In this thread I’m discussing whether Jesus ever used the term “Son of Man”‘ and if so, if he used it to refer to a future cosmic judge of the earth; and if so, whether he talked about *himself* as that one. My answers are yes, yes, and no. I answered the first two questions in previous posts. I will now begin to answer the third, i.e., to show why I don’t think Jesus called or thought of himself as the coming Son of Man who was to arrive from heaven on the day of judgment
To do this I need to reintroduce into the blog a historical criterion that scholars use to determine what Jesus actually said, given the fact that we certainly have records of him saying things that he certainly didn’t say. Even if you think Jesus said everything recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, how would you know if he said the things found in *other* Gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas? You would need to have some way of evaluating the sayings. Those same criteria can be applied to the canonical works as well.
For some users of the blog this particular criterion will be an old friend (I’ve talked about it a number of times); for others it will be a new acquaintance. It is called the Criterion of Dissimilarity. Here is how I talk about it in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.
What An Odd Thing to Say! The Criterion of Dissimilarity.
The most controversial criterion that historians use, and often misuse, to establish authentic tradition from the life of Jesus is sometimes called the “criterion of dissimilarity.” The criterion is not so difficult to explain, given what we have already seen about the Gospels.
Any witness in a court of law will naturally tell things the way he or she sees them. Thus, the perspective of the witness has to be taken into account when trying to evaluate the merits of a case. Moreover, sometimes a witness has a vested interested in the outcome of the trial. A question that perennially comes up, then, involves the testimony of interested parties: are they distorting, or even fabricating, testimony for reasons of their own? The analogy does not completely work, of course, for ancient literary sources (or for modern ones either, for that matter). Authors from the ancient world were not under oath to tell the historical facts, and nothing but the facts. But when examining ancient sources, the historian must always be alert to the perspective of the witness.
We know that early Christians modified and invented stories about Jesus. There is no one who disputes this: otherwise we would have to think that …
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