Want to know something weird? Women are never referred to as “daughters of God” in the Bible. Kind of odd, especially given how often that phrase is used in evangelical circles. “Daughter of God” nets over 1,000 books on Amazon. In the Bible, however, the seemingly clumsy phrase “sons of God” is used for men and women alike.
What gives? Is this a linguistic fluke? No, unlike the Greek word for brothers, adelphoi, which often means “brothers and sisters,” the Greek word for sons, huioi, rarely means “sons and daughters” with the full phrase “huious kai thugateras” used instead.[i] So, while we might be tempted to add “daughters” when we see “sons of God” in the Bible, it’s unlikely that is what the authors intended.[ii]
Is the lack of inclusion of daughters a patriarchal blind spot in the Bible that we ought to rectify? On the contrary: the use of only “sons of God” is a radical move by the authors of scripture that raises the status of women.
Allow me to explain: in the ancient world, Israel included, only sons received the family inheritance. Daughters received no inheritance. They were dependent on their husband or the care of their family. If the biblical authors referred to men and women as “sons and daughters of God,” then, their readers might have mistakenly presumed that only men received a spiritual inheritance from God.
By exclusively referring to all the children of God as “sons of God,” then, the biblical authors are saying something profound: men and women are equal recipients of the inheritance of the Father. Wow! What a vision for men and women in the Kingdom of God – and two thousand years old, no less!
With this in mind, let’s re-read two of the most beautiful passages in the Bible that offer us the hope of what our sonship entails.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says this:
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.[iii]
What an incredible promise: we, men and women alike, who were enslaved to the world, have been purchased by the price of the Son so that we could be adopted as sons of God! And now God invites us, who were once estranged from him, to intimately cry out to him, “Daddy!” Oh, friends, what an invitation! What a reality! Can you believe that you are a son of God?
When he writes the church at Rome, Paul frames this beautiful reality this way:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.[iv]
Here, Paul frames the reality of our adoption through the work of the Spirit. Our adoption as sons means we have no more reason to fear—how can we?! The God of the universe is our Dad! What can we possibly be afraid of?! And yet, as sons of God, we look like our brother, Jesus. And the life of Jesus looks like suffering that ends in glory. So, we should not be surprised that our lives are marked by suffering, and we should anticipate the glorious inheritance that has been secured by our brother, Jesus.
Good news, ladies: you’re sons! And what a marvelous truth that is. We, men and women alike, are sons of God, purchased from slavery by the blood of the Son of God, Jesus, adopted by the Father and given his full inheritance. That’s worth celebrating.
[i] Thugateras means “daughters”: see 1 Corinthians 6:18, for instance.
[ii] I am leaning on scholars here. See, Russell Moore, Adopted for Life, 42-43, and http://www.stempublishing.com/magazines/bt/BT12/1878_191_Teknon_Huios.html.
[iii] Galatians 4:1-7
[iv] Romans 8:13-17