark wrote his gospel "outside of Aramaic speaking Palestine" in some location in the Roman world, as many think,3 there existed more pervasive influences that might have led to describing Jesus as "son of God":
Long before Jesus was born, Greeks had bestowed divine honors on kings and great men whose careers were thought to have been unusually outstanding, referring to them variously as "heroes" "demigods," "immortals," "divine men." The ancient Greeks believed these human beings had a divine origin—they were born as a result of a union between a God and a human being and this explained their unusual abilities.4
If Jesus were to be competitive in such a world, his pedigree would have to be equally as good as that of the Graeco-Roman figures.
In New Testament literature it turns out that God has other children. Paul regarded followers of Jesus the Anointed (Christ) as the children (tekna) of God (Rom 8:16-17, 21; 9:8), as did the author of First John (3:2, 10). And, even more surprisingly, Paul described them as sons (huios) of God (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26) and "co-heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17). The designation son of God even appears in one of the synoptic gospels (Matt 5:9).
On the other hand, in the New Testament four passages (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb 2:10; 12:2) sport another title for Jesus, one that undermines the traditional image of a savior crucified in our behalf.5 In Acts and Hebrews Jesus is called "pioneer" (archēgos) rather than son of God. For example:
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in leading many sons to glory, should make the pioneer [archēgos] of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Heb 2:10, my translation)
Hence Jesus was the pioneer, who was first to lead the Way in a certain kind of faith. He was pioneer in the sense that it was his own faith and confidence in God (Gal 2:16) that established the Way of faith for others to follow.6 His sufferings were for his own perfecting and not "in our behalf." In broad outline theological elements of this slender thread of an almost forgotten faith surface here and there in New Testament literature: Jesus was born under the Israelite law to an unnamed human mother (Gal 4:4); and later at his baptism (Mark 1:11) was declared the son of God (Rom 1:4). As son of God, he pioneered a Way of faith (Gal 2:16)7 that pleases God (Heb 12:2).8 Thus he became the first-born among many brothers (Rom 8:29).
It is in the sense of Jesus as the pioneer of a new Way of faith that a child/son of God can call Jesus "my brother" (adelphos), for he also is a child/son of God through his faith as they are through their faith, and he is not ashamed to call them his brothers (adelphous, Heb 2:11).
How does it seem to you?
Missouri State University
1In Rom 1:4 Paul describes Jesus as being declared (not born) son of God, which corresponds to Mark 1:11. In Mark there is no birth narrative.
2I do not include in this listing of verses Mark 13:32, which could be evoking the title "son of man" that Jesus uses of himself in Mark. The expression "son of God" in Mark's incipit (1:11) is questionable as well on text critical grounds. See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (4th ed., 2000), 62.
3P. J. Achtemeier, "Mark, Gospel of," ABD 4.543.
4Hedrick, "Is Belief in the Divinity of Jesus Essential to Being Christian," The Fourth R 24.5 (September-October 2011), 15.
5Hedrick, "Religious Titles for Jesus." Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog: Tuesday May 3, 2016: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=pioneer
6Hedrick, "The Gospel of Mark and the Way, a Sect reported in Acts" Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog: Monday January 11, 2021: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=the+way
7For the translation of Gal 2:16, see Arthur Dewey, et al., The Authentic Letters of Paul (Polebridge, 2010), 65.
8This theological thread is similar in a few respects to the views of Cerinthus, a late first century Jesus follower. See Cockerill, "Cerinthus," ABD 1.883 and Hedrick, "Cerinthus," NIDB 1.580. At this early period Orthodoxy had not become the dominant Christian view by which to judge as heretical those who disagreed with them. In the early period one was led by one's own inner compass. Compare, for example, the theological differences between Mark and John; see Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019), 151-54.