(1) In Biblical language the word "son" is used first of all in its strictly literal sense of male issue or offspring of a man or woman. In a few cases in the Old Testament, as in Ge 3:16; Jos 17:2; Jer 20:15, the Hebrew word ben, is translated correctly in the English by the word "child" or "children" as it includes both sexes, as in Ge 3:16, or is limited to males by the use of the modifying term "male." Closely connected with this meaning of direct male issue or of children is its use to denote descendants, posterity in the more general sense. This usage which, as in the case of the sons (children) of Israel, may be regarded perhaps as originating in the conception of direct descent from the common ancestor Israel, came in the course of time to be a mere ethnographic designation, so that the term "the children of Israel" and "the children of Ammon" meant no more than Israelites or Ammonites, that is, inhabitants of the lands of Israel or Ammon respectively. An extension of this usage is to be found in the designation of a people as the sons or children of a land or city; so in Am 9:7 "children of the Ethiopians," or Eze 16:28, where the literal rendering would be "sons of Asshur," instead of the Assyrians, and "the children of Jerus" in Joe 3:6.
See Bar (prefix); BEN-.
(2) More characteristic of Biblical usage is the employment of the word "son" to indicate membership in a class or guild, as in the common phrase "sons of the prophets," which implies nothing whatever as to the ancestry, but states that the individuals concerned are members of the prophetic guilds or schools. In the New Testament the word "sons" (huioi) in Lu 11:19, rendered "children" in Mt 12:27 the King James Version, means, not physical descendants, but members of the class or sect; according to Mt the Pharisees, who were attacking Christ.
(3) The word "son" is used with a following genitive of quality to indicate some characteristic of the person or persons described. In the English the word "son" is usually omitted and the phrase is paraphrased as in 2Sa 3:34, where the words translated "wicked men" in the King James Version mean literally, sons or children of wickedness. Two examples of this usage may be cited: the familiar phrase "sons of Belial" in the Old Testament (De 15:13 the King James Version, and often), where the meaning is simply base or worthless fellows (compare Nu 24:17, margin "children of Sheth" (Expository Times, XIII, 64b)); and in the New Testament the phrase "sons of thunder," which is given in Mr 3:17 as the explanation of the epithet "Boanerges." This use is common in the New Testament, as the phrases "children of the kingdom," "children of light," etc., indicate, the general meaning being that the noun in the genitive following the word children indicates some quality of the persons under consideration. The special phrases "Son of man" and "Son of God" are considered in separate articles.
See also RELATIONSHIPS, FAMILY.
Walter R. Betteridge