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The person of Jesus Son of Man
Son of man, ben adam in Hebrew or bar nasha in Aramaic, is used throughout the gospels in
many contexts however what was exactly intended by this is disputed.
Given Jesus lived in a first century Jewish environment scholars turn to the use of son of man
in the old testament and other ancient texts finding three main uses:
Human being used as a way of describing any normal human being and Ezekiel addressed
himself as a son of man signifying he was a mere mortal, insignificant to God in his majesty
and glory and so is not a title you would give to someone special.
Heavenly judge the book of Daniel was written two hundred years before Jesus functioning
as a message to the Jewish people who were suffering, his message is that God will prevail and
save the Jews, he describes the enemies of the Jews like a bear and a lion so the son of man is
not a title but a saving figure, like a human. These ideas were developed later in Enoch where
the son of man has become a title and his saving role developed and extended.
I or me there are many rabbinic traditions in which son of man is used by rabbis to refer to
themselves in a roundabout way perhaps because of awe, reserve or humility.
There are 66 son of man sayings in the gospels and they split neatly into three categories of
Earthly sayings refer to earthly activities or pronouncements of Jesus "the son of man has
authority on earth to forgive sins" Mark 2:10
Suffering sayings refer to the future suffering of the son of man "Son of Man must undergo
great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and
after three days rise again." Mark 8:31
Future coming sayings to look at the future coming of the son of man in glory "For as
lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son
of Man." Matthew 24:27
Rudolf Bultmann (1958) believes that at the time of Jesus `Son of Man' was a Messianic
apocalyptic title. Since Jesus did not make any Messianic claims it is inconceivable that he
called himself `Son of Man'. None of the sayings go back to the historical Jesus. They originated
out of the `apocalyptic fervour' of early Christians. Some think this is a little extreme and
modify the view by saying that if Jesus did speak about the Son of Man, he certainly wasn't
referring to himself.
Some criticisms of this view hinge on Bultmann's reliance of the 1 Enoch `Son of Man' text,
which some date later than the time of Jesus. Others think that there are simply too many `Son
of Man' sayings to dismiss out of hand, and if the early church created them why is `Son of
Man' never used in creedal or confessional statements?
Morna Hooker thinks that Daniel 7 is the primary background to Jesus' `son of man' sayings.
She thinks that the Son of Man in Daniel is not `simply one who appears at the end of time to
act as judge: rather it is because he is Son of Man now i.e. elect, obedient, faithful and
therefore suffering that he will be vindicated Son of Man in the future: the eschatological
role of the Son of Man is based on his obedience to God now' (Morna Hooker, Son of Man in
the Gospel of Mark , 1973). Some of the `Son of Man' sayings in all categories therefore go back
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However, there are only two `Son of Man' sayings which directly allude to Daniel 7 (they are
Mark 13: 26 and Mark 14:62) and the authenticity of these passages is questioned on other
Geza Vermes, Barnabas Lindars, Maurice Casey and others argue that since Jesus was an
Aramaicspeaking Jew, the most likely background to the `Son of Man' sayings is the use of
`Son of Man' by the rabbis meaning `I or me or someone like me'.…read more