Son of man, the

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Son of man, the (Gk., ho huios tou anthropou). A phrase (not title) used in the New Testament which occurs exclusively in the sayings of Jesus (and once elsewhere, Acts 7. 56), the anarthrous (i.e. without the definite article the) form in John 5. 27 being the only exception. The definite form in the singular (otherwise found only in the plural, ‘the sons of men’) has not yet been found in any pre-Christian Hebrew literature, except once in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 11. 20, and there apparently as an after-thought, since the article is added above the line). On the other hand, the definite form is found in Aramaic, so that if Jesus spoke Aramaic it is a natural expression. The conclusion is inescapable that the phrase was used deliberately and with specific intent by Jesus to convey ‘the son of man, the one you all know about’.

It seems probable, therefore, that Jesus used the phrase to draw together the two major uses in what was already becoming scripture by his time, namely, that he was teaching and acting among them with direct authority from God, not as a superhuman figure (e.g. an angel or a messiah or a prophet) but as one who is as much subject to death as anyone else, who believes nevertheless that he will be vindicated by God despite death. When it seemed on the cross that the vindication had not happened, the cry of dereliction (‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’) was real indeed; which makes the actual vindication in the resurrection all the more compelling, since it appears to have taken his followers very much by surprise. The allusion to Daniel 7 (and Josephus, Antiquities 10. 267 implies that the passage might have been widely known) would also have carried with it a sense of his own obedience constituting the true vocation of Israel and the only ultimate basis for kingship—an obedience to which he called his followers also (however little they comprehended it at the time).