Robert L. Mowery, «Son of God in Roman Imperial Titles and Matthew», Vol. 83 (2002) 100-110
The christological formula qeou= ui(o/j, which appears in the NT only in three Matthean passages (14,33; 27,43.54), exactly parallels the two-word Roman imperial son of god formula found in the titulature of Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Titus, and Domitian. This formula occurred more widely in first century imperial titulature than has previously been reported; in addition, various three-word imperial son of god formulas also deserve notice. The Matthean formula qeou= ui(o/j would have evoked Roman imperial usage for at least some members of Matthew’s community.
In two articles published in this journal, Tae Hun Kim and Earl S. Johnson, Jr., have debated the legitimacy of interpreting the anarthrous formula ui(o_j qeou= in Mark 15,39 in light of the Roman imperial formula qeou= ui(o/j 1. Moving beyond this debate, we will argue (1) that this Roman imperial formula exactly parallels the distinctive christological formula in three Matthean passages (14,33; 27,43.54), (2) that this Roman formula occurred much more widely in first century imperial titulature than Kim and Johnson have indicated, (3) that various three-word Roman son of god formulas also deserve notice, and (4) that the Matthean formula qeou= ui(o/j would have evoked Roman imperial usage for at least some members of Matthew’s community.
This article contains four sections. The first section demonstrates the uniqueness of the Matthean formula qeou= ui(o/j within the NT, while the second section surveys the son of god formulas in first century Roman imperial titulature, especially the titulature in Greek inscriptions and other sources from the eastern portion of the empire. The third section asks how members of Matthew’s community could have encountered these Roman son of god formulas, while the final section argues that the Matthean qeou= ui(o/j would have evoked this Roman imperial usage for at least some members of Matthew’s community.
1. Son of God Formulas in the NT
The NT contains five Son of God formulas which have only the governing noun ui(o/j, the genitive noun qeou=, and perhaps one or two definite articles. These five formulas are (1) o( ui(o_j tou= qeou=, (2) ui(o_j tou= qeou=, (3) o( tou= qeou= ui(o/j, (4) ui(o_j qeou=, and (5) qeou= ui(o/j. The first formula is the most common, for it appears in all four of the canonical gospels plus Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, Hebrews, 1 John, and Revelation 2. Note that definite articles precede both of the nouns in this formula. The second formula consists of an anarthrous ui(o/j followed by the articular genitive tou= qeou=. In each NT occurrence of this formula, the anarthrous ui(o/j is either in the nominative case in the predicate3 or in the vocative case4. The third formula, which appears only in 2 Cor 1,19, has the genitive tou= qeou=