‘Son of Man’–The Dialogue– Part Eight

‘Son of Man’–The Dialogue– Part Eight January 11, 2024

Q. The frequent use of the phrase ‘Son of Man’ in the Gospels, without any direct explanation of its meaning has led to the supposition that there was a ‘Son of Man’ tradition in early Judaism developed out of reflection on Dan. 7, among other things, and that the tradition included speculation about a messianic Son of Man figure, perhaps witnessed to in 1 Enoch. One of the things that has bothered me about that sort of explanation is that if true, why exactly, with one exception in Acts, do the rest of the NT authors never draw on such a Son of Man history of tradition? How could they all not know about it, especially in the case of Paul the former Pharisee? On the surface, their silence suggests they never knew of such a developing tradition or even a trend in interpreting Dan. 7. How has the deafening silence of the rest of the NT about Son of Man struck you, and how ought that silence to be interpreted?


A. First, I think the phrase should be understood as a feature of Jesus’s idiolect, like other expressions peculiar to him, such as “Amen, I say to you…” The phrase “son of man” is very strange in Greek, but the Gospel writers wanted to preserve this distinctive way of talking about himself that Jesus adopted. This also explains why the phrase is never used elsewhere in the New Testament in this way. (Hebrews, of course, uses it in applying Psalm 8 to Jesus.) Revelation does apply Dan 7:13 to Jesus, but does so by using literally and precisely the phrase in Daniel: “[one] like a son of man” (English translations tend to obscure this). I think Paul alludes to the figure in Dan 7:13 when he speaks of the “man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:46). He means Jesus at the Parousia, and is doing some clever theological exegesis by contrasting this heavenly figure with the “man of dust”. There is no instance in Jewish literature in which the Danielic figure is called “the Son of Man.” Without an existing tradition in which this title was used, how could Jesus’s “son of man” be understood in that way? This is why careful study of the Jewish interpretations of Daniel 7 is really important.

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