Jesus says it, and we know how he was interpreted by Paul and by later followers. It is an exclusive designation as far as that tradtion goes in its tendency.
Epictetus says it.
If only one could be properly convinced of this truth, that we’re all first and foremost children of God, and that God is the father of both human beings and gods, I think one would never harbour any mean or ignoble thought about oneself. (Discourses 1.3.1-2)
The Jewish tradition always sought a spatio-temporal instantiation of the divine reality. The god walks in the garden. The god becomes jeaulous and is angered. The god resides HERE. THIS is the blessing for obedience, and THIS is the curse for disobedience. THIS is the speech of the divine.The trajectory of the tradition is toward spatio-temporal instantiation. And Jesus (as normally understood in the Christian tradition) claims to be the final and complete instantiation.
The Greek Stoic tradition began to seek unity with reality, and reality was largely divided between the internal and invisible reality of human freedom and the external reality of the universe which include the body itself. The notion of “logos” as expression or emanation of the formless deep reality takes hold in the Greeks and is captured in the notion of giving reason. The thing that one gives reason for is obvious. It is here. The reason is the cause, the principle, that which explains, and that which is obviously non-obvious else it would not require expression or explanation.
Socrates, after some earlier sage-like figures, takes center stage by representing NOT a claim to logos instantiation itself in its finality as much as a claim to something else—the only proper response to belief (don’t think intellectual commitment) in the logos which is conformity, adaptation post-search and discovery. This amounted to both a commitment to there being a deep reality but a hedge on its full grasp. What the human could do in its humanity was passionately seek, make the logos his good, and that in the deepest sense. Socrates instantiates THAT. It is to be the best the human can offer, and it is good.
The Stoics take this up. They speak of being children of God as a way of expressing that it is possible to grow into logos. The seed (sperm) of the divine is present in the human animal. Its entire development though is a matter of constancy, focus, discipline, commitment, repetitious training, the ignoring of distractions. Logos had to be instantiated through work. That was the goal. And it was nothing but practice that even approximated instantiation. Thus Marcus Aurelius, “ Do not discuss the good man, be it.” Thus Epictetus on claiming allegiance to Chrysippus, “What is Chryssipus? Do not read. Be!”. Get to work! The son of God, a phrase which Epictetus uses, is a refrain that embodies two points in the process: first, the spermatic seed possibility. Second, the achievement. The inbetween is conformity, adaptation, development into. That is all that matters.
The Christian tradition is a mess. Awash, 2000 years later, in interpretations of Jesus and Paul, it is difficult to peer through all of that to get what is really true about what Jesus meant when he said it, what he might have been hearing in the Greco-Judaic cultural milieu (there was a gymnasium built in Jerusalem in 167 BC if my memory serves. There was a Cynic school in Gadara. The Greek cultural influence was around.
Membership in religious community often involves both intellectual commitment to dogma, and some adherence to rules (though both are variable depending on the community). There are the two extreme ways that being the son of the god can be taken—first, as seed possibility (Epictetus). Second, as fully realized (as Jesus is interpreted). The church interpretation is unstable given its claim that the believer receives the god into himself. Whence verification?
There are many passages in which Jesus represents himself as a son of God with a mission. This in and of itself is not problematic or inconsistent with the Stoic sense of conformity to logos (divine rule), the having of a task (mission), etc. But there are others portions of the Gospels which encourage the Christian to stand firm in his claim to special grasp of logos instantiation.
First, Jesus speaks sometimes as an “I” and it is not hard to interpret him exclusively. “I am the bread of life, I have the living water, I am the way, the truth and the life”, etc. Is this logos speaking? Is he ONLY here or there?
Second, there are the miracles which provide evidence for super-power. And super-power is what power has always been, a sign of importance.
Third though, there is much in Jesus that says explicitly what might be said by Socrates implicitly: follow “me” in the sense of “embody and instantiate the best in humanity by pursuing with zeal divine logos.” There is also the equation of following/love/faith or otherwise commitment to Jesus (identified by John as logos) with obedience (conformity). This brings the whole notion of following immediately into the deeply moral arena. Another way of saying it would be, “Be perfect as god is perfect” which Jesus says and commands as if you too could join as a son of the god if you only would.
Paul’s letters are more difficult. He is easy to read as an exclusivist of a sort. But so much of his writings affirm again that exclusive identity with divine perfection must exemplify divine perfection. That is righteousness, purity, holiness are to be the signs of following. There is in that claim to the achievement of moral perfection always the notion of joining the other son as brother. Of course it is assumed that one is exclusively and specially son. But proving that is another matter. And dealing with any problems in the alternative Stoic interpretation is another matter and rarely tried these days though I assume a look back through the history of theological debate would suffice for some discovery.
The Christian tradition seems to have taken much more from the Jewish expectation of spatio-temporal embodiment of perfection. This is how Jesus is interpreted. He is complete and finished. He is logos.
The giving up of this interpretation and focusing, like the Stoics, on the instantiation at any time only with training and not worrying about the claim that logos was around in yesteryear would take from pride and conceit what is too often it sustenance—the claim to have grasp of perfection, the claim to right by blood, being of correct hereditary line.
The giving up would leave one without the assurance of instantiation in the past and increase the hope or search for instantiation in the present.
Both of these might be productive of a reduction of intellectual squabble about the non-obvious (the cheapest of theological and philosophical and doctrinal dispute and argumentation) and the production of quiet commitment to hard work.
There might be some increase in insecurity about final resting place. But to the degree that such insecurity was resolved in false hope (that one makes intellectual expression) it may be better for it to be dealt with alternatively rather than merely pacified by false hope.
What if, leaving the question of ancient instantiation of logos alone we simply allocate the energy that could have been spent on that question on contemporary instantiation now? There is reason to think the latter option better.