Sometimes some of the simplest questions are also some of the most profound. These types of questions are therefore some of the most difficult to answer. “Why is Jesus called the Son of God?” is one of these questions, simple, profound, and difficult to answer. But as one of my English Professors told me the other day, “The hard questions are really the only questions worth asking.” In that case, Why is Jesus called the Son of God?
In a basic sense, the question is closely related to the question the Spirit of the Lord asked Nephi: “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Nephi 11:16). Note a definition of “condescend” that the Oxford English Dictionary gives the word, “To depart from the privileges of superiority by a voluntary submission; to sink willingly to equal terms with inferiours.” I feel like I can use Nephi’s response to the Spirit’s question as my own response, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:16-17).
“And he [the Spirit] said unto me [Nephi]: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” (1 Nephi 11:18-21).
James E. Talmage, a biblical scholar, wrote about the Savior’s birth and what it means that Jesus is the Son of God:
“That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the “Son of the Highest.” In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate—after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman. (Jesus the Christ. Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, 1990. 77.)
When speaking of a son, we mean a male child of a father and a mother. Calling Jesus Christ the Son of God is closely related to calling Jesus the Firstborn. Also, to be called a firstborn son implies being an heir and inheriting “the leadership of the family. . . This is often spoken of in the scriptures as birthright” (Bible Dictionary: Firstborn). Because Jesus is the Son of God and the Firstborn, He is therefore heir to “all . . . that the Father hath” (John 16:15). Furthermore, He “is the firstborn of the spirit children of our Heavenly Father, [and] the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh” (Bible Dictionary: Firstborn).
The second of these last two statements from the Bible Dictionary, that Jesus is the “Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh,” reiterates what the Spirit said to Nephi, that Mary is “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh” (1 Nephi 11:18). The phrase “after the manner of the flesh” is interesting. It specifies that Maryis Jesus’ mortal mother. But by specifying, the phrase alludes to the existence of a life before Jesus received a physical body. “We are not now thinking about the Virgin Birth,” said C. S. Lewis, “We are thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all . . . ‘Before all worlds’ Christ is begotten” (Lewis, 157). This is essentially a rewording of the first statement from the Bible Dictionary, that Jesus “is the firstborn of the spirit children of our Heavenly Father.”
But because of the definition of “son” that was defined above, that a son is a male child of a father and a mother there is another corollary. The definition of “son” implies that during the Premortal Life, “before Nature was created at all,” Jesus, “the firstborn of the spirit children,” must have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. Eliza R. Snow once wrote,
I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there. (Hymns 292)
For some, all this will be hard to comprehend. But, “There is no good complaining that these statements are difficult. Christianity claims to be telling us about another world, about something behind the world we can touch and hear and see. You may think the claim false, but if it were true, what it tells us would be bound to be difficult—at least as difficult as modern Physics, and for the same reason” (Lewis, Mere Christianity 156).
Yet, just because these statements are difficult does not mean they are not possible to comprehend with study and faith. “For with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
I know I have certainly not come close to describing every way (or even one way) in which Jesus is the Son of God, but I hope this basic explanation will invite the reader to study more deeply the life of the Savior, and the “great . . . plan of our God” (2 Nephi 9:13).