I hope that someone can throw light on this obscure point, probably by checking the Greek text regarding tenses etc., which I cannot do.

“Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” K.J.V., which to me, equates with “Who am I?” (Also Bullinger’s Companion Bible.)

“Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” R.S.V. , which to me, equates with “Who is he?” (also the N.A.S., N.I.V., N.L.T.)

The K.J.V. seems, to me, to have Jesus owning personally that he is the Son of Man.

The R.S.V. seems, to me, to have Jesus speaking of the Son of Man in an abstract, not a personal way.

Is there significance in that, or do the different renditions make no difference whatever, in fact? Or, does the Greek text not even allow for the K.J.V. translation, “am”? Must it be, “is”?


5 Answers 5


As noted in @MikeSangrey’s comment, the KJV's rendering is likely a function of the Textus Receptus, the text of Mt 16:13 of which has the personal pronoun με (Strong’s G3165 meaning me:—I, me, my).

Matthew 16:13b - Reverse interlinear (blueletterbible)

Τίνα    ἄνθρωποι    λέγουσιν    με      τὸν υἱὸν    ἀνθρώπου    εἰναι 
Whom    do men      say         that I  the Son     of Man      am?

(Note that the verb εἰναι in Mt 16:13 (Strong’s G2511) is actually in the form of the infinitive and therefore has neither person nor number. For an English translation that preserves the infinitive form of εἰναι, see YLT. YLT is also worth noting because it offers yet another perspective on Mt 16:13.)

While I cannot speak to the accuracy of the Textus Receptus, nor that of the KJV translation, I do think the difference between the KJV and the other English translations has a significant impact on meaning. Regardless of the translation, there is little doubt that "the Son of Man" refers to Jesus. That said, the use of different grammatical persons effectively alters the relationship between Jesus and the title “Son of Man.”

The OP states, “The K.J.V. seems, to me, to have Jesus owning personally that he is the Son of Man.” I agree. The use of the first person is the equivalent of Jesus saying, “I am the Son of Man.” The effect of the third person, on the other hand, is to turn “Son of Man” into an impersonal title. In other words, the use of the third person creates conceptual distance between Jesus and the title “Son of Man.”

In context Jesus asked his disciples two questions about who people say he is: one from the point of view of people in general and the second from the perspective of his disciples in particular.

Matthew 16:13-16 ESV (break added after v14 )

13 he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In the course of their conversation, two identities come into view: Son of Man and Son of God. When the first person is used in both questions, the parallelism creates a sense of parity between these two identities.

KJV (select text from Mt 16:13-16)

Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?

But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, the Son of the living God.

In translations that shift from the third person in the first question to the first person in the second, an idiosyncrasy is created that serves to accentuate the differences between the two questions and the corresponding identities. In the third person, “Son of Man” becomes more of an impersonal persona, an outer or assumed aspect of Jesus’ person, not his true self.

ESV (select text from Mt 16:13-16)

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is”?

“But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In summary, the pairing of the first person with “Son of God” is indicative of a closer connection than that of the third person and “Son of Man.” Based on this discussion, I understand the closer connection to imply that, of the two titles, “Son of God” is more expressive of who Jesus truly is (cf Php 2:6-8, Rom 8:3, Jn 1:14).


The OP is correct that the KJV presents Jesus as "owing" the title but the RSV presents him speaking in the third person. In terms of theological significance the KJV obviously presumes that Jesus is referring to himself. But as @Dottard indicated, the Greek does not contain the word "I."

However, this does not necessarily mean that Jesus did not think he was the Son of Man. Some scholars do take this position, believing that he spoke of someone else in the passage. Moreover, each gospel treats the issue a little differently so the question is not as simple as it may appear. In any case it's quite possible to read the statement as Jesus simply referring to himself in the third person. Indeed, if the verse is read in context it is hard to interpret it any other way, for Jesus immediately proceeds to rephrase the question in the first person:

13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Conclusion: The theological significance of including the first person pronoun in the title "the Son of Man" is to clarify that this title is owned by Jesus. Unless the question about the Son of Man is a different question than the one in verse 15, the presumption is correct. However, the KJV is rightly considered to have unnecessarily or improperly departed from the literal meaning of this verse.

  • In the first sentence, you mean "owning", yes? Commented Jun 5 at 6:46

There is a large set of textual variations in the Greek MSS at Matt 16:13; the main ones surround the inclusion of an almost ungrammatical accusative "me" into Jesus' question, as per the Byzantine text and TR. Bruce Metzger (Textual Commentary on the GNT) comments as follows:

Both the variety and positions of "me" in the witnesses that include it and the fact that in the parallel passages the word is firm indicate that it was originally absent from Matthew's account.

Therefore, the comments below concern only the UBS5/TR28 text.

First, it was almost universal in the gospel accounts that Jesus referred to Himself in the third person. Indeed, the only occasions that Jesus used the first person singular pronoun is in His seven predicated "I am" statements, and the 14 unpredicated "I am" statements.

However, on all 80 occasions that He used the title "Son of Man" it was referring to Himself in the third person. Matt 16:13 is no exception to this last rule.

Here is how I would literally translate Matt 16:13 -

And Jesus, having come into the region of Caesarea-Philippi, was questioning the disciples of Him saying, "Whom say the people to be the Son of Man?"

In more idiomatic English I would offer the following translation:

And Jesus, having come into the region of Caesarea-Philippi, was questioning the His disciples, asking: "Whom do people say the Son of Man is?"

Note that the first-person pronoun is completely absent and is not implied. Its inclusion in the KJV/TR appears to be an attempt at smoothing the English text or something (albeit, rather ungrammatically).

Indeed, the phrase, "The Son of Man" occurs 81 times in the NT and only in the Gospels (plus once in Acts 7:56 by Stephen) and always in the mouth of Jesus referring to Himself in the third person.

[There is a closely related phrase "Son of Man" (without the articles) occurs 4 times, three of which are in Heb 2:6, Rev 1:13, 14:14; the fourth is in John 5:27.]

Thus, in this instance, Jesus is being entirely consistent in His language.

  • 7
    The KJV attempt at smoothing the English might be related to the Textus Receptus having, Τίνα με λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι. Note the personal pronoun με. Commented Jun 3 at 13:39

Conjugation is the change that takes place in a verb to express tense, mood, person and so on. In English, verbs change as they are used, most notably with different people (you, I, we) and different time (now, later, before).The English language has strict and well followed rules of Conjugation . That is not the case with oriental languages. Some use the same structure of verb say, counterpart of 'is', to accompany any Person and Number in grammatical construction.

< Similarly, it was usual for writers and poets to describe themselves in the Third Person .The Indian mystical poet Kabir would every now and then introduce a noble thought saying "Thus says Kabir ..." So, what may look unusual in English may be perfectly OK with some other languages.
< Now, Jesus had been frequently referring to himself as Son of Man and the disciples were accustomed to it. It would not therefore make a difference to the question or to the answer because what Jesus was interested in knowing was what the public said of him. Look at the answer : "Some say John the Baptist; some say Elijah..." . That fits into either way of framing of the question ".. I am.." or " ..he is " . Then Jesus puts the direct question : What do you say ...? And Peter gets ten on ten for his answer ! And look at Verse 17 : The Lord indirectly compliments Jonah, the father of Simon, for the correct answer, at the same time attributing its source to The Father Above ! Son of Man meets Son of Jonah ! Could Matthew have presented the event any better ?


It would be useful to compare Jesus' saying with Yahweh's commandment in OT:

Ex 20 : 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

Exod.34:14 : For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

< See that in Ex 20, God is referring to himself in First Person and in Ex 34, in Third Person. Jesus may have had in mind the Exodus commandment where two different ways of expression are used. Such types of expression is a part of day- to- day language. We adress a Judge as Your Lordship, first part of the salutation being in Second Person and the second part, in Third Person. A mother asks her child " Do you love your Mamma ? " The answer invariably is : "I love you, Mamma ". Even children understand such 'Third Party' references. Why would the disciples not ? Of course, there were instances where the communication from Jesus was not properly understood by the disciples, for instance the reference to Yeast of the Pharisees. But in the instant case there was no confusion and the disciples' response was quick and correct. But the question is : was not the Lord aware of who he was in public sight ? He only wanted to hear the answer from the mouth of the disciples ! And he wanted to confirm that the perception of the disciples was was beyond what the public had of Jesus . Looking for theological significance to the wording of Jesus' question, may not fetch a conclusive result, given the precedence of Exodus.

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