The evangelists seem to have their favored ways of talking about who Jesus was. I've also noticed that one controversial thing in people's discussions on this site is the designation between Son of God over Son of Man. In John, for example we see 13 occurrences of Son of Man (υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) and only 9 occurrences of Son of God (υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ). The evangelist appears to use them interchangeably.

Even some of the manuscripts have the wording different. In John 9:35, for example, we have these variations that use ἀνθρώπου:

Nestle GNT 1904 Ἤκουσεν Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω, καὶ εὑρὼν αὐτὸν εἶπεν Σὺ πιστεύεις εἰς τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου

Westcott and Hort 1881 Ἤκουσεν Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω, καὶ εὑρὼν αὐτὸν εἶπεν Σὺ πιστεύεις εἰς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου;

against these that use Θεοῦ:

RP Byzantine Majority Text 2005 Ἤκουσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω· καὶ εὑρὼν αὐτόν, εἴπεν αὐτῷ, Σὺ πιστεύεις εἰς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ;

Scrivener's Textus Receptus 1894 Ἤκουσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω· καὶ εὑρὼν αὐτόν, εἶπεν, αὐτῷ Σὺ πιστεύεις εἰς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ;

Son of Man certainly serves as an allusion to Daniel, but is there a specific context or purpose which would have motivated the evangelist or the scribe to use one designation over the other, or are they truly interchangeable?

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The precise meaning of the phrases ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’ in the Gospels has been a matter of scholarly debate for two millennia. While it was once widely believed that both had strong messianic intentions, this view has been strongly challenged in the last century following analysis of the wider range of literature now available from the period (e.g. Dead Sea scrolls, Nag Hammadi library). While much remains unresolved, scholars are at least agreed the phrases are not interchangeable. In the OP’s specific example, the textual variants of Jn.9:35 suggest an intentional scribal change, not a dynamic or formal equivalence of the phrases in the minds of early Christians.

'Son of God': Jewish, Roman, or Christian ideals?

Simply put, ‘son of God’ describes the subject’s close relation to God, though the exact nature of that relation and its implications are varied and debated. Some suggest the Greek phrase in the Gospels may retain the meaning of the similar Hebrew phrase in Jewish literature where, for example, it refers to God’s ‘divine council’, an anointed human king, or Israelites as the 'children of God'. Others suggest the phrase draws from the immediate Greco-Roman culture; e.g. a deified human or a human descendent of a god. And of course many Christians have understood the gospel writers to have used the phrase as an explicit messianic or Christological claim, a divine title. Determining the precise meaning of the phrase in each of its canonical gospel uses is out of scope here; we need only note the range of possible meanings points to a special relationship with God.

'Son of Man': a Human, what I call Myself

Historically 'son of man' points in the opposite direction. The Hebrew expression ben-'adam appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible, 93 of them in the Book of Ezekiel. In the OT it simply means ‘human being’, often in abject contrast to God. Importantly, the Hebrew phrase never appears with the definite article, ‘the son of man’, as a title. Jews considered the expression “one like a son of man” in Dan.7:13-14 (on which so much Christian eschatology is pinned) as likely referring to a messianic figure, probably an angel, but not a messianic title. According to Geza Vermes,

“From the completion of the Book of Daniel in the 160s B.C. to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 there is no attestation in extant Jewish literature of the use of ‘son of Man’ as describing a religious function.”

Evangelical NT scholar Larry Hurtado agrees: “There is, in fact, no evidence that ‘the son of man’ was a fixed title, or that there was a known figure who bore it, in ancient Jewish tradition.” Hurtado describes the 'fixed, messianic title' belief as “formerly held widely” and “now-outdated”: “Certainly, it’s noteworthy that there is no evidence in the NT that ‘the son of man’ ever functioned as a confessional title, unlike, e.g., ‘Messiah/Christ,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Son of God’” [emphasis added].

Instead, Hurtado writes, the phrase (with the definite article), “seems to have been simply a distinctive self-referential expression/idiom.” Vermes states it is now “generally accepted” that the Greek formula ho huis tou anthropou – ‘the son of the man’ – translates the common Aramaic idiom, bar ‘enasha or bar nasha, as speaking of oneself in the third-person, equivalent to a first-person pronoun:

“[I]n the Galilean dialect of Aramaic spoken by Jesus, ‘son of man’ sometimes appears in a monologue or dialogue as a circumlocutional reference to the speaker himself. It is not unlike the English figure of speech, ‘yours truly’, used in the place of ‘I’. .... The purpose of such a periphrastic style was to camouflage something fatal dreaded by the speaker or something that would sound boastful if directly asserted. So one would say in Aramaic, the son of man is going to die, or the son of man is about to become king, rather than I will die, or I will be proclaimed king.”

The suggestion that ‘son of man’ was a common Aramaic idiom for oneself may explain why the phrase does not appear in any of Paul’s epistles, only once in Acts (in Stephen’s final speech), and in two direct quotations of the OT in Revelation. Almost all of the 79 or so NT examples of the phrase are found on the lips of Jesus in the Gospels.

The Son of Man of later Christian Eschatology

In later decades – during the period during which the gospels were written – the ‘Son of Man’ became a fully developed messianic character in apocryphal and deutero-canonical literature (e.g. 4 Ezra 13, Parables of Enoch, 1 Enoch 37-71), paralleling if not fully incorporating the Christ-figure of Pauline Christianity. The gospel writers may have interpreted the Aramaic oral traditions and early written texts they inherited through the lens of these later theologies, such that Jesus’ simple third-person references to himself in Aramaic were understood (or recast in their retelling) as messianic or Christological self-identification in the new kerygmatic texts. The ‘historical Jesus’ is difficult to discern, but the widely recognized ‘low Christology’ of Mark, thought to be the earliest gospel, and the ‘high Christology’ of John, thought to be the latest, suggest a particular trajectory.

While there is no scholarly consensus on the precise development or the full meaning of these phrases in the Gospel texts, at no point do scholars suggest the phrases ‘son of God’ and ‘son of man’ are interchangeable. Each has a distinct history, and the range of their possible meanings are increasingly complex.

The phrase "Son of Man" appears 85 times in the Gospels. In all but one instance - Mark 8:31 - the Evangelists are either quoting Jesus directly (e.g. Mark 19:10) or quoting someone repeating something Jesus said (e.g. John 12:34). The case of Mark 8:31 is an indirect quote.

The case of "Son of God" is similar. The phrase appears over 20 times. With the exception of Mark 1:1, John 1:34, and John 20:31, the Evangelists are either quoting Jesus or others using the phrase.

Thus, I think the simple answer to your question is that what appears in the Gospels is what the Evangelists recall Jesus or others saying; or, in the case of those who were not present with Jesus, is what they recall being told was said.

The Gospels purport to accurately represent what Jesus and others said. No Evangelist should have intentionally interchanged two terms because they felt they personally felt that they were theologically equivalent.

  • If you think -- on the basis of your personal theology -- that the gospel writer himself exercised no creative input over these words, perhaps you could answer the question from the point of view of Jesus. In John, why does Jesus use one phrase or the other in particular circumstances? – Schuh Aug 24 '16 at 4:48
  • @Schuh, I wasn't answering on the basis of theology, but rather on the basis of simple linguistics. Where the text says something like λέγει ὁ Ἰησοῦς, I assume the text literally means that "Jesus said" what follows and not something like "Jesus said but really meant". I was just trying to answer the question as stated, which was "is there a specific context or purpose which would have motivated the evangelist or the scribe to use one designation over the other." If the questioner wanted a different question answered, than I think he should post that particular question, do you agree? – user15733 Aug 24 '16 at 13:17
  • @TheNonTheologian upvote for a literal answer to the question. However, it seems unlikely to me that the authors would have had zero motivation for the difference in usage, regardless of the actual words that Jesus may have used. I would not be so naive as to suppose that the author was a pure vessel which did not influence that which was poured out of it. So the question still remains, would the authors have had theological preference for one term over another in a given context or to express a specific meaning? If the answer is 'no,' then why not? – Alex Durbin Aug 24 '16 at 15:45
  • @AlexDurbin I'm just drawing a blank. If someone were writing an account of what a particular individual said on a certain day and they remembered that the individual said, "I have a dog", why would the author decide to write that the individual said "I have a mammal" instead, knowing that that wasn't what they remembered hearing ... – user15733 Aug 25 '16 at 13:28
  • 1
    That'd be a good question for Christianity:SE. Here's a conservative rationale: web.ccbce.com/multimedia/BLB/faq/nbi/1269.html. At issue are different conceptions of 'gospel' as a genre - eg. 100% accurate report of biography as history, vs. kerygmatic apologetics. The former assumes word-for-word supernatural revelation and dictation; the later allows the writer to shape the received testimony for a purpose, perhaps responding to supernatural inspiration. Each view manages the quotation problems differently. – Schuh Aug 25 '16 at 15:37

As noted in the answer by user 15733, the expression "the Son of Man" referring to Jesus is used in the Gospels only as spoken by Jesus Himself, mostly in direct quotes plus a few indirect quotes.

Outside the Gospels, the expression "the Son of Man" with the initial article is used only once in reference to Jesus: in the Book of Acts, when Stephen describes his final vision before the Sanhedrin:

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)

Most probably, these words by Stephen reminded the members of the Sanhedrin of the similar words spoken to them by Jesus during his trial, recorded in Luke's Gospel as:

"But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." (Luke 22:69)

Now, it is clear that in the case of Stephen the expression "the Son of Man" with the initial definite article cannot possibly be understood as "simply a distinctive self-referential expression/idiom" as Larry Hurtado and Geza Vermes would want us to think, as quoted in Schuh's answer. Rather, it is clear from the reaction of Stephen's audience that they understood the expression as referring to the Son of Man in the vision of Daniel:

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away; and his kingdom is one which shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13:14)

Now, contrary again to Larry Hurtado's views quoted in Schuh's answer, there is a definite probability that the expression "the Son of Man", originating from Daniel's vision, had indeed become widely associated to the Messiah in Palestine in Jesus' times, depending on the extent to which the contents of the Book of Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71) (also called the Similitudes of Enoch) had become diffused (though not necessarily believed) in Palestine by 28 AD, which in turn depended on the book's composition date. On the last point, the position bearing the greatest weight in the present state of scholarly research on the Book of Parables is that the book was written in Galilee towards the end of the kingdom of Herod the Great (37 BC - 4 BC) or shortly after his death [1]. This implies that it is probable that its contents were broadly known (though not necessarily believed) in Palestine in 28-30 AD.

As it is well-known, the Book of Parables of Enoch develops the figure of the Son of Man introduced in Dan 7:13-14 in its chapters 45, 46, 48, 49, 51, 55, 61, 62 and 69, calling Him also "the Elect One" many times (in reference to the first poem of the Servant of YHWH, Isa 42:1), "the Righteous One" twice, and "the Anointed One" (i.e. the Messiah) twice [2].

In 45:3, 51:3, 55:4, 61:8, 62:2,3,5 and 69:29, the Elect One sits on the throne of glory, explicitely stated to be God's throne in 51:3.

In 48:3, 48:6 and 62:7, the Son of Man exists from before the creation of the world.

In 48:5 and 62:9, the Son of Man is worshipped. Note that both chapters are the same two which affirm the preexistence of the Son of Man, and that both do that before narrating the action of worship.

Thus, the expression "the Son of Man", used by Jesus to refer to Himself and by Stephen to refer to Jesus seen at the right hand of God, alludes to the figure of the Son of Man of Dan 7:13-14, the awareness of which was probably widespread in Palestine at that time thanks to the difussion of the Book of Parables of Enoch.

Note that Jesus refers to Himself as both "the Son of Man" and the Son of God in his speech to Nicodemus:

"No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (Jn 3:13-18).

In the hypothesis that the awareness of the glorious Son of Man as the Messiah had become widespread in Palestine at that time, this speech can be understood as Jesus stating: "I am the Son of Man seen by Daniel (and also, if you believe that recent book too, by Enoch) in heaven, and the reason why I will be given dominion and glory, the reason why I am worthy of being served and worshipped by all peoples, is that I am God's only Son Who has come down from heaven and assumed a human nature, while still being in heaven in his divine nature."

In summary: Jesus is the only, eternal, consubstantial Son of God who has assumed a human nature, in which He was seen by Daniel. It is precisely because He is the Son of God that, in his human nature, He will be given dominion and glory and is worthy of being served and worshipped by all peoples.

[1] Darrell L. Bock and James H. Charlesworth (ed.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift, Bloomsbury, 2013. https://books.google.com/books?id=PW3roOm3LG0C

[2] http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/boe/index.htm

The Book of Daniel, which is is considered the classic example of apocalyptic literature contains two references to 'son of man', but Ezekiel also contains numerous such references, although in neither case is there obvious theological intent.

Psalm 8:4-5 refers to the 'son of man' such as to exalt him. The psalmist may not have intended this as a reference to Jesus, but it can be read as such:

Psalm 8:4-5: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Mark's Gospel is now almost universally recognised as the original New Testament gospel, on which at least the other synoptic gospels were based, and probably also John's Gospel. The Gospel of Thomas, which is widely believed to be at least as early as Mark but independent of it, does not refer to the 'son of man', suggesting that the use of this term does originate with Mark.

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus never refers to himself as the Son of God, using instead the term 'Son of Man'. Only outsiders, such as the demons (Mark 3:11), the high priest (Mark 14:61) and the centurion (Mark 15:39) call Jesus the Son of God. I would therefore suggest that the author of the earliest gospel feared retribution from either the Romans or accusations of blasphemy from the Jews if he had Jesus or Peter, or any of Jesus' disciples, refer to Jesus as the Son of God. However, the Christians could not be blamed if these outsiders called Jesus the Son of God. And, of course, it was not blasphemy when God refers to Jesus as his beloved Son at the Baptism and at the Transfiguration.

Mark 1:1 breaks this pattern because it refers to Jesus as the Son of God, but some scholars believe the reference to Son of God is an interpolation:

Mark 1:1: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

Perhaps Mark's concerns were not so problematic or they were overcome with the passage of time, because Jesus can refer to himself as the Son of God in the later gospels, although we still find many references to him as the Son of Man. Thus, in John, there are 13 occurrences of Son of Man and only 9 occurrences of Son of God.

I don't believe they're interchangeable. In the gospels 'son of God' is a term that others use for Yeshua (except for two instances), and 'the son of man' is a term that only Yeshua uses (except for one instance).

(Note: throughout this answer I will be quoting the Authorized KJV. When the KJV has added a definite article where there is none in the Greek manuscripts, I will replace the entire verse with a literal translation and add the Greek of the verse I changed)


Son of God

Since Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar, I'm only going to cover Matthew and John. I do find it interesting that 'son of God' is found in Mark only 3-4 times and 6-7 times in Luke.


Matthew

In Matthew, there are nine occurrences. The first three are from the tempter and unclean spirits, so that leaves six. The first time Yeshua is called 'a son of God' by men is Matthew 14:33:

"those moreover in the boat bowed down to him saying truly of God a son you are" (Literal)

οἱ δὲ ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες· ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς εἶ

The first time Yeshua is called 'the son of God' is Matthew 16:16:

"And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." (KJV; both Mark and Luke exclude 'the son of the living God)


The next occurrence is pretty interesting:

"But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the son of God.

Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." (KJV) Matthew 26:63

In this verse, the priest asked Yeshua if he was the son of God. Yeshua's only response is "you have said", and then he begins talking about 'the son of man'.


The next two occurrences are men mocking Yeshua before his death, and the final occurrence says:

"The moreover centurion and those with him keeping guard of the Yeshua having seen the earthquake and the things taking place feared greatly saying Truly of God a son was he." (Literal) Matthew 27:54

ὁ δὲ ἑκατοντάρχης καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ τηροῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδόντες τὸν σεισμὸν καὶ τὰ γινόμενα ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα, λέγοντες· ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος


John

John uses this term a lot. Since we've already seen that others call Yeshua 'son of God', I'll just focus on the few times Yeshua says it. In chapter 5, the Jews are angry because Yeshua calls God his father. They think this means Yeshua is making himself equal to God, but Yeshua says:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the son likewise." (KJV) John 5:19

He then says:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God: and they that hear shall live.

For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the son to have life in himself; (KJV)

And authority he gave to him judgement to execute [also], because he is a son of man." (Literal) John 5:25-27

καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ κρίσιν ποιεῖν, ὅτι υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν

In this passage, Yeshua says that 'the dead' will hear the voice of 'the son of God'. He is obviously speaking figuratively here, because dead people cannot hear anything. From what I can gather, this correlates with:

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (KJV) John 11:25

And:

"And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith YHVH, Israel [is] my son, [even] my firstborn" (KJV) Exodus 4:22


The next time Yeshua says 'son of God' is during a similar scenario, where the Jewish leaders are upset because they somehow think calling oneself 'son of God' means they're calling themselves God:

The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; (KJV)

whom the father made set-apart and sent into the world you do say, 'because you blasphemy' because I said 'a son of the God I am?'" (Literal) John 10:33-36

ὃν ὁ πατὴρ ἡγίασεν καὶ ἀπέστειλεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι βλασφημεῖς ὅτι εἶπον υἱὸς θεοῦ εἰμι

Yeshua is trying to get his accusers to explain why saying "I am a son of God" is so bad. He points out that other men are explicity called "gods" and all he has said is "I am a son of God".


Now we are the sons of God

The reason Yeshua is a son of God is because God has many more children. John, who says son of God more than anyone else, tells us:

"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons [children] of God, [even] to them that believe on his name" John 1:12 (KJV)

And if the author of 1 John is the same:

"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2 (KJV)

So this is not a term that applies to Yeshua alone, nor when he says it can it be inferred that he only means himself. Those who follow God's word and believe Yeshua is the Messiah are "sons of God".


The son of man

The son of man is a different term that only Yeshua uses in the gospels, except for one instance. Many believe Yeshua was referring to Daniel, where it says "I saw one like a son of man". The only verses in the NT that imply this has anything to do with Yeshua are Rev. 1:13 and Rev. 14:14. Revelation borrows quite a bit from Daniel, and it's covered with symbolic and figurative language, so to conclude anything from this book alone probably won't help us much.

Yeshua uses this term differently than it's used in the Scriptures. He says ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου which is literally 'the son of the man'. The closest Scripture to this is:

"What is man that you are mindful? And a son of man that you visit?" Psalm 8:4 (Literal)

מה־אנוש כי־תזכרנו ובן־אדם כי תפקדנו

This verse is used in the book of Hebrews, and the author is quite aware that this passage applies to mankind.

"For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. (KJV)

Has testified moreover somewhere someone, What is man, that you are mindful of him? or a son of man, that you visit him? (Literal)

διαμαρτύρομαι δέ πού τὶς λέγω τίς εἰμί ἄνθρωπος ὅτι μιμνήσκω αὐτός ἤ υἱός ἄνθρωπος ὅτι ἐπισκέπτομαι αὐτός

Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:

Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him." (KJV) Hebrews 2:5-8

The author says that God has made all things for mankind and has given man authority over the works of His hands. However, we don't yet see this being used to its full potential-

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (KJV) Hebrews 2:9

Yeshua is the son of man because he is a man, just like we are all the son of man.

Since this term is used very frequently, I'll only cover a few that I find significant.


The son of man can forgive sins

In Matthew, Yeshua tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. The Jewish leaders think this is blasphemy because they've decided in their own heads that only God can forgive sins. But Yeshua says:

"Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

But that ye may know that the son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

And he arose, and departed to his house.

But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men." (KJV) Matthew 9:4-8

Notice "men" is plural. If the multitudes glorified God for giving this authority to men, only to later find out God did no such thing; but rather Yeshua was only referring to himself when he said son of man, "because he is also the God the Son which makes him the second person of the triune god", this would be a pitiful story.


The son of man is lord of the Sabbath

Another instance is when Yeshua and his disciples pluck seed on the Sabbath. They did not break Torah, but the Jewish leaders had made it a law that picking was considered harvesting. The Jews accuse Yeshua of breaking the Sabbath, and he replies:

"Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;

How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?

Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?

But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.

But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

For the son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day." (KJV) Matthew 12:3-8

Yeshua gives two specific reasons why he did no wrong. He appeals to David (a man) and those that were with him (men). He also appeals to the priests (men) and concludes "because the son of man is lord even of the Sabbath day".


You are the son of man

There is one instance where somebody besides Yeshua says 'the son of man' in the gospels. Yeshua is talking to some Greeks that had come to join the Passover, and he tells them that it is time for the son of man to be glorified. After a voice speaks from heaven, Yeshua says:

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [men] unto me.

The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, the son of man must be lifted up? who is this son of man?" (KJV) John 12:34

They knew Yeshua was the Messiah, but they also thought 'the son of man' was a title that he used for himself. Yeshua didn't say 'the son of man' must be lifted up here, he said that 'he' must be lifted up. So they ask who the son of man is, and Yeshua gives them a very indirect answer:

"Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them." (KJV) John 12:35-36

Yeshua mentions only two things in his reply- 'the light' and 'you'. Yeshua cannot be the light, because nobody is ever called 'the son of Jesus'. The reason Yeshua says the light is in the world is because:

"Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me." (KJV) John 12:44

And:

"For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak." (KJV) John 12:49

For another example that the son of man is mankind, please see What did Jesus mean in Jn.9:37: "You have BOTH seen him and ..."?


Various Interpretations

Here are a few examples of how I've come to interpret these passages. They seem to confirm that this is the correct way we should understand 'the son of man'.


The son of man enters God's rest

"And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.

And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the son of man hath not where to lay his head." (KJV) Matthew 8:19

Either Yeshua is completely ignoring this man to talk about himself, or he means the man will get no rest if he follows him- because Yeshua doesn't have anywhere to rest. The second one is plausible, but it contradicts something else Yeshua says in Matthew; which I also believe to be the correct interpretation:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (KJV) Matthew 11:28

The author of Hebrews also quotes the Scriptures to confirm this:

"For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." (KJV) Hebrews 4:11 and Psalm 95:11


The son of man will rise on the third day

Another thing that Yeshua says a lot is:

"Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the son of man shall be accomplished.

For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:

And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again." (KJV) Luke 18:31

I have not found anything in the Scriptures that say the Messiah will rise again on the third day. There is only one verse that can possibly correlate with this:

"Come, and let us return unto YHVH: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.

After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight." (KJV) Hosea 6:1-2


Conclusion

Son of God is a term used for both Yeshua and believers. It applies to those that believe in YHVH and obey Him. The son of man is all of mankind, including Yeshua. He uses this term in parables to teach us what mankind must go through before he can "be perfect even as He is perfect", and to show us what God has planned for us. Yeshua was the first man that God accomplished this in, and it's been His plan since the beginning:

"And God said, Let us make [accomplish] man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (KJV) Genesis 1:26

  • 1
    I downvoted this answer because it contains false information. In Matthew 14:33, you attempt your own translation so you can add the article 'a'. You also quote the KJV for Matthew 27:54 except for the last phrase when it doesn't suit you, and you actively change it to your own translation again so you can add the article 'a' instead of what the KJV originally has, which is "the Son of God." You do this again for John 5:27, changing the KJV when it doesn't suit you so you can add the article 'a' in place of 'the'. And you do this several other times as well. – Bʀɪᴀɴ Aug 26 '16 at 13:59
  • Hey @BrianWeigand Thank you for explaining why you downvoted. The only reason I quote the KJV is because it's my favorite, but I included the Greek each time I changed it to show that there is no definite article. I did forget to include the Greek for John 5:27. I'll add it. Here are some commentaries on this verse biblehub.com/commentaries/john/5-27.htm This is one of the few times Yeshua says 'a son of man'. It might be the only time but I'm not sure. – anonymouswho Aug 26 '16 at 14:33
  • 1
    If you would read the very commentaries you linked to, then you would see that they say the article is completely missing. So your use of 'a' is still not quite right, because the last clause in John 5:27 would be, if you want to be hyper-literal: "...because He is son of Man." But that wasn't my reason for downvoting you. As I already said, I downvoted you because you quote a translation and then change it whenever it contradicts you. – Bʀɪᴀɴ Aug 26 '16 at 15:18
  • Additionally, you seem to have missed the fact that in verses such as Matthew 14:33 & Matthew 27:54, θεου [Theos, 'God'] is in the genitive and therefore the phrase "You are the Son of God" is the same as "You are God's Son" (Matt 14:33), and "Truly this was the Son of God" is the same as "Truly this was God's Son" (Matt 27:54). – Bʀɪᴀɴ Aug 26 '16 at 15:28
  • @BrianWeigand I edited my answer to address these issues. I understand why that may have been a bit confusing. The reason the article is completely missing is because Greek doesn't have an indefinite article. I did read the commentaries, and they say John 5:27 should be 'a son of man'. I don't think I missed the fact that θεου is genitive. I translated it ἀληθῶς (truly) θεοῦ (of God) υἱὸς (a son) ἦν (was) οὗτος (this). – anonymouswho Aug 26 '16 at 19:31

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