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Jesus Is the Son of Man (1)


Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man more than any other title in the Gospels. Though this title was most familiar to Jesus, nevertheless it is the most obscure to modern readers. Opinions vary on just what Jesus meant by calling himself the Son of Man. Some believe the title refers to an angelic heavenly creature. Others think it denotes Jesus’ human nature (as opposed to his divine nature). Many consider “son of man” to simply be Jesus’ way of saying “I.” Still others think the title relates to Jesus’ suffering and death or his future role as the returning cosmic victor. Rather than consider each of these theories in turn, instead we will build our understanding from the ground up, starting with the Old Testament. Then we will move to consider two extra-biblical Jewish texts before finally working on the New Testament.

Son of Man in the Old Testament

“Son of man” usages in the Old Testament divide into three categories. The first twelve usages place son of man in parallel with man. Here are two examples.

Num. 23.19a
God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;

Psalm 8.4
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?

In both of these verses synonymous parallelisms equate man with son of man. This is a standard feature of Hebrew poetry that helps us understand how words and phrases are similar to each other. In fact, every single usage of “son of man” is found in this kind of construction up until the book of Ezekiel. So the first conclusion of our study is that son of man was just another way of saying human being.

More than more than eighty-six percent of “son of man” occurrences are found in the prophet Ezekiel. Each time God is addressing Ezekiel:

Ez. 2.1
Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!”

Ez. 11.4
“Therefore, prophesy against them, son of man, prophesy!”

The phrase does not denote a special role that Ezekiel plays; it merely stresses the fact that he is a human being as opposed to God or the other non-human entities mentioned throughout the book. Another prophet who is also addressed as son of man is Daniel:

Dan. 8.17
So he [the angel, Gabriel] came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end.”

Like the examples in Ezekiel, this verse contrasts the fact that Daniel is a human with God and the angel who are giving him a revelation about the future. So far, out of the 107 instances of “son of man” in the Hebrew Scriptures 106 of them are just another way of saying human being. Even so, one more verse remains, and this text more than any other provided the impetus for thinking about son of man as a particular title (i.e. the Son of Man).

Dan. 7.13-14
13 “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.
14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

Daniel had just seen a startling vision of various world empires which appeared as beasts coming out of the chaotic ocean waters. Each of these empires is described briefly until finally the prophet’s attention turns upwards to see one “like a son of man” coming with the clouds to God and was given eternal rulership over the whole world. In this vision, son of man, like every other instance in the Old Testament stresses the humanity of the person. As opposed to the beastly empires at last a humane kingdom would supplant all others. This one resembling a son of man stands for both the nature of the final empire and it as well as the character of its ruler. Though, little more can be deduced about this mysterious human figure from Daniel, we can observe how Jewish literature thought about this text thereafter.

Next week we will look at 4 Ezra and 1 Enoch to see how extra-biblical Jewish literature talked about “son of man” around the time of Jesus…

16 Responses to “Jesus Is the Son of Man (1)”

  1. on 20 Oct 2010 at 12:43 pmFiona

    Hi Sean
    Thanks, this is timely and very interesting. So far you have confirmed what I (thought, wasn’t sure).I’m looking forward to the next bit!

  2. on 20 Oct 2010 at 6:50 pmAntioch

    Sean – I’m looking at the Hebrew for these passages. All of them use ‘bn adm’ except the Daniel 7:13 passage which uses ‘kbr ansh’ (translated as ‘son of mortal’ but also ansh = enash = man).

    Do you ascribe any significance to the different wording?

  3. on 20 Oct 2010 at 8:43 pmDoubting Thomas

    When you said that you had only been a Christian for about a year, I assumed that you were an atheist before this. I guess it’s because I was a staunch atheist for almost 20 years. But I don’t know of any atheists that can read Hebrew, so I am guessing that I am way off base on your background. I guess that just shows we should never make assumptions about people… 🙂

  4. on 20 Oct 2010 at 9:26 pmrobert

    Very good catch, I am also wondering why the words translated “Man” in Numbers 23:19 arent the same words in the Hebrew or Latin text.
    The first use of man is the hebrew word ‘iysh translated In KJV man 1002 times, men 210, one 188, husband 69, any 27, misc 143 .
    The second use is the hebrew word ‘adam translated In KJV man 408 times, men 121, Adam 13, person(s) 8, common sort + 07230 1, hypocrite 1.
    It really makes little sense to translate both these words as “man” when used in same sentence.
    Son of mortal or even possibly The Adam might be a good alternative but to tell the truth I think the phrase is just a hebrew idiom for prophet and the use of 2 separate words is showing this.

  5. on 21 Oct 2010 at 4:47 amWolfgang

    Hi Sean,

    I’d stick with the biblical insights you have thus far provided, especially since things are rather conclusive and simple.

    I can already see it coming and fear that going to extra biblical Jewish literature will confuse the issue forever after … 😉


  6. on 23 Oct 2010 at 1:11 amAntioch


    Never a true atheist, though I will say I flirted with it for a spell. And not a reader of Hebrew, but I have found and reference often the Greek/Hebrew interlinear Bibles. It amazes me how different translations can be and sometimes ‘going to the greek’ can be very enlightening (though it usually just confuses me further).

    20 years as an atheist, huh? What pulled you back from the dark side?

  7. on 23 Oct 2010 at 9:31 amDoubting Thomas

    You asked, “20 years as an atheist, huh? What pulled you back from the dark side?”

    It was a very humble person who didn’t talk about her faith, and from what I understand never spent any time reading her bible. I was impressed with the way she lived her life. She taught children that were physically and mentally handicapped. I volunteered, and helped her on several occasions with these children. I couldn’t believe the patience that was required, just to do simple things like feeding them.

    I’ll give you just one example. There was a child that was about 8 years old when he arrived in her class. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, and most people would have thought he was unteachable. Within about a year and a half she had taught him to walk, of course he had to use a walker, and she had taught him basic sign language so he could communicate his basic needs.

    This teacher that I am talking about was my wife…

  8. on 23 Oct 2010 at 10:32 amJaco


    She must have been a lovely, lovely lady (Proverbs 31)


  9. on 23 Oct 2010 at 11:07 amDoubting Thomas

    Thank you Jaco. She was…

  10. on 23 Oct 2010 at 12:09 pmRay

    When someone or some being, or something of God shows up in the Bible as a man or in the form of a man, when such a one is someone or something from heaven, I will wonder who and what it or he is.

    It seems to me that an angel can appear to men as a man, that Jesus can communicate himself through the fashion of an angel, that an angel can be the Lord’s messenger, that looking at his angel can be like looking at Jesus himself as he may want a man to see him at the time, that Jesus himself could appear to a man in the appearance of an angel if he wants, that God can appear to a man as a man or as an angel, that the appearance of an angel of God can be God’s messenger to let a man know how God would like to be perceived by the man at the time, and so by all of this, it seems to me that I don’t know much about who’s who and what’s what in the Bible when it comes to persons and things, whether beings or angels, when they come from the heavenly realm into manifestation in this world.

    And so I need the holy spirit to be my interpreter if and wherever I may encounter such a thing, being, or person of God, or God himself by way of, or in likeness to such a thing, person, or being.

  11. on 23 Oct 2010 at 7:48 pmMark C.


    Not only can God or Jesus appear in those various ways, but also the devil or a demon. We are warned that counterfeits will be around with the express goal of deceiving us. This is why we must use the standard of the Scriptures, the CONFIRMED revelation of God’s Word, in addition to the holy spirit. Jaco put it well in the other thread:

    …as noble as it sounds (and certainly is) to depend on holy spirit to guide us into knowing God better, it still has to remain in harmony with CONFIRMED inspiration by holy spirit, namely, the Bible. To go along with “inspiration” alone can be very dangerous. We are warned against exactly that in 1 John 4:1

    Another word of caution is Gal. 1:8, 9. Even if I were to get a dream, an apparition or mysterious messages declaring to me as good news something different from what I learn to be truth in the Bible, those “messengers” are to be accursed.

    So, regardless of how much we “wait upon holy spirit” to teach us the truth; if what we arrive at is not in harmony with Scripture and the cognitive world of ancient CONFIRMED true believers, we cannot yield to the implications of those dogma, nor expect them to have proceeded from the True God.

  12. on 24 Oct 2010 at 4:05 pmAntioch


    She sounds like an angel.

    Am I understanding your post correctly that she died?

  13. on 24 Oct 2010 at 4:11 pmDoubting Thomas

    Yes, she died from breast cancer at the young age of 37. She wasn’t perfect, but she had this child like faith and wasn’t that interested in theology or doctrines and such. Although I did go to church with her and the kids every Sunday, she didn’t really like talking to much about her faith. But, it appeared to me that she tried to live her life, to the best of her ability, to do good and to please God. She certainly impressed and changed me, who like I said prior to this had been a staunch atheist for almost 20 years…

  14. on 24 Oct 2010 at 5:36 pmAntioch

    I’m so sorry. How bittersweet that her life led you to God but ended so young.

    There is a true story I read recently (Same kind of different as me) wherein a woman very strong in her faith was also taken at a fairly young age by cancer. One of the other people in the story had said that when God grabs you and moves you so, you also become a target for Satan – it seems similar to what happened with your wife. I’m not certain I believe that but it makes some sense.

    I will pray for you DT – that you may find comfort in God to help you with your loss. It seems like you have.


  15. on 24 Oct 2010 at 8:19 pmDoubting Thomas

    Thank you Antioch. Yes, thanks to God, I have found that inner peace…

  16. on 25 Oct 2010 at 11:16 amRay

    I think the term “the son of man” brings to mind a particular one who was born of a woman, the Christ.

    It seems to me that Jesus used the term “the son of man” to describe the Christ, (himself) instead of using the term “the son of God”, though the preaching of the gospel did indeed require him to
    present himself as God’s Son.

    The term “son of man” suggests to me humility, one of the great virtues of Christ.


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