In Mark 2:10, while addressing the crowd, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man.

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”

Mark 2:9-11 ESV (emphasis mine)

Being as Jesus has only been introduced in Mark's gospel up to this point as the "Son of God", the introduction of this title or phrase, "Son of Man", seems unexpected.

Why does Mark use this story (and the next with 2:28) to introduce this title, but then its use is dropped until much later - 8:31 seems to be the next occurrence, which isn't until the second half of the book after Peter's confession. And why does Jesus use this way of referring to himself in the two narratives in chapter two (or in particular, this one)?

Please note: my question does not ask what the title "Son of Man" means per se. Rather I'm interested in its placement within the narrative of Mark's gospel.

  • It's hard to answer "why". I even debated on if this is on topic... it is... but it's so close to doctrine that I don't know how you could answer it w/o injecting doctrine. Feb 20, 2014 at 0:41
  • Jesus was baptized by John on behalf of man in the ways of Men as the Son of Man representing men(For there was none greater than John born of a woman but still the least in the Kingdom of God) after which was Baptized by the Father through the Holy Spirit in the way of heaven, as the Son of God representing heaven. Thus Jesus became anointed as the "Mediator" between man & God.
    – abey
    Apr 16, 2014 at 12:19

5 Answers 5


From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

This is the favorite self-designation of Jesus in the Gospels. In Matthew it occurs over 30 times, in Mark 15 times, in Luke 25 times, and in John a dozen times. It is always in the mouth of Jesus Himself that it occurs, except once, when the bystanders ask what He means by the title (John 12:34). Outside the Gospels, it occurs only once in Acts, in Stephen's speech (Acts 7:56), and twice in the Book of Revelation (1:13; 14:14).

Because this is the title Jesus prefers for himself, it follows that it would be used in his first self-reference. Up to that point, all titles given for Jesus are provide by the author or someone else.

Because this title is used exclusively by Jesus, this feature is not unique to Mark, but true across the gospels. In all 4 gospels, the first use of "Son of Man" is by Jesus. see Matthew 8:20, Luke 5:24, and John 1:51.

Titles Jesus uses in Mark:

Using a red-letter edition of the ESV, I did a quick count of titles Jesus used (counting some that he may not have been using for himself, and some in which he is quoting from someone else) and came up with the following counts:

  • Lord --- 5:19; 12:36,37
  • prophet --- 6:4
  • Christ --- 9:35; 12:35; 13:31
  • Son of David --- 12:35
  • Son --- 13:32
  • Teacher --- 14:14

Total count: 10

  • Son of Man 2:10; 2:28; 8:38; 9:12,31; 10:33,45; 13:26; 14:21 x2,41,62

Total count: 121

This shows "Son of Man" is the title Jesus prefers to use for himself in Mark.

Example of preference:

One notable example is when the High Priest asks Jesus if he is the Messiah using two different titles. Jesus still uses "Son of Man," even when he answers in the affirmative.

14:61,62 (ESV)

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

This is also the key to understanding why Jesus prefers this title in the first place. It is a clear reference to Daniel 7:13,14:

“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and 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 one
that shall not be destroyed.

It seems very likely this is the reference Jesus has in mind when he uses the title "Son of Man." Herein a mysterious figure having the appearance of a man appears before the "Ancient Of Days" and is given dominion over the earth. This is certainly inline with his claims, as Mark 2:10 is a good example: So that "you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..."

1 The reason for the discrepancy between my count and ISBE is that verses 8:31 and 9:9 are not in red letters (although Jesus is the one speaking indirectly) and 13:34 is not translated "Son of Man" in the ESV.


John Carroll says in The Existential Jesus, page 255, that a large majority of biblical scholars assume that Mark’s Gospel was written around 70 CE, or a few years earlier or later. He says (ibid, page 11) the consensus is that Mark's Gospel was the first New Testament gospel to be written. This places Mark at a time when the emerging Christian religion still valued its links with Judaism.

Not just in Mark 2:10, but throughout the Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. Peter refers to Jesus as the Messiah in verse 8:29, but again not as the Son of God. It is left up to outsiders to refer to Jesus as the Son of God, but Jesus never acknowledges that description, telling them to say nothing of this. I suggest that 'Son of Man' was intended to be seen by readers as a parallel to 'Son of God', without the blasphemous connotations that 'Son of God' would imply to Jews.

E. P. Sanders says in Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Development, The Life of Jesus, P79 that ‘Christ’ and ‘son of God’ became the two favourite Christian titles for Jesus, and that some Christians understood them in a way that Jews might have regarded as blasphemous. He also says the titles fit the post-resurrection Church better than the life-time of Jesus.

So, for example, when the demons call Jesus the Son of God in Mark 3:11-12, Jesus commands them to tell no one of this. In verse 14:61, another outsider, the high priest, asks Jesus, "Art thou the Christ, Son of God?" The Christian community would not expect to be held responsible for the words of demons or of the high priest at the trial of Jesus.

God is also above reproach, so twice (Mark 1:11, 9:7) calls Jesus his beloved son. This is proof enough, so Jesus never had to use this same description of himself.

Raymond E. Brown briefly mentions the gradual estrangement between the Christian and Rabbinical Jewish communities in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 197. He compares Mark 12:28-34, in which Jesus is questioned by a well-disposed scribe who agrees with Jesus' response, to the same passage in Matthew 22:35-40, in which all the verses favourable to the questioner are omitted, as well as the Jewish prayer (the Shema) with which Mark 12:29 prefaces Jesus' response. Thus the later gospels did not have Mark's constraint and were free to refer to Jesus as divine. In Matthew chapter 4, Jesus twice tells Satan that it is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

  • Again, please give sources for assertions made in any answers you post on this site. Showing your work is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it.
    – Dan
    Feb 19, 2014 at 22:20
  • I have added references for: Date Mark's Gospel was written and its priority; Jews might have regarded as blasphemous the Christian understanding of 'Son of God'; later estrangement between Christianity and Judaism, to help explain the willingness of later writers to use 'Son of God' and references to the divinity of Jesus more freely. I previously stated that it is my suggestion that 'Son of Man' was intended as an acceptable parallel to 'Son of God', so that Jesus could refer to himself in the third person. 'Son of Man' is an OT term, but Question does not require an explanation of this. Feb 20, 2014 at 3:32
  • I was mostly referring to your assertions about the dating of the Gospel in the first paragraph, which you've now provided a source for. Thanks! I can tell from reading your answers that you know what you're talking about, but please show us how you know things every time you answer here. I've removed my DV and replaced with an upvote.
    – Dan
    Feb 20, 2014 at 14:29

On a related question I posted this answer which I believe demonstrates that authority over the age to come was not given to the son of God but rather to the son of man. This incident was about the authority of the son of man to forgive sins. Jesus shows that he is more endorsed by God as being the son of man with authority than as being the son of God with power. Jesus is showing that he has the authority to whom was committed the age to come.

The details are in the provided link to my earlier answer.


I believe that theories of the eschatalogical Jesus contend that perhaps Jesus used the phrase "Son of Man" to refer not to himself but to someone yet-to-come, i.e. as a prophecy of a future person's arrival. This may have originated with Schweitzer. I'm not an expert in the field so I do not know how plausible different experts believe this theory to be.

I'm not sure what conclusion this theory would come to regarding this specific passage, but it would surely change the perspective to some degree. Many things are possible. For instance, if Mark's gospel was written using Matthew and or some prior accounts (the M-source?), perhaps some of the story before or after the quote was embellished to help explain the quote. Again, not an expert, but this possibility seems missing from the current answers.

A reference: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/anvil/26-3_219.pdf

Albert Schweitzer, as both New Testament scholar and Christian missionary, provides us with one model of what the son of man sayings might contribute to Christian mission. He argued that Jesus was an eschatological prophet. Like other Jews of his time, he expected there to be a period of tribulation prior to the arrival of the messiah and the kingdom of God. Like John the Baptist, he expected and proclaimed the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus believed that at the coming of the kingdom he would be revealed as the messiah, which Schweitzer claims is both a supernatural figure and one that Jesus equated with the son of man of Dan. 7:13.


In Mark, the only title Jesus uses of Himself is "the Son of Man," and the Evangelist quotes Him, directly or indirectly, using that title a total of 14 times. Dr. Edmond Hiebert, in his A Portrait of the Servant, suggests the following:

“Jesus apparently chose this title for Himself because its use would not immediately associate Him in the thinking of the people with the undesirable connotations which had developed around the common term Messiah. Thus, His use of the term half concealed and half revealed His self-identification as the personal Messiah. While the term was recognized to have Messianic connections, the title Son of man would not force the people to make a premature decision concerning His identity in terms of their usual Messianic expectations. It would enable him to connect His Messianic self-presentation with views more in harmony with His own Person and teaching.”

It has been said that "Timing is everything." What is true in the ordinary course of events is even truer in the chronological unfolding of the events in the public ministry of our Lord Jesus. On more than one occasion Jesus sternly warned people neither to broadcast what Jesus had done for them nor let others know of His identity as the Messiah (e.g., Mt 9:30; 12:16; 16:20; Mk 1:43,44; 8:30; Lk 9:21).

We know, of course, His ultimate rejection by the religious establishment in His day would lead to His crucifixion, but by both His stern warnings (as just mentioned) and His employment of other tactics (e.g., His vanishing from the crowd which was about to kill him, Lk 4:30; see also Jn 5:13; and 6:14,15), he prevented His demise from coming too early.

In conclusion, I like Dr. Hiebert's expression "the term [Son of Man] half concealed and half revealed His self-identification as the personal Messiah." Jesus was certainly not prevaricating through this concealment. Consider it, rather, part of His rhetorical strategy to do everything in His Father's time and according to His Father's timing. Besides, Jesus knew from eternity past what it was like being the Son of God with all the glory and splendor of being at the right hand of the Father in heaven; being a real man, however, was something new to Him, and He reveled in His identity as both the Son of God and the Son of Man, even though His self-emptying required for a time that He be humble and obedient, even unto death (Philippians 2:6-8).

By the way, see Daniel 7:13-14 for the Son of Man title which carries with it the notions of both deity and humanity.

  • @Onlyheisgood: "The devil's in the details," my friend. The words "son of man" in Numbers are not the same as (or equivalent to) the title "Son of Man." The translators of our English Bible (dare I say every extant version?) capitalize Son of Man, and for good reason. A "son of man" could not survive the heat of the king's furnace, but a Son of Man could. That is the point: Jesus as the Son of Man (and God) is the perfect representative for our fallen race. He was and is the Second Adam who, though in "the form of a bond-servant . . . and in the likeness of men . . . humbled Himself . . .." Oct 12, 2014 at 21:50
  • Yes, and this is how we are both right. The Hebrew word for "Man" is "Adam". So Jesus came formed as "Adam". Jesus the "Son of Adam" was a child through his "Mother". How he is the "Second Adam" is that God Breathed Life into the Woman. In similarity to Adam: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7 NKJV). In this case the Breath of Life came upon Mary.
    – Decrypted
    Oct 12, 2014 at 23:07

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