Note of the Day – Easter Season

For the remainder of Easter Season, on through Holy Week, I will be looking at selected verses and passages from the Gospel of Luke, set around the journey to Jerusalem—specifically those which involve the expression “(the) Son of Man”. Most of the references containing “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in Luke were inherited from the wider Synoptic tradition, and parallel versions can be found in Matthew and Mark as well. They will be introduced below.

The Gospel of Luke is unique among the three Synoptics in the way that the narrative is structured around the journey to Jerusalem. The common view of many New Testament scholars is that Matthew and Luke both made use of Mark as a source document. The basic hypothesis is sound, though not without certain difficulties. It may, however, safely be said that, if Luke did not use Mark, then the author clearly drew upon a document (or a developed set of traditions) which, in terms of structure and content, was very similar to Mark. For most of chapters 3-9, Luke follows Mark (chs. 1-9) in its basic narrative and arrangement of episodes, including additional material at several points. Indeed, Luke 9:1-50 corresponds with Mark 8:1-9:41, has nothing matching Mk 9:42-10:13 (except the saying in Lk 17:1-2), and then ‘picks up’ the narrative thread of Mk 10:14ff, but only at Lk 18:15. All of Lk 9:51-18:14 (nearly nine full chapters) consists, for the most part, of material not found in Mark. Lk 9:51ff contains (1) sayings and narrative sections occurring also in Matthew (so-called “Q” material), and (2) material found only in Luke among the Synoptics (so-called “L”). The “L”-material in these chapters includes many of the most famous and beloved parables of Jesus.

The fact that the “Q” sayings, etc., often occur in very different locations in Matthew strongly suggests that we are dealing with a literary, rather than historical/chronological, arrangement. The narrative setting for this material in Lk 9:51-18:14 is the journey of Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. The Synoptics, unlike the Gospel of John, record only one journey to Jerusalem—for the Passover of Holy Week, Jesus’ last week prior to his death. In Mark and Matthew, this journey is narrated very briefly (cf. Mark 10:1, 17, 32, 46; Matt 19:1; 20:17, 29); Luke, on the other hand, records Jesus giving a considerable amount of teaching—taking place, according to the narrative setting, on the way to Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man”

There are more than 85 occurrences of the expression [o(] ui(o\$ [tou=] a)nqrw/pou (“the son of [the] man”), in the New Testament—every occurrence in the Gospels comes either from Jesus’ own lips or in reponse to his words (for the latter, cf. Lk 24:7; Jn 12:34). Outside of the Gospels it is only found in Acts 7:56; Heb 2:8 (quoting Ps 8:4); and Rev 1:13; 14:14 (alluding to Dan 7:13, also 10:5, 16; 14:4). In an upcoming article, I will examine in detail the background and meaning of this expression and how it applies to Jesus. For the moment, by way of introduction, I would simply note that the Greek expression corresponds to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (ben-°¹d¹m), which occurs in the Old Testament more than 100 times. In ancient Semitic idiom (/B# ben, “son”) in the construct state (“son of…”) often has the meaning of belonging to a particular group or category, and of possessing such characteristics. In this instance, “son of man” simply means “a human being”, i.e. belonging to the human race. Specifically it can mean possessing human characteristics or qualities (especially mortality), contrasted with a heavenly or divine being (including God [YHWH] himself). The parallel, synonymous expression vona$ /B# (ben °§nôš), “son of (hu)mankind” occurs once (Ps 144:3); the corresponding Aramaic is vn`a$ rB^ (bar °§n¹š), only at Dan 7:13 in the OT, along with the variant forms vn rb, avn rb (as well as <da rb) attested in later Aramaic. The Biblical (and contemporary) usage can be summarized as follows:

  1. Generally (or indefinitely) of a human being (“a[ny] man”), in poetic language—with <da /b (ben °¹d¹m, “son of man”) set parallel to <da (°¹d¹m, “man”), cf. Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 50:40; 51:43. The dual-expression (“man…son of man…”) often is set in contrast to God [YHWH] and His nature.
  2. In divine/heavenly address to a human being (a Prophet), in Ezekiel (more than 90 times) and Daniel (Dan 8:17). The sense is something like “(as for) you, O mortal…”, again distinguishing a human being from the divine/heavenly being who addresses him.
  3. The apparently unique instance of Daniel 7:13—here “son of man” is used to describe a divine/heavenly/angelic(?) being who resembles a human. This famous passage will be discussed in more detail later on.

For a convenient summary of the topic, especially on the possible Aramaic forms of the expression which might relate to the concept and terminology in the 1st century A.D., see J. A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays, Chapter 6 (Scholars Press: 1979), pp. 143-160 (reprinted in The Semitic Background of the New Testament [Eerdmans: 1997]).

I will be beginning these notes with the Son of Man saying in Luke 9:22 (par Mark 8:31; Matt 16:21). Here is a list of prior sayings in the Gospel, along with their Synoptic parallels:

  • Luke 5:24 (Mk 2:10 / Matt 9:6)
  • Luke 6:5 (Mk 2:28 / Matt 12:8)
  • Luke 6:22 (cf. Matt 5:11)
  • Luke 7:34 (Matt 11:19)

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