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In the written NT, "the son of man" is "ο γιος του ανθρώπου," with a definite article "ο." This would presumably be a Greek translation of an Aramaic phrase used during the apostolic period (unless a Greek-speaking evangelist invented its usage as a title out of whole cloth), and would have been familiar to first-century Palestinian Jews as a stock phrase heard in readings of the then-oral targums (e.g., Daniel 7:13).

I don't know any Aramaic, but I gather that in Aramaic this is "bar enos," and as far as I can tell from looking at a description of the grammar, the meaning that is conveyed in English or Greek by a definite article is indicated in Aramaic by a suffix "-a."

So if an Aramaic speaker wanted to say "the son of man," would they have said something like "bara enos?" Or would the "-a" go away because of the following vowel or something like that?

The point here is whether there would have been any distinction apparent in oral Aramaic between "[a] son of man" and the title "the Son of Man." (I gather that Koine Greek had definite articles but no indefinite articles.)

Some linguistic information about the phrase in Aramaic: https://www.goarch.org/-/the-aramaic-phrase-bar-enos-son-of-man-dan-7-13-14-revisited

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  • What evidence do you have that this expression is 'a Greek translation for an Aramaic phrase' ? Koine Greek has 'an article'. It does not have a 'definite article'. – Nigel J Jan 23 at 16:29
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    @NigelJ: Not clear on your question. Are you not convinced that Jesus and his followers all spoke Aramaic to each other? Are you not convinced that Jesus ever referred to himself as "the son of man?" – Ben Crowell Jan 23 at 17:06
  • Koine Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean region. The apostles would have been fluent in Koine Greek, possibly as their own language or maybe bi-lingual. There is no evidence to suppose that one has to look deeper than the actual words they wrote in order to understand their concepts. To do so, is to undermine the gift of the scriptures to humanity. – Nigel J Jan 23 at 20:57
  • . . . in any case, this quiestion is off-topic as it is not focused on a text of scripture but is opening up a topic for debate. Please see the Tour and the Help as to the functioning and purpose of the site and in particular the matter of 'biblical topic' questions being off-topic on an hermeneutic site. – Nigel J Jan 23 at 21:32
  • @Ben you can fix the problem with your question by tying it to specific New Testament passages such as John 5:27 and contrasting it with Daniel 7:13. – Perry Webb Jan 24 at 2:21
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In Hebrew and Aramaic a noun in the construct drops the definite article. An example is בֶּן־יִשַׁי֙ ben Jishay "the son of Jesse" in 1 Samuel 20:31. Ben in Hebrew is in construct and translated "the son of" although it has no article because it is construct.

Daniel 7:13 has k-bar eneysh as a/the son of man. The Septuagint (LXX) translates it without the article ὡς υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου.

There are two possible reasons a New Testament writer would use the article in Greek.

  1. They interpreted the construct has having the article.

  2. However, especially when alluding to Daniel 7:13, the more likely reason is the article points specifically to "son of man" in Daniel (e.g. John 5:27) as apposed to the meaning any human, or human likeness as in Revelation 1:13

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In Greek the expression "son of man" can be indefinite as in Revelation 1:13 New International Version

and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.

The Greek definite article is missing in this case.

The Aramaic version can be found in https://biblehub.com/aramaic-english/revelation/1.htm.

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Here is a definite form in Matthew 24:30

"Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.

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  • Thanks for your answer, but since I don't read Aramaic or know the grammar, I can't tell what your answer is. Do you think you could transliterate and parse the highlighted Aramaic text? – Ben Crowell Jan 23 at 17:09
  • You say it "can" be indefinite, but the point of my question is whether there is an audible distinction between two forms, an indefinite one and a definite one. – Ben Crowell Jan 23 at 17:17
  • I added to my answer. – Tony Chan Jan 23 at 17:35
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In Aramaic “a son of man” is one word while “the son of man” is 2 words. They sound very different because of the declension with definite article

In Greek the two can sound identical because sometimes the definite article is missing but implied.

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  • When I look at the Peshitta (Syriac), son of man is one word, but it is two words as written in Daniel 7:13 (Aramaic) in the MT.. – Perry Webb Jan 23 at 18:56

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