Over the past few weeks, as I have been talking about the rise of Jewish apocalypticism, in relation to the historical Jesus, a number of readers have asked me to explain what I think about the “Son of Man” in the sayings of Jesus Jesus.  Did Jesus call himself the son of man?  If so, what did he mean?  And if not, what did he mean?

As it turns out, these are some of the most complex, convoluted, and confounding questions confronting scholars of the historical Jesus.  Many books, some of them big and dense, have been written on the issue.  There are lots of opinions about it.  Here I’ll try to explain my view, and try to justify it.  The following is taken from my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium


The Coming Son of Man

Among the most heated, and least enlightening, debates among New Testament scholars has been the question of the origins of the phrase “the Son of Man” in the teachings of Jesus.  Everyone agrees — since it’s plain for all to see — that in the Gospels Jesus uses the phrase in a variety of ways, sometimes to talk about his present ministry (“the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”; Luke 9:58; Matt. 8:20), sometimes to predict his future suffering (“the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again”; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22), and sometimes to refer to a cosmic judge from heaven, whom we’ve now met on several occasions (for example, Mark 8:38:  “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he arrives from heaven in the presence of the holy angels”).  Hence the questions: Did Jesus — that is, the historical Jesus, the actual man himself (not Jesus as portrayed in the later Gospels) use the phrase in all of these ways?  Did he always use it in reference to himself?  Did he ever use it in reference to himself?  Was it a common phrase in first-century Aramaic?  Would his hearers have understood what he meant by it?  These and related questions have occupied scholars and led to mixed results.  And as I’ve suggested, some of the debates have been less than scintillating.

For example, one of the most hotly contested questions is…

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