The Son of Man and The Son of God: A Brief Insight into Jesus and His Titles

Few weeks ago, I was reading a book by Daniel Boyarin. This book confirms the burial of the pseudo-scholarship of 19th and early 20th century arrogant scholars who because of their wild imaginations argue that the Gospels and the Christian theology developed out of the ideas of non-Jewish pagans. The gist of the Book titled “The Jewish Gospels” repeats the contention of the 20th and 21st scholars that Christianity owes a lot to Judaism though there is some mutation that place within the Christian faith – as Hurtado argues. Though Boyarin dismisses this mutation as religious creativity on the part of Jesus and His followers, this is no surprise because Boyarin is skeptical of divine revelations.

I have seen critics like Muslims and Unitarians tirelessly argue that Jesus using the title “Son of Man” for Himself is an evidence that Jesus views Himself as an ordinary man. Of course, one would think that other instances where Jesus used the title “Son of God” to refer to Himself will give these critics a pause. This is not the case as these critics will bring out examples of how others were called sons of God. They will even go at length to cite ancient Jewish literature to prove that the title “Son of God” has does not imply deity at all.

While Boyarin agrees with their interpretation concerning the title “Son of God”, he however repudiates the interpretations concerning the title “Son of Man”.

This Jewish professor said,

“Most Christians today… would think that by this title, Son of Man, Jesus’ human nature is being designated, while the title “Son of God” refers to his divine nature. This was indeed the interpretation of the Fathers of the Church” (pg. 25-26)

Boyarin argues that,

“almost opposite was the case” and promises in his book saying, “In this chapter, I will show that… the Gospel of Mark: “Son of God” referred to the king of Israel while “Son of Man” referred to a heavenly figure and not a human being at all.” (pg. 26)

In an ironic twist under the weighty force of evidences that he laid out in his book, Boyarin blast the Common English Bible (CEB) who according to him “has gone so far as to translate “Son of Man” as “the human one”” (pg. 26)

While I agree that the title “Son of God” referred to the earthly king of Israel, I think that the NT meant more than that. The NT corpus sees the title “Son of God” when used for Jesus in a very unique sense. Other “sons” of God are prototypes meant to foreshadow the Unique Son. In as much as Eli referring to Samuel as his son (1 Samuel 3:6,16) doesn’t give us the license to lump Samuel, Hophni and Phinehas into the same category, then I see no reason why Jesus too should lumped together into the category of the other “sons of God”.

Even this Jewish professor agrees with me that much when he said:

“Thus the Son of Man became the Son of God, and “Son of God” became the name for Jesus’ divine nature—and all without any break with ancient Jewish tradition.”

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the title, Son of God, can refer to his earthly kingly status as a man anointed by God, I do however think that the title hints at the divine nature of Jesus – at least from the perspective of the NT corpus. Whether you agree with me on this or not, I feel like a multi-billionaire, when it comes to the evidence for the deity of Christ, who does not so much as wince at the loss of one thousand naira only.

Concerning the title, “Son of Man”, I generally agree with Daniel Boyarin that this title carries divine connotations when used by Jesus in the Gospels. This idea was based on Daniel’s vision concerning the one like a son of man (Daniel 7:13-14) riding on the clouds (another evidence for deity as some scholars argue) to present Himself for anointing by the Ancient of Days. The part I found interesting in this text was that the Son of Man presented Himself to be anointed – and the fact that He was anointed by the Ancient of days means that He is the Son of God in the sense that He is the earthly king of Israel. Yeah. The Son of Man became the Son of God and everyone worshiped Him as they would worship God Himself.

Many are unaware that the title “Son of Man” used by Jesus in the Gospels is an apocalyptic reference drawn from the Book of Daniel. Boyarin showed at a great length in the first chapter of his book that The Son of Man in the Gospel of Mark is divine – throwing out the trajectory projections of some scholars that the deity of Christ evolved over time in the Gospels.

Even Bart Ehrman who tried to argue for the evolution of deity in the Gospels realized that the title “Son of Man” as used in the Gospel of Mark puts a big lie to his thesis. Ehrman tried to get around this obstacle by arguing that the title “Son of Man” is used by Jesus not to refer to Himself but to another individual coming on the clouds. This weird assertion, I believe had been cremated in the Book, How God became Jesus (written by five scholars as a response against Bart). After comparing Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30, Michael F. Bird gave three evidences that proved that the title, “Son of Man” when used by Jesus refers to Jesus Himself.

First, If the Son of Man is a messianic figure in Jewish literature, and if Jesus thought he was the Messiah as even Ehrman admits, then what reason do we have for not thinking that Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man? None as far as I can tell! The phrase “Son of Man” was a deliberately cryptic way of speaking about his messianic identity but still ambiguous enough to avoid creating a needles provocation to his royal aspirations.

Let me emphasize that understanding things this way avoids so many absurdities that Ehrman’s view creates. For example, on Ehrman’s account of Matt 19:28/Luke 22:30, the Son of Man (someone other than Jesus) sits on his glorious throne, with the twelve disciples judging Israel. But there’s just one small problem in this interpretation: Where the heck is Jesus? The Son of Man gets a glorious throne, the disciples each get their own throne and preside over the twelve the tribes of Israel, but what does Jesus get for his efforts? A token piece of heavenly brisket? Front row seats at the Jewish comedy club in heaven? If Jesus believed himself to be, as Ehrman says, “the future ruler of Israel” and if “Jesus would be seated on the greatest throne of all, as the messiah of God,” we should expect Jesus to be where the Son of Man is sitting!” But if Jesus is the Son of Man in this saying, the absurdity is instantly removed.” (Michael F. Bird et al (2014), How God Became Jesus pg. 64)

Second,

“The phrase “Son of Man” is repeatedly a self-designation for Jesus across the Gospels. In fact, it meets Ehrman’s own criteria for authenticity since it is in multiple sources like Mark, Q, John, and even the Gospel of Thomas. Not only that, but the title “Son of Man” was not even the church’s preferred way of referring to Jesus. It occurs nowhere in Paul’s letters, and it appears only four times in the entire New Testament outside of the Gospels (see Acts 7:56; Heb 2:6; Rev 1:13; 14:14). Moreover, in an early second-century document like the Epistle of Barnabas, there is a flat out denial that Jesus is the Son of Man.” Now that is what I call dissimilarity!” (ibid)

Third,

“In Aramaic, bar enash can be used in generic, indefinite, and definite ways, and when used definitely by Jesus, it either describes himself as an individual or at least as a leading individual among others. Jesus’ usage of the phrase also has clear allusions to Dan 7:13-14 and the Son of Man figure therein described. The overwhelming testimony of the Jesus tradition is that Son of Man is an apocalyptically encoded way of Jesus self-describing his role as the one who embodies God’s authority on earth, achieves God’s salvation by his death and resurrection, and shares God’s glory in his enthronement. The “coming” of the Son of Man is often coterminous with the coming of God as King. Eugene Boring is surely right to conclude, “The Christological language of the Son of Man sayings is thoroughly theocentric.” (Pg. 64-65)

In fact, some skeptics tried to skirt around this problem by arguing that this title was placed into the mouth of Jesus by the later church. How beautiful such a suggestion looks, the criterion of dissimilarity mars the beauty into ugliness. This is because rarely outside the Gospels in the NT corpus was Jesus referred to as the Son of Man.

One funny thing about this is the fact some Muslims try to use this title to argue for the humanity of Christ. Yusuf Estes while relating the story of his conversion to a lady said that he left Christianity because according to him, while Jesus fondly referred to Himself as “the son of man” to emphasize his humanity, the Bible translators out dishonesty capitalizes the phrase to become “Son of Man” while there is no such capitalization in the original Greek.

Nonsense! Apart from fact that English grammatical rules do not apply to Greek, the Greek NT was written in capital letters throughout).

His fuss over the title brought him to the mercy of the Quran. Can you even imagine? The Quran winces at the title “Son of God” when used to refer to Jesus because according to Allah, that title connotes deity – an idea Allah got from the later church despite the fact that the title ALONE in itself carries lesser evidence for the deity of Christ in the NT. The title “Son of God” should not give Allah a problem, it is rather the title “Son of Man” as used by Jesus in the Gospels that should give Allah a very big pause if he is truly an omniscient deity.