Jesus’ Gospel Identity Solution: Jesus as “Son of Man”

The gospel writers had Jesus repeat the John the Baptist plot narrative of a Hebrew Prophet who tries to get his people to repent, but ends up being slaughtered by the Rome-subservient, Jewish leadership.  Functionally, Jesus plays the same role as John in this second John narrative which is a reboot-sequel of the first.

There is an important difference between the John and Jesus characters in labeling:  the Jesus character constantly refers to himself as the “Son of Man.” In order to understand the gospel writers’ point of view on Jesus, it is important to understand, first of all, that they viewed Jesus exclusively as the “Son of Man” and rejected the label “Son of God.”  Later, post-gospel writers did see Jesus as the “Son of God.” The Son of Man was a strictly Jewish concept from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Son of God was a more Hellenistic concept that the gospel writers must have been leery of, to say the least.

In the Synoptic gospels, Jesus uses the term “Son of Man” to refer to himself some 66 times. He never uses the term “Son of God.” at all. Yet the authors use the term “Son of God” 13 times, having others (generally his enemies) declare him the “Son of God.” Thus, it is clear that the term was available to the authors if they wanted Jesus to say that he was a/the “Son of God.”

In the Gospel of John he refers to himself 13 times as “The Son of Man.” He does make four references to “the Son of God,” but the term is used in problematic ways, which suggest that it is not intended as a self-reference, or it was inserted by later scribes who just added “son of” to the term “God”.

The proof that the gospel authors saw Jesus as “the Son of Man” and rejected the term “Son of God” can be found in the Gospel writers’ consistent and relatively clear use of the two terms.

We may examine that usage by each author.

Gospel of Matthew Usages:

Son of Man:  28.

Son of God: 5.

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man 28 times. He never uses the term “Son of God”. He describes himself as the “Son of Man” in his current incarnation and in a future incarnation.

Example of Jesus talking about the Son of Man as his current incarnation:

11.18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 11.19 the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Example of Jesus talking about the Son of Man as his future incarnation:

24.29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 24.30 then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; 24.31 and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Matthew uses the term “Son of God” five times, but Jesus never uses it. The Jesus character is accused of being the Son of God by 1) a demon, 2) frightened people in boat who are terrified by Jesus, 3) a Jewish High Priest, 4) bitter Jews and Robbers, 5) a Roman Centurion and those who crucified Jesus.

1) Demon

8.29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

2) Terrified People in a Boat

14.32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 14.33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

3) Jewish High Priest

26.63 But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 26.64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

4) Bitter Jews and Robbers

27.43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 27.44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

5) a Roman Centurion and those who crucified him.

27.54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The people who call him a “Son of God” are all people we may classify as opponents of Jesus or people who misunderstand him. The authors are clearly suggesting that people who call Jesus “The Son of God” who not to be trusted.

Gospel of Mark Usages:

Son of Man: 13

Son of God: 3

Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” 28 times. He never uses the term “Son of God.” He describes himself as the “Son of Man” in his current incarnation and in a future incarnation.

Example of current incarnation reference:

14.41 And he came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 14.42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Example of future incarnation reference:

8.38For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 9.1And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Mark uses the term “Son of God” three times, but Jesus never uses it.. The three times that the term “Son of God” is used are by 1) Unknown author/editor narrator, 2) Unclean Spirits, and 3) Roman Centurion who executed Jesus

1) Unknown author/editor narrator

1.1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2) Unclean Spirits

3.11And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 3.12And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

3) Roman Centurion who executed Jesus

15.39And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

As with Matthew, there is no positive character who references him as the Son of God and Jesus does not use the term.

Gospel of Luke Usage:

Son of Man: 25

Son of God: 5

Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” 28 times. He never uses the term “Son of God.” He describes himself as the “Son of Man” in his current incarnation and in a future incarnation.

Example of current incarnation reference:

5.23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 5.24 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” –he said to the man who was paralyzed–“I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.”

Example of future incarnation reference:

18.7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 18.8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke uses the term “Son of God” five times, but Jesus never uses it.. The five times that the term “Son of God” is used are 1) In a genealogical list to refer to Adam 2) by the devil 3) by the devil, 4) by Demons, and  5) by a Jewish assembly of elders

1) In a genealogical list to refer to Adam:

3.38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God

2) Satan

4.3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

3) Satan

4.9 And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here;

4) Demons

4.41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

5) a Jewish assembly of elders

22.66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes; and they led him away to their council, and they said, 22.67 ” If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; 22.68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 22.69 But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 22.70 And they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”

Note especially that in the last usage, Jesus specifically says that it is the Jewish elders who call him the “Son of God,” and that he calls himself the “Son of Man.”

As with Mark and Matthew, in Luke, there is no positive character who references him as the Son of God and Jesus does not use the term.

Gospel of John Usage:

Son of Man: 13

Son of God: 8

Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man” 13 times. He uses the term “Son of God” four times, but it is uncertain if he is describing himself. Just like the synoptic gospels, he describes himself as the “Son of Man” in his current incarnation and in a future incarnation.

Example of current incarnation reference:

8.28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me.

Example of future incarnation reference:

1.49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 1.50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 1.51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

John uses the term “Son of God” eight times, Jesus appears to use it four of those times.. The eight times that the term “Son of God” is used the speaker is 1) Nathanael 2) Jesus 3) Jesus, 4) Jesus quoting the Jewish Council, 5) Jesus, 6) Martha, 7) Jewish Leaders, 8) Unknown author/editor Narrator.

1) Nathaniel:

1.49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 1.50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 1.51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

2) Jesus

3.18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 3.19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

3) Jesus

5.25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 5.26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, 5.27 and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man

4) Jesus quoting the Jewish Council

10.33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 10.34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 10.35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), 10.36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 10.37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 10.38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

5) Jesus

11.3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 11.4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.”

6) Martha

11.24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 11.25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 11.26 and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 11.27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

7) Jewish Leaders

Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.” 19.7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.”

8) Unknown author/editor Narrator.

20.31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

If we examine the four times that the character uses the term “Son of God,” we find that in three of them, he is not talking about the Son of God, but of attributes of the Son of God. In 3.18 he talks about “the name of the only Son of God,” in 5.25, he talks about “the voice of the “Son of God,” and in 11.3 he is talking about the glorification of the son of God. In all of these cases, the term “God” would apply just as well, if not better. We may presume that scribal mischief is responsible for the text saying son of God instead of God in all these examples.

The example of 10:33-10:36 is most interesting.

10.33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 10.34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 10.35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), 10.36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

Here Jesus is being accused not of being the “Son of God,” but of making himself “God” He answers with a quote from Psalm 82:6 “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ Jesus defense seems to be that he has called himself God, but the Scriptures calls anybody who hears the word of God a God or a son of God. In this passage, Jesus is not claiming to  be only son of God, but only someone who has heard the word of God.

Thus we find that some 79 times Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. Only four times and only in the gospel of John, never in the Synoptic gospel, does Jesus refer to or mention in any way the term “Son of God.” Even in these four uses, one can speculate that the term was originally “God” and only scribal activity added in “Son of” to attributes that could just as well be attributed to God. In 18 other references to the “Son of God,” we find that the term is most often put in the mouths, of demons, the devil, Jewish Priests, a Roman Centurion and other opponents of Jesus.

The fact that the term “Son of God” was placed in the mouths of enemies of Jesus suggest that the gospel authors were aware of people using the term for the Jesus character and didn’t like it.