JESUS' TITLES

 

 

   1.. Selective Bibliography
   2. Jesus as the Christ (Davidic Messiah) and Son of David

      2.1. Jesus as the Christ (Davidic Messiah)
          2.1.1. Old Testament and Second-Temple Texts
          2.1.2. The Gospels
               A. Synoptic Gospels
                  1. Jesus' Reluctance to Be Known as the Christ (Davidic Messiah)
                  2. Jesus Recognized as the Christ (Davidic Messiah)
               B. The Gospel of John
               C. Royal Entry and Redefinition of Davidic Messiah

      2.2. Son of David
         2.2.1. Jesus Addressed as "Son of David"
         2.2.2. Jesus' Re-Interpretation of "Son of David"
  
3. Son of God
      3.1. Old Testament and Second-Temple Texts
      3.2. The Gospels

  
      3.2.1. Synoptic Gospels
  
         A. References to Jesus as Son of God
  
         B. Jesus' References to Himself as Son of God
  
      3.2.2. The Gospel of John
  
         A. Jesus as Son (of God)
  
         B. Jesus' Pre-Existence (John 8:58)
   4. Son of Man

      4.1. Relgious Historical Background
         4.1.1. Son of Man as Eschatological Figure in Second-Temple Judaism
         4.1.2. Son of Man as Idiom of Self-Reference
      4.2. Synoptic Gospels
         4.2.1. Idiomatic Use of "Son of Man"
         4.2.2.
Jesus' Use of Son as Man as Having Messianic Self-Reference
         4.2.3. Unclear Uses of the Term "Son of Man"
      4.3. Gospel of John
      4.4. Summary
   5. Conclusion

 

Most of the matieral in the synoptic gospels focuses on Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of God and other topics; in John when he speaks about himself, it is to describe his role a mediator of eschatological salvation. But occasionally in the gospels Jesus does refer to himself and is sometimes referred to by certain salvation-historical designations. People naturally wonder about his identity, just as they did with John the Baptist.

1. Selective Bibliography

J. Becker, Jesus of Nazareth, 1998 (197-217); M. Casey, Son of Man: The Interpretation and Influence of Daniel 7, 1979; H. Conzelmann, "Gegenwart und Zukunft in der synoptischen Tradition," ZThK 54 (1957) 277-96; O. Cullman, The Christology of the New Testament, 1959; R. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology, 1965; A.J.B. Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man, 1964; S. Kim, "The Son of Man" as the Son of God, 1983; B. Lindars, Jesus Son of Man, 1983; W. Manson, Jesus, the Messiah, 1943; W. Marxen, Anfangsprobleme der Christologie, 1960; J. C. O'Neill, "The Silence of Jesus," NTS 15 (1969) 153-67; E. Schweizer, "Der Menschensohn (Zur eschatologischen Erwartung Jesu)" ZNW 50 (1959) 185-209; E. Sjöberg, Der verborgene Menschensohn in den Evangelien, 1955; H. E. Tödt, The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition, 1965; G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 1973; P. Vielhauer, "Gottesreich und Menschensohn in der Verkündigung Jesu" in FS. für Günther Dehn, 1957.

2. Jesus as the Christ (Davidic Messiah) and Son of David

2.1. Christ (Davidic Messiah)

2.1.1. Old Testament and Second-Temple Texts

As already indicated, the Hebrew prophets foretell the appearance of an eschatological Davidic king. This expectation is carried over into the second-Temple period (see Messiah in the Old Testament and Eschatological Davidic King in Second-Temple). (There are also references to a priestly Messiah.)

 From Josephus' writings, it is clear that there were many Jews who desired political independence from Roman hegemony and all who represented Roman interests in Palestine. This desire lay behind several aborted attempts to gain political independence through military action; the striving for independence culminated in the war from 66-73. Some of the leaders of these attempts at gaining political independence probably had messianic self-understandings and aspirations. (Josephus refrains from identifying any of these men explicitly as messianic aspirants, probably because of his political goal of presenting the Jews as a peaceful and easily governable people; to admit that the Jewish religion contained the idea of a Messiah, a king who would overthrow gentile rule, would undermine the achievement of this purpose.)  At the time of Herod's siege of Jerusalem in 37 BCE, many Jews expected divine deliverance from Herod and his Roman patrons; it is probable that there was a messianic element to this hope of divine deliverance (Ant. 14. 470-71; War 1. 347-48). In other words, it is possible that those who resisted Herod expected the appearance of a Davidic Messiah as the concrete manifestation of God's deliverance. (The author of Ps. Sol. 17 certainly hoped for the coming of the ideal Davidic king after the fall of the Hasmonean dynasty to Pompey.) Josephus also describes how in 6 CE a certain Judas the Galilean from Gamala rose to prominence, in league with Zaddok the Pharisee (War 2. 118, 433; 7. 253; Ant. 18. 4-10, 23-25, 20. 102). Judas led a revolt against Rome, which was crushed; this revolt had messianic overtones, as did the later Zealot movement of which Judas was said to have been the founder (some of his descendants are named as Zealots who played important roles in the war against Rome). Judas and later the Zealots believed that God would come to the aid of the revolutionaries. Perhaps, Judas considered himself as the means of God's deliverance and, therefore, as de facto, the Messiah.

    After Judas, a man named Theudas appeared, whom Josephus calls an impostor (goês); he seems to mean that Theudas was a messianic impostor, which is suggested by the fact that he promised the people that he was a prophet and would part the Jordan and lead the people through it (Ant. 20. 97-98). It is likely that he was attempting to imitate Joshua's conquest of Caanan, but the “conquest” that he had in mind to carry out was probably eschatological deliverance. The procurator, Cuspius Fadus (44-46), sent out the cavalry and killed Theudas, bringing his head back to Jerusalem; Fadus saw Theudas as a military threat to the public peace, which suggests that he had messianic pretensions. During the reign of Nero, Josephus says that there appeared "impostors and deceivers" who claimed that if the people would follow them into the desert they would perform "miracles and signs." It is clear that such men were messianic pretenders, even though Josephus does not identify them as such. One such impostor and deceiver as a man identified simply as "the Egyptian"; he led a group of 30,000 to the Mount of Olives, where he said that he would command the walls of Jerusalem to fall down, whereupon they would enter the city and conquered the Roman garrison stationed there (War 2. 261-63; Ant. 20. 167-72) The resemblance between this prediction and the fall of the walls of Jericho under the leadership of Joshua was surely not lost on the people. Josephus explains that "the Egyptian" intended to become an absolute ruler (tyrannos). Clearly, "the Egyptian" had messianic aspirations, so that by "absolute ruler" is probably meant messianic king. The whole affair ended tragically when the Felix, the Roman procurator, met this man and his followers with a military force. (Paul was mistaken for "the Egyptian" in Acts 21:38.) Josephus also concedes that a cause of the Jewish war against Rome was the belief in the imminent appearance of the Messiah: "But now, what did the most to incite them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, at that time, one from their country should become ruler of the world. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their interpretation of it" (War 6.312-13). Although he calls it an "ambiguous oracle," indicating own his political stance, the messianic predictions were clear enough in the Hebrew scriptures to fuel this type of military action. This messianic expectation explains the fanaticism of the participants and even why they would even consider taking on the Romans in the first place. It is probable that some of the leaders of this rebellion had messianic aspirations.

2.1.2. The Gospels

A. Synoptic Gospels

1. Jesus' Reluctance to Be Known as the Christ (Davidic Messiah)

Although it is the assumption of the gospel writers that Jesus is the Messiah (i.e. Davidic Messiah), Jesus does not claim the title for himself, and is reticent to accept the title from others. Even though he accepts the title Messiah when it is understood properly, it seems that Jesus does not want to be understood as Messiah of the popular imagination, a military leader, like Judas, Theudas or the Egyptian. In other words, he does not see himself as the Davidic Messiah described in Psalms of Solomon (17, 18). He tends to keep his own messianic self-consciousness in the background, preferring rather to focus his public proclamation focused on the Kingdom of God. He even prevents demons from disclosing his identity as the Davidic Messiah.

W. Wrede interprets the synoptic portrayal of Jesus as reluctant to be known as Messiah as evidence for his hypothesis of the so-called Markan messianic secret (he assumes Markan priority) (The Messianic Secret). Before Wrede, scholars sought to explain these instances in which Jesus guards his true identity as Jesus’ deliberate attempt at not being misunderstood as a political Messiah. Related to this theme of secrecy is the consistent portrayal of the disciples as misunderstanding Jesus, in spite of all of Jesus’ attempts to the contrary (Mark 6:52; 8:17-21). Again, it was assumed that the disciples’ traditional Messianic views prevented their understanding Jesus’ teaching about himself. Wrede, however, proposes a different view of the origin and nature of the Gospel of Mark, one that would undermine the assumption of its historical reliability. He hypothesizes that the theme of secrecy was introduced into the traditions about Jesus as an expedient for the purpose of reconciling two conflicting christologies. The older christology interpreted Jesus as becoming the Messiah only at his resurrection (see Acts 2:36; Rom 1:3-4). On the other hand, the newer christology held that Jesus had thought of himself as the Messiah before his resurrection and had acted as such. "Mark" was an advocate of the latter christology. The problem, however, was to explain why no one knew Jesus to be the Messiah until after his resurrection. Thus, Wrede proposes that the reconciling view evolved that, although he was the Messiah, Jesus did not want to be known as the Messiah until after his resurrection, except perhaps by his disciples, who never understand until after the resurrection along with everyone else. This literary device Wrede termed "the messianic secret." He finds the key to his hypothesis in 9:9: After his transfiguration, Jesus warns Peter, James and John not to tell anyone of what they witnesses until after the resurrection. Wrede's proposal has been influential among many of the more radical New Testament scholars (such as Bultmann, Bornkamm, Perrin and Conzelmann). In spite of Wrede's ingenious proposal, it is still historically preferable to assume that Jesus' desire not to be known as a militaristic Messiah was the cause of his reluctance to be known by the title Messiah. In other words, the Markan "messianic secret" is actually Jesus' own secret.

a. Luke 4:41 (see Mark 1:34)

Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, "You are the Son of God!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.

Jesus would not let the demons speak when he cast them out because, according to Luke 4:41, they knew that he was the Christ, or son of God; presumably Jesus did not want this information disclosed to the general public.

b. Mark 1:23-25 (= Luke 4:33-35)

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!"

Jesus does not allow the demon in the man to speak any further after the demon has identified him as "the Holy One of God," no doubt generally recognized as a messianic title (see Acts 3:14).

c. Mark 14:61-63 (= Matt 26:63-64) (see Luke 22:67-70)

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the son of man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." 63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked.

During his interrogation by the Sanhedrin, Jesus only reluctantly agrees that he believes that he is the Christ.  Actually, in this exchange between Jesus and the High Priest, three titles are mentioned: Christ, son of God and son of man. It is clear that at the time of Jesus that the titles "Christ" (or Messiah) and "son of God" (or Blessed One) are synonyms, which explains why they are set in apposition to each other (see Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin). In addition, after he accepts the title of Christ and son of God, Jesus says that the High Priest would see the son of man sitting at the right hand of God (in exaltation) and coming on the clouds of heaven, an allusion to Dan 7:20 (see below).

d. Mark 8:29-30 (= Matt 16:19-20 = Luke 9:20-21)

And he [Jesus] continued by questioning them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to him, "You are the Christ." And he warned them to tell no one about him.

When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus instructs Peter to tell no one of his realization. Why he wants this to remain confidential is not provided, but presumably Jesus did not want to be identified as the Davidic Messiah of popular expectation; this could be used against him by the Jewish authorities on the assumption that anyone who claims that title is a revolutionary set on overthrowing Roman rule by force.

2. Jesus Recognized as the Christ (Davidic Messiah)

Some Jews wonder whether Jesus is the Davidic Messiah based on what he does (see Jesus as Miracle Worker), while others suspect that he believes himself to be the Messiah. Matthew says that in prison John the Baptist heard about "the works of the Messiah," and sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was the one who should come (Matt 11:2) (Luke's introduction to this pericope is different [Luke 7:18].) The meaning seems to be that John heard that Jesus was doing the things that the Messiah was supposed to do (see Eschatological Context of Jesus' Healings). Similarly, because of what Jesus does, in particular his exorcisms, people wonder whether Jesus is the son of David, a synonym for Messiah (Matt 12:23) (see below for consideration of title "son of David"). At Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asks Jesus whether he believes that he is the Messiah (Mark 14:62 = Matt 23:63 = Luke 22:67), which implies that he and the others suspect that Jesus believes that he is, but they do not have any definitive proof (see Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin).  After Jesus' trial it becomes public knowledge that Jesus considers himself to be the Davidic Messiah—the King of the Jews—so that this is given as the official reason for his execution, as indicated on the titulus written in Hebrew (or Aramaic), Greek and Latin (Mark 15:26 = Matt 27:37; John 19:19-20): "The King of the Jews." In fact, this is the official charge on which Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate: "We found this man...saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king" (Luke 23:2).

    Jesus does not disclose directly even to his disciples that he believes that he is the Davidic Messiah; rather he elicits this response from Peter, who speaks as the spokesman for the group, and only acquiesces to it (Mark 8:27-30 = Matt 16:13-20 = Luke 9:18-21).  In Matthew's version, Jesus says that the knowledge that he is the Messiah was disclosed to Peter by God, presumablt because Jesus is not conforming to popular expectation (Matt 16:17). There are three versions of Peter's confession: "You are the Christ" (Mark 8:29); "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt 16:16); "The Christ of God" (Luke 9:20). The differences between the three versions are inconsequential, for Peter confesses that Jesus is Israel's Davidic Messiah and each of the three designations mean that. Presumably, before this time, Jesus' disciples were not completely clear about Jesus' identity, as were not people in general (see John 7:40-44; Mark 6:14-16 = Matt 14:1-2 = Luke 9:7-9). As already indicated, Jesus commands his disciples not to disclose his identity to others.

B. The Gospel of John

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is also reluctant to be known publicly as the Davidic Messiah, which explains the people are confused about his exact identity (7:26-42; 12:34). Jesus' signs and his teaching convince people that he is extraordinary and could be an eschatological figure, like the Prophet (6:14; 7:40). (Jesus resists an attempt to conscript him as a popular, revolutionary leader by the people, no doubt in conformity to popular messianic expectation [6:15]). At one point, the "Jews" ask Jesus directly whether he is the Messiah; Jesus says that he has already told them, but what he likely means is that he has given them enough clues that they should be able to conclude correctly about his identity (10:24-25). Only to the Samaritan woman in Sychar, does Jesus disclose his identity as the Messiah, but she is not a Jew (4:25-26). At his trial before Pilate also Jesus reluctantly admits that he is a king (18:28-40). People do, nonetheless, come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah by drawing the correct conclusion from the evidence (9:22; 10:24; see 6:69). The disciples are perplexed when Jesus speaks about his departure (death) because they have heard it taught from the Law that the Messiah remains forever, which seems to assume that the Messiah is more than a human being (12:34).

C. Royal Entry and Redefinition of Davidic Messiah (Mark 11:1-10 = Matt 21:1-9; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19)

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, `Why are you doing this?' tell him, `The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'" 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Ps 118:26) 10 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!"

The prophet Zechariah prophesies that the Messiah will ride into Jerusalem not as a great conqueror of the nations, but as a peaceful, non-violent ruler; symbolic of this is the fact that he rides on a colt, not on a war horse or in a chariot: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zech 9:9). Jesus enters Jerusalem from Bethany about a week before the beginning of Passover; he intentionally sets out to fulfill the prophecy in Zech 9:9. Thus, at the end of his ministry, Jesus symbolically declares himself to be the Davidic Messiah, the king of Israel, but the Messiah as defined by Zech 9:9, one who brings a reign of peace to Israel and to the nations. He accepts the appellation of the crowd to be the Davidic Messiah, or son of David, but only as he has defined the term "king" by his symbolic act (see R. Stein, Jesus the Messiah, chap. 13; Gundry, Mark, 622-34). He thereby subverts the popular expectation about the Messiah's nature and purpose. The source for acclamation "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" is Ps 118:26, part of the the Hallel (Pss 113-18) recited during Passover. This text is being given a pesher-type messianic interpretation.

2.2. Son of David

2.1.1. Jesus Addressed as "Son of David"

Occasionally, Jesus is addressed by the obviously messianic title of "son of David." This suggests that his contemporaries suspect that he is the Davidic Messiah. Jesus is depicted as neither accepting the title nor rejecting it.

A. Mark 10:46-49 (= Matt 20:29-31 = Luke 18:35-39)

46 Then they came to Jericho And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!"48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, " son of David, have mercy on me!"49 And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him here." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you."

A blind man (Matt = two blind men), in asking Jesus (loudly) for healing, addresses him as "son of David." The man recognizes Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, who has the ability to heal.

B. Matt 9:27-28

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying out, "Have mercy on us, son of David!" 28 When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord."

Matthew has another account of Jesus' healing two blind men, who likewise address him as "son of David."

C. Matt 15:22

And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."

The Syro-Phoenician woman who asks Jesus to exorcise her daughter addresses Jesus as "Lord, son of David." How she came to know of Jesus' messianic identity is not clear.

D. Matt 21:8-17

9 The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,"Hosanna to the son of David ....15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the son of David," they became indignant

When he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, according to Matt 21:9, the crowds shouted "Hosanna to the son of David." As a result, the chief priests and scribes took offense (20:15). The other accounts do not include this, but it is implied. Even though he is identified as "the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee," Jesus is also identified as "the son of David," or the Davidic Messiah. These two designations are not seen as incompatible, since prophet is probably being used in a general sense of one sent from God.

E. Matt 12:23

All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "This man cannot be the son of David, can he?"

In addition, because of his healing of a demon-possessed man, the crowds began to wonder whether Jesus was the son of David (Matt 12:23), which is to say whether he was the Davidic king endowed with the power of God.

2.2.2. Jesus' Re- Interpretation of  "Son of David" (Mark 12:35-37) (= Matt 22:41-46 = Luke 20:41-44)

12:35 And Jesus began to say, as he taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself said in the Holy Spirit, 'The Lord [Yahweh] said to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." (Ps 110:1)' 37 David himself calls Him 'Lord'; so in what sense is he his son?" And the large crowd enjoyed listening to him.

Ps 110 is royal psalm and promises to the new king that he will rule absolutely, as if he were sitting at God’s right hand. He is assured of divine assistance in being victorious over his enemies, the rulers of other nations (Ps 110:2b, 5-6). Jesus gives a messianic interpretation to Ps 110:1. There is no evidence (yet), that Ps 110:1 was interpreted messianically in second-Temple Judaism, but this could merely be accidental. Jesus seems to assume that his hearers would agree with him that the psalm is messianic, which suggests that his interpretation of the passage is not original. He uses Ps 110:1 to give an important interpretation of the messianic idea of "son of David" (see also Mark 14:62) (The early church also explicitly interprets this passage messianically [Acts 2:34-35; see 1 Cor 15:25]). In the psalm, David (by the Holy Spirit) says that Yahweh ("the Lord") said to his lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." Jesus interprets "lord" as the Davidic messiah, which means that David is speaking about how Yahweh has given the Davidic Messiah the right of authority over all the world. More importantly, in Jesus' view the fact that David refers to his son, the Messiah, as lord assumes not only the pre-existence of the Messiah but also his superiority to David. He is superior because he calls him lord and pre-existent because David is speaking about him as being in existence before his historical appearance. So Jesus uses this textual anomaly to pose the question whether the Davidic Messiah should be understood simply as a descendent of David and not more than that. Again, in so doing, he undermines popular messianic expectation.

Menorah

Depicted on one the reliefs of the Arch of Titus in Rome is Titus' soldiers carrying Temple plunder, which included the menorah.  The depiction is credible since the menorah was probably still in Rome at the time when the arch was constructed. Josephus describes the menorah as "made of gold but constructed on a different pattern from those we use in ordinary life.  Affixed to a pedestal was a central shaft, from which there extended slender branches, arranged trident-fashion, a wrought lamp being attached to the extremity of each branch; of  these there were seven, indicating the honor paid to the number among the Jews" (War 7.148-50).

 

Questions

What was Jesus' understanding of his role as Israel's Messiah? Why was Jesus reluctant to be known as the Davidic Messiah publicly?

 

3. Jesus as Son of God

3.1. Old Testament and Second-Temple Texts

In order to understand the meaning of the title son of God as used by Jesus and others, one must examine its Old Testament background and its use in the second-Temple period. The term "son of God" is used in some second-Temple sources as a synonym for the Davidic Messiah, a practice that originated in the messianic interpretation of Old Testament texts by Jews of the second-Temple period (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7) (see Jesus' Birth).  In 2 Sam 7, God promises to relate to David's son, Solomon, as a father relates to his son. It was assumed that God would all the more relate to David's greater son, the eschatological Davidic king, as a father to a son. In Ps 2, upon his installation as king, the "Anointed One" (Messiah) is said to be God's son; on the day that he becomes king God becomes his father: "He said to me, 'You are my son, today I have begotten you'" (2:7). It was assumed that Ps 2 was a description of the installation of Israel's eschatological king. Thus, because of the messianic interpretation of these two passages, post-biblical Jews sometimes use the term "son of God" as a synonym for the Messiah.

3.1.1. 4Q174 (4QFlorilegium or Midrash on Last Days)

4Q174 is what remains of a collection of Old Testament texts considered messianically and eschatologically significant along with some commentary. The author interprets an abbreviated version of 2 Sam 7:11c-14a as messianic, on the assumption that God is referring not to Solomon but to David's greatest "son" or descendent, the eschatological Davidic king.

10 [And] Yahweh has [de]clared to you that he will build you a house (2 Sam 7:11c). I will raise up your seed after you (2 Sam 7:12). I will establish the throne of his kingdom 11 f[orever] (2 Sam 7:13). I wi[ll be] a father to me and he shall be a son to me (2 Sam 7:14). He is the branch of David who will arise with the interpreter of the Law who 12 [      ] in Zi[on in the la]st days according as it is written: "I will raise up the tent of 13 David that has falle[n] (Amos 9:11), who will arise to save Israel...."[Why] do the nations [rag]e and the people im[agine] a vain thing? [Kings of the earth] ris[e up] and [and p]rinces conspire together against Yahweh and against [his anointed] (Ps 2:1-2). [In]terpretation of the saying [concerns na]tions and th[ey    ] the chosen of Israel in the last days."

In his commentary on this passage, the author explicitly identifies the "son" in 2 Sam 7:11c-14a as the "the branch of David." This means that the author has identified David's "son" in 2 Sam 7:14 with the eschatological Davidic king described metaphorically as the "branch of David" in Jer 23:5; 33:15. In 4Q174 1.12b, Amos 9:11 is quoted as referring to the appearance of this Davidic king: "I will raise up the tent of David that has falle[n] (Amos 9:11), who will arise to save Israel." (1.13). He is destined to "save Israel" (lhwšy` 'th yšr'l), by which no doubt is meant a political and military deliverance. Similarly, in 4Q174 1.18-19, Ps 2:1 is quoted and interpreted: "[Why] do the nations [rag]e and the people im[agine] a vain thing? [Kings of the earth] ris[e up] and [and p]rinces conspire together against Yahweh and against [his anointed] (Ps 2:1-2). [In]terpretation of the saying [concerns na]tions and th[ey    ] the chosen of Israel in the last days." Although the text is not complete, it is clear that its author interprets Ps 2:1-2 messianically. The anointed one, against whom the nations rage, is called the "elect of Israel in the last days," meaning the eschatological Davidic king, who appear at the time of Israel's final and definitive salvation.

3.1.2. The same messianic interpretation of Ps 2 seems to underlie 4Q246 (Aramaic Apocalypse). This fragmentary Aramaic text probably makes reference to the eschatological Davidic king and his kingdom, referring to him as "son of God" (see J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star, chap. 7). In col. 1 line 9 there is a probable reference to this eschatological ruler : "...great will he be called and he will be designated by his name." This figure shall be called by a name, and it is probably the case that the verb "will be called" is a divine passive, so that it is God who is the one calling him by this name. If the antecedent of "he" is this Davidic king, then arguably the clause must have been an appropriate title of this Davidic king. In col. 2, the following is said of the eschatological Davidic king: "He shall be hailed as the son of God, and they shall call him the son of the most high" (brh dy 'l yt'mr wbr `lywn yqrwnh kzyqy'). The two phrase "son of God" and "son of the most high" are synonymous (see Luke 1:32 "And [the] son of the most high he shall be called" [kai huios hupsistou klêthêsetai] and Luke 1:35 "the holy child shall be called the son of God [huios tou theou]). It is probable that calling the eschatological Davidic king "son" reflects a messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me" and Ps 2:7 "He said to me, 'You are my son; today I have begotten you'." This "son of God" or "son of the Most High" will lead and represent a people, which explains the reference in 2.4 "Until the people of God arises." No doubt this people is a restored Israel. In contrast to the temporary but oppressive kingdom that precedes his own, the kingdom of the eschatological Davidic king will be eternal and peaceful: "His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom" (col. 2.5-6; see 2.8) (see parallels in Dan 3:33; 7:27).

3.1.3. In 4Q369 (The Prayer of Enosh) occurs the statement: "You have purified him for...in everlasting light and you have established him as a firstborn son...like his as a prince and ruler for all the territory of your land." Most likely, the individual to whom this fragment refers is the Davidic Messiah, since he is established as "prince and ruler for all the territory of your land." If so, then to call him "firstborn son" probably reflects a messianic interpretation of Ps 2:7.

3.1.4. 1QSa 2:11-12 could be interpreted to mean that God will "beget" his Messiah, reflecting a messianic interpretation of Ps 2:7.  If so, then the title "son" (of God) may be applied to the Davidic messiah. This conclusion requires that the verb be reconstructed as ywlyd (He [God] begets" rather than ywlyk ("He [God] leads forth")

3.1.5. In 1 En. 105:2, God says, "Until I and my son are united with them forever."  God's son in this context appears to be the Davidic Messiah.

3.1.6. In Ps. Sol. 17:23, there is a hint of the influence of Ps 2:9 on the description of the Davidic Messiah: "to smash (ektripsai) the arrogance of sinners like a potter's jar (hôs skeuê kerameôs)." In LXX Ps 2:9, it is said to the anointed king, the one declared to be "son", "You will smash (suntripseis) them [the nations] like a potter's jar (hôs skeuê kerameôs)." (Although it only survives only in Greek translation, Psalms of Solomon was not originally composed in Greek and so would not have been influenced directly by the LXX translation of Ps 2.) This echo of Ps 2:9 in Ps. Sol. 17:23 probably indicates that the author and his readers understood Ps 2 as messianic, and so the Messiah can be called the son of God.

3.1.7In the post-New Testament 4 Ezra, the Messiah is called the son, most likely in dependence on a messianic interpretation of Ps 2 (7:28-29; 13:37, 52; 14:9).

3.2. The Gospels

Jesus sometimes refers to himself as the son of God and is called the son of God by others, including demons. Often the title "son of God" is equivalent to the title of Davidic Messiah, and thus is in continuity with the Old Testament and the second-Temple messianic thinking. It is not surprising that in contexts where son of God is clearly a synonym for Messiah, Jesus is reluctant to have his identity as son of God being disclosed indiscriminately to the general public. (More than once, however, Jesus is declared to be "son [of God]" by the voice from heaven.) But it must be pointed out that, although he does not proclaim himself as the son of God publicly in the same way that he proclaims the Kingdom of God, Jesus, nevertheless, does not eschew disclosing himself as son of God, unlike his reticence to be known as Davidic Messiah. In fact in some contexts, he readily discourses about his identity as son of God. Jesus wants to be known as "son of God" but not with the meaning of Davidic Messiah. An important development that takes place in Jesus' use of the term son of God, which is reflected in the later use of the term by the early church. For Jesus, the term son of God is not a synonym for Davidic Messiah, expresses his unique relationship to the God the Father, one not shared with any other being; this unique relationship pre-exists his appearance in human history as the Messiah, and entitles him to certain privileges. Such an interpretation is consistent with the view of the Davidic Messiah as more than a human being. Some interpret Jesus' claim to sonship as a claim to equality with God. When he does publicly identify himself as son of God, Jesus stresses the relational dimensions of its meaning, not its messianic; no doubt his hearers would strongly suspect that, by calling himself son of God, Jesus also means to identify himself as the Messiah.

3.2.1. Synoptic Gospels

In some places Jesus is referred to as the son of God, while in others he refers to himself as such. In those contexts, where son of God means primarily Messiah, as indicated, Jesus is reluctant to accept the title or wary about its further disclosure.

A. References to Jesus as Son of God

There are several references to Jesus as son of God; probably, in each instance son of God is synonymous with Davidic Messiah.

1. Mark 1:11 = Matt 3:17 = Luke 3:22: The heavenly voice (God) at Jesus' baptism refers to Jesus as "my son" (see Accounts of Jesus' Baptism).

2. Matt 4:3 = Luke 4:3: Satan tempts Jesus on the assumption that he is the son of God.

3. Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41 (see Mark 1:34): The demons call Jesus the son of God; Jesus would not let them disclose his identity as the son of God to the general public.

4. Mark 9:7 = Matt 17:5 = Luke 9:35: At the transfiguration the heavenly voice again calls Jesus the son (of God): "This is my beloved son, listen to him." Confirmation of Jesus' uniqueness as the son is the fact that he was transfigured (metamorphôthê) before the disciples: "His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them" (Mark 9:2). In addition, he was conversing with Elijah and Moses.

5. Matt 16:16: Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ, the son of living God.

6. Matt 14:32: The disciples confess Jesus as the son of God after Jesus walks on the water.

B. Jesus' References to Himself as Son of God

1. Matt 11:25-27 = Luke 10:21-22 

Matthew 11

25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Luke 10

21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 22 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Jesus refers to himself as the son (of God); what he says implies that, by virtue of being the son, he has a unique relationship to God. This unique relationship means that to him alone have all things been delivered, meaning that to the son has been given knowledge and authority withheld from others. Only the son knows the Father and the Father knows the son's true identity, implying that the Jesus as the son is more than he appears to be. The son may reveal the Father to others of his choosing. In this case, Jesus' use of the phrase "son" is not a synonym for the Davidic Messiah, since in common Jewish understanding the latter was a human being called to a particular salvation-historical role.

2. Mark 13:32 (= Matt 24:36)

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus says that no one knows the last days or hours, not the angels, not even the son; this reference to himself as the son implies that he has a special relationship with the Father, but even this relationship does not allow him access to knowledge of the time of the end.

3.2.2. The Gospel of John

A. Jesus as Son (of God)

In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the son (of God) and is referred to as the son. In addition, he frequently refers to the Father in such a way as to imply a unique relationship with him as son. The stress is not on Jesus' identity as the Davidic Messiah, for which the term "son of God" can function as a synonym, but on the relational meaning of the term. But some uses of "son of God" in John are intended merely as synonyms for the Davidic Messiah. By calling himself "son," Jesus is claiming a unique relationship to God (the Father). In such contexts, Jesus speaks to a restricted audience, not to the general public indiscriminately.

1. John 1:47-49

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit." 48 Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." 49 Nathanael answered Him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel."

Nathanael confesses that Jesus is the son of God, and Jesus accepts it. Nathanael probably intends "son of God" to be a designation for the Davidic Messiah, since it is in apposition to "King of Israel."

2. John 5:16-30, 36-45

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17 Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the son also does. 20 For the Father loves the son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the son, 23 that all may honor the son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the son does not honor the Father, who sent him. 24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the son of man. 28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me....36 "I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 "I do not accept praise from men, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? 45 "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.

Jesus discourses about himself as the son and his relation to the Father: 1. The son works as the Father works (5:17); 2. But the son only does what his sees his Father do (5:19); 3. The Father loves the son and shows him all that he does (5:20); 4. The son gives life to whom he will (5:21); 5. The Father has entrusted all judgment to the son (5:22); 6. The dead will hear the voice of the son and live (5:25); 7. As the Father has life in himself so he has granted the son to have life in himself (5:26); 8. The son does the work that the Father has given him to do, and this testifies that the Father has sent him (5:36). (The "Jews" tried to kill Jesus because he was calling God his Father, which they interpreted as his making himself equal with God [5:18].)

3. John 6:45-46

45 It is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught of God" (Is 54:13; Jer 31:34). Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to me. No one has seen the Father, except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.

Jesus says that no one has seen the Father, by which he means God, except the one who is from the Father, referring to himself. Jesus is claiming that he alone has seen, or knows, God, because he is from God. Implicitly, by calling God the Father, he is calling himself the son of God.

4. John 6:57

Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

Jesus says that just as the living Father has sent him and he lives because of the Father, so the one who feeds on him will live because of him. By calling God the Father, Jesus implies his identity as the son.

5. John 8:18-19

18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me." 19 Then they asked him, "Where is your father?" "You do not know me or my Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew me, you would know my Father also."

Jesus says that if he did judge his decisions would be correct because he stands with his Father who has sent him. He adds, "If you knew me you would know my Father also." By calling God his Father, Jesus implies that he is the son of God in a unique sense.

6. John 8:36, 23

Jesus says that if the son—referring to himself—sets a person free, then he or she will be truly free: "So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed (8:36). By son he means "son of God," implying a unique relationship to God the Father. The freedom of which he speaks is freedom from sin and its consequences. In this same context, Jesus says to his opponents, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world (8:23). The implication is that as the son Jesus is not of this world and not from below, by which is meant an ordinary human being. Rather he his origin is "from above," by which is meant God or the realm of God.

7. John 10:14-15

14 I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, 15 even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Jesus claims that the Father knows him and he knows the Father in a unique way. Calling God "the Father" implies Jesus self-identity as the son.

8. John 10:30

Jesus says, "I and the Father are one" (10:30). The oneness consists both in unity of purpose and a more profound unity of being. Jesus use of the term "my Father" implies his view of himself as "son of God."

9. John 10:31-38

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" 33 "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." 34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods' [Ps 82:6]? 35 If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's son'? 37 Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38 But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."

Jesus is interpreted by his enemies as making himself out to be God by calling himself the son (of God); he defends his assertion with an argument from minor to major: If God calls "gods" to whom the word of God came (Ps 82:6), how much more should Jesus be called God's son, and not be accused of blasphemy. Jesus is not asserting that everyone has the right to call himself "son" (of God) in the same sense that he does; rather he is claiming a unique relationship to God, which he expresses by means of "son." No one should be able to deny this. He explains obliquely that the relationship he as the son has with God the Father is that of a mutual indwelling: the Father is in me, and I in the Father. This mode of being related to God is unique to Jesus. Proof of his unique relationship to God the Father is his ability to do only what God could do, his miracles ("works").

10. John 11:25-27

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the son of God, even he who comes into the world."

Jesus accepts the designations Christ and son of God from Martha. In this case, these seem to be synonymous, so that son of God implies nothing about Jesus' unique relationship to God.

11. John 14:7-9

7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; from now on you know him, and have seen him." 8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?

Jesus identifies "seeing" him in the sense of having experiential knowledge of him as the same as "seeing" his Father, by which he means knowing God. This is not true of anyone else, and so implies Jesus' sense of being uniquely related to God the Father. Calling God "my Father" implies Jesus' sense of unique sonship or otherwise he would have said "our Father."

12. John 14:10-11

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father abiding in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.

Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him and that it is the Father who is in him who is doing his work (see 10:38). To describe his relationship to God the Father using this spatial meas this mutual indwelling implies a unique relationship. Proof that this is true is the fact that Jesus alone can do the works of God, by which he means miracles beyond the ability of human beings. Jesus' reference to God as "the Father" impies his sense of sonship.

13. John 15:21-23

21 But all these things they will do to you for my name's sake, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also.

Jesus says that the one who hates him hates his Father also. The implication is an identity between him and God the Father, not shared by anyone else. Jesus' use of the phrase "my Father" implies a unique sonship: Jesus as son of God..

B. Jesus' Pre-Existence (John 8:56-58)

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad. 57 So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" 58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

Jesus says, "Before Abraham was I am," which is not only a claim to pre-existence but a claim to equality and even identity with God, since "I am" is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses (Exod 3:14).


Question

In what sense does Jesus use the term son of God of himself?

 

4. Jesus as Son of Man

Unlike "Christ" and "son of God," the title "the son of man" is absent from the theological vocabulary of the early church. Even though Jesus refers to himself most frequently in the gospels as "the son of man," sometimes in indisputable dependence on Dan 7:13 "one like a son of man," Paul, for example, never uses the term in his description of Jesus. In fact, outside of the gospels, the term occurs only in Acts 7:56 and Rev 1:13; 14:14, both of which are clear allusions to Dan 7:13 ("son of man" also occurs in Heb 2:6 as part of a quotation from Ps 8:5). There has been much debate over the meaning of this term, since the term (the) son of man (bar 'enash or bar 'enosh and bar nash or bar nasha') in Aramaic can be an idiomatic means of self-reference and also seems to be a pre-Christian messianic title. It seems that Jesus uses the term "the son of man" both idiomatically as a self-reference and titularly as a messianic title, sometimes at the same time. He does this deliberately to conceal partially his belief that he will assume the future salvation-historical role of the Danielic son of man.

4.1. Relgious Historical Background

4.1.1. Son of Man as Eschatological Figure in Second-Temple Judaism

The Aramaic term "son of man" (bar 'enash) appears in Dan 7:13-14, where the eschatological kingdom is symbolized as the coming of "one like a son a man," in contradistinction to the four beasts representing four worldly kingdoms. This "one like a son of man" comes with the clouds of heaven; he approaches the ancient of days and is given an everlasting kingdom. To come on the clouds of heaven symbolizes the heavenly or divine origin of the kingdom. In the second-Temple text known as Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) there are references to the / that "son of man," in which the term is a title denoting a pre-existent being from heaven who descends to earth to sit upon the throne of judgment, to destroy the wicked of the earth, to deliver the righteous, and to reign in a kingdom of glory (1 En. 46:2-4; 48:2; 62:5-7, 13-14; 69:27-29). The same figure is also called "the Elect One" (49.2-4; 51.5a, 2-3; 61.8-9; 62.1), "the Righteous and Elect One" (53.6), "the Lord's Anointed" (48.10; 52.4) and even "the Light of the Gentiles" (dependent on the description of the servant of Yahweh in Isa 42:6; 49:6) (48.4). Clearly, son of man is a title for the Messiah, but as Messiah he exceeds his biblical parameters as simply a descendent of David. What apparently happened is that the "one like a son of man," as a symbol of the nation Israel destined to receive an eschatological kingdom, was individualized and identified with the Davidic Messiah, who would rule in that eschatological kingdom. That Davidic Messiah then becomes more than a human descendent of David. In addition, although the actual phrase "son of man" does not occur there, 4 Ezra 13 also understands the one like a son of man in Dan 7 as an eschatological deliverer and judge; he is, in other words, a messianic figure. Thus, it is probable that at the time of Jesus, (the) son of man functioned as a messianic title, denoting a pre-existent eschatological deliverer and judge; such a conception has its origins in a messianic and individualizing interpretation of "one like a son of man" in Dan 7:13-14.

J. T. Milik argues that the Similitudes of Enoch is a Christian work written originally in Greek influenced by Jesus' reference to himself as "the son of man" in gospels. He hypothesizes that it displaced the original second part of 1 Enoch, identified by Milik as the Book of Giants, fragments of which were discovered among the DSS (The Books of Enoch). If Milik's thesis is correct, then 1 Enoch 37-71 cannot be used a evidence for a pre-Christian use of son of man as a messianic title and therefore as a religious-historical background to Jesus' own self-understanding. Apart from its absence from the DSS, however, there is no evidence that the Similitudes of Enoch is a Christian composition. There is no distinctly Christian content in these texts. It seems more reasonable to assume that, even if the Similitudes of Enoch are post-Christian, the titular use of the son of man to refer to the Messiah is pre-Christian; this explains Jesus' use of the son of man in the gospels.

4.1.2. "Son of Man" as Idiom of Self-Reference

The phrase "son of man" (bar 'enash or bar 'enosh) occurs as an idiom in Syrian and Aramaic texts from the pre-Christian period with either a generic sense (a human being) (1QapGen 21.13; 11QtgJob 9.9; 26.3) or with an indefinite sense (someone) (Sefire III.16) (Fitzmyer, Luke, 1.208-209; Collins, Daniel, 304-10). Furthermore, G. Vermes seeks to provide evidence from post-Christian talmudic writings that the phrase "son of man" (bar nash or bar nasha) can be used as a circumlocution for "I" or "me" ("The Use of bar nash / bar nasha' in Jewish Aramaic"; "Jesus the son of man" in Jesus the Jew). The purpose of using the term "son of man" in this manner is for the sake of modesty or delicacy to avoid the directness of using the first person pronoun.  M. Casey later modifies Vermes' position conceding that in examples cited by Vermes the term "son of man" in each of its uses denotes a class of human beings, but a class that includes the speaker, so that the term is still a form of self-designation (Son of Man).  (Lindars likewise agrees with Vermes that "son of man" is used as a means of self-reference, but criticizes him for not recognizing that the phrase is generic; critical of Casey also, he argues that the "idiomatic use of the generic article" (24)—"the son of man" [bar (e)nasha'] [rather than the anarthrous "son of man" (bar (e)nash)]—by which the speaker specifies a group of people with whom he identifies, stands behind Jesus' use of the term "son of man" [Jesus Son of Man, 17-28].)  Vermes' examples are admittedly late and for that reason are sometimes dismissed as irrelevant for a determination of the meaning of "son of man" for the time of Jesus (see Fitzmyer, "The NT Title 'Son of Man' Philologically Considered" in A Wandering Aramean, 143-60). Nevertheless, Vermes reasons that some of the later use of the term (the) son of man may reach back to an earlier period ("The Present State of the 'Son of Man' Debate," JJS 29 (1978) 123-34). Since in the gospels Jesus does indeed use the phrase "the son of man" as a simple self-designation, Vermes' position  is probably correct. Whether Jesus only intended the term "son of man" as a circumlocution is, however, debatable (see Caragounis, The Son of Man, 27-28).

Vermes, Casey and Lindars argue that the only authentic occurrences of "(the) son of man" are those that are self-references. On this theory, the church introduced the idea of the son of man as a christological title and created other son of man sayings. (Such scholars often argue that there was no pre-Christian son of man christology.) The early church came to believe that Jesus would return as eschatological judge. Because Jesus used the idiom "(the) son of man" self-referentially, and because this idiom coincidentally reminded people of the figure in Dan 7:13, "one like a son of man," who could be interpreted as an individual, the early church began to refer to Jesus as future judge as the son of man.  Thus there evolved many sayings in which Jesus speaks of himself as the son of man who will return at the end to judge the world. Such a position, however, is too one-sided.

4.2. Synoptic Gospels

4.2.1. Idiomatic Use of "Son of Man"

A. That the term "the son of man" is an idiomatic for self-reference is evidenced by the fact that in one version of a synoptic tradition, one finds "I" or "me," whereas in its parallel, the idiom "son of man" occurs.  In other words, in some of the gospel traditions translated into Greek, "I" or "me" and "son of man" are interchangeable; this probably reflects the Aramaic substratum of the gospel tradition, in which "(the) son of man" can be an idiomatic self-reference.

1. Mark 8:27 = Matt 16:13

Mark 8

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"

Matthew 16

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

It is clear that in this case "son of man" (even in Greek) is nothing more than an idiom of self-reference. On the assumption that Matthew's version derives from Mark, then Matthew change the "I" to "son of man," perhaps knowing that this was Jesus' actual Aramaic usage.

2. Luke 6:22 = Matt 5:11

Luke 6

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Matthew 5

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Jesus pronounces people "blessed" because of their allegiance to him (he means that they will be blessed in the eschatological future).  In Luke's version Jesus says "because of the son of man"; Matthew's version reads "because of me." Probably there were two variations of the same tradition in circulation, one which translated the Aramaic Vorlage literally as "son of man," whereas the other version rendered it less literally—but more comprehensibly to a Greek readership—as "me."

3. Luke 12:8 = Matt 10:32

Luke 12:8

I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.

Matthew 10:32

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.

Jesus ties a person's status before God at final judgment to that person's response to him and his proclamation.  It seems that there are two different versions of this saying with some slight variations in expression, reflecting probably two independent translations from the Aramaic. It is likely that in the original Aramaic version Jesus uses "son of man" (bar 'enash or bar nasha') as an idiom of self-reference, which in one translation into Greek was rendered literally as "the son of man" (ho huios tou anthropou) and in the other as "I."  Thus in Luke's version, Jesus says that "the son of man" will confess before the Father, whereas the Matthean text reads "I will confess."

B. Since the phrase "(the) son of man" can be an idiomatic self-reference (in Aramaic and then later in Greek translation), it is not surprising to discover some uses of the phrase in the gospel tradition in which it means nothing more than "I," with no obvious or necessary messianic implications.

1. Luke 9:58 = Matt 8:20 

Luke 9

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head."

Matthew 8

19Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go. 20 "Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head."

In response to the pledge of a man to follow him wherever he goes, Jesus warns the man that this may entail homelessness and a certain amount of discomfort. He expresses this poetically by saying, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head." By the term "son of man," it seems that Jesus means nothing more than "I" or someone in my situation.

2. Luke 7:31-35 = Matt 11:16-19 

Matthew 11

16 "To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 17 "`We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' 19 The son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

Luke 7

31 "To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: "`We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.' 33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, `He has a demon.' 34 The son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."' 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children."

Jesus contrasts his generation's response to John and himself. John was said to be demonized because of his ascetic lifestyle, whereas the non-ascetic Jesus is accused of being "a glutton and a drunkard." In this tradition, Jesus refers to himself as "son of man," which seems to mean nothing more than "I."

3. Luke 12:10 = Matt 12:32; see Mark 3:28-29

Luke 12:10

And everyone who speaks a word against the son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

Matthew 12:32

Anyone who speaks a word against the son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Although the meaning of this saying is disputed, it seems that Jesus makes a distinction between speaking against him personally and repudiating his mission, i.e., denying that he is empowered by Holy Spirit. An insult against Jesus is not necessarily a rejection of his mission, but to judge that Jesus is empowered otherwise than by the Holy Spirit (by Satan or an evil spirit) is to commit a sin that cannot be pardoned, since one has rejected the means by which eschatological forgiveness comes to Israel. In this context, Jesus uses the phrase "the son of man" with the meaning of "I" or possibly with the more inclusive meaning of "I and any other human being."

4.2.2. Jesus' Use of Son as Man as Having Messianic Self-Reference

There are some instances where Jesus refers to himself as (the) son of man (bar 'enash or bar 'enash), but means more than "I" or someone in my situation. In such cases, he appears to be identifying himself with the exalted, messianic figure known as (the) son of man, especially in regard to his future role as judge, when he will appear at the end of the age (some of these passages have already been examined.) Jesus' sayings in which he is identified as the future son of man are found in both a non-rejection rejection and a rejection context, and are usually directed to his disciples or to his opponents, not to the crowds. In a non-rejection context, Jesus uses the term to refer to his future role at the culmination of the Kingdom of God. In a rejection context, Jesus refers to his assumption of the salvation-historical role of son of man as occurring only after his suffering and death, as his return. In some of these son of man-sayings the allusion to Dan 7:13 is undeniable. In addition, Jesus' depiction of himself as the son of man resembles that found in the Similitudes of Enoch, insofar as Jesus' self-designation as such implies his role as eschatological judge; this seems to indicate that there was a son of man christology antedating Jesus which he adopted to explain his future role as king and eschatological judge.

A. Mark 8:38

For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the son of man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

In a rejection context, Jesus explains to would-be disciples that following him will be difficult because his generation has rejected him and his proclamation. But the one who is ashamed of Jesus now will be condemned when Jesus as the son of man will return to judge (Mark "with his holy angels; see Dan 7:10 and 1 En 61:10 for references to angels). This saying assumes a period of time to elapse between Jesus' departure as rejected and his return in his capacity as son of man. This saying has been taken to imply that Jesus distinguishes between himself and the son man, the latter being an apocalyptic figure who will vindicate him and those who heeded his words (Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man, 57-60; Tödt, The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition, 40-47)  The apparent distinction between Jesus and the son of man, however, reflects Jesus' distinct salvation-historical roles corresponding to his two appearances: it is as Jesus in the present is different from Jesus in the future, who will then assume salvation-historical role of son of man.

B. Mark 13:26-27 (= Matt 24:30-31 = Luke 21:27)

26 Then they will see the son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.

The reference to the coming of the son of man "coming in clouds" (Mark 13:26), "coming on the clouds of the sky" (Matt 24:30) or "coming in a cloud" (Luke 21:27) are unmistakable allusions to the Danielic son of man (Dan 7:13).  Jesus is identifying himself with the eschatological figure of the son of man that developed from the representative use of the phrase found in Dan 7:13. Jesus explains that his appearance as the son of man will occur at the end this age, the time of final deliverance and judgment, at the culmination of the Kingdom of God. He is doing so probably under the influence of a son of man christology as reflected in the Similitudes of Enoch.

C. Mark 14:61-62 (= Matt 26:63-64 = Luke 22:68-69)

61 But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning him, and saying to him, "Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?" 62 And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see "the son of man sitting at the right hand of power" and "coming with the clouds of heaven."

At his trial, Jesus reluctantly agrees that he considers himself to be the Davidic Messiah, but immediately he qualifies his confession by saying that his Messiahship consists in his future exaltation as the son of man and his return. In a sense he is not yet the Messiah. Jesus is clearly alluding to the figure in Dan 7:13, which he and others in his day have interpreted as a messianic figure who will appear at the end. Jesus' statement about "sitting at the right hand of power" is an allusion to the messianic interpretation of Ps 110:1, which he is interpreting intertextually with Dan 7:13, in a pesher manner (see Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin).

D. Matt 19.28

And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the son of man will sit on his glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

In a non-rejection context, Jesus says that at the paliggenesia the son of man will sit upon his throne in glory (see Twelve Disciples). The paliggenesia denotes the culmination of the Kingdom of God, which includes the restoration of the twelve tribes to the land. The use of "son of man" is certainly self-referential, so that Jesus is speaking about his future role at the time of the culmination of the Kingdom of God. But the use of the term is also intertextually allusive of Dan 7:9-27, so that Jesus is implicitly identifying his future self as Daniel’s "one like the son of man": "He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power" (Dan 7:13-14).

E. Luke 17:22-24, 26-35; 12:39-40 = Matt 24:27, 37-39, 42-44

Luke 17:22 Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the son of man, but you will not see it. 23 Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. 24 For the son of man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.
Matt 24:27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the son of man.

Luke 17:26 "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the son of man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 "It will be just like this on the day the son of man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot's wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left."
Matt 24:37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the son of man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the son of man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
 

Luke 12:39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

 

Matt 24:42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

In a rejection context, Jesus refers to the "days of the son of man" or "the coming of the son of man" by which he means the time of the end when he will return, at which time he will assume the role of Daniel’s "one like the son of man" (Dan 7:13). His own return as the "son of man" will bring disobedient human history to a close. He compares the suddenness of his coming as son of man to the appearance of lightning. In fact, the days of Noah offer a parallel to the days of the son of man:  just as in Noah's time, so in the days of the son of man judgment will come upon the world suddenly and unexpectedly. This is why the disciples are exhorted to be watchful.

F. Other references to Jesus as the future, eschatological son of man, the coming king and judge, include: Luke 18:8 "When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"; Luke 21:36 "And to stand before the son of man"; Matt 13:41 "The son of man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness"; Matt 16:28 "until they see the son of man coming in his kingdom"; Matt 25:31 "when the son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne."

Some scholars suggest that Jesus actually envisioned the coming of an eschatological deliverer and judge called the son of man, distinct from himself, who would come in the future and vindicate his mission. Thus those saying where Jesus refers to the future coming of the son of man as judge do not refer originally to himself, but to this other eschatological figure. These alone of the son of man sayings are to be accepted as historically authentic, because they are discontinuous with the church's later identification of Jesus with the son of man. The church eventually introduced other non-eschatological instances of Jesus' use of son of man into the gospel tradition (see Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition; Tödt, The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition; Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man). This view is unnecessarily skeptical and does not take into consideration the fact that the early church did not refer to Jesus as "son of man," so that it would have no motivation to introduce other, inauthentic son-of-man sayings into the gospel tradition.

4.2.3. Unclear Uses of the Term "Son of Man"

There is a class of son of man saying in which it is not clear whether Jesus means simply "I" or the messianic figure of the son of man. No doubt, his hearers would have been similarly confused.

A. Mark 2:10 = Matt 9:6 = Luke 5:24

Mark 2:10

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic.

Matthew 9:6

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home."

Luke 5:24

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."

It is not clear whether Jesus is saying "I have authority to forgive sins" or "I as the Davidic Messiah have authority to forgive sins." His hearers would probably be equally undecided as to Jesus' meaning.

B. Mark 2:28 = Matt 12:8 = Luke 6:5

A Markan conflict story concludes with Jesus saying, "So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." The question is whether Jesus saying that he as a human being has authority over the Sabbath, in which case all human beings would have an equal share of that authority, or is he saying that he as the Davidic Messiah has such authority. It is probably intentionally ambiguous.

C. Luke 19:10 (see Matt 18:11)

When he responds to the criticism that he associates with sinners by saying, "The son of man came to seek and save what was lost," Jesus could be interpreted as making a claim to messiahship, to being the son of man, or as simply stating his understanding of his mission, so that "the son of man" is equivalent to "I."

D. Luke 22:48

Jesus asks Judas whether he intends to betray "the son of man" with a kiss, a gesture of friendship.  Was Jesus asking whether he was betraying the Messiah or did he intend "son of man" as merely a self-reference?

4.3. Gospel of John

In the Gospel of John, Jesus sometimes refers to himself as son of man. He affirms that the son of man pre-exists, and is sent by the Father into the world. In John 3:13, he says, "No one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven, the son of man." In this passage, Jesus says about himself that his origin is from heaven, by which he means from God; this presupposes his pre-existence. Likewise in John 6:62, Jesus says, "What then if you see the son of man ascending to where he was before." To ascend is to return to God from whom he was sent. Jesus also says that he as the son of man has been given the authority to give eternal life: "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give to you, for on him the Father, God, has set his seal (6:27). Thus, Jesus' understanding of the son of man in the Gospel of John is similar to that found in Similitudes of Enoch. (Jesus also speaks about the necessity of the death of the son of man, which has already been considered [John 3:14; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31].) In dialogue with the man healed at the Pool of Siloam, Jesus asks him whether he believes in the son of man (9:35). From the context, he means more than "me" by the phrase "son of man," since the man responds by saying, "Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?" Rather, Jesus understands it as a title, which he claims for himself (9:37).

4.4. Summary

It is probable that Jesus stategically chose to refer to himself as "son of man." Because of the ambiguity of meaning of the term "son of man," Jesus, in using this term, could be interpreted as meaning "I or someone in my situation," "the eschatological figure of the son of man," or "I, as the eschatological figure of the son of man." His frequent and public use of this ambiguous term is consistent with his reticence to disclose his identity too readily. Yet the term is equally useful to disclose his self-understanding as the one who will come in the future to bring judgment, since there was a ready-to-hand son of man christology prevalent in his day. In some cases, however, his hearers could be not certain whether or not in his use of the phrase "son of man" Jesus intended to identify himself with the son of man as future eschatological judge; rather they may have imagined that Jesus was speaking of an eschatological figure other than himself. It seems that Jesus distances himself from the title son of man because he has yet to assume this role as eschatological judge in the future; in a sense he is not yet that son of man. It should be stressed also that Jesus' identification as son of man implies his pre-existence before his appearance in human history.


Question

What does Jesus mean when he refers to himself as the son of man?

 


Herod's
Palace at Jericho

Herod the Great built for himself a winter palace at Jericho, Being 1,000 feet below sea level, Jericho remains warm in the winter, when in other parts of Judea there may even be snow. Josephus writes, "The climate is so mild that the inhabitants wear linen when snow is falling throughout the rest of Judea" (War 4.473). Herod's engineers diverted water from springs in the nearby Wadi Qelt to supply water for gardens, baths and a large swimming pool. Large palm trees were planted for shade

 

5. Conclusion

Jesus did consider himself to be the Davidic Messiah or the son of God, but he was reluctant to let this be known too widely. When he spoke of himself as the son of God, he meant more than Davidic Messiah: he was usually referring to the unique relationship that he had with the Father. Jesus only identified himself publicly by the ambiguous term "son of man." The reason for Jesus' partial concealment of his identity is probably twofold.  First, there was the danger of people assuming wrongly that his main purpose was to lead a popular rebellion against the Romans and their Jewish collaborators. Second, Jesus aimed to present only enough data to cause people to inquire further; he wanted to prevent the apathetic, the unsympathetic and the hostile from knowing fully about his identity and purposes. Further inquiry was a manifestation of faith, which had its origin in the revelatory work of God (see Matt 16:17). As Ben Meyer expressed it, "Jesus' whole public performance was meant to be deciphered. His public life was accordingly a lived parable. It was designed to supply Israel with data apt to generate the conclusion: This is indeed "the coming one!" ("Master Builder and Copestone of the Portal: Images of the Mission of Jesus," Toronto Journal of Theology 9 (1993): 187-209, esp. 196.)
 

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