“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew

As discussed in the previous article on the Gospel of Luke, the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels posits that Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the so-called “Q” material as a common source. This approach, though not without its difficulties, remains the most plausible option for a functioning hypothesis, and so I have followed it for the purpose of this study. Thus, for the Gospel of Matthew (as for Luke), in examining the use of the expression “the son of man”, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to Matthew.

From a structural standpoint, perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Matthean Gospel is the way that the author has grouped together teachings of Jesus—individual traditions, or clusters of traditions—into larger discourse-sections (or ‘sermons’). These discourses punctuate the Gospel—in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25 (to which one may add chap. 23)—and provide a certain theological framework that is interwoven with the narrative framework (drawn largely from the Markan narrative).

The Matthean Discourses actually represent expansions of previous, shorter discourse-sections. For example, the underlying “Q” material that formed the core of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) likely corresponds, more or less, with the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:20-49). To this core, various other sayings and teachings of Jesus—some “Q” traditions, and others being unique to Matthew (“M” material)—have been added and arranged. The same is true with regard to chapters 10 (expanding the core tradition of Mk 6:7-13), 13 (expanding the sequence of parables in Mk 4:1-34), and 24-25 (expanding the “Eschatological Discourse” of Mk 13). To a lesser degree, chapters 18 and 23 are built up around core Synoptic/Markan and “Q” traditions, respectively.

The Matthean Gospel thus has a parallel arrangement running through the work: the narrative sequence (drawn from Mark), and the discourse/sermon sequence. With regard to the “son of man” references, it would seem best to analyze the data for each sequence in turn. We begin with the narrative sequence.

The Synoptic/Markan narrative, while generally followed by the Matthean Gospel writer, has also been disrupted and re-arranged at various points. The disruptions are largely due to the presence of the Discourses. For example, the Markan narrative is followed up to 1:20 (4:22), but then is interrupted to include the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7); when it resumes in chapters 8-9, the material from Mk 1:21-2:17 is presented, but in a different order (with the summary in 1:39 essentially being repositioned [and expanded] to introduce the Sermon on the Mount [4:23-25]).

The first occurrence of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is at 8:20, following the Sermon on the Mount (the expression does not occur in the Sermon). Verses 18-22 are “Q” sayings (par Lk 9:57-60) on the theme of discipleship, and, in particular, on the cost involved in following Jesus. In the context of the narrative sequence, the two sayings of vv. 19-22 occur between the call of the first disciples (4:18-22) and the call of Matthew (9:9ff). In the intervening Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for those who would be his disciples.

Let us briefly survey the references in the narrative prior to the central episode of Peter’s confession (16:13-20, par Mk 8:27-30); the sequence of references is as follows:

As in the Markan and “Q” source-material, these occurrences of the expression “the son of man” function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus (i.e., “this son of man”, namely himself). Any significance beyond this relates to Jesus’ identification with the human condition, especially with regard to human weakness and suffering. This extends to the anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and death that would occur in Jerusalem. The Matthean treatment of the “sign of Jonah” tradition (12:39-40ff) clearly brings this out—identifying the “sign” with Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection). The Lukan version—and the underlying “Q” tradition itself—focuses instead on the ministry (preaching) of Jesus. His preaching is contrasted with that of Jonah. The prophet Jonah’s preaching led to the repentance of the people of Nineveh; by contrast, Jesus’ own contemporaries (in Galilee) have not responded to him in a similar way, even though he is a far greater (and Messianic) Prophet.

In both 12:32 and 40, the expression (as a reference to Jesus) is connected with the theme of discipleship. Only the person who responds with trust to Jesus, and who, as a true disciple, will confess him publicly, will be able to pass through the Judgment and be saved. This thematic emphasis is intrinsic to the “Q” traditions themselves, and is brought out even more strongly in Luke’s treatment of the material (see the discussion in the previous article).

The focus on the suffering and death of Jesus comes more clearly into view with the central cluster of references in chapters 16-17ff. In this regard, the Matthean author is following the Synoptic/Markan narrative, and the three ‘Passion predictions’ by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). What is most interesting, however, is the way that the Gospel writer treats the expression “the son of man” so unequivocally as a self-reference by Jesus, entirely interchangeable with the use of the first person pronoun (“I”). Compare the question posed by Jesus to his disciples (in Mark and Matthew, respectively):

    • “Who do men count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:27)
    • “Who do men count/consider the son of man to be?” (Matt 16:13)

The Gospel writer clearly (it seems) does not consider the expression to be a Messianic or special Christological title per se, otherwise Jesus’ question would make no sense—viz., he would be giving his disciples the answer before he even finished asking the question (cf. Hare, p. 131f). Note the similar interchange, between expression and pronoun, in the first Passion prediction:

    • “And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “From then (on), Yeshua began to show to his learners that it is necessary for him to go forth to Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s…” (Matt 16:21)

In chapters 16-20, references to Jesus’ suffering and death (17:9, 12, 22; 20:18, 28) alternate with references to his exaltation (and future return), 16:27-28; 17:9; 19:28. It will be useful to examine the original Matthean contributions to this presentation.

The saying in 16:27, though formulated differently, corresponds to Mark 8:38. It is possible that the saying was reworked (or replaced) because of the similar “Q” tradition that the author would include in 10:32-33 (where Jesus uses the personal pronoun instead of the expression “the son of man”). But the author has retained the motif of the “son of man” coming in glory:

    • “…the son of man…when he should come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with the holy Messengers” (Mk 8:38)
    • “For the son of man is about to come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with his/His Messengers…” (Matt 16:27)

The following saying in v. 28 also corresponds to the Markan parallel (9:1), being nearly identical, but with one key difference:

    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (Mk 9:1)
    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the son of man coming in his kingdom!” (Matt 16:28)

The coming of the Kingdom is defined in terms of the coming of the son of man (Jesus) in glory. This clearly refers to the exaltation of Jesus, but also (it would seem) to his future (second) coming at the end-time. The saying in 10:23 (to be discussed) would indicate that the author had Jesus’ second coming (i.e., parousia) in mind. However, it is Jesus’ exalted position in heaven that is being emphasized in 19:28, a Matthean addition to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 10:17-31 (19:16-30) that has a loose parallel in Lk 22:28-30. The emphasis on the heavenly position of the son of man (on a ruling throne) anticipates the eschatological references in chaps. 24-25. It also reiterates the important discipleship context that attends a number of the “son of man” sayings (esp. the “Q” sayings) we have examined (see above):

“Amen, I say to you, that you, the (one)s having come on the path with [i.e. followed] me, in the (time of all things) coming to be (born) again, when the son of man should sit upon the throne of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

These sayings reflect the eschatological outlook of early Christians. As the Messiah, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven, Jesus will be sitting (in a ruling position) at the “right hand” of God, a position that he will continue to hold into the New Age. The end of the current Age was thought to be imminent, so that the New Age would very soon be ushered in—indeed, within the lifetime of some, if not most, of the first disciples. The exaltation of Jesus, followed by his subsequent return to earth (in glory), would mark the end of the current Age, and, with it, the final Judgment. This aspect of the “son of man” references will be discussed further in the continuation of this article, and again at the conclusion of this series.

Finally, the remaining “son of man” references in the narrative (26:2, 24, 45, 64) generally follow the Synoptic/Markan narrative, building upon the earlier association between the expression and the anticipation of Jesus’ impending suffering and death (in Jerusalem). Matthew is unique in the way that the Gospel writer opens the Passion narrative with a reiteration of the Passion-predictions:

And, when it came to be (that) Yeshua (had) completed all these words, he said to his learners: “You have seen [i.e. know] that after two days the Pesah [i.e. Passover] comes to be, and the son of man is given along to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified].” (26:1-2; cp. Mk 14:1)

Otherwise, the Gospel writer, in preserving the Synoptic/Markan references, emphasizes both the suffering of Jesus (including his betrayal, 26:24, 45) and his subsequent exaltation (26:64)—compare Mk 14:21, 41, 62. This balancing of the two aspects—suffering/death and exaltation—is, on the whole, typical of the use of the expression throughout the Gospel Tradition, but it is particularly significant (and noteworthy) in the Matthean presentation of the traditional material. In contrast with the Gospel of Luke, where the emphasis tends to be on the suffering aspect, Matthew gives somewhat greater prominence to Jesus’ exaltation.

References above marked “Hare” are to Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Fortress Press: 1990).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Luke)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke

In our study of the expression”the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the Synoptic Gospels, we have examined the core sayings in the Gospel of Mark (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4), and also those in the so-called “Q” material (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4). According to the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the “Q” material. I have followed this approach, as a functioning hypothesis, for this study. Thus in examining the use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to the particular Gospel.

We begin with the Gospel of Luke. First, we may note that Luke, in following the Synoptic/Markan outline, includes nearly all of the Markan “son of man” references, with the exception of those in Mk 9:9, 12, and the saying in 10:45 (cp. Lk 19:10). During the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry, there occur the first two Synoptic/Markan sayings (5:24; 6:5 / Mk 2:10, 28), the “Q” saying in 7:34 (par Matt 11:19), and the first two Passion-predictions (9:22, 44 / Mk 8:31; 9:31), along with the intervening saying in 9:26 (Mk 8:38). The only original Lukan contribution, apparently, is the use of the expression “the son of man” in the final Beatitude (6:22; cp. Matt 5:11), though it is possible that the expression was present in the “Q” material that the Gospel writer inherited.

Between the second and third Passions-predictions (9:44; 18:31 / Mk 9:31; 10:33), there is the Journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10 par), which Luke has expanded into a major division—indeed, the central (and longest) division of the Gospel, covering more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31). The Journey serves as the setting for a wide range of teaching by Jesus, including many traditions which occur at an earlier point (i.e., the Galilean period) in Mark and Matthew. With one exception, the “son of man” references in this division are derived from, or are related to, the “Q” material shared with the Gospel of Matthew.

Also, with the exception of the first saying (9:58; par Matt 8:20), all of the “son of man” references in the Journey period have an eschatological orientation or aspect. Either they relate to the end-time Judgment (11:30; 12:8, 10; par Matt 12:40; 10:32; 12:32), or refer to the end-time appearance of the “son of man” (12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8). The references in 12:40 and 17:24, 26 represent “Q” sayings which Matthew has included as part of the “Eschatological Discourse” in chap. 24f (vv. 44, 27, 37). It is not entirely clear whether the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-30, 32, absent from Matthew) was part of the original “Q” material, or was added by the Lukan author (from another source). As discussed (in Part 4 on the “Q” sayings), the Lot/Sodom illustration makes for a natural pairing with the Noah/Flood illustration (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff)—both being Scriptural type-patterns for the coming end-time Judgment.

The two “son of man” sayings, set during the Journey period, which are most original to the Gospel of Luke are: the introductory eschatological saying in 17:22, and the saying in 18:8. The reference in 17:22 reflects the manner of expression in vv. 24ff, using the specific expression “the days of the son of man” (v. 26, cf. the comparable expression “the son of man in his day”, v. 24). This expression refers to the time when the son of man will appear; however, in v. 22, there seems to be a particular allusion to the coming suffering and persecution of Jesus’ disciples, during the end-time period of distress.

This reflects an important thematic emphasis by the Lukan author, with regard to the “son of man” sayings—viz., an emphasis on Jesus’ suffering and death, and, by extension, the suffering and hardship which must be endured by Jesus’ followers (believers) during their end-time mission. A key detail which the Gospel writer includes, within the eschatological teaching in 17:20-37, and amid the eschatological (“Q”) son of man sayings, is another reference to Jesus’ impending suffering and death (v. 25), echoing the earlier Passion-predictions (9:22, 44). Note the way that the declaration of the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) future coming (in glory, at the Judgment) is tied back to his present suffering:

“just as the (lightning) flashes flashing shine light, out of the (one area) under the heaven unto the (other areas) under the heaven, so will be the son of man [in his day]—but first, it is necessary (for) him to suffer many (thing)s, and to be removed from consideration [i.e. be rejected] (by) this genea/.” (vv. 24-25)

This has the added (practical) effect of making clear—for both Jesus’ disciples (in the narrative) and for the Gospel writer’s audience—that the “son of man” (identified as Jesus himself) cannot come to earth (in glory) at the end-time, until after his death and resurrection. As we have discussed, this incongruity represents a difficult aspect of the eschatological “son of man” sayings, when the expression is understood as an authentic self-reference by Jesus.

The saying in 18:8 is rather difficult to interpret in its immediate context, though it brings to the fore, even more clearly than in 17:22, the expectation that Jesus’ followers (believers) will experience suffering (and persecution) during the end-time period of distress. The parable (vv. 1-5) illustrating the need to persevere in prayer to God, is interpreted in this eschatological context:

“Hear (now) what the judge (acting) without justice says. And shall not God (then) make the working out of justice for His elect/chosen (one)s, the (one)s shouting to him day and night? and will His impulse (to do so) be long over them [i.e. will He wait long to help them]?” (vv. 6-7)

God is contrasted with the unjust (human) judge of the parable, one who acts “without justice” (a)diki/a). If an unjust human judge will respond to someone in need who makes a persistent request of him, how much more will the just and righteous God do so for his chosen ones (i.e., the righteous/believers)? The motif of the righteous/believers, shouting to God day and night, suggests a period of intense suffering. Within the Gospel context, the end-time period of distress, which will involve the persecution of believers, is certainly in view.

The answer, already implicit within Jesus’ question, is made explicit in verse 8: “(Yes,) I say to you that He will make a working out of justice for them with (great) speed!” But then, Jesus adds a final challenging question:

“Yet [plh/n] the son of man, (hav)ing come, will he find trust upon the earth?”

The connection of v. 8b to vv. 7-8a suggests that the deliverance which God will provide for believers, during the end-time period of distress, will be realized through the coming of the son of man (cf. Mk 13:27 par; Lk 21:28). For the Lukan author, this unquestionably refers to Jesus’ second coming (i.e. return) to earth, though some commentators have raised the possibility that, originally, Jesus would have been referring to a heavenly figure (Dan 7:13-14) separate from himself. I discussed this critical theory briefly in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings, and will address it more fully at the end of this series.

The question itself implies that there could be a considerable loss of faith, a falling away, during the end-time period of distress. In a general sense, this was part of the eschatological expectation of Jews and early Christians, as we see in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mk 13 par). The repeated warnings by Jesus (to his disciples) very much suggest the possibility that even a genuine disciple (or believer) could be led astray and lose faith (Mk 13:5, 13, 20-21, 22-23, 33ff).

In the final division of the Lukan Gospel, the Jerusalem Period, the author includes the Synoptic/Markan “son of man” sayings from 13:26; 14:21, and 14:62 (21:27; 22:22, 69). To these have been added a reference at the close of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:36), one during the Garden-scene of the Passion narrative (22:48), and a summary reference (24:7), at the beginning of the Resurrection narrative, which echoes the earlier Passion-predictions. In addition to these, we may also mention the saying in 19:10, set at the end of Jesus’ journey, on his approach to Jerusalem; in some ways, it holds a comparable position to the Synoptic/Markan saying in 10:45.

If we consider these few Lukan additions and adaptations, they seem to bring out two key thematic points of emphasis: (1) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (2) the suffering of disciples (believers), and the need to remain faithful during the end-time period of distress. Jesus’ suffering and death is alluded to in the 19:10 saying (“For the son of man came to seek and to save the [one] having been lost”), is emphasized during the Passion narrative at the focal point of the betrayal (“Yehudah, with a mark of fondness [i.e. a kiss] you give over the son of man?” 22:48, cp. Mk 14:41 par), and is summarized (after the resurrection) in 24:7.

The second theme is expressed in the saying that concludes the Lukan version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:5-36):

“(So) then, you must remain awake, in every time expressing (your) need (to God), (so) that you might be strong against (that day), (and so) to flee [i.e. escape] out of all these (thing)s being about to come to (pass), (and) to stand in front of the son of man.” (v. 36)

The Discourse concludes with an exhortation to “keep awake” (vb a)grupne/w), Mk 13:32-37 par, but the Lukan version adds this pointed reference emphasizing believers’ salvation—that is, of their/our escaping the coming Judgment, and of standing before the son of man, i.e., having passed through the Judgment. This will only happen if believers remain faithful to the end (v. 19; Mk 13:13). The blending of this discipleship emphasis with the motif of the Last Judgment can also be seen in the earlier (“Q”) son of man sayings, particularly as they have been positioned within the Lukan narrative—cf. again, in context, 11:30; 12:8, 10, 40.

If we may summarize the most salient points regarding the distinctive Lukan treatment of the “son of man” sayings:

    • The Gospel writer understood the expression primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. This can be seen, particularly, in 6:22 and 12:8, where the Matthean version (of the “Q” saying) has a personal pronoun (“I/me”) instead of the expression. The basic understanding is also attested by the way that the author has utilized the Synoptic/Markan sayings (see above).
    • The tradition of the Passion-predictions, and the related use of the expression in this context, referring to the suffering and death of Jesus, is clearly emphasized by the Lukan author, more so than in the other Synoptic Gospels.
    • Similarly, the Gospel writer brings out the discipleship-theme in relation to such sayings, emphasizing the hardship and suffering that the true disciple must endure in following Jesus. This extends to the end-time period of distress, beginning with the suffering/death of Jesus, during which time, in connection with the early Christian mission, believers will face intense suffering and persecution.
    • Sayings related to both the end-time Judgment and the end-time appearance of the son of man (i.e., the second coming or return of Jesus) are framed to bring out the discipleship theme—viz., the need for believers to remain faithful, willing to confess faith in Christ, even in the midst of persecution.

Overall the Lukan Gospel writer’s use of the expression reflects a coherent and comprehensive Christological outlook, balancing Jesus’ earthly ministry, suffering/death, resurrection/exaltation, and future return. The expression “the son of man” is used in all of these contexts, as a reference to the person of Jesus. For the most part, the Gospel writer has relied upon inherited traditions, but there are some original contributions as well, mainly in terms of arrangement and adaptation of the material.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 4)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The remaining “son of man” references in the “Q” material (see Parts 1, 2 & 3) are eschatological, and deal with the idea of the end-time appearance of the “son of man”. In this regard, they are similar to the saying in Mark 13:26 par (discussed in Part 4 of the study on the Synoptic/Markan sayings). The use of the expression “the son of man” in these eschatological sayings is problematic, particularly if regarded as authentic usage by Jesus himself.

As we have seen, the expression seems to function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. Yet there are serious difficulties when the expression is understood in this same way in the eschatological sayings, referring to the future (end-time) appearance of Jesus (as “the son of man”). Early Christians would have had no difficulty with this idea, as it simply reflects the conceptual (Christological) framework, whereby the exalted Jesus would return to earth, following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. However, for people during Jesus’ own lifetime—including his disciples—they would not have readily understood the eschatological “son of man” references in terms of this sequence of Christological events. Indeed, for Jesus to speak of his future appearance (as the “son of man”), while he was still alive, prior to his death and resurrection, would surely have made little sense to most hearers.

Most critical commentators have approached this difficulty in one of two ways: (1) some (e.g., Hare) have denied the authenticity of the eschatological sayings, regarding them as early Christian creations (or adaptations), patterned after the other (authentic) “son of man” sayings; and, quite differently, (2) some (e.g., Tödt) have held that the eschatological sayings are authentic, but that Jesus was not identifying himself as this heavenly “son of man” figure (taken from Dan 7:13-14 and subsequent Jewish tradition, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Yet there are serious problems with both of these approaches, some of which have already been touched upon in the previous studies. At the close of this series, I will address the matter again, in a more comprehensive way.

In any case, we shall keep these longstanding (and much debated) critical issues in mind as we examine the eschatological “Q” sayings.

In the Gospel of Luke, there are two distinct blocks of eschatological teaching, separate from the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), where these sayings are contained: 12:35-46 and 17:20-37. Matthew includes this “Q” material (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27[ff?], 33, 34-35, 37b) within the framework of the “Eschatological Discourse” (24:43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-38, 40-41, 28, with the sole exception of 10:39).

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44

“(So) also you must come to be ready, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) in the hour which you do not think, (that) the son of man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

The Matthean version of this statement (24:44) is virtually identical. In the Matthean context of the “Eschatological Discourse” (chap. 24f), the reference is clearly to Jesus’ future coming (using the early Christian term parousi/a, parousia, v. 3, see also vv. 27, 37, 39). In the Lukan context, however—viz., Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in chaps. 11-12—this is by no means quite so apparent. Indeed, within the immediate context of 12:35-46, it is not at all clear that the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in verse 40 is a self-reference by Jesus. Only in relation to the earlier “son of man” references (including in vv. 8-9f), can one infer that the Gospel writer understands the expression as referring to Jesus himself.

The illustration in verse 39 (par Matt 24:43) is meant to emphasize the unexpectedness of the son of man’s coming. The illustrative eschatological sayings in vv. 35-38, resembling those of Mark 13:33-36 par and Matt 24:42, 45-51 (cf. also the Wedding illustration in Matt 25:1-13), suggest that the end-time Judgment is in view. Those who remain faithful, in sober expectation of that moment, will be rewarded by God, while punishment awaits those who do not. The use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“stay/keep awake”) is regularly used in this eschatological context—Mk 13:34-37 par; 14:34ff par; Matt 24:42-43; 25:13; Lk 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15; cf. also 1 Cor 16:13. In Revelation 3:3, the Gospel parable/saying by Jesus has been translated into an unmistakable reference to his (Jesus’) future return (note also the context of 1 Thess 4-5).

As in Mk 13:26 par, so also here in Lk 12:40 par, the “son of man” comes (vb e&rxomai), appearing—presumably from heaven to earth—at the end-time. If this is taken as a self-reference by Jesus, it would have to refer to a second coming, from his exalted position in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56, etc), following his death and resurrection. This makes such an eschatological use of the expression “the son of man” problematic, as noted above. By all accounts, Jesus’ disciples, during his lifetime, would have had only a vague comprehension of this Christological framework—death, resurrection, ascension, exalted position in heaven, future coming—a framework otherwise so readily comprehended by early Christians (viz., at the time the Gospels were written).

Luke 17:22, 24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37

In Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Luke 17:20-37, the expression “the son of man” again occurs (4 times), though only in the last of these references (v. 30) is an end-time appearance of the son of man clearly indicated:

“…according to these (thing)s, (so) it shall be on the day when the son of man is uncovered [i.e. revealed]!”

The “things” Jesus speaks of are the illustrations given in vv. 22-29, as also (we may assume) those that follow in vv. 31-37. Elsewhere in this passage, the expression “the days of the son of man” is used (vv. 22, 26), with a comparable phrase (“the son of man in his day”) in v. 24. It is fair to assume that this wording refers to the time when the son of man will appear. The illustration of lightning flashes that instantly and vividly light up the entire sky (v. 24, par Matt 24:27) would seem to relate to the idea of the son of man’s appearance. In Mark 13:26 par, his appearance is preceded (and/or accompanied) by extraordinary celestial/meteorological phenomena (vv. 24-25ff) and disruptions of the natural order, drawing upon traditional eschatological imagery associated with the “day of YHWH” (Isa 13:10; 14:12; 24:23; 34:4; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Zeph 1:15; Ezek 32:7).

The Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are traditional images of catastrophic Divine judgment, which were both used as type-patterns to illustrate the coming end-time Judgment—cf. 2 Peter 2:5-10; 1 Peter 3:20ff; Jude 7; Luke 10:12 par; Matt 11:23-24. The Lot/Sodom illustration (vv. 28-29, 32) is not included by Matthew, so one cannot be sure that it originally was paired with the Noah/Flood illustration in the “Q” material; the two illustrations certainly do make for a natural pairing (as in 2 Pet 2:5ff). The point of the illustration(s) is that people were busy going about their daily affairs when the catastrophic judgment struck them, suddenly and unexpectedly. Only the righteous—the chosen ones—represented by Noah and Lot (and their families), respectively, were saved from the judgment. So it will be at the end-time. The appearance of the “son of man” thus coincides with the end-time Judgment.

While the reference in Mark 13:26 par clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 (and the heavenly figure “like a son of man”), it is not immediately apparent that the same point of reference informs the use of the expression in these “Q”/Lukan sayings. Apart from the use of the expression “son of man”, there are no other obvious allusions to Daniel, other than the broad context of the (eschatological) Judgment (cf. Dan 7:9-10f, 14, 26-27). To be sure, several other key Daniel references (9:27 par; 12:1ff) clearly influence the thought and wording of the “Eschatological Discourse”, but a comparable influence is harder to find in these “Q” sayings.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the figure-types of the Davidic Messiah and the heavenly “Son of Man” from Daniel are blended together, and ultimately identified with the figure of a human being (Enoch) exalted to divine status in heaven (chap. 71). This certainly provides the closest parallel to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as both the Messiah and Son of Man. In the Similitudes, the Messianic “Son of Man” plays a central role in the end-time Judgment (46:4-6ff; 63:11; 69:26-29, etc), including the help and protection/salvation he gives to the righteous (48:4-7ff; 62:13-14, etc). For more on this subject, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The statement in Luke 17:22 (which is not part of the “Q” material) is the most peculiar of the “son of man” references in this passage:

“The days shall come when you will set your qumo/$ upon seeing one of the days of the son of man, and (yet) you shall not see [o&yesqe] (it).”

The expression “one [mi/a] of the days of the son of man” has long puzzled commentators. The basic expression “days of the son of man” is relatively straightforward, in context—it refers to the time when the son of man will appear. A possible parallel has been noted with the Rabbinic expression “the days of the Messiah” (m. Ber. 1:5, etc; cf. Strack-Billerbeck 2.237, 4.826-9; Fitzmyer, p. 1169), referring to the coming Messianic Age. A more likely explanation, perhaps, would attribute to the expression an emphatic/dramatic purpose, such as, e.g., (1) some indication that the son of man is about to come, (2) the onset of the end-time events which will immediately precede his coming, or (3) the beginning of the time of his appearing. This last (3) is probably closest to what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) has in mind.

Verse 22 is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, whereas the prior vv. 20-21 (see my recent study) involve an exchange between Jesus and certain Pharisees. The verb e)piqume/w means “set one’s qumo/$ upon [e)pi/] (something)”. The noun qumo/$ roughly means “impulse”; in English idiom, we would probably use the term “heart” or “mind” as an approximation—i.e., “set one’s heart/mind on…”. However, one should not lose sight of the more intense idea of “impulse”, conveyed, e.g., by our words “longing”, “desire”, etc. The verb (and the related noun e)piqumi/a) can indicate a negative (sinful) desire, but it may also be used in a positive or neutral sense, as it is here.

What does it mean for the disciples to long (or desire) to “see” one of the “days of the son of man”. Based on parallels in the eschatological teaching of Jesus, the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par; Dan 12:1 LXX]), involving the disciples’ (believers) experience of persecution, is probably in view. This is certainly an emphasis in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:9-13 par), but it can also be found, for example, in the context of the eschatological teaching of Luke 12:35-46 par (see above)—verses 4-7, 8-12, 52-53; cf. Matt 10:16-23ff. In the face of persecution and the end-time distress, Jesus’ disciples will long for his return. The end-time appearance of the “son of man” (Jesus) will usher in the Judgment, bringing salvation and reward for those who remain faithful.

The warning for them, however, is that they will not be able to see this moment coming, anymore than devout Pharisees, looking for the Kingdom of God, will be able to observe it coming (with their physical senses). Jesus specifically uses the verb o)pta/nomai, which implies physical sight (with one’s eyes); a literal rendering of the verb would be something like “gaze with (open) eyes (at)”. Interestingly, the same verb is used in both Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, where it refers to the visible appearance of the Son of Man.

Even for Jesus’ disciples (and all believers), the time of the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly—that is a principal point of emphasis in nearly all of these eschatological sayings. However much they may long for it, they will not be able to see it coming. It is for this reason, that all disciples/believers need to stay “awake”, remaining faithful and alert at all times, continuing to follow Jesus and to fulfill his mission, even in the face of growing darkness and persecution.

In the next (2-part) article of this series, we will examine the distinctive use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, respectively. This involves the inclusion and adaptation of inherited traditions (Synoptic/Markan and “Q” material, etc), but also material that is original or unique to each Gospel.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 3)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The Gospel of Luke contains three “Q” sayings in close proximity, in the general context of the Beelzebul episode (11:14-23) and the prior block of teaching on prayer (11:1-13). These sections are part of the broader thematic emphasis on discipleship (9:57-62)—and on the mission of the disciples (see 10:1-12ff)—which frames the long Journey narrative (9:51-18:31).

Luke 11:30 / Matt 12:40

The first “son of man” reference, within this context, is the statement in 11:30, part of the “Q” tradition-unit 11:29-32 (par Matt 12:38-42). As the Lukan author introduces the unit (v. 29), in his narrative setting, the crowds surrounding Jesus are increasing; the response that follows implies that they are gathering in the hopes of witnessing a miracle, or perhaps, to observe some confirming indication (‘sign’) that Jesus is the Messiah. The Matthean introduction (12:38) frames the unit as part of the continuing conflict between Jesus and the “Pharisees and scribes”, who here request from him some “sign” (shmei=on)— “we wish to see from you a sign”. The saying of Jesus follows:

“This genea/ is an evil genea/! It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it, if not [i.e. except for] the sign of Yonah!” (v. 29)

Matthew has the same saying in a slightly expanded form (12:39). Jesus continues:

“For, just as Yonah came to be a sign to the Ninevites, so also shall the son of man be to this genea/.” (v. 30)

Within the implicit context of this tradition, the “sign” referenced by Jesus would involve some visible indication that he spoke and acted with Divine authority—specifically confirming his identity as a Messianic Prophet. Jesus condemns this lack of trust among his contemporaries, referring to them as an evil genea/ (‘generation’); the Matthean version has “…evil and adulterous genea/,” thus bringing out the idea of their faithlessness.

Jesus declares that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah (the Prophet), and compares himself to Jonah in this regard. The expression “the son of man” here would seem to be, again, primarily a self-reference by Jesus—i.e., “this son of man”, namely, Jesus himself. It is as though he said, “…so shall I be to this genea/.”

In what way is Jesus shown to be like Jonah, and what is the significance of the “sign of Jonah”? Matthew’s version makes this clear, explaining it in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus:

“For, just as Jonah was in the belly of the cavernous (sea-creature) three days and three nights, so the son of man shall be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” (12:40)

It is hard to be certain, but it would seem that Luke more likely preserves the original (and much simpler) “Q” saying; the Matthean version is perhaps best seen as an interpretive gloss on the saying—explaining in what way Jesus will be a sign (like Jonah) to his generation. The remainder of the tradition (vv. 31-32, Matt 12:41-42), however, suggests a rather different significance for the original saying. The emphasis, clearly, is upon the preaching of Jonah, which led to the people’s repentance (see the book of Jonah, chap. 3). The added illustration of the Queen of Sheba (“Queen of the South”), v. 31 par, confirms this aspect of the saying. Both the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba are examples of foreign people (i.e., non-Israelites), who responded positively, with a certain trust, to the word/wisdom of God as manifest in the persons of Jonah and Solomon, respectively.

By contrast, Jesus’ own people have not responded to him in the same kind of way, even though he is far greater Prophet than Jonah, and a greater manifestation of God’s Wisdom than ever was present in Solomon. For this reason, the Queen of Sheba and the people of Nineveh will serve as witnesses against the Israelite/Jewish people of Jesus’ generation (genea/) at the Judgment.

This eschatological Judgment-context is also part of the second “son of man” reference.

Luke 12:8-9 / Matt 10:32-33

“whoever should give account as one [o(mologh/sh|] with me in front of men, the son of man also shall give account as one [o(mologh/sei] with him in front of the Messengers of God; but, (for) the (one) denying me in the sight of men, he shall be denied in the sight of the Messengers of God.” (Lk 12:8-9)

The Matthean version (10:32-33) is more uniform, with the first person pronoun used consistently by Jesus, rather than the expression “the son of man”:

“every(one) who shall give account as one with me in front of men, I also shall give account as one with him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens; but whoever shall deny me in front of men, I also shall deny him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens.”

Whether or not “the son of man” was present in the first part of the original “Q” tradition, this variation between the Lukan and Matthean versions only confirms the expression as a self-reference by Jesus—essentially as a surrogate for the first-person pronoun (“I”).

The emphasis in this saying is on confessing one’s trust in (and allegiance to) Jesus. The verb o(mologe/w means “give account as one”, i.e., be in agreement with another person; it can be used in the more general sense of “assent, consent, admit, acknowledge”, and is a regular term in the New Testament for the common (and public) acknowledgement of Jesus among early Christians. Here, one’s fate in the Judgment is made to depend upon whether or not one confesses faith in Jesus Christ, as being his true disciple. The lex talionis principle is involved, with a correspondence between earthly action and heavenly consequence. If a person acknowledges Jesus on earth (“before men”), then he/she will be acknowledged by Jesus in heaven (before God and His Messengers). Similarly, if one denies Jesus on earth, he/she will be denied (by Jesus) in heaven.

It is no small matter to confess Jesus (as the Messiah) publicly in this way, since it can result in persecution (and even death) for the disciple. This is made clear from the Lukan context of Jesus’ instruction for his disciples, i.e., the sayings in the prior vv. 4-7, and also the subsequent teaching in vv. 11-12. The theme of persecution is very much emphasized in the Matthean context as well (see 10:16-31, 34-39).

Both of these “son of man” references involve an eschatological orientation, along with a definite allusion to the end-time Judgment. This has led some commentators to posit that the expression “the son of man”, in these (and other) references, specifically connotes a heavenly figure (drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13-14) who will appear at the end-time and play a leading role in the final Judgment. As was discussed previously, the Synoptic/Markan “son of man” sayings in Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, certainly do allude to the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14. We will examine this point of reference further in Part 4 of this article, as we look at the remaining (eschatological) “Q” sayings.

Luke 12:10 par

This saying was discussed extensively in Part 2, but it is worth addressing again, in relation to the Lukan context of the sayings in 11:30 and 12:8-9. Nearly all of the teaching in chapter 12 has an eschatological orientation, focusing on the coming end-time Judgment and the events which precede it. The opposition by the religious leaders (Pharisees, etc) to Jesus is framed as part of this end-time scenario (see the context of 11:37-54 and 12:1); indeed, the persecution of Jesus and his disciples, beginning with his death, marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress. By this teaching, Jesus is effectively preparing his disciples for what will come.

This, then, underscores the setting for the teaching in chapter 12 (see the introductory saying in verse 2f), as Jesus exhorts his followers, stressing the importance of remaining faithful in the midst of opposition and persecution (vv. 4-7). The three “Q” traditions in vv. 8-12 provides us a glimpse of how these blocks of sayings/teaching came to be assembled and compiled by early Christians. Traditions were often gathered and joined together based on topic, but also by means of “catchword bonding” —that is, a common word or phrase shared by two distinct traditions.

Here, the topic/subject involves discipleship and the cost of following Jesus, emphasizing the public confession of faith in Jesus, within an eschatological framework (involving persecution). The sayings are joined together as follows:

    • Saying 1 (vv. 8-9) which contains the expression “the son of man”, shared by =>
      • Saying 2 (v. 10) which contains a reference to the Holy Spirit, shared by =>

It is this thematic and catchword bonding which, apparently, led the Lukan author to include the saying regarding the insult against the Holy Spirit (v. 10) here in this context (rather than within the earlier Beelzebul episode, as in Mark-Matthew). It gives to that particular tradition a distinctive eschatological orientation and emphasis, related to the early Christian mission, which it does not otherwise have in the Synoptic narrative. The early Christian mission is, as we have seen, a particular point of emphasis and a central theme for the Lukan narrative.

By placing the saying on the insult to the Holy Spirit (v. 10) within the confessional context of vv. 8-9 and 11-12, Luke gives to the saying a distinct interpretation and nuance of meaning. Now, the insult to the Holy Spirit is to be understood in the confessional sense of denying Jesus (as the Messiah). This, of course, is the dividing line between believer and un-believer, between the true and false disciple. Denying Jesus, in this sense, means more than an ad hominem attack, speaking against his person (as a man, i.e. “son of man”); rather, it entails a denial of God’s own Spirit that is at work in Jesus, marking him as the Messiah (cf. 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18ff). This is essentially the same point made in the Markan/Synoptic setting (of the Beelzebul episode, cf. the author’s comment in 3:3o), but Luke effectively ties this use of the expression “the son of man” to the eschatological (Judgment) setting of vv. 8-9ff. As we shall see (in Part 4), this is an important aspect of the expression as it occurs in the remaining “Q” sayings (12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30 pars).



“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 2)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

Luke 12:10 / Matthew 12:32

One particularly interesting “son of man” reference in the “Q” material (see Part 1) is the saying by Jesus regarding the “insult against the Holy Spirit”. This occurs in the Lukan Gospel at 12:10:

“every(one) who shall speak an (insulting) word to the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but for the (one hav)ing insulted the holy Spirit, it will not be released”

The Matthean version (12:32) is longer, with slightly different wording:

“whoever would speak a word against the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him, neither in this Age nor in the coming (Age)!”

The Matthean version does not use the verb blasfhme/w (“defame, insult”); instead, each contrasting clause uses the idiom “speak [vb e&pw] a word/account [lo/go$] against [kata/]”. The language is more general than in Luke, where the use of blasfhme/w makes it clear that an insulting, defamatory, or slanderous account is involved.

What is most interesting about this “Q” saying is that it corresponds to a similar saying in Mark (3:28-29):

“Amen, I say to you, that all (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and the insults [blasfhmi/ai], as (many) as ever they might give insult; but whoever should give insult to the holy Spirit, he does not hold (any) release (from it) into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin for the Ages [i.e. eternal sin]!”

This Markan saying is considerably longer (and wordier) than the “Q” saying, but seems to express the same basic idea. Scholars have debated whether these represent two different historical traditions, or different versions of the same underlying tradition. The fact that both sayings use the expression “the son of man”, in roughly the same position, suggests that a single underlying tradition (i.e., saying by Jesus) is ultimately involved. How, then, does one explain the fundamental difference in the way the expression is used? In “Q”, the expression is in the singular (“the son of man”, o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), and in the accusative (or genitive) case, meaning that the son of man is the object of the insults. In Mark, the expression is plural (“the sons of men”, oi( ui(oi\ tw=n an)qrw/pwn), and in the dative case, referring to the person(s) for whom the guilt (from giving insult) is forgiven (or not forgiven).

It is hard to believe that the occurrence of the expression “the son(s) of man/men” in both sayings is coincidental, or that Jesus would have used the same expression, in such totally different ways, in what is otherwise the same basic saying. How, then, is the matter to be explained?

One possibility is that the original saying by Jesus (presumably in Aramaic), utilizing the expression “(the) son of man” ([a]vna rb), was sufficiently ambiguous to allow early Christian transmitters of the tradition (and those translating it into Greek) to interpret it in different ways. As we have noted (see esp. the Introduction to this series), the expression “(the) son of man” simply means a human being, and is frequently used generically for human beings (or humankind), in a collective or general sense. At the same time, the definiteness of the expression (i.e., with the absolute/emphatic determinative marker [in Aramaic]), can also indicate a particular human being (“this son of man”). As we have seen, Jesus seems to have used the expression, somewhat frequently, in this latter sense. Thus, the same expression could, depending upon how the context was understood, be taken to refer to human beings generally, or to a specific human being (namely, Jesus himself). One can only speculate as to what syntactical or other factors could have resulted in such different renderings (i.e., Markan vs. “Q”) of a common saying by Jesus.

Another possibility is that the Markan version of the saying represents an interpretive modification of the original saying by Jesus. In this regard, it has been suggested that early Christians, scandalized by the idea that blasphemous insults against Jesus could be forgiven, either altered the saying or ‘corrected’ it, assuming that “the son of man” must refer to other human beings, or to human beings generally (i.e., “the sons of men”). This explanation has been posited by a number of commentators (e.g., Tödt, Hare).

What is striking is that the “Q” version of the saying actually makes perfect sense within the literary-historical context of the Markan saying—viz., the Beelzebul episode (Mk 3:22-30 par), on which cf. my earlier article and recent note (on Lk 11:20 par). Matthew seems to recognize the common meaning of both sayings, as he includes the “Q” saying (12:32) alongside the Markan (v. 31), at this very location. The Markan saying has been adapted and simplified, creating an elegant pairing:

“For this (reason), I say to you: every sin and insult will be released for men, but the insult of [i.e. against] the Spirit will not be released. And (also), whoever would speak a word against the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him, neither in this Age nor in the coming (Age).”

The Markan phrase “for the sons of men” has been simplified to “for men” (toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$), while the ‘addition’ to the end of “Q” saying seems to correspond to the end of the Markan saying in 3:29b (“..he does not hold (any) release (from it) into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin for the Ages”). Thus, the two sayings, it would seem, have been conflated in the Matthean Gospel. By contrast, in Luke’s Gospel, the author includes the “Q” saying in the general proximity of the Beelzebul episode (11:14-23), but clearly separated from it, and in a very different immediate context (see below). Luke has omitted, or otherwise does not include, the saying in Mark 3:28-39, perhaps recognizing it as a ‘doublet’ of the “Q” saying he inherited; indeed, the Lukan author tends to avoid such ‘doublets’ throughout his Gospel.

The setting of the Beelzebul episode is a fitting location for the saying, so much so that one is inclined to view it as the authentic historical setting for the original saying by Jesus. What does the “Q” saying, with its use of the expression “the son of man” (in the singular), mean in such a context? I would offer the following explanation:

As in the other “son of man” sayings we have examined, Jesus is using the expression primarily as a self-reference, but, in so doing, also identifies himself with the human condition, as a particular human being (“this son of man”). The distinction which Jesus is making in the saying, the point of the contrast, is that there is a difference between insulting (ad hominem) the person performing a miraculous act of Divine healing, and the Spirit of God that works through such a person. Slanderous or abusive insults against the person can be forgiven, but insults against God’s Spirit cannot be. The Markan Gospel writer seems to recognize this as the point of the saying, given the concluding comment in verse 30. Even in the case of Jesus, ad hominem attacks against him (as the human being performing the healing/exorcism), can be forgiven, but defaming or insulting the Spirit that works in/through him cannot be forgiven.

A word must be said about the Lukan context of this saying, in 12:8-12: a short set of teachings—a sequence of three traditions (sayings by Jesus)—dealing principally with the theme of discipleship, and the importance of confessing one’s faith in Jesus publicly. Two distinct “son of man” sayings (both “Q” sayings) have been brought together for this purpose, in vv. 8-9 and 10, followed by the instruction in vv. 11-12—another “Q” tradition, which occurs in a different location in Matthew (10:19-20).

As Luke joins together the sayings of vv. 8-9 and v. 10, Jesus seems to be making a rather different point than would be indicated by the Markan/Matthean context of the Beelzebul episode. Speaking a harsh or insulting word to Jesus (“the/this son of man”) is not the same as denying (trust in) him; in order to deny Jesus, one must go further, and effectively insult/slander the Spirit of God that fills and empowers him. Ultimately, human beings must choose whether to trust in Jesus and become his disciple, which then involves a willingness to confess him publicly, even in the face of persecution. The one who refuses to confess, or denies him, is not a true disciple, and will, in turn, be denied before God at the Judgment.

The “son of man” saying in vv. 8-9 will be discussed further in Part 3 of this article.

NOTE: In the translations above, I have rendered the verb a)fi/hmi (and the noun a&fesi$) as “release”. Quite literally, the verb means “send away”, but, in the religious-ethical sense in which it often occurs in the New Testament, it applies to the removal of sin—along with the guilt and effect(s) of sin—for human beings. It is primarily in terms of the guilt (from sin) that one may speak of being “released”, or of the guilt being “released” from a person.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 1)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings

Having examined the Synoptic “son of man” references in the Gospel of Mark (see Parts 1, 2, 3, 4), we now turn to the references in the so-called “Q” material. The designation “Q” derives from the German quelle, meaning “source” —that is, the “Q” material is source-material, used by the Gospel writers. In particular, it refers to material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. According to the most common and widespread theory regarding the relationship between the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke made use of the Gospel of Mark (as a source), but also a separate collection of material (the so-called “Q”). Many commentators assume that “Q” existed as a distinct written document, but the actual evidence for this is sketchy at best. Some portions of the “Q” material are so close in wording, between Matthew and Luke, that a common written source does seem likely; the Temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11 / Lk 4:1-13), or the episode involving the messengers from John the Baptist (Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35), are good examples of this. On the other hand, there are occasionally significant differences, which could represent differences in the source material; the portions common to the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ are notable examples.

It seems best to define “Q” in the broadest possible terms—simply as a designation for the material shared by Matthew and Luke, but which is not present in Mark. This could represent a single source of tradition, or multiple sources, as the case may be. To the extent that “Q” does involve a single and/or distinct collection of material, it can be regarded as the product of a distinctive line of tradition, perhaps even stemming from a particular early Christian Community. Some reference will be made to the possible contours of such a “Q” Tradition.

In considering the “son of man” sayings of Jesus in this “Q” material, it will be necessary to compare them with the Synoptic/Markan sayings. If the occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (Grk o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) ultimately derive from its usage by the historical Jesus, then we would expect the “Q” sayings to be comparable, in their focus and emphasis, to the Markan sayings. By contrast, if the sayings have been created or shaped extensively within the Gospel Tradition by early Christians (including the Gospel writers), then it is reasonable that the use of the expression may reflect different religious, theological, and Christological emphases.

Luke 6:22

Some commentators have theorized that the Sermon on the Mount/Plain—that is, the common material between Matthew and Luke—beginning with the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23ff; Matt 5:2-12), represented the opening section of “Q” (considered as a coherent written work, see above). If so, then the occurrence of the expression “the son of man” in the Lukan Beatitudes (v. 22) is significant. Even though the expression occurs here only in Luke, it is instructive with regard to how the Gospel writers understood the expression. The fourth (and final) Lukan Beatitude reads as follows:

“Happy/blessed [maka/rioi] are you when men should hate you, and when they should mark you off from (others), and should disparage and throw out your name as evil, on account of the son of man…”

The corresponding Beatitude in Matthew (the ninth, but similarly the final one) has a somewhat simpler (and more generalized) form:

“Happy/blessed [maka/rioi] are you when they should disparage you, and pursue [i.e. persecute] you, and say all (kinds of) evil against you, on account of me…” (5:11)

The differences have been explained variously, as Lukan adaptation, Matthean adaptation, some combination of both, or from differences in the (“Q”) source material used by each Gospel. Most significant, from the standpoint of our study, is the concluding phrase in each verse. Matthew has Jesus say “on account of me” (e%neken e)mou=), while Luke’s version reads “on account of the son of man” (e%neken tou= ui(ou= tou= anqrw/pou). It has been argued that, since Matthew uses the expression “the son of man” so frequently, if it were present in “Q” at this point, the author would not have changed it to the pronoun; it would be more likely, then, that the Lukan author substituted “the son of man” for “me” (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 635). Another possibility is that the variation stems from differences in the “Q” source-material, inherited by Matthew and Luke, respectively; on this, cf. Betz, p. 581, who suggests that “the son of man” was present here in the “Q” material of the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ which the Lukan author received.

The most significant point to note is that the expression “the son of man” is clearly regarded as a self-reference by Jesus, more or less equivalent to the first person pronoun (“me”). This is the case, whether Luke substituted the expression for the pronoun, Matthew the pronoun for the expression, or a substitution was made earlier within the “Q” line of tradition.

Another point of emphasis in this saying is the importance of the disciple confessing his/her trust in Jesus, along with the eschatological implications of this confession. As we shall see, this is a thematic feature of several other “Q” sayings where the expression “the son of man” occurs.

Luke 7:34 / Matt 11:19

At the close of the episode involving the messengers from John the Baptist (Matt 11:2-19 / Lk 7:18-35), we find a “son of man” reference. Within the block of traditional material that comprises this episode, the final verses (vv. 31-35 par) represent a distinct tradition-unit. The episode as a whole deals with two important, related, themes: (1) Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, and (2) the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. These are themes firmly rooted in the early strands of the Gospel Tradition, and this episode is a key representation of them.

The comparison between John the Baptist, a prophetic forerunner of the Messiah, and Jesus himself, extends to the public’s reaction to each of them. Both were misunderstood, taunted, and regarded in a negative light by many people. Jesus presents this in a colorful rhetorical fashion, beginning with a question: “To what, then, shall I liken the men of this genea/, and what are they like?” (v. 31 par). Then he gives a proverbial illustration (v. 32) regarding the people’s reaction, indicating how they expected their prophets to respond to their superficial whims. If they play a happy tune, they expect people to dance, but if they play a mournful dirge, they expect people to be sorrowful. Neither John nor Jesus could satisfy the whims of the people; John was criticized for his ascetic abstinence (v. 33), while Jesus was criticized for his willingness to join with the common people eating and drinking (v. 34). In the end, the truth of God’s Wisdom, manifest in the Messianic prophet-figures of John and Jesus, will win out, being proven right (v. 35). God’s Wisdom transcends the vicissitudes of human thoughts and attitudes.

Again, as in Luke 6:22 (see above), Jesus refers to himself by the expression “the son of man”:

“For Yohanan the Dunker has come not eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say ‘he holds a daimon!’;
(meanwhile) the son of man has come eating and drinking, and you say ‘see! a man (who is) an eater and wine-drinker! a friend of toll-collectors and sinners!'” (vv. 33-34)

Clearly, this another use of the expression as a self-reference, such as we saw repeatedly in the Markan sayings. As he compares himself alongside John the Baptist, he uses this particular third-person form of expression, which, as we have discussed, is perhaps best understood as “this son of man”, i.e., this person, namely himself. Is there any other significance here to the expression? Three different thematic aspects of the “Q” pericope could be considered relevant:

    • Jesus’ identification with the human condition, viz., by eating and drinking together with the common people.
    • The implied theme of Jesus’ suffering, as reflected by an emphasis, in vv. 31-35 par, on the public’s negative reaction to him.
    • Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, which is the principal (and framing) theme of the entire episode (v. 19ff par).

We will keep these possibilities in mind as we continue through the “Q” sayings.

Luke 9:58 / Matt 8:20

This “Q” saying is one of a pair illustrating the cost involved in following Jesus. Matthew includes these (8:18-21) within the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, set not all that long after the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7). By contrast, Luke sets the pair of sayings (along with a third), 9:57-62, at the beginning of the period of Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:31). The Lukan setting is more coherent to the narrative, since the discipleship theme is central to his framing of the Journey. In particular, these sayings immediately precede the mission of the seventy(-two) disciples (10:1-12ff).

In each of the two illustrative encounters, a prospective disciple expresses his wish to follow Jesus, but is perhaps unprepared for the self-sacrifice that is involved. In the first of the pair (in Matthew), a devoted scribe/scholar tells Jesus “…I will come on the path with you, where ever you might go off (to)” (v. 19). Jesus responds to him with the following saying:

“The foxes have holes (to lurk in), and the birds of heaven ‘tents’ (to dwell in), but the son of man does not have (any)where he might recline his head!” (v. 20)

The Lukan version of this saying (9:58) is identical. Again, the expression “the son of man” is clearly a self-reference by Jesus, since he is responding to the man’s wish to follow him (“I will come on the path with you…”). By saying “the son of man does not have (any)where…”, he really means “I do not have (any)where…”. In identifying with the human condition, he is particularly emphasizing the experience of suffering and hardship. Yet it is also a hardship that is distinctive to the itinerant ministry of Jesus, which permits him (quite often) to have no regular or permanent dwelling-place. The idea of being without a home extends, conceptually, to include a willingness to cut-off all family ties for the sake of following Jesus. The second saying (Matt 8:22; Lk 9:60), famously, brings this across— “Leave the dead to bury their own dead!” —as does the third saying in the Lukan triad (9:62).

In Part 2 of this article, we will examine the tradition regarding the “insult (or ‘blasphemy’) against the Holy Spirit”, of which there is both a Markan (3:28-29, par Matt 12:31) and a “Q” version (Matt 12:32 / Luke 12:10).

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28 (1981).
Those marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount, Hermeneia Commmentary series (Fortress Press: 1995).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 4)

The Climactic Sayings of Mark 13:26 and 14:62

Of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, most relate in some way to the human suffering of Jesus—and, particularly, to the suffering and death (viz., his Passion) which he would experience in Jerusalem. This is the focus of the three Synoptic Passion-predictions by Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), but also clearly applies to the other occurrences of the expression in 9:9, 12; 10:45, and 14:21, 41. As I discussed (in Parts 2 and 3), the expression “the son of man” in these sayings, in addition to serving as a self-reference by Jesus, likely alludes to the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament. The relevant references, given previously in the Introduction, are: Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:5[4]; 80:18[17]; 144:3 ; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43. In this poetic usage, the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (once vona$ /B#), “son of man”, is paired with “man” (<d*a*, vona$, vya! or rb#G#), as a way of referring to humankind or a human being generally (Psalm 146:3; cf. Part 1 on the sayings in Mk 2:10, 28), often emphasizing the limitation and weakness of the human condition.

In Mark 8:38, is the expression “the son of man” used in a rather different context—implying an eschatological judgment setting, as well as an exalted position for Jesus in heaven (alongside God the Father). This same emphasis features, even more prominently, in 13:26 and 14:62. These two sayings represent the climactic “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, and both are particularly important (and distinctive) in the way that they allude to the heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13-14.

I have discussed this Scripture passage in prior articles, as a supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and, more recently, in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. These articles can be consulted for discussion on the context and interpretation of Dan 7:13f. The relevant portion of the prophetic vision begins:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

The Aramaic vn`a$ rB^, corresponding to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (or vona$ /B#), here simply refers to the human appearance (“like a son of man”, i.e., like a human being) of the heavenly figure in the vision. The human appearance of this figure is in marked contrast to the beasts elsewhere in the vision. Those beasts symbolize wicked/corrupt earthly power (i.e., kings and their kingdoms), while this “(one) like a son of man” represents heavenly power (and a corresponding king/kingdom). Indeed, the figure comes “with the clouds of the Heaven(s)”, drawing upon ancient storm-theophany imagery, such as is applied to YHWH in numerous Scriptural poems; for the motif of God coming/riding on the clouds, see Psalm 18:10-13; 104:3ff; Isa 19:1; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:4ff; Nah 1:3b.

This heavenly figure, with human appearance, approaches the throne of YHWH:

“…(he) was coming, and unto (the) Ancient of Days he approached, and they brought him near in front of Him.”

This heavenly figure is then given an everlasting Kingdom, with authority over all peoples and nations on earth (v. 14).

Mark 13:26

The “son of man” saying in Mark 13:26 is part of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (chap. 13 par), coming at a climactic point in the Discourse. The narrative setting for this collection of eschatological teaching is significant, preceding as it does the Passion Narrative (chaps. 14-15). It strongly indicates that there is a profound eschatological significance to Jesus’ suffering and death; indeed, his suffering/death may be said to mark the beginning of the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Dan 12:1 LXX]). Note, for example, the implications of Jesus’ wording in 14:38, 41 (cf. especially the Lukan formulation in 22:53b). This period of distress represents the “birth pains” of the New Age (Mk 13:8 par); and Jesus, in the Discourse, describes the things which will occur before the end (of the current Age), from three vantage points: (a) the nations and people on earth generally (vv. 5-8), (b) his disciples (vv. 9-13), and (c) the people of Jerusalem and Judea (vv. 14-23).

Following the period of distress, with all its attendant travail and suffering, the end will be ushered in (vv. 24-27) by the appearance of “the son of man” from heaven:

“And then they shall see the son of man coming on (the) clouds, with much power and splendor.” (v. 26)

The wording clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13, even though the scenario has a different orientation. In the Daniel 7 vision, the “(one) like a son of man” is coming on the clouds toward God, in heaven. By contrast, here in Mk 13:26 par,  the “son of man” is coming on the clouds to earth, to gather up the righteous (v. 27) and to usher in the end-time Judgment (implied by vv. 24-25). Yet the eschatological context for both references is essentially the same: they refer to the establishment of a Divine/heavenly kingdom, entailing the judgment of the nations, the destruction of the wicked, and the exaltation/reward of the righteous (cf. Dan 7:14, 23-27). The framing of this scenario within the Eschatological Discourse owes much to the conclusion of the book of Daniel (12:1-4ff).

Of all of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, the occurrence of the expression in 13:26 could most plausibly be interpreted as referring to a heavenly being separate from Jesus himself. Indeed, a number of commentators have explained the saying, at least in its original form (as spoken by Jesus), in precisely this way. This interpretative approach was mentioned previously, in connection with the saying in 8:38; however, here it is rather more plausible. From the standpoint of Jesus’ first hearers, it is by no means obvious that he is referring to himself by the expression “the son of man”. Nothing in the Gospel, up to this point, suggests that Jesus has been using the expression with Daniel 7:13 in mind.

Early Christians, of course, reading the passage with Christological hindsight, could understand verse 26 perfectly well as a reference to the future return of Jesus, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven; but what sense would this have made to Jesus’ own disciples (or to others) at the time? Admittedly, the reference is somewhat problematic, if viewed as an authentic saying by Jesus, with “the son of man” as a self-reference. And yet, the expression is clearly used as a self-reference everywhere else in the Gospel—Jesus refers to himself as “th(is) son of man”, i.e., this person (namely, myself). It must be regarded so here as well, both from Jesus’ own standpoint (as speaker), and from the standpoint of the early Gospel Tradition.

What, then, are we to make of its usage here by Jesus? Before proceeding to give an answer, let us first examine the final “son of man” saying.

Mark 14:62

The saying in Mark 14:62 par occurs at the climax of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene (vv. 53-65), a key episode within the Passion narrative. In the Markan version, the high priest asks Jesus:

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61)

Jesus responds with bold affirmation (“I am”), and then adds:

“…and you shall see the son of man being seated at (the) right-hand of the power (of God), and coming with the clouds of the heaven!” (v. 62)

Again, the expression “the son of man” functions as a self-reference—i.e., “you shall see th(is) son of man…”, “you shall see me…”. At the same time, however, there is a definite allusion (even more clear than in 13:26) to Dan 7:13f, where the expression “(one) like a son of man” occurs. Here, certainly, Jesus’ use of the expression as a self-reference, identifying himself with the human conditions, dovetails with the expression from Dan 7:13; not only does he identify with the human condition (on earth), but also with exalted position of the human-like figure in heaven. That is to say, Jesus here is identifying himself with the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13ff, the one who receives the kingdom and rule over all humankind. In this exalted position, he is also associated specifically with the “holy ones” among God’s people, just as the “son of man” in 13:26f comes with the holy angels (from heaven) and then gathers together the holy ones (righteous/believers) on earth (cp. Dan 7:27; 12:1-3).

There are a number of critical interpretative questions surrounding 14:62 par, not the least of which involve the small but significant differences in detail between the three Synoptic versions.

In Matthew, for example, the question by the high priest (26:63) is phrased so that it more closely mirrors the confession by Peter (16:16; cp. Mk 8:29); indeed, the two are virtually identical:

You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God.”
su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$

“…I would require an oath of you…(to say)
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God!”
ei) su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

Otherwise, the Matthean version of Jesus’ response (26:64) closely follows Mark. The Gospel writer gives Jesus’ initial affirmation an ironic twist; instead of the bold Markan “I am”, Jesus points back to the high priest’s own question (mirroring Peter’s confession): “You (have) said (it) [su\ ei@pa$]”. Matthew expands the beginning of the remainder of the response, but the core of it is essentially identical with Mark’s version. The two notable points of difference are: (1) it is introduced by the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti (“from now [on]”), and (2) the preposition e)pi/ is used rather than meta/, i.e., “…coming upon [e)pi/] the clouds of heaven”. The difference in preposition is minor, corresponding to the same difference between the LXX (e)pi/) and Theodotion (meta/) Greek versions of Dan 7:13 (the Aramaic preposition [<u!] is better rendered by the meta/ in Theodotion and Mark). As for the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti, which matches the corresponding a)p’ tou= nu=n (“from now”) in Luke’s version (22:69), it serves to position more clearly the “son of man” saying in relation to the impending death of Jesus. After his death (and resurrection), “from now on”, Jesus will have an exalted position (at God’s right hand) in heaven.

In both of the “son of man” sayings under investigation here, Luke’s version either eliminates or downplays the association with Daniel 7:13-14. In the saying corresponding to Mark 14:62 par, the Daniel allusion is omitted altogether, leaving only an implicit reference to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., Jesus at God’s right hand):

“But, from now (on), you shall see the son of man sitting at (the) right-hand of the power of God!” (22:69)

In 21:27 (corresponding to Mk 13:26 par), the wording is altered slightly, possibly to bring out the parallel with Jesus’ ascension (in Acts 1:9-11). Just as Jesus is taken up (to heaven) in a cloud (singular), so he will return (from heaven) in/on a cloud (again, singular). The plural “clouds” brings out more clearly than in Luke’s version an allusion to Daniel 7:13f (cf. above).

The main point of reference, as Luke’s version of the climactic saying (22:69 [Mk 14:62]) so clearly highlights, is the exaltation of Jesus to heaven, following his death and resurrection, where he will have an exalted place at God’s right hand. While evidence for the influence of Dan 7:13f on the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus’ exaltation is extremely slight, the motif of his position at “the right hand of God” (Ps 110:1) was a frequent and widespread component of the Christological portrait—[Mk 16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. In Acts 7:55-56, the Lukan author essentially records the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in 22:69. Even though it is Stephen, a believer, who sees the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God, this occurs (based on the narrative context) as part of an interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), mirroring the Gospel account of Jesus’ own interrogation before the Council.

Thus, the principal point of the “son of man” saying in Mark 14:62 par is not the (future) return of Jesus from heaven, but his exaltation to heaven; indeed, this orientation matches the the setting of the Daniel passage. How, then, did this aspect of Dan 7:13f, applied to Jesus’ exaltation, become applied to the idea of his future return (in Mk 13:26 par)? For early Christians, considering the matter after Jesus’ resurrection (and departure/ascension), this would have been an obvious extension—viz., Jesus’ exaltation would naturally be followed by his (imminent) return to earth at the end-time Judgment (cf. Revelation 1:7).

But could this same usage reasonably be attributed to Jesus himself, speaking to his disciples during his earthly ministry? The literary context of Daniel 7:13-14 certainly assumes an eschatological framework. After the judgment of the nations (and their kingdoms), the kingdom bestowed upon the heavenly figure will be an eternal/everlasting dominion, ruling over all people on earth. There will never be another kingdom, implying that human history, as it had previously been known, has effectively come to an end. The human people of God (“holy ones”) will, in their own way, also rule over this kingdom—note the parallels in wording between vv. 14 and 27. Moreover, as has been noted previously, the thought, wording, and imagery of Dan 12:1-4ff had a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, and on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, in particular. The heavenly figure “Michael” (v. 1) will appear at the end-time, in the midst of a period of great distress (qli/yi$, cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par), ushering in (it is implied) the end-time judgment, which also involves the salvation (and ultimate exaltation) of the righteous (vv. 2-3).

If Jesus identified himself with the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, then it would not be surprising if he also saw himself essentially as fulfilling the role of “Michael” in 12:1ff—that is, the exalted heavenly being who will appear at the end-time to usher in the Judgment and bring salvation to the righteous (for more on this eschatological/Messianic figure-type, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Admittedly, presenting this portrait to his disciples prior to his death and resurrection would, almost certainly, have created a good deal of confusion. However, at least two possibilities should be considered in this regard. First, the eschatological “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26 par, with its allusion to Dan 7:13ff, could have been made (originally) in a vague or ambiguous manner, referring clearly to the end-time appearance of the heavenly redeemer-figure of Daniel 7ff, but not (yet) referring clearly to Jesus himself as that figure. Second, one must at least entertain the possibility that some of the eschatological sayings/teachings of Jesus could have been made after the resurrection, in which case, an eschatological “son of man” saying such as Mk 13:26 par would presumably have made more sense to Jesus’ disciples (cf. the context of Acts 1:9-11). The current position of the eschatological sayings in the Gospels is primarily topical, rather than historical/chronological. This can be seen by the way that such material is grouped together in distinct (literary) sections of the Gospels (including the “Eschatological Discourse” itself), and also by Matthew’s inclusion (in the Discourse) of eschatological (“Q”) material that occurs in an entirely different location/setting in Luke (cf. the discussion in Parts 2 and 3 of my earlier article on the “Eschatological Discourse”).

For the next article in this series, we will explore the “son of man” sayings and references that occur in the so-called “Q” material shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 3)

The Literary Setting of the Passion Predictions

The three Passion-predictions (see the discussion in Parts 1 and 2) provide a framework for the opening section of the second half of the Gospel narrative (the Judean/Jerusalem period). This opening section is centered on the journey of Jesus to Jesus to Jerusalem (covered by chapter 10 of Mark). The Passion-predictions are rather evenly divided within the section, marking the beginning, middle, and end. The second prediction marks the mid-point of the section, dividing it into two distinct parts. We may outline this as follows:

    • First Passion-Prediction (and the disciples’ reaction)—8:30-32
    • PART 1 (Preparation: Teaching the Disciples):
      • Teaching/sayings on Discipleship, with an eschatological theme (8:33-9:1)
      • The Transfiguration: Revelation to the Disciples (9:2-8)
      • Teaching the Disciples, with an eschatological theme (9:9-13)
      • Exorcism miracle episode, in the context of teaching the Disciples (9:14-29)
    • Second Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—9:30-32
    • PART 2 (The Journey to Jerusalem):
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (9:33-50)
      • Teaching the crowds: focus on a discussion with Pharisees on a point of Law (10:1-12)
      • Teaching his disciples: theme of ‘entering the Kingdom of God’ (10:13-31)
    • Third Passion-Prediction (and disciples’ reaction)—10:32-34

The first part of this section centers on Jesus’ teaching his close disciples, in a manner that we may say is in preparation for the journey to Jerusalem. The Transfiguration episode effectively brings his Galilean ministry period to a close, and marks an end to his primary Messianic role during this period—as an Anointed Prophet, fulfilling the type-patterns of Moses and Elijah. Following this episode, Jesus once again alludes to his coming suffering and death (9:9-13). All of the teaching in this section has a strong eschatological emphasis, indicating quite clearly that his death and resurrection also has a profound eschatological significance (something many Christians today are unable or unwilling to recognize).

At verse 30, the narrative transitions into the second Passion-prediction, with an echo of Jesus’ earlier prohibition on revealing his identity as the Messiah (8:30):

“And from that (place), going out, they traveled along through the Galîl, and he did not wish that anyone should know (it)…”

Here, however, the sense of prohibition is rather different. Jesus simply wishes to avoid the crowds, keeping his presence hidden from the surrounding populace while he travels (south) through Galilee. The reason for avoiding any crowds is made clear in the opening words of verse 31:

“…for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples]”

Again, this echoes the context of the first Passion-prediction (“And he began to teach them…”). The teaching he was doing with his (close) disciples was of such importance, that Jesus wished to avoid attracting crowds around him that might distract from his work. And what is the subject, the focus of this teaching? It is the message of his coming suffering and death in Jerusalem. That the Passion-prediction fundamentally represents the substance of his teaching here is indicated by the wording of v. 31a:

“for he taught his learners [i.e. disciples] and said to them…”

What Jesus “said to them” is the Passion-prediction proper. As noted above, the statement of the prediction can be divided into two parts. The first predicts Jesus’ betrayal (an aspect of his Passion not specified in the first prediction), while the second restates the message of his coming death and resurrection.

The Other Son of Man Sayings

With this narrative framework in mind, we can examine the remaining “son of man” references in the Synoptic narrative, particularly those which are woven around the Passion-predictions that frame the narrative.

Mark 8:38

The first saying to be considered occurs in the first block of teaching (8:33-9:1) in the First Part (see the outline above). This block of material can be summarized as: Teaching/sayings on Discipleship, with an eschatological theme. There are at least three distinct traditions that comprise this unit: (i) verse 34b, (ii) verses 35-37, and (iii) verse 38. The last of these gives to the section a decided eschatological emphasis:

“For whoever would be ashamed over me and my words, in this adulterous and sinful genea/, the son of man also will be ashamed over him, when he should come in the splendor of his Father, (along) with the holy Messengers.”

It is understandable why some commentators have suggested that, originally in this saying (as well as several others), the “Son of man” was a heavenly being (cf. Dan 7:13-14) separate and distinct from Jesus himself. And, indeed, this saying is rather problematic (as an authentic saying by Jesus) if “son of man” is intended as a self-reference. Early Christians would have had no difficulty in understanding such a saying, in hindsight, as referring to the impending future return to earth of the exalted Christ. However, this point of reference would, it seems, have made little sense to Jesus’ disciples during the time of his ministry indicated by the position of this saying in the Gospel narrative.

The theory that Jesus was referring to someone else by the expression “the son of man” is undercut by the parallel saying in Matt 10:32-33:

“(So) then, everyone who will give account as one* with me in front of men, I also will give account as one with him in front of my Father th(at is) in [the] heavens.”
* The verb o(mologe/w, rendered more conventionally, agree with, acknowledge, affirm, confess (i.e., in agreement with others).

This saying is part of the “Q” material shared with Luke; the Lukan version (12:8-9), however, appears to conflate the “Q” and Markan versions, even though Luke also preserves the Synoptic/Markan saying separately (in 9:26). Verse 8 represents the “Q” version:

“Every one who would give account as one with me in front of men, also the son of man will give account as one with him in front of the Messengers of God”

A strong argument can be made that the Markan and “Q” sayings represent variations of a single tradition—and that argument becomes stronger if the Lukan formulation of the “Q” saying, using the expression “the son of man”, is the more original form. The parallelism of “me” / “son of man” suggests that the expression, again, is being used principally, if not exclusively, by Jesus as a self-reference. The Matthean version of the “Q” saying would tend to confirm this point.

What of the apparent inconcinnity (incongruity) of Jesus referring to his future coming in this way, at this point in the Gospel narrative? The problem may be resolved, to some extent, if Jesus was originally referring, not to a future return, but to his exaltation, after his death and resurrection. In his exalted position, he would be able to speak, before God the Father, regarding those who claimed to be his disciples. If they felt shame over him, or refused to acknowledge him publicly (“before men”), then he, too, would feel shame over them, and refuse to acknowledge them publicly (before God and the heavenly beings) as his disciples. A heavenly Judgment-scene is certainly intended.

There are additional such eschatological “son of man” references in Matthew and Luke (from the “Q” tradition, and otherwise), but this is the only one in the Synoptic/Markan narrative (apart from the key references in 13:26 and 14:62).

Mark 9:9, 12

There are two further “son of man” references in 9:9-13, a section with a similar emphasis as 8:33-9:1—viz., Jesus teaching the Disciples, with an eschatological theme (9:9-13). This unit follows immediately after the Transfiguration scene (9:2-8). The narrator indicates that Jesus warned his disciples not to reveal anything of what they had seen (v. 9), even as he did after Peter’s confession (8:30); this implies that the Transfiguration was a manifestation of Jesus’ Messianic identity (spec. a Messianic Prophet, fulfilling the type-figures of Elijah and Moses). The statement in verse 9 essentially repeats and summarizes the Passion-prediction of 8:31. Again, Jesus’ impending suffering and death (as “son of man”) is in marked contrast to the Messianic glory which was revealed about him in the Transfiguration.

The second “son of man” reference, in verse 12, is perhaps the closest example we have, in the Synoptic narrative, of the expression being used specifically as a reference to the Messiah. It occurs in the context of an eschatological question posed by the disciples, regarding the appearance of “Elijah” prior to the end of the Age: “(Why is it) that the writers say that ‘it is necessary (for) ‘Eliyyah to come first’?” (v. 11). Almost certainly, the tradition derived from Malachi 4:5-6, in the eschatological context of 3:1ff and 4:1ff, is in view. On this end-time figure of ‘Elijah’, as a Messianic Prophet, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. In the Transfiguration scene, and elsewhere in the early Gospel Tradition, Jesus is identified as this figure; and, yet, there is another line of early Christian tradition that clearly identifies John the Baptist as the ‘Elijah to come’. The Synoptic Gospels attest to both lines of tradition, with the identification of John as ‘Elijah’ being somewhat more prominent (cf. the allusion in v. 13).

More significance for our study here is the formulation of the “son of man” saying in verse 12. Jesus responds to the disciples, as he often does, by redirecting their question. Without denying the traditional eschatological belief expressed by their question, he positions it in a different way:

“‘Eliyyah, (hav)ing come first, will (indeed) set down all (thing)s from (what they were before) [i.e. restore them], and (yet) how is it (then) written about the son of man, that he should suffer many (thing)s and be made out as nothing?”

The expression “the son of man”, in the phrase “written about the son of man”, seems to be more or less equivalent to “the Anointed (one)” (i.e., the Messiah). However, the apparent equivalence may be misleading. Jesus’ wording may simply assume, as his disciples now realize, that he is the Messiah—the Divine Messenger of the end-time, who will usher in the Kingdom of God. The saying can be understood quite well if “the son of man” is, again, primarily regarded as a self-reference by Jesus; to paraphrase— “how is it then written about me, as the Messiah, that I should suffer many things…?”

In any case, as with the Passion predictions, it is Jesus’ human suffering that is being emphasized, in association with the expression “son of man”. He continues to teach his disciples, preparing them for the suffering that he is to endure in Jerusalem.

Mark 10:45

The same emphasis can be found in the “son of man” saying in Mark 10:45, occurring at the conclusion of an episode (vv. 35-45) set toward the end of the journey to Jerusalem (and after the third Passion-prediction [vv. 33-34]). Jesus’ teaching in verses 42-45, which may originally have circulated as separate sayings, stresses the need for humility and self-sacrifice among his disciples. They are to follow his own example, in this regard. Here the use of “the son of man” in verse 45 clearly functions as a self-reference:

“For even the son of man did not come to be served, but (rather) to serve, and to give himself as (the means of) loosing (from bondage), in exchange for many.”

In the narrative context, this saying certainly alludes, again, to Jesus’ impending suffering (and death) in Jerusalem. The phrase “to give himself…in exchange for many” indicates an act of self-sacrifice, as we also see in the wording of Jesus at the Last Supper (14:24 par). It is the first time in the Gospel narrative that Jesus’ death is described in salvific terms—referred to as a lu/tron, that is, the means of loosing (i.e., freeing, vb lu/w) someone from bondage. Jesus gives himself, sacrificially, “in exchange” for many others, in order to set them free.

Mark 14:21, 41

Finally, though they occur at a later point in the narrative—in the heart of the Passion narrative—the “son of man” references in Mark 14:21 and 41 obviously serve, for Jesus, as a self-reference, but one that is closely associated with his suffering and death. In a sense, these two references serve to frame the narrative of Jesus’ suffering (passion) prior to his arrest. The betrayal of Jesus, alluded to (by the verb paradi/dwmi) in the second and third Passion predictions, is the focus here, emphasized most dramatically in verse 21:

“(On the one hand, it is) that the son of man goes under just as it has been written about him; and (yet,) for that man, through whom the son of man is given along [paradi/dotai], (it would be) fine for him, that man, if he had not come to be (born)!”

As in 9:12 (see above), Jesus’ suffering is described as something foretold (prophesied) in the Scriptures. Following his agony in Gethsemane (vv. 32-41), the time of his betrayal finally comes, the moment that sets in motion the process leading to his death. The wording Jesus used to announce this, in verse 41, indicates that it is a moment of eschatological significance:

“It holds off (no longer)—the hour has come! See, the son of man is given into the hands of sinful (men)!”

This climactic declaration brings to fulfillment the “son of man” statements by Jesus dealing with the idea of his suffering (and death) as a “son of man”. As I have discussed, this usage likely alludes to the poetic tradition whereby the expression connotes the weakness and mortality of the human condition. At the same time, Jesus clearly is using it as a self reference: “this son man” —namely, himself.

In the fourth (and last) part of this article on the Synoptic (Markan) sayings, we will look at a seemingly quite different context for the expression “the son of man” —namely, the sayings in 13:26 and 14:62 par, with their reference to the exalted/heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13-14.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 2)

Mark 8:31 / 9:31 / 10:33, continued
The First Passion-Prediction: Mk 8:31

“And he began to teach them that ‘It is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s, and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] under the Elders and the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off, and (then), after three days, to stand up (again).”

The principal action that will take place is indicated by the verbal infinitive paqei=n (“to suffer“)—that is, there will be considerable suffering for Jesus in Jerusalem. The extent (and severity) of this suffering is suggested by the substantive adjective polla/ (“many [thing]s”). This is informative for an understanding of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as it is used here.

On the surface, this prediction of suffering is completely at odds with Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (v. 29), especially if that title was referring to the royal Messiah of the Davidic Ruler figure-type (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). It was certainly not thought that the Davidic Messiah would experience intense suffering when he arrived in Jerusalem; rather, he was expected to subdue the nations and establish a new (Messianic) kingdom on earth, centered at Jerusalem. The context in Luke 17:20-21 and 19:11ff suggests that at some of Jesus’ followers and observers expected the establishment of this Messianic kingdom when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. The entire Triumphal Entry scene reflects this same expectation (cf. the recent notes on this scene, in this context of the Synoptic narrative).

With regard to the Passion-prediction, there may be an intentional distinction being made (by Jesus) between the title “Anointed (One)” and “Son of Man”. Peter’s confession emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah (who was to appear in victory and glory), while the Passion-prediction, emphasizing Jesus’ impending suffering, focuses on his identity as “Son of Man”.

There can be no doubt that “son of man” in the Passion-prediction is a self-reference by Jesus (on the basis for this usage of the expression, see the Introduction, and Part 1). In other words, for Jesus to say “it is necessary for the son of man to suffer”, this is much as if he had said “it is necessary for me to suffer” (cf. the Matthean version of the prediction mentioned below, and discussed briefly in Part 1). At the same time, “Son of Man” here also functions as a kind of title, especially insofar as the Passion-prediction represents a response to Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah). While Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, he also, at the same time, points the disciples in a different direction, emphasizing his suffering as the “Son of Man” (see the Summary section below).

Even as there was no expectation of a “suffering Messiah” in Judaism at this time (for more on this, cf. my article in the series “Yeshua the Messiah”), so also there is no evidence for the idea of a “suffering Son of Man”. Conceivably, the idea could have developed from reflection on the famous ‘Suffering Servant’ passage in Isa 52:13-53:12, which early Christians did apply to Jesus’ suffering and death (Lk 22:37; Acts 3:13; 8:32-33, etc); but it hard to see how this passage would have related to the specific title “Son of Man”, prior to its application to Jesus.

In my view, a better explanation for Jesus’ usage here in the Passion-prediction involves the fundamental significance of the expression (cf. references in the Introduction)—as relating to the human condition, especially in its limitation, weakness, and mortality. By applying the expression “son of man” to himself in the context of his Passion, Jesus is identifying with the human condition, particularly with regard to the experience of weakness, suffering and death. For an objective statement to this same effect, cf. the wording in the famous Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:6-11).

The use of the modal verbal form dei= (“it is necessary”) to introduce this announcement of the Son of Man’s suffering is also significant. It is relatively rare in the core Synoptic tradition, occurring only several times in the words of Jesus. The verb is more frequent in Luke, including several important instances in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, where the necessity of Jesus’ suffering is predicated upon the fact that it was prophesied in the Scriptures (22:37; 24:7, 44). This idea, however, was scarcely a Lukan invention; it reflects early Christian belief, and is stated equally clearly (by Jesus) in the Matthean Passion narrative (26:54). Indeed, it seems likely that the force of dei= in the Passion-prediction relates to the same prophetic mandate, and that this is how Jesus intended it to be understood.

As I have noted, the form of the Passion-prediction is relatively fixed within the Gospel Tradition. There are some notable differences, however. Matthew’s version (16:21), in its initial wording, reads:

“…that it is necessary (for) him to go away into Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s”

The italicized portion marks the variation from the (shorter) Markan version. Since the prediction is couched within the Synoptic narration, the Gospel writer has a bit more freedom to add explanatory detail, such as the phrase “go away into Jerusalem”, which also serves to emphasize the location where these events will take place (and the goal of the coming journey). Also noteworthy is the way that the author essentially explains the title/expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus. Luke’s version (9:22) here, by contrast, is identical to Mark.

The Second Passion-Prediction: Mk 9:31

The second prediction begins as the first did, with a warning by Jesus (8:30), not to tell anyone about his Messianic identity. In this instance (9:30), he warns his disciples not to inform anyone about his travels. The reason, indicated by the opening words of v. 31, is that he wanted privacy so that he could teach his disciples about what was to come in Jerusalem. This provides the setting for the second Passion-prediction:

“For he was teaching his learners [i.e. disciples], and said to them that ‘The son of man is (about to be) given along into (the) hands of men, and they will kill him off, and, (hav)ing been killed off, after three days, he will stand up (again).'” (9:31)

This second prediction has a simpler and shorter form, omitting mention (except in an indirect way) of the suffering the “son of man” will experience in Jerusalem. Here, the focus is not on suffering, but on process of death and resurrection. The process has three connected components:

    • “he will be given along into the hands of men” —alluding to his betrayal, arrest, and interrogation/trial
    • “they will kill him off” —his death at the “hands of men”
    • “he will stand up (again)” —his resurrection

The last two components are most closely connected, as indicated by the temporal/relational clause between them: “and, (hav)ing been killed off…”. Matthew’s version (17:22-23) differs only slightly in wording, while the Lukan version (9:44) is abbreviated, including only the first statement (“the son of man is about to be given along into [the] hands of men”), along with a solemn introduction by Jesus (“You must set these words into your ears…”).

The Third Passion-Prediction: Mk 10:33f

The third prediction is the longest, and appears to be a conflation of the first two, but with other expanded detail as well. In the context of the narrative, it has a climactic position, marking Jesus’ impending approach to Jerusalem:

“See, we step up (soon) to Yerushalaim, and the son of man will be given along to the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers, and they will judge against him to death, and (then) will give him along to the nations, and they will toy with him and spit on him, and they will scourge him and kill him off, and (then), after three days, he will stand up (again).” (10:33-34)

The expansions give more detail to both the suffering the “son of man” will experience, and the process of his being put to death. Thus, suffering and death are the main points of emphasis. The Matthean (20:17-19) and Lukan (18:31-33) versions generally follow the Markan, but in a simpler and more streamlined form. Luke notably frames the saying in terms of Jesus’ suffering (and death) as a fulfillment of Scripture (v. 31). This introduces a theme that will play an important role in the narrative of Luke-Acts: the need, as part of the early Christian mission, to offer Scriptural support for the problematic idea that the Messiah (identified as Jesus) would suffer and die.


Scholars have debated whether the three Synoptic Passion-predictions should be regarded as three separate traditions, or variations of a single tradition. The similarity in formulation would tend to argue in favor of a single underlying tradition, which could be transmitted or presented in various forms. This variation may reflect Markan literary handling of the tradition, or it may pre-date the Gospel writer. One might be inclined to explain the second prediction as a simpler or abbreviated form of the first, and the third as a more expansive version (including more detail from the wider Passion tradition).

In any case, the use of the expression “the son of man” would appear to be the same in all three sayings. It is probably best to focus on the first saying, as I have done above, in the context of the Synoptic tradition. If the connection between the first saying and Peter’s confession (8:29f) is original, then it could indicate that the expression “the son of man” connotes something significant, beyond its use as a self-reference by Jesus (see above).

If so, what is this significance? The idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, would suffer and be put to death in Jerusalem seems to have shocked and scandalized the disciples—as represented in the tradition by Peter’s response (and rebuke) to Jesus (8:32 par [omitted by Luke]). The teaching Jesus gives in v. 31, following as it does Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, may be intended as a point of contrast (and warning). He would not arrive in Jerusalem in glory, victoriously establishing the kingdom of God on earth—at least, not in a way that would conform to popular expectations. Instead, as a “son of man”, he would experience suffering and death.

If the expression connotes anything specific in these sayings, it surely involves an allusion to the poetic tradition, by which the parallel “man / son of man” indicates the weakness and mortality of the human condition (cf. again the references in the Introduction). By calling himself “the son of man”, Jesus is identifying himself with this aspect of the human condition.

At the same time, one could argue that the expression was primarily intended by Jesus as a self-reference, and that, on this basis, the expression came to be preserved in the Greek text of the Passion prediction(s). The definiteness of the articular expression in Greek (or the determinate state in Aramaic, av*n`a&-rB^) could carry much the same meaning (and emphasis) as in the earlier sayings of 2:10 and 28 (discussed in Part 1). Jesus would then be referring to himself as “this son of man” —i.e., as for myself, as this son of man… .

The centrality of the Passion-predictions, among of the Synoptic “son of man” sayings, is significant in this regard. For they emphasize both the suffering of Jesus, and his subsequent exaltation. The primary focus is on Jesus’ suffering, yet the promise of exaltation (in the resurrection) is also present. Still, the association of the expression “son of man” with this latter aspect will not come clearly into view until the climactic sayings, in 13:26 and 14:62 par.

In Part 3 of this article, we will give consideration to  the Passion predictions as they govern the Synoptic (Markan) narrative (in chaps. 9-10), while also examining the other “son of man” sayings that occur in the narrative (prior to 14:62).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 1)

The Synoptic “Son of Man” Sayings

When considering the use of the expression “(the) son of man” ([o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou) in the Gospels (see the Introduction), we shall begin with the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptic Tradition. The core tradition is represented by the Gospel of Mark. All of the “son of man” sayings in Mark are also found in the Gospels of Matthew and/or Luke.

Before proceeding, we should revisit the three main uses of the expression “son of man” (Heb. <d*a* /B#, Aram. an`a$ rB^) which would likely inform, or relate to, the usage (as spoken by Jesus) in the Gospels:

    • The indefinite usage (i.e., “a person…”, “one…”), whereby the speaker/author can refer to him/herself in the third person.
    • The generic usage, whereby the expression simply means “a human being”; in Old Testament poetry, where the expression is paired with “man” (using one the four nouns, <d*a*, vona$, vya!, or rb#G#), the emphasis tends to be on the limitations and weakness (including the mortality) of the human condition.
    • A special reference to the exalted figure in Daniel 7:13-14 (“[one] like a son of man”).

In the Gospel of Mark, we find a progression involving these three lines of tradition:

    • The first two sayings (2:10, 28) involve, rather simply, the indefinite and/or generic use.
    • The seven sayings in the heart of the narrative (also in 14:21, 41) involve the indefinite use, but drawing, it would seem, upon the emphasis the expression conveys in Old Testament poetry—viz., alluding to the weakness and mortality of the human condition.
    • Two of the final sayings (13:26; 14:62) clearly allude to the exalted figure of Dan 7:13-14.
Mark 2:10 & 28

The first “son of man” saying occurs in the context of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic in Capernaum (2:1-12; par Matt 9:1-8; Lk 5:17-26). This episode represents one of the first recorded miracles in the Synoptic narrative, and it introduces a conflict theme—between Jesus and the religious leaders, in response to his ministry—that is developed over the course of the narrative. Here, the particular issue—and the point of objection for the religious leaders (‘scribes’)—is the declaration by Jesus to the paralyzed man in verse 5: “your sins are put away”. By this declaration, Jesus indicates that he has the authority (and ability) to remove the guilt and effects of a person’s sins—an authority which, in their mind, belongs to God alone (v. 6). For a human being to take on the authority of God in such a way was, effectively, to give insult (vb blasfhme/w) to God.

This provides the background (and context) for Jesus’ use of the expression “the son of man” at the climactic moment of the episode (v. 10), just before he heals the paralyzed man:

“…but (so) that you might see [i.e. know] that the son of man holds authority [e)cousi/a] to put away [vb a)fi/hmi] sins upon the earth…”

At the historical level, it is most unlikely that Jesus uses the expression “the son of man” here as an exalted title for himself (in allusion to Dan 7:13, etc), even though many early Christians might have understood the reference in that way. The issue in the episode, as noted, is that a human being (“son of man”) dares to take the place of God in removing sin for an individual (cf. the comment in Matt 9:8). Thus, it would seem that Jesus is using the expression in its generic sense (see above).

However, the expression occurs with the definite article in Greek, which suggests, on the assumption that the saying would have originally been uttered by Jesus in Aramaic, that the expression was given in the determinate state, with the a– sufformative. Presumably, the Aramaic would have been av*n`a&-rB^, where the a– sufformative would either stand for the definite article or as an emphatic marker.

How does this relate to the statement by Jesus in verse 10? The particular form of the expression, suggested above, could either indicate definiteness or emphasis. In the latter case, Jesus would be saying, “…a son of man [i.e. human being] can forgive sin on earth”; in the former, the point would be that “this son of man [i.e. this particular human being] can (indeed) forgive sin”. In either case, Jesus is identifying himself as the person who can forgive/remove sin, acting on God’s behalf.

The second saying, in 2:28, seems to have a similar focus. It, too, is part of a conflict-episode—the first of the Sabbath-controversy episodes (2:23-28 par), which I discuss in an earlier article (in the series “Jesus and the Law”). Again certain religious leaders raise an objection—this time in response to the conduct of Jesus’ disciples on the Sabbath (v. 24). Jesus answers their objection with an example from Scripture (vv. 25-26) that illustrates how human need (such as hunger) supersedes the Sabbath regulations. This leads to the maxim, in verse 27, which states the principle more directly: “the Šabbat came to be for the man, and not the man for the Šabbat”. That is to say, the Sabbath regulations are for the benefit and service of human beings, and not the other way around. Humankind is referenced by the noun a&nqrwpo$ (with the definite article), lit. “the man” [i.e., mankind].

The saying that follows in verse 28, builds upon this maxim, and brings the episode to a climax:

“And so the son of man is lord even of the Šabbat.”

The case for a generic use of the expression “the son of man” is even stronger here than it was in v. 10, given the clear parallelism between “man” (v. 27) and “son of man” (v. 28). One might paraphrase the relation between the sayings as follows:

“The Šabbat came to be for man…
and so the son of man is even lord of the Šabbat!”

Yet, it is likely that here, as in verse 10, Jesus is referring to himself, specifically, by the definite/determinate “the son of man” (Aramaic av*n*a& rB^). In this regard, one might translate vv. 27-28 as:

“The Šabbat came to be for man…
and this son of man is even lord of the Šabbat!”

Mark 8:31 / 9:31 / 10:33

As noted above, there are seven “son of man” sayings at the heart of the Markan Gospel, and these are anchored by the three Passion-predictions by Jesus—in 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33, respectively. In the Markan version of these sayings, they all use the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou). In each instance, it is quite clear that Jesus is using the expression in reference to himself.

The first of these Passion-predictions occurs in 8:31, following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the “Anointed (One)” (i.e., Messiah), in verse 29. He warns his disciples not to tell anyone about his Messianic identity (v. 30), and then proceeds to inform them of his impending suffering and death. The first Passion-prediction is couched within the Gospel narration:

“And he began to teach them that ‘It is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s, and to be (remov)ed from consideration by the elders and the chief sacred officials [i.e. priests] and the writers [i.e. scribes], and to be killed off, and (then), after three days, to stand up (again)’.” (v. 31)

This “son of man” reference resembles that of 2:10 in the way it stems from the narration. It is possible to read the syntax so that the use of the expression “son of man” comes from the narrator, rather than from Jesus:

“And, (so) that you might see that the son of man holds authority to put away sins on earth, he says to the paralytic: ‘To you I say, rise up!…'”

Similarly, 8:31 could be treated entirely as narration, or, perhaps, as an indirect quotation:

“And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the son of man to suffer…”

This raises an interesting question regarding the early development of the “son of man” sayings within the tradition. How much are they the product of the Gospel narrative, as the various traditions are presented, in hindsight, with knowledge of Jesus’ identity as the exalted Messiah (and Son of God)? Is it possible that the Synoptic narrative preserves a vestige of this sort of development?

Indeed, there are a number of critical commentators who would regard many, or even all, of the “son of man” sayings as, effectively, the creation of early Christians. That is to say, a Messianic (or Christological) title, identifying Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Dan 7:13f), is placed on the lips of Jesus, even though he did not (necessarily) utter it himself. I find such a theory to be most improbable, on objective grounds. The main argument against it is the utter lack of evidence for such a title (“the Son of Man”) being used by Christians in the first century (see my discussion on this point in the Introduction). The presence of the expression in the Gospel Tradition is best explained as being due to the use of it by Jesus himself.

It is another matter whether the Gospel writers (and their readers) understood the expression principally as a Christological (or Messianic) title. There is some evidence that they did. We should be careful to distinguish between the original use of the expression by Jesus, and how that usage was, subsequently, interpreted and applied by early Christians.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this article on the Synoptic/Markan sayings, we will examine the place of the expression in the Passion-predictions in more detail. Variations in the Matthean and Lukan versions will be noted, and the other “son of man” sayings, connected with the three main Passion-predictions, will also be examined.