“Son of Man” As A Self-Designation of Jesus -- By: Richard N. Longenecker

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 12:3 (Summer 1969)
Article: “Son of Man” As A Self-Designation of Jesus
Author: Richard N. Longenecker

“Son of Man” As A Self-Designation of Jesus

Richard N. Longenecker, Ph.D.*

*Associate Professor of New Testament History and Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

There has been a good deal of discussion recently in scholarly circles regarding the title ‘Son of Man’ in the New Testament.1 And while many different proposals have been made, two opinions on the subject have become dominant:

1. That there existed in pre-Christian Jewish thought a generally well-defined concept of a transcendent redeemer figure, spoken of as the Son of Man, whose coming the earth as judge would be a feature of the drama of the End Time.

2. That the title Son of Man was not a self-designation of Jesus, but was applied to Him by the early Church via a series of misconceptions and became the foundational motif in the various early Christologies; the few authentically dominical Son of Man sayings in the Gospels refer not to Jesus but to a future apocalyptic figure.

Despite the widespread propagation of these views, however, much can be said to the contrary.

In Pre-Christian Jewish Thought

In dealing with the Son of Man in Jewish thought, the question regarding the identification of pre-Christian sources is crucial. The monographs of Oscar Cullmann, H. E. Todt, A. J. B. Higgins, Ferdinand C. Hahn, and Reginald H. Fuller, together with the articles by P. Vielhauer and Eduard Schweizer - to name only a prominent and representative few of recent vintage-begin on the premise that I Enoch 37–71 (the “Similitudes” or “Parables”), IV Ezra 13, and Daniel 7 are all Jewish compositions which. represent pre-Christian expectations regarding the Son of Man as the eschatological agent of redemption.2

A major difficulty with such a view is that to date there is no evidence for the pre-Christian nature of Book II (i.e., chapters 37–71) of Ethiopic Enoch, and it is precarious to deduce the existence of a firm Son of Man concept in the intertestamental period from Daniel 7 and IV Ezra 13 alone. As J. Y. Campbell points out, “most of the extent manuscripts of the Ethiopic Enoch belong to the eighteenth century; none can be confidently dated earlier than the sixteenth” - and even if R. H. Charles’ guess be accepted that the Ethiopic version was translated in the sixth or seventh centuries, or F. C. Burkitt’s that th...

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