Richard Bauckham on “Son of Man”

Richard Bauckham on “Son of Man” May 18, 2024

My favorite religious study for about the past thirty years or more has been what is called “Son of Man study.” Richard Bauckham is a leading, British, New Testament scholar who specializes in Christology, Son of Man study, and Second Temple Judaism. I regard Richard Bauckham as an insightful and outstanding New Testament scholar, and I have four of his books in my library.

Last summer, Eerdmans published Bauckham’s first of a highly anticipated (at least among scholars) two volumes entitled Son of Man: Early Jewish Literature (447 pp.). This first volume is about Son of Man (SM) study especially in Daniel 7.13-14 and the parables of 1 Enoch, but also in 4 Ezra and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Bauckham has indicated that his second volume in this dual series is intended to address mostly how Jesus so often in the New Testament gospels identified himself as the Son of Man, which was way more than any other identification, and what he meant by it. I will now relate generally and very briefly what this first volume is about, not as a book review but only after reading a review of it by Benjamin E. Reynolds of Tyndale University, Toronto. This review was just now published in the Society of Biblical Literature’s Review of Biblical Literature.

So, in this first volume Bauckham analyzes this Son of Man figure in especially in Daniel 7.13-14, This text is part of a vision (or series of visions) the author of this book, Daniel, purported to have had that he records in Daniel 7.9-14. Verses 9-10 is a court scene that presents God as “the Ancient of Days” who takes his throne among other “thrones” as “the court sat for judgment” regarding matters on earth. I agree with Bauckham (in his The Book of Revelation) that the “thrones” in v. 9 are those of the 24 elders in heaven, who are angels and are only depicted in the Bible, and repeatedly so, in the book of Revelation. These 24 angels represent God’s royal council in heaven, and they lead the angelic worship of God in heaven. (However, it appears that Bauckham has changed his view on this, since Reynolds says Bauckham says the “thrones” in Dan 7.9 are earthly [66-68, 324].)

Daniel 7.13-14 reads as follows in the NIV, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was giving authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

I have always adhered to the common, Christian viewpoint of “one like a Son of Man” in Daniel 7.13-14, that it is a title and that Jesus used it to refer to himself in its shortened form “the Son of Man.” But Bauckham surprisingly does not think it is a title. And he does not think there was a Son of Man tradition, nor even that it means only a generic “man” or “that man,” as Maurice Casey does. Yet he admits that there was a Messianic Figure tradition in Second Temple Judaism. So, I will look forward to seeing how Bauckham thinks Jesus used this marker of himself, or if he did.

But there are several items in Bauckham’s first volume with which I agree even though he is a traditional Trinitarian and I am a former Trinitarian. (I call myself a “one God Christian,” meaning Jesus is Savior and risen Lord, but only the Father is God.) When studying eschatology in Daniel, one really needs to consider what at least the non-canonical 1 Enoch has to say about it. Bauckham surprisingly dates 1 Enoch to post-Second Temple Judaism–after 70 AD but still in the 1st c. CE–whereas the common view is that the date of origin of 1 Enoch (which is a collection of texts, probably by various authors) is the late 2nd c. or early 1st c. BCE.

Bauckham then disagrees with many Christian scholars, as I do, who assert that 1 Enoch 48.3 and 62.7 say the Son of Man is preexistent. Bauckham also argues, with which I agree, that the author of 1 Enoch is not saying the Messiah is a divine figure. Bauckham also points out that in Second Temple Judaism, the following texts were often combined to signify that they refer to the Messiah: Daniel 7.13-14, Isaiah 11.1-4; Psalm 2 about “Yahweh and his anointed,” and 2 Samuel 7.14.

So, it is refreshing for me that a distinguished Trinitiarian scholar like Dr. Richard Bauckham does not think some of these religious texts depict the Son of Man or the Messiah as a preexistent, divine figure as so many scholars do. Reynolds concludes his review by saying, “I look forward to volume 2 of this work,” and I do too.

[I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible. See my books about this: The Gospel Corrupted: When Jesus Was Made God (118 pp.) and The Restitution: Biblical Proof Jesus Is NOT God (570 pp.), both available at amazon.com.]

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