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JESUS AS SON OF MAN 325
JESUS AS SON OF MAN
BENJAMIN W. BACON
In a discussion of the great christological passages of the
Synoptic Gospels we have seen that the messianism of Jesus
was pre-eminently ethical and religious. His attitude toward
current expectations of Israel's redemption resembled that of
the prophets in being critical rather than originative. He ethi-
cized and spiritualized a hope which in its origins and in its
undisciplined popular manifestations had little to differentiate it
from the expectations entertained by heathen worshippers of
their tribal or national divinities.
As regards the political hopes of the Zealot, or nationalist,
party this is universally recognized. Jesus' prohibition of the
application of the title Christ to himself (Mk. 8 30) 1 is commonly
explained as due to his unwillingness to be understood to claim
messiahship in the political sense.
As regards the Pharisaic, or pietistic, type of messianism, then
largely affected by the apocalyptists, many influential critics
are endeavoring to convince the modern world that Jesus' attitude
was more sympathetic than critical. The apocalyptists since
Daniel had given a transcendental turn to the ancient belief,
and the Pharisees, once characterized by a more ethical and
inward type of pietism, were now degenerating into a more formal
legalism, while they enforced the burden of Mosaic requirements
imposed by the scribes under penalty of exclusion from a share
in the supermundane "world to come." This doctrine of a
transcendental messianic "world to come" was an acknowledged
innovation borrowed from apocalypse. The contention of J.
Weiss and his school is that Jesus was fundamentally an Apo-
1 Parallels are not cited where there is no evidence of independent tradition.
In the reference Mk. 8 30 the earliest of the three embodiments of the tradition
is appealed to. The fact that it is transcribed with slight modifications in Mt.
16 20 and Lk. 9 21 adds nothing to the force of Mark's evidence.
326 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
kalyptiker, in full sympathy with this tendency, especially as
represented in John the Baptist, the popularizer of the move-
Our own attempt has been to show that Jesus' preaching of " the
kingdom" involves no less truly a critical attitude toward the
transcendental other-worldliness of the Pharisees than toward
the worldliness of Sadducee or Zealot. We hold that with all
his sympathy for the Baptist's revolt against hierocracy, with
all his endorsement of the Baptist's warnings of the impending
judgment, Jesus explicitly differentiated his message from that
of John also, emphasizing his own milder, more mystical type of
messianism. The germs of this may in fact be found in the older
literature of Pharisaism, and in the kindred writings of the school
Jesus' teaching, accordingly, regarding human destiny, as
reflected in the messianic hope, goes deeper down and further
back than Pharisaism. It is not identified with sect or party.
It takes hold upon the ancient hope of Israel before it had suffered
its special applications first to the institution of the Davidic
monarchy, then to the post-exilic substitution of supermundane
for nationalistic hopes. Jesus returns to the elementary prin-
ciple of messianism, the old popular belief that Israel is (poten-
tially) God's son. He agrees with the Pharisees that this ideal
is to be realized by the son's "knowing" and "doing the will"
of the Father. The difference lies partly in his conception of
that "will"; for to the scribe and to his blind follower the Phari-
see the will of God is a written precept to be obeyed; while to
Jesus it is an inward disposition to be acquired. In this respect
he approaches the wisdom-writers. The difference lies also in
the result aimed at, which to the scribe and Pharisee is a re-
ward added to the sonship, to Jesus the sonship itself with what-
ever of blessing that may entail (Q; Mt. 5 45, Lk. 6 35). In
this respect he is more in antagonism than in sympathy with
the apocalyptists, and again resembles those of the school of
"wisdom," though himself not a man of the schools, but of the
If this interpretation of the messianism of Jesus be correct,
it remains for us to explain how believers in his messiahship
JESUS AS SON OF MAN 327
should have given it the intensely transcendental and apocalyp-
tic interpretation reflected in the earliest evangelic tradition.
Both Paul and the Synoptists are saturated with the type of
eschatology characteristic of the Synagogue. In both cases
the messianic hope is pre-eminently transcendental. How can this
be, if Jesus himself had not so taught? The answer in general
terms will be that the belief in Jesus' messiahship did not spring
from the utterances of his life-time, so much as from the ecstatic
experiences of his followers after his death, and that these were
conditioned upon the disciples' predetermined forms of thought.
At first it was not even pretended that Jesus had made his own
person and work the subject of his teaching. This we find only
in the late theological gospel emanating from Ephesus, the
headquarters of Paulinism. In all the earlier writings, whether
historical or epistolary in form, the doctrine of Christ's person and
work is avowedly based, not on his remembered teaching, but
on psychological phenomena in the experience of Paul and others,
principally after Jesus' death. And Paul was an out-and-out
Pharisean apocalyptist. 2
It is a highly significant fact that while our two ultimate wit-
nesses, Paul and the evangelic tradition, are at one (as they
could not fail to be) in their fundamental conviction that Jesus
had been "manifested as the Son of God with power by the
resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1 i), or, in Petrine phrase,
had been "made" by it "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2 36),
they differ widely in the titles by which they express their con-
ception of his being and office. The title "Lord" is that which
in Paul's use expresses the nature and function of the Christ.
It is not peculiar to him, for we have just seen it employed in a
typical Petrine passage. Neither is it of Pauline coinage; for we
find Paul quoting even an Aramaic ejaculation of which it forms
part (Maran atha, "Our Lord, come"), and the phrase "Jesus is
Lord" is repeatedly referred to as expressing the consensus of
2 The transfiguration story is expressly designed to carry back the Pauline
transcendental conception of the messiahship into the earthly career of Jesus.
But even in the Synoptic tradition it intervenes as a psychological anachronism,
a rebuke of the twelve, which as yet they are incapable of understanding, for con-
ceiving the messiahship of Jesus "after the things that be of men." In the Apoca-
lypse of Peter it is frankly placed after the resurrection.
328 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
apostolic faith. Only indirectly and incidentally have we evi-
dence even of Paul's acquaintance with the distinctively apoca-
lyptic title Son of Man. His quotation from Psalm 8 in 1 Cor.
15 27, and his doctrine of "the heavenly man," make us suspect
indeed that in his thinking he applied to Christ, in his own dis-
tinctive way, this apocalyptic title. But from his writings other-
wise we should not so much as guess that the title had ever been
applied to Jesus.
The evangelic tradition, on the other hand, displays it in a
manner entirely peculiar to itself. The title "Son of Man"
occurs in no New Testament writing, outside of those of Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John; and these are notoriously interdependent.
If, as many maintain, its frequent occurrence in the gospels can
be accounted for on no other theory than the usage of Jesus
himself, our view of his eschatological teaching will require adjust-
ment to the fact. But we shall also be required to account for
its non-appearance outside the four interdependent evangelic
writers. If, on the other hand, we advance some other theory to
account for its occurrence here, our burden of proof will not be
light. We shall not be suffered to reject the combined testimony
of the four evangelists that Jesus applied the title to himself,
unless we deal comprehensively with this question of the literary
interdependence of the sources; for no careful student will admit
that the common participation in this feature can be due to
accidental coincidence. Let us face the situation. The peculiar
term can only have pervaded the four gospels by transmission
from some very early common source. Such a primitive common
source, capable of affecting all by its use of the title Son of Man
as a self-designation of Jesus, is the document Q, only the Gospel
of Mark lying, as some hold, outside the range of its influence.
No other source definitely known to us ever occupied a place
primitive and authoritative enough to produce this result. If,
then, this application of the title be a contamination of the primi-
tive tradition rather than a true record of Jesus' usage and con-
sciousness, the evidence for such a conclusion must be sought in
the document Q.
This document has been restored more carefully by Harnack
than by any predecessor in the field, from the coincident non-
JESUS AS SON OF MAN 329
markan material of Matthew and Luke. Harnack singles out
the Thanksgiving to the Father (Mt. 11 25-27, Lk. 10 21-82)
and the discourse on the Jews' Stumbling in Jesus (Mt. 11 2-11,
12-13, 16-19, Lk. 7 18-28, 31-35, 16 16) as the most important in
all Q for their christological content. 3 Having already dis-
cussed the significance of the former of these passages, we may
now take the latter as our starting-point for a consideration of
the question of the real origin and significance of the title Son of
In Harnack's restoration the passage reads as follows: "For
John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a
devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,
So, a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and
sinners. But Wisdom hath been justified by her children."
Harnack concludes his discussion of the christology of Q with
a remark both just and significant: "Even with the most conser-
vative application of psychological considerations it is apparent
that Jesus' consciousness of sonship must have antedated his
consciousness of messiahship, and paved the way for it." We
take this to mean that of the two supposedly fundamental pas-
sages of Q 4 Harnack himself recognizes the one distinguished by
the use of the title "the Son" as more characteristic than that
which employs the title the "Son of Man." Jesus unquestion-
ably had the consciousness of sonship. He probably found in it
the solution of the messianic hope cherished by the people. Did
he infer from the present leadership imposed by circumstance
upon the possessor of this consciousness such continued leader-
ship in "the world to come" as current eschatology expected of
the apocalyptic figure of the Son of Man? What ground have we
for accepting the authenticity of the second title?
It is scarcely conceivable that in so old a source as Q the title
Son of Man should be repeatedly placed in Jesus' mouth if it did
not really belong in some way to his vocabulary. But this ad-
mission, while abandoning the philological line of argument of
the Aramaists who maintain that in Aramaic the expression "the
3 Spriiche und Reden Jesu, p. 166.
4 In Harnack's Spriiche und Reden Jesu they are numbered 25 (Mt. 11 23-27,
Lk. 10 21 f.) and 15 (Mt. 11 16-19, Lk. 7 31-35) respectively.
330 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Son of Man, " would be impossible, is by no means equivalent to
an admission that Jesus applied the title to himself. For, first,
it is not only probable but demonstrable that even our most
ancient records, including Q itself, insert the title in many cases
without authority, and, secondly, among the admittedly authen-
tic instances of Jesus' own use of the term, there are several where
the meaning is more characteristic of him if Son of Man is un-
derstood as applying to some other than his own glorified per-
sonality. We may take up these two propositions in order.
1. It is certainly remarkable that Harnack, in a footnote on
the very same page on which occurs his classification of the dis-
course on the Stumbling of the Jews (Nos. 14, 15) with Jesus'
Thanksgiving for his Revelation (No. 25) as the two most im-
portant christological passages of Q, expresses the following opin-
ion on the occurrence of the title Son of Man in the former:
Of course in individual cases one is utterly without positive assurance
that Jesus referred to himself as "the Son of Man" in sayings wherein
Q represents him as so designating himself. It is more than doubtful,
for example, that Jesus should have used the expression in No. 15; '
while earlier in the same discourse (No. 14, "Blessed is he that shall not
be stumbled in me," etc.), he has quite manifestly avoided every messianic
In other words, Harnack himself concedes the probable un-
authenticity of the term in the passage which he advances as the
most important! For we can only escape the linguistic argument
of Lietzmann, Wellhausen, and N. Schmidt, that as a title "Son
of Man" would be meaningless in the Aramaic spoken by Jesus,
if we suppose that the etymologically colorless expression, equiva-
lent to "human being," homo, Mensch, had acquired a more
specific connotation through its application in Daniel and later
apocalypses. Its employment, then, by Jesus would be either
enigmatic, or distinctly messianic in the transcendental sense.
Either employment would call public attention to his personality
in a manner admittedly contrary to the policy of silence observed
by himself and imposed upon his disciples (Mk. 8 30). Even
those, accordingly, who maintain that this was Jesus' "favorite
5 The passage whose comparison of the coming of the Baptist with that of
"the Son of Man" was quoted above.
JESUS AS SON OF MAN 331
self -designation" are cautious about admitting his employment
of it otherwise than in the privacy of the apostolic circle, and sub-
sequently to the revelation of the messiahship at Caesarea Philippi.
The passage from Q regarded by Harnack as the most important
manifestly meets neither of these conditions. Here, therefore,
the occurrence of the title is certainly to be attributed to the
redactor of Q. To him the appearance of Jesus in his work of
preaching and healing in Galilee, contrasting as it did with the
Baptist's warning of judgment, was the coming of the Son of
Man. Jesus himself, if he really looked upon his work as ful-
filling the expected coming of the Son of Man, 6 could not have
thus publicly declared it and at the same time retained the incog-
nito which he imposed upon his disciples.
Since we are dealing with Harnack's discussion of the christol-
ogy of Q, and since we are clearly within the range of his own
conclusions when we infer from the passage under consideration
that Q manifests a disposition to insert the title Son of Man
without historical warrant, we may properly call attention here
to a further significant observation of the same distinguished
Christology as Q understood it gives a perfectly consistent and simple
portrait. Q has no other conception than this: Jesus was the Messiah,
ordained to divine sonship at his baptism, and all his sayings accordingly
rest upon this background. If, however, the introductory narrative be
removed in thought, an essentially different conception results (p. 169).
This comes very near to an admission of the contention of
Wernle in the most thorough study applied to the question until
Harnack's, that we must distinguish a Q 1 and a Q 2 , attributing to
the later hand (Q 2 ) the introductory narratives relating to John
the Baptist, together with some other elements. 7 Manifestly, the
two sections on Jesus' baptism by John, and on the stumbling of
the Jews at John and Jesus, have in common not merely the trait
of the Baptist's work, but the common purpose, not apparent in
Q as a whole, of setting the personality of Jesus on the highest
6 On Jesus' idea of the Coming of the Son of Man, see below.
7 Wernle, Synoptische Frage, p. 226: "Diese zwei StUcke [the Baptist's dis-
course and the Temptation of Jesus] sehen uberhaupt aus wie eine geschichtliche
Einleitung, die nachtraglich dem Werk vorgesetzt wurde."
332 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
plane. Here, if anywhere in Q, we must suspect secondary
Besides the discount to be made on the score of this admitted
Tendenz of Q 2 or Q r , we must also ask consideration for the effect
of a more general disposition of the times illustrated not only in
Q, but from the Pauline epistles down to the period of the Oxy-
rhynchus Logia, namely, the disposition to attribute to Jesus
"faithful sayings" or other current saws and apothegms having
more or less affinity with his teaching, in particular "wisdom-
sayings," such as that of Lk. 13 34-35, which in Mt. 23 37-39
is attributed directly to Jesus, with suppression of the actual
derivation from "the Wisdom of God." The Oxyrhynchus logion
"I stood in the midst of the world, and in the flesh was I seen
of them," etc., is another plaint of the divine Wisdom, kindred to
Baruch 3 37, similarly put in the mouth of Jesus. There is strong
textual reason for so regarding Mk. 2 27 also, which appears
neither in the parallels nor in the text, but is found as a rabbinic
saying in Joma (fol. 85). To this category of aphorisms included
among the sayings of Jesus from very early times because of
resemblances of phraseology or content must, in our judgment,
be reckoned at least one whose strongest title to the place it
occupies is its employment of the expression "the Son of Man."
It is the saying of Q: "The foxes have holes and the birds of the
air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head "
(Mt. 8 19-20, Lk. 9 57-58). The very mode of its employment
here (in antithesis to the birds and beasts) is so different from any
other of the employments attributed to Jesus, and the plaintive
tone of self-pity so opposite to the grateful assurance of his hos-
pitable reception in Mk. 10 29 f. (cf. Lk. 8 3, 10 38-42, 22 35),
that we cannot regard the saying as authentic. 8 It seems to be
a current aphorism contrasting the helplessness of the individual
human being, a waif and stray when left alone in the environment
of nature, with the self-sufficiency of birds and beasts. Only by
a play upon the expression "Son of Man" can it be applied to
Jesus at all. Even were its authenticity admitted, there is the
same reason in this case as in that of the saying contrasting
8 Against Harnack, who exclaims, apropos of the same, "Welch' ein Zeichen
der Echtheit!" (p. 165).
JESUS AS SON OF MAN 333
Jesus' mode of life with the Baptist's for questioning its use of
the title Son of Man under the circumstances described. It seems
far more probable that this pendant to the warning against super-
ficial discipleship (Mt. 8 21 f., Lk. 9 59 f.) has been taken up
merely because of a misunderstanding of its untechnical use of
the term "the son of man."
A third instance of Jesus' employment of the title Son of Man,
adduced by Harnack in his reconstruction of Q, we are also com-
pelled to reject as unauthentic, though it may possibly have
stood in the source. Jesus is reported to have presented "the
Son of Man" as "a sign to this generation in explanation of his
offer of 'the sign of Jonah.'" Since it occurs in the same dis-
course as the instance first adduced, which Harnack himself con-
siders doubtful on the ground that Jesus manifestly avoids mak-
ing a public claim to messianic authority, it is difficult to see the
consistency of maintaining the authenticity of this. However,
we need not insist on this point, for it is easy to show indepen-
dently that the explanation offered of "the sign of Jonah" is
secondary and unauthentic.
We have at least four variant accounts of Jesus' answer to
the demand for a sign from heaven. The oldest of our existing
sources presents the enigma without any attempt at solution.
Mk. 8 n, lie (Mt. 16 1-4) treats it as simply a refusal to the
unworthy people of their demand for an evidential miracle. Jesus
"sighed deeply in his spirit and saith, Why doth this generation
seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be
given unto this generation." The addition, "no sign but the
sign of Jonah," made in Matthew's transcript of this verse, is of
course due to the influence, direct or indirect, of Q. Both forms
of the Markan version agree, however, in representing that Jesus
did not make a merely apparent refusal of the demand (which
after all was ultimately to be granted), but made absolute the
refusal of miraculous confirmation of his message. Both our
first and our third Gospels, contrariwise, introduce explanations
of the enigma calculated to mitigate the inconsistency of the
refusal with their own disposition to find the chief evidences for
their claims precisely in the miraculous element of Jesus' career,
in particular the resurrection. The explanations given, however,
334 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
are inconsistent the one with the other. Critics are agreed that
Matthew's interpretation of the sign of Jonah as the resurrection
is too flagrantly contradictory of the context to be authentic.
They are very generally disposed, however, to accept the expla-
nation of Luke that the sign of Jonah is the person of Jesus. 9
In reality we have only to place the two side by side in the iden-
tical context to see that both are guesses, Luke's only less in-
consistent than Matthew's with the general bearing of Jesus'
discourse. We give the context in a translation of Harnack's
text of Q.
But he said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign,
and no sign shall be given it save the sign of Jonah.
For like as Jonah was in the sea- For like as Jonah was himself
monster's belly three days and a sign to the men of Nineveh, so
three nights, so shall the Son of shall the Son of Man be to this
Man be in the heart of the earth generation.
three days and three nights.
The men of Nineveh shall arise in the judgment with this generation
and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah,
and lo, a greater matter than Jonah is here.
A glance at Mt. 21 28-32, which, if not also embodying ma-
terial from Q, is at all events in substance a parallel to the story
of the Galilean demand for a sign from heaven, will show that in
Jesus' conception the great sign of the times was the repentance
of the masses at "the baptism of John." It was to him a ful-
filment of the promise (Mai. 4 6) of the great repentance to be
wrought by Elias before the Day of Yahweh. In remaining cal-
lous to this movement of the publicans and sinners the scribes
and Pharisees had rejected their sign "from heaven." Thus
the two examples of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South
condemn "this generation" for its rejection of the "wailing"
of John and the "piping" of Jesus. It is compared to "children
in the market-place" because it yields neither to threat nor to
entreaty. Whether, then, we have in Mt. 11 and Mt. 21 dupli-
cate traditions of the same incident, or parallel utterances of
9 Jn. 6 30 ff. combines these two.
JESUS AS SON OF MAN 335
Jesus on similar occasions, in either case they determine for us
the sense of the answer unfavorably comparing the men of this
generation to the men of Nineveh. It is only in the second mem-
ber of the poetic comparison, that which compares them unfavor-
ably to "the Queen of the South," that Jesus refers to his own
preaching as "a greater matter" than the wisdom of Solomon. 10
In the first member he refers \x> the preaching of John the Baptist.
Both the interjected explanations of the sign of Jonah, there-
fore, Luke's as well as Matthew's, are incorrect; and, if incor-
rect, then certainly unauthentic. Jesus referred by this expres-
sion 11 neither to his own personality nor to his resurrection, but
to "the baptism of John."
2. Dismissing those instances whose real bearing attests not
an authentic use by Jesus of the title Son of Man in application
to himself, but on the contrary a disposition on the part of trans-
mitters of the tradition to multiply unauthentic instances, we
come to a relatively small residuum whose first value is to ex-
plain the Tendenz observed. Jesus really did employ the phrase;
otherwise the Tendenz would be inexplicable. But did he em-
ploy it in application to himself? A satisfying answer calls for
consideration of every authentic instance without exception,
first of all the undisputed occurrences in Q. They are as
(1) Mt. 12 82, Lk. 12 io. ls
(2) Mt. 24 27, 87, 89, Lk. 17 24, 26, 80.
The former passage is one of the principal bones of conten-
tion between Wellhausen and the critics who continue to main-
tain the priority of Q to Mark. In Wellhausen's view, compari-
son of the variants in Mt. 12 si, 12 82, derived respectively
10 Note the similar antithesis in Lk. 12 13-34, where Solomon appears as the
rich and wise king of Ecclesiastes in contrast with the poverty of Jesus and his
11 Assonance between the names John and Jonah may have played a part.
u It is not apparent from Haraack's language in note 2 on p. 165 whether he re-
gards this occurrence as "unsicher," as well as that in Lk. 12 8, where the parallel
Mt. 10 32 has simply "I," or whether he holds to Mt. 12 32, Lk. 12 10 as certainly
authentic. The former is designated by him No. 34 a the latter No. 84 . His
statement on p. 165 is: "Doch ist er [der Ausdruck Menschensohn] in Nr. 84.
336 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
from Mk. 3 28 and Q (cf. Lk. 12 10), shows the priority of Mark
to Q. He says:
In Mk. 3 28 we have: All blasphemies are forgiven the sons of men,
except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In Q (Lk. 12 10) on the con-
trary: Utterances against the Son of Man are forgiven, only those against
the Holy Spirit are not.
Were Wellhausen right, Q would be convicted in one more
instance of introducing the title Son of Man with no better
authority than a perversion of Mk. 3 28, thus increasing the
probability that it is from later modification that the peculiar
usage has pervaded gospel tradition.
But on this question we are constrained to take the view
of Wellhausen's opponents. "Son of Man" is the original, "sons
of men" the derived form. This is not a mere inference from the
conclusion forced upon us by the evidences of Q's priority in all
other instances of relation to Mark, it is apparent from the con-
text of this particular discourse. According to all three reporters
the utterance in question should explain the peculiarly heinous
nature of the offence just committed (the declaration, "He cast-
eth out by Beelzebub") which excepts it from even the divine
pardon. According to Q (Mt. 12 32, Lk. 12 lo) this is because,
while seemingly directed only against Jesus, it had really assailed
the Spirit of God. Because it is not Jesus personally who effects
the healings and exorcisms, but "the Spirit of God," the offence
is unpardonable. This is precisely the distinction which Mark,
in accordance with the whole spirit of his gospel as shown in
repeated instances, refuses to admit. The difference pointed to
by Jesus between his exorcisms, performed "by the Spirit (Lk.
finger) of God," without any assumption of special power or
gift resident in himself, and the exorcisms of "your sons" (Mt.
12 27 f., Lk. 11 19 f.), — a vital element of the whole argument, —
is omitted by Mark. The result — the intended result, so far
as we can judge — is to make it appear that blasphemy of Jesus,
by calumny of his works of power, is identical with blasphemy
of the Holy Spirit, and hence unpardonable. In Q the offence
is unpardonable because it is not against Jesus, but against the
Holy Spirit. In Mark the offence is unpardonable because it is
JESUS AS SON OF MAN 337
against Jesus, and this is equivalent to an offence against the Holy
Spirit. It is scarcely needful to indicate which of these two con-
structions of Jesus' utterance bears the stamp of originality and
But the later Markan construction would have encountered
an insuperable obstacle if the language of Q, "Whosoever blas-
phemeth the Son of Man it shall be forgiven him," had been left
unchanged. The alteration in Mk. 3 28 to "All blasphemies
shall be forgiven to the sons of men" is indispensable to Mark's
conception, and hence was probably made for this reason.
Have we, then, by establishing in this instance the originality
in Q of the title Son of Man, established its authenticity as a
title applied by Jesus to himself? On the contrary, the whole
force of Jesus' argument depends upon the distinction between his
own personality as on a level with other men's, and the superhuman
dignity of "the Spirit of God." In other words, the term Son
of Man is used here not in the transcendental sense of apocalypse,
but in the ordinary Old Testament sense of an every-day mortal
as contrasted with God. The article, if the article was used
in Jesus' utterance, would have to be understood as generic, —
in German, die Ldsterung gegen den Menschen wird vergeben, which
in English must be rendered: "Blasphemy against a man can be
forgiven." This, by all the evidence of context, is the real mean-
ing of Jesus' saying. If there is application of a special title to
Jesus himself in the passage of Q, it is not meant by Jesus, but
is the importation of the compiler himself.
(3) The only other occurrences of the title Son of Man in Q
stand in a single context, and unquestionably refer to the apoca-
lyptic figure of the transcendental, Danielic, Deliverer. We
give the passage in Harnack's reconstruction (No. 56) :
If, then, they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the wilderness, go
not forth; behold, he is in his chambers, believe it not. For as the light-
ning goeth forth from the east and shineth unto the west, so shall be the
Coming of the Son of Man; wheresoever the carcase is, there will the
vultures be gathered.
As were the days of Noah, so shall be the Coming of the Son of Man.
For as men were in the days before the cataclysm, eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into
338 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the ark, and knew not until the cataclysm came and swept them all away,
so shall be the Coming of the Son of Man.
There will be two in the field; one shall be taken and one left. Two
women shall be grinding at the mill; one shall be taken and one left.
If there is any real ground in Q for regarding the title Son of
Man as a "self-designation of Jesus," it must be found in these
three connected occurrences of the phrase "the Coming of the
Son of Man." Did Jesus mean by it his own return in glory;
or did he refer to the Executioner of the divine judgment of whom
John the Baptist had sounded the warning?
The general bearing of the teaching here in question is the same
as of the apocalyptic chapter of Mark, into which parallel utter-
ances have been taken up. Jesus deprecates resort to the casters
of horoscopes and calculators of the end of the world and of the
coming judgment. Vain and futile are their predictions. The
coming of the Son of Man is a great divine event, comparable
only to the mighty judgments visited on the earth in the days of
Noah, or on the cities of the Plain in the days of Lot. What
Old Testament writers refer to as the Day of Yahweh is now
spoken of as the day of the coming of the Son of Man. We
must certainly allow for the effecting in popular usage of an
equivalence between the transcendental figure of Daniel (with
the more recent apocalypses dependent on it) and the Coming
One of John the Baptist. But there is no indication whatever
that the equivalence, "Jesus is the Son of Man," had entered the
mind of the speaker in the above discourse, or indeed any mind
previous to that of the compiler of the Sayings. Until it can be
shown (1) that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah; (2) that
he also considered this office to involve his return as executioner
of the divine judgment in the coming of the Son of Man, the
passage — the only one in which we have reason to think Jesus
employed the title as applying to a transcendental figure — re-
mains utterly without force to prove the contention in support
of which it is adduced. The real evidence that Jesus entertained
the fantastic dreams of apocalypse as applying to his own per-
sonality in a resurrected state thus reduces itself to nothing.
There is evidence in plenty that the compiler of Q in the form
employed by our evangelists had adopted the equivalence, "Jesus
JESUS AS SON OF MAN 339
is the Son of Man," and made no scruple of occasionally substi-
tuting the title for the personal pronoun where it seemed to him
appropriate. There is here a possible explanation of the prac-
tice which has spread to all the gospels. There is no adequate
evidence that Jesus ever applied the title to himself.
We have two possible criteria to determine whether this pos-
sible explanation of the spread of the usage is also the true one.
(1) Mark, if at all dependent on Q, is admittedly so in a differ-
ent sense and to a less degree than Matthew or Luke. We should
expect, then, to find the title Son of Man less at home (so to
speak) in Mark than in Q. (2) In Acts, especially in the speeches
of Peter, we have by common consent a very early type of chris-
tology, if indeed we have not traces of a type of evangelic tra-
dition wholly unaffected by Q. Let us briefly consider these
(1) The facts regarding the Markan employment of the title
are briefly summarized on p. xxxviii of the introduction to my
commentary entitled Beginnings of Gospel Story, as follows:
"The title Son of Man does not appear to characterize the funda-
mental elements of Mark (P). It occurs in editorial supplements
derived from Q, and even then in an adapted sense." Space
limitations of course preclude the citation here of the evidence
on which this statement is made, but a reference to the individ-
ual instances as discussed in the volume quoted will suffice. The
title does not appear from these to be indigenous to Mark, but
an exotic. It occurs only in passages where there is independent
evidence of the influence of Q.
(2) There is no occurrence of the title Son of Man throughout
the Petrine speeches of Acts, though these are so largely con-
cerned with the doctrine of Christ's humiliation and exaltation.
As is well known, its only occurrence in the New Testament
outside the four gospels is in the Speech of Stephen, Acts 7 56,
recognized by Harnack and many others as derived from a differ-
ent source. Even here it is not the words of the speech itself,
but of its reporter, which suggest the equivalence, "The Son of
Man is Jesus." On the theory that this was "the favorite self-
designation of Jesus" the striking fact of its complete absence
from the speeches of Peter in Acts remains as inexplicable as the
equally unbroken silence of Paul.
340 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
We have reached the conclusion of our examination of the
data. A just valuation of all the documentary evidence will
at least compel us to admit a large discount from its prima fade
impression. The alleged consensus of witnesses may easily
reduce itself to the testimony of one, and the evidence of this
one, the compiler of Q, is not altogether consistent with his own
material or with the indirect evidence of others. Against it
stands the incongruity of the conception with other teachings
of Jesus, and the case with which the enthusiastic apocalypti-
cism of the early church might pass from certain sayings about
the "Coming of the Son of Man" to the equivalence, "Jesus him-
self is the coming Son of Man." The preponderance of evidence
would seem to incline toward an origin for this equivalence not
in the sane and sober mind of Jesus, but in the exalted and vision-
ary expectations of a church on fire with momentary expecta-
tions of the end.