Jesus - Not the Son of Man?

I have been reading “Jesus : Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” by Bart D. Ehrman where he makes the claim that when going back to the oldest sources proto-sources (not his term) of the New Testament Gospels (Q, L, M), Jesus does not claim to be the Son of Man. But instead the Son of Man is a cosmic judge who Jesus did not ever claim was him, but instead it was the New Testament writers that added the idea that Jesus was the Son of Man. His evidence is that the references to the Son of Man as a cosmic judgement are independent and go back to earliest proto-sources and are not likely to be made up by later Christians since they assumed Jesus was the Son of Man. The same cannot be said of sources that claim Jesus is the Son of Man. Ehrman also claims that other Jewish apocalyptic texts (Ehrman sees Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet hence the title of his book) maintain there will be an actual cosmic judge who is sometimes even called a Son of an in these texts.

I haven’t ever read too much about the New Testament and I have never heard the idea that Jesus might not have been considered the Son of Man from the beginning of Christianity.

How accepted is the idea that in the historical Jesus’ teachings Jesus is not the Son the Man but that the Son of Man was a cosmic judge by historians?

Ehrman’s theory, while interesting, is not necessarily widely accepted.

The phrase “Son of Man” (or son of Adam. Adam means “man”) in Hebrew and Aamic idiom was originally a way to refer to human beings in general. Talking about “the son of Adam” was the same as talking about “man” or “people.”

The book of Daniel makes reference to a Messianic figure who the author calls “one like a son of Adam” who is supposed to kick ass and take names. At some point (it’s unclear when) “the Son of Man” became an oblique way to refer to the Messiah, at least in the Gospels (especially Mark).

Ehrman’s theory is that Jesus preached the coming of the Son of Man and the apocalypse but did not believe he WAS that figure. Ehrman is a serious scholar and knows how to make an argument but I personally have not found this particular theory very persuasive.

Son of Man:

There’s an idea that the writer of Daniel (and I know you & I differ on who that is & when it was written) had Ezekiel in mind as symbolic of the “Son of man” figure.
The SoM approaches the Flaming-Wheeled Throne-Chariot of the “Ancient of Days” to receive the Kingdom, much as Ezekiel, who is called “Son of man” many times in the book, beheld the same Divine Throne-Chariot to receive the Word
of prophecy about the fall & restoration of Judah & Israel under the future Davidic ruler. Jesus, as the Herald of the Destruction of the Second Temple and God’s Imminent Kingdom, could well have regarded himself as an Ezekiel for his generation, thus appropriating the “Son of man” title for himself.

[the man who would be king]

The Son of Man goes forth to war
A golden crown to gain
His blood-red banner streams afar
Who follows in his train?


Ezekiel used “Son of man” to refer to himself (and possibly humans in general). It was a sign of humility. He was reminding himself of his own humanity.

Even Daniel didn’t intend the phrase to be a title but to be a desriptor. The Messiah would be “a son of Adam” – a human being.

I should say that I agree that Jesus could have been using the phrase in the same way, but my personal hunch is that the original “son of man” sayings were sayings about humans in general. “…Humans have no place to lay their heads…” “Humans can forgive sins” etc.

[offkey Michael Caine singing voice]

Who follows in his traaaain?

Damn, that’s the best movie!

What about the Son of Man sayings that clearly refer to cosmic judge?

Mark 8:38; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 17:24, 26-27, 30; Matt. 24:27, 37-39; Luke 12:8-9, Matt 10:32-33, Luke 21:34-36 (I took all these from Ehrman).

These sayings are from the independent sources of Mark, Q, M, and L and it would be hard to read them as using Son fo Man in reference to humans.

Are you saying these are not original sayings? How would you would account for these saying be in the earliest independent sources?

Like I said, Ehrman knows how to make an argument. :slight_smile:

I think that Mark used “Son of Man” as a titular reference to the Messiah and that Matthew and Luke took their cues from Mark. IOW, I don’t think the apocalyptic sayings are authentic. I think the earliest layer is sapiential – wisdom teaching – not apocalyptic, and that Jesus “Kingdom of Heaven” was a utopian ideal on earth activated by what Crossan calls a “radical egalitarianism.”

Ehrman thinks that the view that the wisdom sayings came first and the apocalyptic sayings were layered on later (a fairly common assumption among NT scholars of a certain “liberal” theological bent) is a product of wishful thinking and a reluctance to see Jesus as a political revolutionary. Ehrman thinks that the apocalyptic stuff came first and the lovey dovey stuff came second. There is an element of subjectivity in this because it can’t be absolutely proven either way but Ehrman does not represent a majority view. That’s not to say he’s considered fringe or anything, he isn’t. There are people on both sides, and some say the attempt to deconstruct stratifications of Q (or Thomas or the Markan sayings) are an exercise in futility.

One thing Ehrman has going for him is that he is a top flight textual specialist, so he has his methodology down as cold as anyone can get it.

Could you expand of this becasue I really don’t see how it is possible.

Apolalyptic verses and cosmic judge uses of “Son of Man” are in Q, Mark, M, and L.

If Matthew and Luke were using Mark as their source it seems really weird that they would create apocalyptic verses and verses that show the Son of Man as a cosmic judge as in certain M and L verses. I can’t see why writers writing at the time of Matthew and Luke would create these verses or take verses with these views from other sources.

I believe that Q and Mark and considered to be independent, so I can’t see why Q and Mark would have apolalyptic views if they were not authentic since later Christians would not be likely to create these sayings since they are in opposition to post-crucifiction Christian beliefs as opposed to the wisdom teachings which do fit.

It seems really weird to me that all the of the earliest independent sources would have this apolalyptic views since these apolalyptic views were unlikely to held by by Christians decades after Jesus’ death when these sources were written down.

This is really only saying that they are in Mark and Q.

I’m confused as to why you think it’s implausible that they would use apocalyptic material. Two rather siginificant events had just occurred. Jersualem (and the Temple) had been destroyed by the Romans, and a Jewish Christians had been (or soon would be) expelled from Jewish synagogues. Judgement on Jersualem is a prevailing theme both in Mark and in Q[sup]2[/sup]. In Kloppenborg’s stratification of Q (which is the most commonly used), the sapiential layer (Q[sup]1[/sup]) is considered to be the earliest and that Q[sup]2[/sup] (the apocalyptic layer) was added after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Those layers would predate Matthew and Luke, and I believe they used them.

By most, not all. Burton Mack, for instance, does believe that Mark is dependant on Q.

Once again, (under Kloppenborg’s model) late Christians added the apocalyptic material to reflect their view of the destruction of the Temple as being a judgement on Jews.

But it isn’t the earliest. It’s pre-synoptic but the first layers of both Q and Thomas are purely sapiential.

Again, I am taking a lot of this from Ehrman. (I would appreciate if you could recommend some books or articles from some other scholars.)

The apocalyptic verses are much more universal than a judgment on just the Jews.

If the apocalyptic verses were added after the destruction of the Temple, why does Mark get a basic fact about the destruction of the Temple wrong? Mark predicts that no stone will be left standing, but the Western Wall survived.

Jesus repeatably talks about the apocalypse coming very soon. He talks it coming with in his own generation (not 40 years after his death) and that Caiaphas will see the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of Heavan. If this was written after the fact, why not get the date correct?

Also predicition of destruction of the Temple and a judgment on the people was a fairly common thing for Jewish prophets at the time. It would not be out of character for Jesus to make these predictions.

We also have apolcalytic views expressed that have nothing to do with the destruction of the Temple in writings by Paul that certainly pre-date the destruction of the Temple. We also have Jesus beginning his ministry by going to John (an apolcalytist himself). Thus the first act of Jesus’ ministry was related to apolcalytic views and the first writings we have post-crucifiction express apolcalytic views.

bloody trendy modern translations!


The Western Wall was not part of the Temple complex. It was part of a retaining wall around the Temple Mount. The plateau of the Temple Mount was completely razed. The fact that mark knows the Temple Mount was completely razed is actually a pretty good indication that the saying is post 70.

The saying is actually that “this generation will not pass” before the Son of Man comes down. The belief was that the apocalypse would happen before the last member of Jesus’ generation had died (there appears to have been some tradition that Jesus was going to come back before the last Apostle had died). The Jewish-Roman war and the destruction of the Temple would have occurred right at a time when the last of Jesus’ generation was dying out. Mark’s message was to his audience – “the end is coming now. The last of Jesus’ generation is dting. Get ready.”

That’s true, but it’s believed that some of the specifics (as presented in Mark) are too right on to be authentic. A lot of scholars don’t have any problem believing that he made a more general prediction, though (something like the prediction in GThomas). Crossan argues that this was not an apocalyptic prediction, though, but an expression of a desire to replace the Temple with his own utopian “kingdom.”

Could you be more specific?

You’re assuming the JBap stuff was historical. You’re also assuming that Jesus’ ministry would necessarily have followed John’s own theology. There are aspects of John’s practices which Jesus contradicted. He drank wine, for instance.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

1 Corinthians 15:51-57

51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."55"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


The story of Jesus being baptized is attested in multiple accounts and could be taken to mean that Jesus was spiritually inferior to John who was the one doing the baptizing. (Matthew even adds the part where John intially refuses to baptize Jesus.) Why would early Christians make up this story of baptizism? I don’t think there is much question that John held apocalyptic views, so why would Jesus choose to associate with him and continue to speech well of him in Q and Mark? In Q Jesus even talks of as John the greatest man ever.

The historical Jesus could have chosen to associate with anyone, so why go to someone with apocalyptic views if he didn’t share these views? And if it is just a creation of later Christians, why create someone with apocalyptic views?

I am curious as to how Q can be broken apart like this. There are no surviving copies. We can look to Matthew and Luke and find nearly verbatim verses to reconstruct Q, but how we reconstruct different levels of Q and say when these levels were written?

The same way we Bible-conservatives come up with scenarios as to how the Apostles assigned who would write which Gospel & then authorized which books would make up the C’tian Scriptures… both we & the Bible-liberals are making it up. I think the B-con version is just way more likely.

There has never been found a scrap of Gospel that is Q & only Q. Just as there has never been found a scrap of Torah that is only J, E, P or D. These are all constructs theorized by scholars to have existed in the development of the Gospels and the Torah- not writings which definitely have been shown to exist.

Kloppenborg uses several different criteria for separating the layers and inferring priority. He uses groupings based on audience, theme and form. I have to go to my duaghter’s Kindergarten graduation right now so I don’t have time to go into detail but you can read about it here and also Stephen Carlson’s summary here along with some critical questions (Carlson is one of the better Christian apologists).