I have received a rather difficult question from a blog member, involving how the Gospels understand and portray Christ in relationship to one another.
Here is the question – or series of tightly interrelated questions – followed by the beginnings of an answer. This one’s gonna take several posts.
In Mark 8:27-28 Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and they reply that different people think he is “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets” Jesus then follows up with the key question: “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter replies: “You are the Christ.”
When Luke tells the story Luke keeps the verbal back and forth almost the same, although when Peter replies he is a bit more specific: “The Christ of God.” (Was there another kind of Christ?!)
Matthew’s version is a bit different though. Jesus ask, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples reply in much the same way (although in addition to John the Baptist and Elijah, they also say that some people think he is Jeremiah). And Jesus replies again. “But who do you say that *I* am?” And Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” (And Matthew adds more at that point)
So, was Matthew having Jesus ask two different questions: who is the Son of Man, and who am I? Or is Matthew trying to have Jesus refer to himself in this passage as the Son of Man? In fact, is Matthew equating Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God as all the same person in this passage? Or is he differentiating between Jesus and the Son of Man? He obviously tweaked the passage for some purpose
Yup, this is a tricky one. The passage as a whole is highly significant, especially in Mark’s Gospel. It comes almost precisely half-way into the story, and it is the first time that anyone in the entire account appears to have any clue about who Jesus is. And what happens next shows that Peter, who says that Jesus is the Christ (i.e., the messiah), has no idea what that actually means for Jesus. It does not mean he will be the “anointed” (that’s the meaning of “Christ”) one who will rule as a king of Israel, for example by overthrowing the Roman domination. It means he will be crucified. Being executed by your enemies was just the *opposite* of what the messiah was to do. Peter is understandably confused, but it’s Mark’s major point. Jesus is certainly the messiah, but not the one anyone expected.
I may deal with all that at greater length in another post. For now the question is: why did Matthew change Jesus’ question so that he began by asking who people say “the Son of Man” is, rather than who “I” am? It seems on the surface that the answer is dead easy, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. This one is unusually complicated. It has to do with what the phrase “Son of Man” means – in the Jewish world at the time, on the lips of Jesus, and in the Gospels. Entire books – big books – have been written on this question, by people taking diametrically different views. It’s a quagmire.
We won’t go deep into the swamp here, but I do want to explain a few things about “the Son of Man” before directly answering the question. Here is …
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