The Priority of the Son of Man Sayings -- By: David R. Jackson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 47:1 (Spring 1985)
Article: The Priority of the Son of Man Sayings
Author: David R. Jackson


The Priority of the Son of Man Sayings

David R. Jackson

The publication in 1901 of William Wrede’s Das Messias-geheimnis in den Evangelien1 marks the beginning of research into the distinctly twentieth-century “problem of the Son of Man.” Wrede examined in detail what he called the “self-concealment of the Messiah.” He asserts:

According to Mark’s account, Jesus strictly and of set purpose kept his messianic identity secret even after the disciples’ confession, into his very last period.2

Having studied the various passages where Mark records Jesus’ commands to silence, Wrede concludes with respect to this phenomenon that

a historical motive is really absolutely out of the question; or, to put it positively, that the idea of the messianic secret is a theological idea.3

By “historical” Wrede means that Mark would be recounting what actually happened. By “theological” he asserts that Mark is recording the post eventu theological reflection of the first-century church upon the ministry of Jesus. Wrede presumes that, had Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, he would not have commanded people to keep his identity secret. Therefore, the existence of this “secret” in Mark’s Gospel he understands to be a device employed by the early church to justify their conviction, arising out of what has come to be called “the Easter event,” that Jesus was the Messiah, before a community which had no remembrance of any such claim being made by Jesus himself.

Wrede’s hypothesis has been variously adapted to suit subsequent developments in higher-critical methodologies, and has created an insoluble problem in research into the self-consciousness and self-disclosure of “the historical Jesus.”

In this research a second presupposition has been employed, viz. that Jesus’ concept of the Messiah, the Son of Man, the kingdom of God, etc., must have been virtually identical to that of his Jewish contemporaries, such that any divergence from that conception recorded by the Gospel writers must be judged a secondary introduction in accordance with the faith and Christology of the post-Pentecost community.

The problem faced by this methodology is the unanimous witness of the Gospels, that whereas Jesus rarely used the title “Messiah,” he is portrayed as openly referring to himself as “the Son of Man.” If the hypothesis of the “messianic secret” is to be sustained several options are open to the higher critic and each of th...

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