Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Question #29 – Why Did Jesus Call Himself the Son of Man?
In the Gospels Jesus refers to Himself more than eighty times as the Son of Man. Authorities differ widely as to why He chose that title.
Jesus often permitted Himself to be called the Son of God by others, but He applied that title to Himself only by implication.
A Hebrew term rendered son of man occurs in the singular and in the plural in Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, Daniel and other parts of the Old Testament.
There, except in Daniel, it generally means a human being, a mortal, mere man, or frail humanity.
Ezekiel, conscious of his own mortality and frailty, applies son of man to himself about ninety times.
Some authorities suppose that Jesus, out of modesty and humiliation, referred to Himself as the son of man merely in the general sense of that term as it is used in the Old Testament.
But the Greek term rendered son of man in the New Testament has no clear and obvious counterpart in Aramaic, the language that Jesus is supposed to have spoken.
Aramaic “bar enash” signifies son of man only in the literal sense. For that reason even the authenticity of the phrase in the Gospels has been questioned.
Other authorities suppose this title had some special Messianic significance, although there is no positive evidence that it was so understood by the Jews in the time of Jesus.“Some authorities suppose that Jesus, out of modesty and humiliation, referred to Himself as the son of man merely in the general sense of that term as it is used in the Old Testament.”
Psalms 8:4 says, “What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?”
In Daniel 7:13 and 14 the prophet saw in the night visions one like the Son of Man who came with the clouds and to whom all glory was given.
These passages were sometimes interpreted as alluding to the Messiah and may have been a source of the title as used by Jesus.
When Jesus says in Matthew 16:28, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,” He is undoubtedly alluding to the passage in Daniel just cited.
In Mark 14:62, in answer to the high priest’s question whether He was the Christ, Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
In Daniel, one like the son of man is indefinite and appears to denote that this vision was in human form as contrasted with the brute forms in the preceding visions.“Jesus may have adopted this particular phrase to hide His identity with the Messiah from some while at the same time revealing it to others.”
But in the Gospels, where the son of man is used continually and only by Jesus, the title is individualized and definitely identified with Jesus Himself.
Jesus may have adopted this particular phrase to hide His identity with the Messiah from some while at the same time revealing it to others.
Son of man is specifically identified with the Messiah in the Apocryphal Book of Enoch, but it is not certain that those writings antedate Jesus.
If Enoch was in circulation at that time, Jesus may have obtained the title from that book, which is quoted in The General Epistle of Jude, generally ascribed to Jesus’ brother of that name.
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