Review: The Paradox of Sonship

The Paradox of Sonship (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), R. B. Jamieson, foreword by Simon J. Gathercole. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A discussion of the use of “Son” in Hebrews proposing that it is a paradox, that Jesus is the divine Son who became the messianic “Son” at the climax of his saving mission.

The very first verses of the book of Hebrews present us with a challenge. What does the author mean when he refers to Jesus as “Son”? Verses 1-3 seem to describe one who is the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, eternally God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet verse 5, quoting Psalm 2:7 and the parallels in 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13 seem to suggest that Jesus is given the title “Son” at the point of his enthronement, after resurrection and ascension. This has resulted in at least three approaches: 1) that Jesus only becomes the Son, an adoptionist, less than eternally divine, approach, 2) being the Son and becoming the Son are irreconcilable, resulting in a Christology at tension with itself, and 3) Jesus is always and already the Son, a divine Christology approach.

In this work, R.B. Jamieson proposes an alternative. He sees a paradox in which both meanings are true. Jesus is the Son who became the Son. Jamieson begins his argument with highlighting six Christological concepts that he contends are part of the classical Christological toolkit: 1) Who Jesus is? A single divine subject, 2) What Jesus is? One person with two natures, 3) When this Jesus is? Eternal divine existence and incarnation in time, the last times, 4) Theology and economy, or “partitive exegesis,” that is distinguishing passages speaking of Jesus as eternally divine, and those speaking of his incarnation, 5) Twofold or reduplicative predication, a complement to number 4 in focusing on the incarnate state, and distinguishing what passages reference Jesus divine nature an what his human nature, and 6) paradoxical predication: the communication of idioms, that seemingly incompatible qualities must be ascribed to the single person of the Son. He roots these in conciliar Christianity and proposes that these, although an unusual exegetical strategy, actually allow one to read with the grain of Hebrews.

In succeeding chapters then, he unpacks his argument of the Son who became the Son. Chapter 2 focuses on the use of Son as a divine designation of his mode of divine existence, distinct from the Father and the Spirit, and as a reference to his deity. Chapter 3 turns to the Son’s incarnate mission, fully divine and fully human, and that his life, suffering, death, and resurrection are not fissures in Christology but reflect tension and resolution. Chapter 4 focuses on the enthronement of Jesus upon completion of his saving mission, confirming his messianic rule, in which he is designated messianic Son. Then, the unique twist of chapter 5 is that Jesus could only become the messianic Son because he is the divine Son incarnate–only the God-man can fill this office.

In the conclusion of the book, he first returns to the “toolkit” and shows how the Jesus of Hebrews is the Jesus of Chalcedon. He then proposes in brief that one might extend his approach to at least two other passages: Acts 2:36 and Romans 1:3-4. Finally, he points to the pastoral implication of his argument, that in the Son who became the Son, we have been given all we need in Christ.

I thought this book a marvelous example of theology and biblical studies in conversation. We see in careful study of Hebrews the questions and data about the nature of the Son that became the substance of conciliar discussion. And we see how the “Christological toolkit” of the councils offers resources for making sense of the biblical data. What I also appreciated was the carefully organized and articulated argument of this book. Jamieson “shows his work,” enabling us to follow him with clarity of language and steps in his argument. Scholars of other persuasions will have to show why theirs is a better construction of the text than this well-argued case.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

3 thoughts on “Review: The Paradox of Sonship

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: April 2022 | Bob on Books

  2. Pingback: Day Bidet #79 – Brave Ole World

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