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Ezekiel is the only prophet regularly referred to by God as "son of man" (ben adam). This is particularly interested to Christians since Jesus took the title "Son of Man" upon himself (ὁ υἱός τοῦ ἀνθρώπου). I have heard three primary interpretations of this passage:

  • It is connected to Daniel 7:13 and is Messianic.
  • It is "puny human," in contrast to the transcendence of God (understood carefully, this need not be inconsistent with a Messianic interpretation).
  • It is "son of Adam" in contrast to "the sons of Israel," as shown in 2:3:

    Then He said to me, "Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me." —NASB

    Thus it sets Ezekiel apart from the rebellious nation (and this can still be Messianic).

Which is the most likely interpretation in the Biblical, historical or linguistic context? Other interpretations not mention here are welcome if they are well-argued. Also feel free to comment on the Messianic connection.

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From the more immediate meaning it may have been a simple way for God to humble Ezekiel for he had given him many visions about the future. The same thing was required of Paul on account of his ‘surpassingly great revelations’ (2 Cor 12:7). Yet as (כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח Sanh. 99a) "All the prophets prophesied not but of the days of the Messiah", we have among other biblical references, the idea that 'all the prophets' were 'types of Christ' and in some way 'spoke of Christ'. Therefore the term as it related to Messiah is of special interest.

From the Messianic view, Son of Man as a grammatical phrase means mere mortal, so 'puny human' in its literal sense. However when Jesus took the title 'Son of Man' it was more like 'THE' son of man, or The Puny Human. That is he was the first human to be to be re-created in a new Genesis, as the first fruit of the success of his own work in defeating the ancient serpent and restoring paradise to mankind. Just as Adam was just a man, so Christ from his human aspect in the God-Man was a typical  man and new Adam.

This title is intensified by the Rabbinic expectation of Messiah who was considered existing before his appearing and expected to be more 'super human', if human at all. He was not expected to be a God-Man, but way above a human. Therefore as the Son of David, Son of God, Servant of God, Eternal Priest of God, and virtually the reproduction of all in the Old Testament, the 'son of man' established no dout in his humanity, and no doubt in what flesh he came to  die for.

So the Dan 7:13 is also true. When Adding the 'God' to the 'puny man' Messiah is better described as 'like a man'.

Note: Sanh-The Talmudic Tractate Sanhedrin, on the Sanhedrim and Criminal Jurisprudence.

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I'm confused by your second paragraph. My understanding is that the rabbinic view is that the messiah is a human being (with a certain lineage), not some supernatural being. Do you have rabbinic sources that indicate otherwise? (I don't claim to have read everything. :-) ) –  Gone Quiet Jun 21 '12 at 14:24
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@MonicaCellio - Alfred Edersheim, Jewish Historian and professor 1800s has a section in his book on Messiah, WHAT MESSIAH DID THE JEWS EXPECT? P163. He is extensive in his references to ancient Rabbinic literature. Sample quote: 'They convey the idea, that the existence of this Messiah was regarded as premundane (before the moon, before the morning-star), and eternal, and His Person and dignity as superior to that of men and Angels: ‘the Angel of the Great Council,' probably ‘the Angel of the Face' - m.ccel.org/browse/bookInfo?id=edersheim/lifetimes. For ex, Mica 5:2 was Messianic. –  Mike Jun 21 '12 at 15:16
    
Thanks for the pointer Mike! –  Gone Quiet Jun 21 '12 at 15:29
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As in Daniel, it is likely that there is an intended contrast to the metaphorical "beasts," i.e. the ravenous Gentile nations surrounding Israel who would despoil her in various ways (see e.g. Ezek 34). In the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar for pride, he literally becomes like a beast, eating and living as they do (Dan 4).

In numerous places, N.T. Wright argues that in Daniel, the term refers to Israel, which Jesus then takes over in His self-conception as the sum and fulfillment of true Israel.

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We should distinguish between the idiom of the prophet and the later theological interpretations of the text.

Ben Adam in Hebrew (Aramaic bar Enosh) expresses the distinction in ancient thought between the mortal and immortal actors in the world drama - between humans and gods in Greek and Roman thought, and between humans and God in Israelite thought.

In the idiom of Ezekiel, ben adam is nothing more than "mortal Joe", an expression of appropriate humility in the presence of the Eternal. Ezekiel has in fact subverted the term from its mythic use, to use it as a literary antithesis emphasising the eternity of God. This use actually results in a diminution the expression.

Because the concept of mortal versus immortal beings that underlies the expression is no longer part Western thought, ben adam is difficult to translate. And because of this difficulty, the translators did as they do in these instances - they punt, that is, translate the words of the expression literally, which in English results in "son of man". The non-expert reader is left with the mistaken idea that "son of man" is some great Theological Concept of OT thinking, when in fact, the opposite is the case.

Ezekiel ben Buzi is a cohen, a priest, who at the time of the exile and the return had a universalistic interpretation on Israelite tradition. However, his prophecy is addressed to the people of Israel, of whom he sees himself not only a member, but an elite member. So there isn't much basis for interpreting ben adam as antithesis to ben brit or ben Yisrael rather that as antithesis to "the ancient of days" or the Eternal God.

The idiom of God referring to Israel as a people seemingly separate people from the prophet that He is addressing is the "perspective view", used especially with Moses, but also with other prophets. This idiom is used to emphasise the prophetic commission, and the prophets righteousness, but does not detach the prophet from the people.

Later theological interpretations, whether Talmudic, Gnostic or Christian, have great meaning and importance to these respective faith communities. Certainly they are all of historical importance in and of themselves.

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