Saturday, July 23, 2016

Jesus as the "Son of Man"

The "Son of Man" discussion is one of the more vigorous in the whole of New Testament studies.  No small amount of literature on the phrase “son of man” [Hebrew ben ʾādām (בֶּן אָדָם); Aramaic bar ʾĕnāš (בַּר אֱנָשׁ); Greek (ho) huios (tou) anthrōpou (ὁ υἱος του ἁνθρωπου)]  was produced over the course of the twentieth century. The twenty-first century is continuing this trend and will likely produce many more journal articles, monographs, and book chapters.

Essentially, "Son of Man" was Jesus’ favorite self-designation in the Synoptic Gospels. As noted, the denoted name arises from the Hebrew ben-˒āḏām and Aramaic bar ˒enāš “son of man,” a Semitic idiom for an individual human being or for mankind in general, particularly as distinguished from God (e.g., Num. 23:19; Ps. 8:4; Ezek. 2:1).

At Dan. 7:13, the phrase “son of man” occurs and is likely a title for the people of Israel considered corporately or for their angelic representative in the heavenly court (cf. “the saints of the Most High,” v. 18). The Similitudes of Enoch (1 En. 37–71) and 2 Esdras 13 both draw on Daniel’s use of the title, viewing it as an expression for a specific eschatological redeemer figure. Whereas the influence of Dan. 7:13 on New Testament use of the expression is unquestioned, 2 Esdras 13 and probably the Similitudes of Enoch are too late to have had any such influence. Jesus’ use of the term may have arisen from its use in Aramaic as an oblique substitute for the first person singular pronoun as much as from the use of the term in Daniel. Discussions on this are vigorous.

Indeed, the variety in Jesus’ use of the term suggests that no single influence was dominant in the meaning of the term as he used it, that his own creativity played a significant role, and that part of this creativity was to bring ideas from the Servant Songs of Isaiah (esp. Isa. 52:13–53:12) into the “son of man” concept. The uses of the term in the Synoptic Gospels fall into three broad categories. 

Jesus uses it with respect to himself in describing his activity and the exercise of his authority on earth (Matt. 13:37; Mark 2:10, 28; 10:45; Luke 7:34; 9:58; 12:10; 19:10). 

He uses it in predicting his suffering and death (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). He uses it when speaking of his eschatological return and rule (e.g., Matt. 10:23; 19:28; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 14:62; Luke 17:22–30; 21:36).

All three categories of “son of man” sayings originated with Jesus and are plausible within the framework of his own anticipation of his rejection, suffering, and vindication.

The gospel of John uses “the Son of man” for Jesus in relation to John’s christology of the descending and ascending redeemer (John 3:13; 6:62; cf. 1:51; 5:27; 6:27) and in relation to the death of Jesus, viewed as his glorification (3:14; 12:23, 34; 13:31). In the end, evidence suggests that “the Son of man” functions as a self-designation of some kind for Jesus Christ; though it never became a way for other people to refer to Jesus, and it thus played no part in the confessional and doctrinal statements of the early church, unlike “Christ,” “Lord” and “Son of God.”