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John uses the phrase Son of Man twelve times. Ten are spoken by Jesus and two by the crowd:

John 12:34 ESV
So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
ἀπεκρίθη οὖν αὐτῷ ὁ ὄχλος ἡμεῖς ἠκούσαμεν ἐκ τοῦ νόμου ὅτι ὁ Χριστὸς μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ πῶς λέγεις σὺ ὅτι δεῖ ὑψωθῆναι τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τίς ἐστιν οὗτος ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου

As seen in the Greek text, both Son and Man are written: [article] Son [article] Man.

This method of using articles is what Jesus does the first time when speaking to Nathanael; then with Nicodemus; then in the synagogue in Capernaum; then with His disciples; then to the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles; at the last Passover, and again to His disciples at the Last Supper.

However, when defending His work of healing the invalid at the pool of Bethsaida on the Sabbath and saying God was His own Father, making Himself equal with God, Jesus does not use the article with either term:

John 5:27 YLT
and authority He gave him also to do judgment, because he is Son of Man.
καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ κρίσιν ποιεῖν ὅτι υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν

What is the significance of the decision not to include the article in this particular discussion?

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  • Compare the lack of article in 'he is the King' and 'he is King'. The latter has more force, being an absolute. In English this is called the 'null' article. Up-voted +1. Greek, being an even more conceptual language than English, does the same.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 24, 2023 at 14:38
  • "Son of Man" in John 5:27 is a predicate nominative and, I believe, is an example of Colwell's Rule that "definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article" (pg. 14).
    – Nhi
    Oct 25, 2023 at 3:35

2 Answers 2

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"Son of Man" in John 5:27 is an anarthrous (meaning it has no article) predicate nominative that precedes the verb, a form that Daniel Wallace refers to as “Colwell’s construction.” The predicate nominative is a special use of the nominative case wherein the noun serving as the predicate is the same as the subject or describes the category to which the subject belongs. It is joined to the subject by a linking verb, which can be either stated or implied.

υἱὸς   ἀνθρώπου   ἐστίν
son    of man     he is

According to Wallace in The Basics of New Testament Syntax, a general rule about Colwell’s construction is that it is normally qualitative, sometimes definite, and only rarely indefinite (p. 117). The reason that it can be definite despite being anarthrous is related to Colwell’s Rule, which states that a definite predicate nominative that precedes the verb is usually anarthrous. In other words, while the lack of an article can mean “son of man” is indefinite, its placement before the verb allows it to be understood as definite. With these considerations in mind, I consider the ways “son of man” in Jn 5:27 has been translated into English (source biblehub.com):

  1. With a definite article - the son of man (majority of English translations)
  2. With an indefinite article - he is a son of man (AMP, ASV, WEB)
  3. With no article - he is son of man (LSV, YLT)

Here are my observations of each: Of the first, that the “son of man” in Jn 5:27 is definite and should be rendered “the son of man” is supported by Colwell’s Rule and the way “son of man” is otherwise found with the article in the gospel of John. Of the second, “a son of man” is indefinite but what it communicates is qualitative - “he is a son of man” implying that he is a man or he is human. Regarding the third, while translations that leave out the article may be the most literal, it forms a rather awkward construction in English.

Given the above, I suggest that there are three ways we can interpret υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν:

  1. As definite - he is the son of man
  2. As indefinite/qualitative - he is a son of man
  3. As both definite and indefinite/qualitative

Based on the way the clause is constructed, my choice is for the third option, which is that υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν conveys both that Jesus is the son of man and that he is a son of man. Because of the nuance added by the Greek word order, I consider the placement of the predicate nominate before the verb to be important. This nuance, or rather, these nuances of meaning are lost in translation because the predicate nominative is not placed before the verb in English.

What is the significance of omitting the article?

In a passage that is full of self-revelation, it is significant that Jesus refers to himself as the son of God in verse 25 (the article there is unambiguous) and then as the Son of Man (the Messiah) and a son of man (human) in verse 27 (the lack of the article and position of the words allowing for both readings). According to Bill Mounce, Greek uses word order as a means of emphasis (Normal Sentence Order). While the nine repetitions of the arthrous υἱός in John 5 emphasize Jesus’ identity as the divine (implicit) Son of God, the word order that accounts for the anarthrous υἱός of verse 27 serves to place an exclamation mark on his identity as the human Son of Man.

Again, in a passage marked by self-revelation, these two aspects capture the essence of who Jesus is and how they relate to what he came to do: his identity as the divine Son of God, that of the having and imparting of life; and his identity as the human Son of Man, that of the power and authority to execute judgment. With respect to the latter, Jesus’ words affirm him as the Son of Man prophesied in Daniel 7:13-14 (cf Mt 25:31-32) - the article is anaphoric, referencing back to “son of man” in Daniel 7. But they also confirm his being “son of man” according to Psalm 8:4-6, though as one who came to fulfill/reclaim the “glory and honor” of God’s vision for men (cf Hebrews 2:4-6).

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    Nice answer+1. I would suggest rewording #3 to say the construction is such that both meanings are intended. IOW Jesus intends both meanings apply to Him. Oct 27, 2023 at 18:56
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The phrase "Son of Man" occurs in two forms in the Greek NT:

  1. ὁ Υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου = "The Son of the Man"

This occurs 82 times in the NT, distributed as follows:

  • 30 times in the Matthew, eg, Matt 8:20, 9:6, 11:19, etc;26, 14
  • 13 times in Mark, viz, Mark 2:10, 28, 8:31, 38, 9:9, 12, 31, 10:33, 45, 13:26, 14:21, 21, 41, 62.
  • 26 times in Luke, eg, 5:24, 6:5, 22, etc
  • 12 times in John (as pointed out by the OP), viz, John 1:51, 3:13, 14, 6:27, 53, 62, 8:28, 9:35, 12:23, 34, 34, 12:31.
  • once in Acts 7:56
  1. Υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου = "[a] Son of Man"

It is debatable whether this phrase should be "a Son of Man" or just "Son of Man". In any case, the phrase occurs just four times in the NT as follows:

  • John 5:27 - And He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because [a] Son of Man He is.
  • Heb 2:6 - but someone somewhere has testified, saying, "What is man, that You are mindful of him, or [a] son of man, that You care for him? [This quotes Ps 8:4 which lacks the article in the Hebrew. In this case, "son of man" refers to humanity generally as demonstrated by the parallel previous phrase.]
  • Rev 1:13 - and in the midst of the lampstands, One like [a] Son of Man, having been clothed to the feet, and having been girded about at the breasts with a golden sash.
  • Rev 14:14 - And I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud is sitting One like [a] Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.

Now, I suggest that with the obvious exception of Heb 2:6 which quotes Ps 8:4, the other three, John 5:27, Rev 1:13, 14:14 all allude to Dan 8:13 -

In my vision in the night I continued to watch, and I saw One like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. [Again, there is no article in the Hebrew.]

That is, all these allude to "One like a Son of Man coming in the clouds", that is, the Messiah, whose description in continued in V14 -

And He was given dominion, glory, and kingship, that the people of every nation and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

... that is, the (then) future Messiah would come in the clouds and be given great power and authority, exactly as John 5:27 says.

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  • Nice. I agree. Looking at both expressions, do you think one is a direct claim to be who Daniel sees and the other more a reference to the title or position of "the" Son of Man? Oct 25, 2023 at 3:19
  • @RevelationLad - the real problem here is the difference in article use between Hebrew and Greek - I would guess that the original Hebrew (Dan 7:13) had no article; BUT the Greek requires them so, they all ultimately refer to Daniel as the Son of God. However, when they literally quoite the Hebrew they omit the article.
    – Dottard
    Oct 25, 2023 at 5:22

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