Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Meaning of the Term "Son of Man"

originally posted 6/5/2015

This blogpost should be read in conjunction with my blogpost: Jesus the True and Proper SON of God 

The following is partly a rearranging and reworking of previous blogposts (e.g. HERE, HERE, HERE ).

In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus' favorite self-designation is "Son of Man."

 In Jewish understanding being the "son" of someone or some thing is to possess the same nature as that thing or person. This understanding and concept that kind begets kind and like begets like in the Jewish mind finds its partial yet primary origin in Genesis chapter one where each species produces offspring with its own nature.

11 And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.- Gen. 1:11-12

So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.- Gen. 1:21

24    And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds---livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so.25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.- Gen. 1:24-25

Notice the Old Testament phrase "sons of the prophets" (e.g. 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1; 9:1). It meant that such persons were considered to be prophets themselves. To be called a "son of man" in the Old Testament meant to be a man (i.e. a human being). See the following Old Testament passages: Num. 23:19; Job 25:6; 35:8; Ps. 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa. 51:12; 56:2; Jer. 49:18; 49:33; 50:40; 51:43. The prophet Ezekiel was called by God "son of man" around 90 times! However, after the revelation of Dan. 7:13ff. the term "son of man" took on a new secondary eschatological meaning.

 13    "I saw in the night visions,
    and behold, with the clouds of heaven
        there came one like a son of man
    and he came to the Ancient of Days
        and was presented before him.
14    And to him was given dominion
        and glory and a kingdom,
    that all peoples, nations, and languages
        should serve him;
    his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
        which shall not pass away,
    and his kingdom one
        that shall not be destroyed. - Dan. 7:13-14

Compare that Old Testament passage with the following New Testament passage.

 And Jesus said, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven."- Mark 14:62

[The following is an excerpt from my blogpost titled Markan Christology]

Regarding Mark 14:62 and Mark 13:26 which allude to Dan. 7:13

This passage refers to the son of man "coming in the clouds." This is a clear reference to a divine being since in Semitic cultures only the gods (e.g.YHWH, Baal and other deities) rode on the clouds. They were the vehicles and chariots of the gods. According to Old Testament scholar Michael Heiser, Baal was the primary pagan God described and understood by pagans as the god who rode the clouds. [cued up at 1:29:32]. Everyone in the Semitic world knew about Baal. Baal was a major God. The cult of Baal was so pervasive and long lasting it endured till the time of the Romans. The Jews were in constant theological war against Baal worship. The Jews, in order to assert and make clear that YHWH (the God of Israel) was the true God rather than Baal, began describing YHWH in the Old Testament as the one who rode the clouds. Heiser goes on to say that in every instance of the Old Testament where a figure is riding the clouds it refers to YHWH (Deut. 33:26; Ps. 68:4, 33; Ps. 104:3; Isa. 19:1). With the one exception being Dan. 7:13 where the son of man is the one riding the clouds. This therefore strongly implies the divinity of the "Son of Man." Yet, Jesus applies that "Son of Man" passages to Himself. Jesus claimed to be the one who would be "coming with the clouds of heaven." The Septuagint in Dan. 7:14 states that people would "serve" the "son of man." According to James White (in his debate with Adnan Rashid) the underlying Greek word used in the LXX for "serve" refers to the highest kind of worship and service which only belongs to God. It's true that the Septuagint isn't an inspired translation of the Hebrew. Nevertheless, many of the 1st century Jews and Christians would have known this passage as it's found in a textual variant in the LXX and have known how Mark's claim that Jesus applied the passage to Himself is an indirect claim to full deity. This is why the High Priest and chief priests charged Jesus with blasphemy. He was claiming deity.
It should also be noted that in Mark 14:62 Jesus says "I am" (ego eimi in Greek). It's true that Jesus could merely be saying "I am [the Messiah]" without claiming to be deity. However, it's possible that the author of Mark is having Jesus use the Greek phrase "ego eimi" in order to have Jesus claim absolute deity, as the author of John in John 8:58 almost certainly did. Especially since Jesus uses the phrase in the context of claiming to be the Son of Man in Dan. 7:13. When Jesus responded in the way He did, the high priest charges Jesus with blasphemy.

What is blasphemy again? It is any reviling of God's name or person, or any affront to His majesty or authority. Or anything that takes away from the proper reverence and worship that God alone is rightly due. Therefore, one can blaspheme without claiming to be deity. One can also falsely claim to be deity and so commit blasphemy. In what way did the Council conclude that Jesus committed blasphemy?

Jesus doesn't seem to revile God's name or person. Apparently, the Jewish Council believed Jesus gave an affront to God's majesty and authority by 1. claiming to have or share God's authority OR possibly also 2. claiming to be deity. To commit the second includes the first but goes way beyond it.

In light of what was explained above, the term "Son of Man" as used by Jesus clearly implied more than merely being a human being. It was more than a term to Him, it was a title. A title suggesting a claim to full deity.

Notice how in Daniel's prophecy "one like a son of man" is described. Meaning, someone with the appearance or likeness of a human being rides on the clouds like the one true God. And so, we have here what appears to be a foreshadowing prophecy of the Messiah being a/the God-Man. God-like in one sense and Man-like in another sense. That nearly corresponds to the Christian doctrine of the incarnation whereby the 2nd person of the Trinity takes on a human nature without ceasing to be God or ceasing to possess His divine nature.

When one re-reads the Gospels and the instances where Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man, in many instances there seems to be a veiled claim to deity. For example:

The fact that Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic man suggests both omniscience and full divinity (Mark 2:1-12; Matt. 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26). It suggests omniscience on the part of Jesus because from all outward appearances Jesus was a mere human being. Who was he to forgive the sins of a person he knew nothing about. For all Jesus knew, the paralytic man was such a heinous sinner that that's why God punished him with paralysis. Who was he to reverse God's judgment? Or for all Jesus knew, the paralytic man was a relatively righteous person like Job who was suffering far beyond what he "deserved" relative to other human beings' just deserts and (incongruous) experience. Nevertheless, Jesus had the chutzpah (or nerve/guts/audacity) to forgive the paralytic of his sins.

Secondly, this incident suggests the full deity of Jesus because only God can forgive sins in that manner because ultimately all sin is an offense and an affront to God (directly, or indirectly because it's against humans who are made in God's image). The surrounding witnesses also knew and believed only God could forgive in that manner. There's a sense in which humans can forgive other humans for sins committed against them (i.e. the injured party). But the paralytic didn't sin against the human Jesus. They may have just met for the first time physically. The special sense in which Jesus forgave the paralytic was the kind of remission only God could rightfully dispense. That's why some in the crowd got angry at Jesus. It is true that later Jesus would grant the authority to remit sins to His disciples (John 20:23 [Possibly also Matt. 16:19; 18:18; 2 Cor. 2:6-10]). However, that was clearly a delegated authority which was only binding when it was consistent with the proclamation and reception of the gospel. The gospel of and about Jesus and His kingdom. The difference is that Jesus was the VERY FIRST human in a Jewish context to forgive sins. He did this contrary to all the cultural expectations of the orthodox Judaism(s) of the time. He did so as if it was His inherent prerogative rather than merely a delegated one. Moreover, Jesus did so by appeal to His being "the Son of Man" while on earth. Apparently in contrast to the Son of Man while in heaven.

Why was Jesus contrasting the Son of Man on earth with the Son of Man in heaven? Probably because He was alluding to Dan. 7:13. And so we've come full circle. The main point of this blogpost argues that Jesus' favorite self-designation - the Son of Man - was a subtle claim to deity. The forgiveness of the paralytic is just another example of a subtle (or not so subtle) claim to full deity. This is contrary to the popular claim by Unitarians and atheists that Jesus never claimed to be God (especially in the Synoptic Gospels).

 See also my blogposts:

Jesus the True and Proper SON of God

 Pre-Existence of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels

Also my comments on the parallels between Jesus coming with the clouds of heaven and Satan's attempt to replace God by ascending above the clouds of heaven. Apparently, what Jesus had inherently, Satan tried to usurp.





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