The Title “Son of God” in Matthew’s Gospel
Students of the Bible will easily notice that the title Son of God is often used in Matthew without agreement from Mark and Luke. For example, what did the passers-by say at the scene of the cross? Their saying is reported in Mark 15:29-30 and also in Matthew 27:40. If you compare the two reports, you will notice that Matthew has added a phrase to the effect that Jesus is the Son of God.
We find another example of this in Matthew 14:22-33. Jesus had just miraculously fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. Then he sent his disciples to the other side of the sea. After praying to God, Jesus went out miraculously walking on the sea to meet his disciples. Eventually he got into the boat with them. How did the disciples react to all this? Mark and Matthew give us two different answers. Mark says:
“And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51-52).
In Matthew, however, the disciples were not perplexed at all. They had it all figured out and they knew exactly what to do. Matthew says:
“And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God”” (Matthew 14:33).
Again, Matthew has improved the story to show that Jesus is the Son of God.
It may be useful here to see what Bible commentaries say about this difference. In Matthew’s Gospel, the New American Bible has a footnote saying as follows:
“This confession is in striking contrast to the Markan parallel where the disciples are “completely astounded”” (Revised New Testament, p. 35).
In the Pelican New Testament Commentaries, author John Fenton reminds us that in Mark the disciples were uncomprehending. Fenton then comments:
“Matthew omits this, because in his Gospel the disciples are presented as men who have been given insight” (The Gospel of Saint Matthew, p. 247).
The difference here between Matthew and Mark was pointed out also in Harper’s Bible Commentary. Commenting on Matthew, the editors say:
“Instead of reacting, as in Mark, with incomprehension, the whole crew confesses Jesus as the Son of God” (1988 edition, p. 967).
So can we know what really happened? Commenting on the same passage in Matthew’s Gospel, the Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible says:
“The presence of Matthew’s favorite phrase little faith suggests either that he has created this story or that he has reworked it to suit his purpose” (p. 627).
As we have said before, careful study reveals that the title Son of God is not one that Jesus claimed for himself. Nor did his true disciples call him by that title.
In the next part, God willing, we will point out some other changes which Bible students should know about.