Sunday, June 14, 2009

What does "Son of Man" mean?

Given that it dominates Christ's discussions about Himself, particularly in John, it is surprising how little discussion occurs over what Jesus meant by the term "Son of Man."

There have been a few explanations given. A particularly biased answer is that Jesus is making a claim to Messiahship [or even divinity] by using the expression because it is an homage to Daniel 7:13, where the apocalypse is described with "a son of man" riding on clouds.

To claim "son of man" was a title of sorts due to this single reference is rather a reach since just a chapter later in the same book Daniel himself is referred to as a "son of man" [Daniel 8:17].
To suggest more and claim the cloud imagery means that this figure is actually God goes beyond merely "puzzling" for in the verse we are told the "son of man" is presented to God [the Ancient of Days]. (And it also is confounded by Numbers 23:19 that says "God is not a son of man."

Some research has suggested the term "Son of Man" is an aramaic idiom that means "me." This would make it similar to "Yours truly" when used to refer to oneself. The problem with that idea is that the Jews do not seem to understand what Jesus is referring to when He speaks of the "son of man" in John 12:34. Indeed, that verse makes nearly impossible that the expression is just an idiom for "me."

Another option that has been put forward is that it is just a way of saying "a human." That certainly makes sense given the many, many times the expression is used in the OT. However, it once again does not make sense with its usage in John 12:34 or elsewhere.

I think that perhaps Jesus is calling attention to Ezekiel. Throughout Ezekiel, God addresses the prophet as "son of man." The phrase is used there about 80 times, more than five times as often as all the other books of the OT combined. This is illuminating because it means we can see Ezekiel as a Type of Christ and gain an understanding of Christ's work by looking through Ezekiel's actions in the OT.


sabine said...

Hi David, through various bible studies on "covenant" l believe that by refering to Himself as "Son of Man" Jesus showed or demonstrated a covenant relationship, which, apparently, Jews understood very well (as opposed to us moderns who often have no clue about covenant.) In such studies l have leaned of covenant steps (9 altogether) that played a role in creating a covenant. One of them being that each partner (and especially the stronger) take full responsibility of each other and exchange names (compare marriage covenant and the wife taking the name of husband/= his protection as well), and so, when Jesus, who also said that He was the Son of God, refered to Himself as "son of man".

David Rudel said...

Hi Sabine, welcome to the blog!

That is really interesting, and something I had not heard of before. I'll be thinking about this as I read in the future, and perhaps it will make me see something in certain passages I hadn't saw before.

sweetdreams said...

He would have been saying Ben Adam the son of Adam. Adam of course meant red, so he was saying I'm Big Red's son, or to break it down further I am a human, a mortal, coming from a line of mortals all the way back to Big Red just like everyone else on the planet. Or today he could say I am a bipded with 24 male DNA Chromosones and 23 female.

Yes the full verse you quoted from Numbers says God is not a man nor the son of man. So he was not claiming, in fact never claimed, to be God. Son of Man was his favorite title for himself. It looks like he went out of his way to assure us he was not a deity but a regular Joe like the rest of the blokes. What if we were to take him at his word instead ow what the preachers tell us about him?

Anonymous said...

If Jesus were just a man, then you'll have to throw out the majority of the Bible along with all the 300 fulfilled prophecies about Jesus as the coming Messiah. Read John ch.1 which tells us that Jesus isn't just the Son of God, but God the Son. If you want to believe the Bible, you'll have to either believe all of it or none of it. Romans 1:21 says "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened."

David Rudel said...

Anonymous, most of your post is based on flawed reasoning.

"Son of God" was actually a title used to refer to the Messiah, so claiming that Jesus' fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies suggests something more has no basis.

The grammar of John chapter 1 does not support your contention.

Romans 1:21 is not a discussion of Jesus [as a simple reading of the context shows. The 1st century Jews who rejected Christ were certainly worshipping "birds" or "reptiles" instead.

Indeed, that you would consider Romans 1:21 as a discussion of Jesus or that you would take this article as an attack on Jesus' deity I find very puzzling. I make one off-hand remark about one way the term "son of Man" is misused to refer to divinity, and it becomes the total focus of your comment.

I think it is worthwhile to note that the misunderstanding of scripture that often occurs today on this topic is more or less just a replay of how the Pharisees misunderstood Christ's own words in John 10:30, and He corrects them in John 10:34-36. Unfortunately, that correction has largely gone unheeded.

Bev said...

David, I had just read something about this very thing not too long ago in the book I'm reading. I had to backtrack about 140 pages to find it, but I did. The book is "The Temple and the Church's Mission" by G.K. Beale. I'll quote some of it. It is all from page 169 in the book:

Luke 2:32 and Acts 26:23 picture Christ as fulfilling this commission to be a 'light' to the end of the earth (an allusion to the Servant Israel's commission in Is. 49:6). This is why Matthew 28:18 portrays Jesus as the Son of Man saying, 'All authority has been give to Me in heaven and on earth.' This is an allusion to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14, where it is said of the 'Son of Man', 'authority was given to him, and all the nations of the earth ... [were] serving him' (so LXX). On the basis of this authority, Jesus then gives the well-known commission 'therefore, as you go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them ... teaching them to keep all things whichsoever I commanded you; and, behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age'. ...

... Jesus is a Last Adam figure, and this is partly why he implicitly identifies himself with Daniel's 'Son of Man' in issuing the universal commission to his followers: he is the 'son of Adam;, the equivalent to Daniel's 'Son of Man', finally accomplishing what the first Adam should have and what Daniel predicts the messianic end-time Adam would do.

As for Anonymous' post, scripture knows nothing of any persons called "God the Son" or even "God the Holy Spirit." Scripture does plainly tell us, however, that there is only one God, who is the Father (John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6)

Michael said...

Anonymous said...

this is the way a blog should be! thanks!

Anonymous said...

I do not understand the reasoning that people would think that Yeshua was God himself. He often prayed to the Father and to think he was the Father praying to himself would only make a person seem a bit touched. I have heard the reasoning that that was his way teaching us how to pray. Yet when the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he gave them a lesson on how to pray, with what we call the Lord's prayer. I just can't wrap my mind around him praying to himself.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous of course you can't "wrap your mind around it" we are talking about God. Does an ant understand how blogs work? Of course not why should we think we could fully understand the nature of God and Jesus...."I am in the father and the father is in me" how can that be Jesus? I don't get it....well of course I don't get it I am a mere human. Philip asks Jesus...when will you show us the father...Jesus sighs "How long have you been with me and still don't understand...if you have seen me you have seen the father." Logically does this make but the good news is our great God can defy human logic just as he can take absolutely nothing and create an entire universe. Impossible right...sure according to man, but through God all things are possible.

Unknown said...

Anonymous said..

I would agree with your statement about Yeshua praying to himself or asking the father why He had forsaken Him on the cross.they are two separate beings. remember he did nothing on his own volition but the Father worked through him to do great works as He testified that those who had "seen Him had seen the father" because he explained afterwards that the Father was in him, not because He was the Father Himself. He does not claim He is God the Father, nor do any of the apostles after His death and reserection who eat and drink with Him in His reserected form and learn from him during the 40 days spoken of in the beginning of acts. The idea is not debated in the new testament because the doctrine of Christ being God himself was never taught by the Apostles but actually shows up 2-300 years later as a debate that starts among bishops and ends up debated in a council in Nicaea in 325 AD that was governed by the roman emperor Constantine. Unfortunately this doctrine has spread to modern times. Keep your spiritual ears open and learn through reading and prayer each idea individually and become a seeker of truth. As Yeshua says, seekers of truth are the ones God seeks to worship Him. Scott

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ Lord is God. 1 John 1