Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library

As John the Baptist pours water over Jesus’ head, a dove flies down from heaven and God cries out: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22). Italian painter Ottavio Vannini’s (1585–1643) rendition of “The Baptism of Christ” hangs in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, in Nantes, France.

Three times in the Gospels, God calls Jesus “my Son.” Many modern readers assume this is a reference to Jesus’ conception by divine seed. But what would this phrase have meant to the earliest Christians? In Jewish tradition, the phrase “son of” can mean sharing the attributes of a greater entity. Thus, when God claims Jesus as his Son, he is asserting that Jesus shares his power and glory.