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DID JESUS CALL HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN? 



CARL S. PATTON 
Los Angeles, California 



The Synoptic Gospels represent Jesus as calling himself the "Son of Man." 
The contention of this article is that Jesus did not use this self-designation. 

i. The Synoptic Gospels represent Jesus as attempting to avoid being known as 
"the Messiah." This conflicts with his use of a title which carried an unmistakable 
messianic meaning. 

2. In certain instances the phrase belongs to an editorial observation which has 
become a part of Jesus' conversation. 

3. Sometimes the phrase is inserted by Matthew or Luke into a passagefrom 
Mark which is without it. Occasionally these insertions alter or spoil the original 
meaning of the passage. 

4. In many passages common to Matthew and Luke and not found in Mark, one 
of the later evangelists lacks the phrase where the other has it. 

5. In other instances where the phrase is common to Matthew and Luke, the 
passage bears evidence of later working over. In other passages the phrase is textu- 
ally suspicious. 

If Jesus did not call himself the Son of Man, did he entertain the idea of his 
messiahship and of his parousia which the church attributed to him ? 



Throughout the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is represented as 
calling himself the "Son of Man." It has been generally 
agreed that this representation is correct. It is the contention 
of this paper that this consensus of opinion is erroneous, and 
that there is every reason to think that Jesus did not use 
this self-designation. 

Whatever the phrase "Son of Man" may have meant in 
its Aramaic original, there is no doubt that to the writers of 
the gospels it was a designation for the Messiah. But even 
to those who think of Jesus as always conscious of his messiah- 
ship, his use of this title is still full of difficulties. 

The most general of these difficulties is, that the Synoptic 
Gospels represent Jesus as making a constant effort to avoid 
being known as the Messiah. "He suffered not the demons to 
speak, because they knew him," says Mark. 1 Luke fills the 
sentence out by adding, "to be the Messiah." 2 Even after 
the confession of Peter at Caesarea, when Jesus had acknowl- 

1 Mark 1 : 34. * Luke 4:41. 

5°i 



502 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

edged his messiahship in the intimate circle of his disciples, 
he still forbade them to tell anyone that he was the Christ. 
But if Jesus thus refused to allow himself to be known as the 
Messiah, how could he, habitually and in passages long anterior 
to those just referred to, have referred to himself by a title 
which would have betrayed his messiahship to the crowd? 
Indeed, why should Jesus have referred to himself in the third 
person, under this or any other title? Why should he not 
always have said "I," as other men do, and as he himself did 
in many of his most emphatic passages ? 

Particular instances of Jesus' reported use of this title 
support the suspicion aroused by this general consideration. 
One of the most obvious of these instances is found in the story 
of the paralytic borne by his four friends. 1 The account 
runs: "In order that ye may know that the Son of Man hath 
power on earth to forgive sins, he saith to the sick of the palsy, 
I say unto thee, Arise." No one can have read this sentence 
without feeling its illogical construction. To be logically con- 
structed it should read, either, " In order that ye may know 
that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, I 
will now say to the sick of the palsy, Arise"; or "In order 
that they might know that the Son of Man had power on earth 
to forgive sins, He said to the sick of the palsy, Arise." The 
first of these two orders would make the speech throughout 
a speech of Jesus. The second would make it throughout 
a part of the narrative. In the sentence as it actually runs, 
the point of view is partly that of the speaker, Jesus, and 
partly that of the narrator, Mark. But if the clause which 
contains the title "Son of Man" be taken, not as part of the 
speech of Jesus, but as part of Mark's own narration, the con- 
fusion in the persons of the verbs disappears and the whole 
statement is quite natural. In other words, in this instance 
the phrase "Son of Man" seems naturally to go back to Mark 
and not to Jesus. 

1 Mark 2:10; Matt. 9:6; Luke 5:24. 



DID JESUS CALL HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN? 503 

There is a somewhat similar instance in which the words 
"the Son of Man" occur in what seems like an editorial 
addition; the phrase is found in all three synoptics, Matthew 
and Luke evidently taking it and its entire context from Mark. 1 
The phrase occurs at the end of the discussion concerning Jesus' 
walking through the corn on the Sabbath: "Therefore the Son 
of Man is lord also of the Sabbath." This closing sentence 
fits the argument about the Sabbath so poorly that Schmidt, 
in his Prophet of Nazareth, has argued from it that the phrase 
"Son of Man" did not refer to Jesus, nor to any other indi- 
vidual, but to man generally. If "the Sabbath was made 
for man, not man for the Sabbath," the appropriate conclusion 
is that man, as such, is lord of the Sabbath, and not, as Mark 
has it, "the Son of Man." If however the argument of Jesus 
be allowed to conclude with Mark's verse 27, and his verse 28 
be regarded as an addition by Mark himself, Jesus is relieved 
of this illogical conclusion. The verse will then have come 
from a time when the proper observance of the Sabbath was 
not quite settled among the Christians, and when the example 
of Jesus was adduced, as it probably often was, in support of a 
certain freedom of observance. 

In an instance peculiar to Luke the same phrase would seem 
with equal clearness to be part of an editorial comment, though 
appearing upon the surface as part of a saying of Jesus. It 
is that of the parable of the Unjust Judge. 3 The obvious pur- 
pose of the parable is to exhort men to patience and to a con- 
tinued belief in God's justice. The parable closes with the 
question, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall 
he find the faith in the earth ? " Noting the article before the 
word "faith," one asks, "What faith"? And answers, 
naturally, the faith which Jesus had taught, the faith of the 
Christian church. But who was in doubt about the continu- 
ance of that faith? Not Jesus, certainly. Who then? 
Luke himself. In the mouth of Jesus, spoken at a time when 

1 Mark 2:28; Matt. 12:8; Luke 6:5. »Luke 18:8. 



504 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

he was not "coming," but was actually there, the words add 
nothing to the parable, and are quite out of place. But in 
the mouth of Luke, written during a period of persecution 
and uncertainty, they bear pathetic witness to the difficulty of 
maintaining the new faith in view of the long delay of the 
parousia. 

An equally clear instance of the misplacing of our phrase 
is found in Matthew's form of the question addressed by Jesus 
to his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of Man is?" 1 
Matthew and Luke take the entire passage from Mark. Luke, 
like Mark, makes Jesus ask, quite naturally, "Who do men 
say that I am?" Matthew's insertion of the phrase "Son of 
Man" spoils the question by making it carry its own answer. 
Considering the fact that when Matthew goes on to make 
Jesus direct his question to his disciples, it reads, not "Who 
do ye say that the Son of Man is ?" but "Who do ye say that 
I am?" one may conclude without much hesitation that the 
phrase in the earlier question is a gloss upon the original 
gospel of Matthew. 

Equally plain is the case of the incident recorded by 
Luke 2 of the reception of Jesus in the Samaritan village, closing 
with the words, "For the Son of Man did not come to destroy 
men's lives (souls) but to save them." As in so many instances 
where this phrase is used, the tense of the verb is aorist. It 
is not, "the Son of Man has come," or "is come," but "came" ; 
thus seeming to betray the point of view of one who looks 
back upon the life of Jesus and sums up its significance in a 
single statement. That in this instance the words are an 
editorial addition, and not a part of the speech of Jesus, is 
clearly confirmed by the fact that they are lacking in the 
best manuscripts and are omitted by Westcott and Hort. 
The same may be said of Luke's words 3 appended to the 
conversation between Jesus and Zaccheus. Though in this 
instance no manuscript authority exists for the rejection of 

•Matt. 16:13. 2 9:si-56. 319:10. 



DID JESUS CALL HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN? 505 

the words, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save 
that which was lost," they obviously constitute an editorial 
addition to the actual speech of Jesus, explaining why he spoke 
so graciously, and indicating the developed conception of his 
work which prevailed in the church at the time of the writing 
of Luke's gospel. 

A similar instance is that of Jesus' discourse on true great- 
ness. 1 "Whoever would be great among you," says Jesus, 
"let him be your servant." Matthew follows Mark in the 
additional words, "For even the Son of Man came not to be 
ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom 
for many." The words are well attested. In Luke's render- 
ing of the same speech, 2 however, which has evidently been 
somewhat worked over by Luke or has been influenced in his 
account by other sources than Mark, the words are lacking. 
In Matthew, also, the words are followed, in various manu- 
scripts, by a considerable addition in the same vein. Quite 
without the suggestion contained in these facts, one can but 
consider this sentence of Mark's (and Matthew's), with others 
of the same kind already considered, as an editorial comment 
of the gospel writers, intended by them to enforce Jesus' 
advice by his own example both in life and death. The 
perfectly definite reference to the death of Jesus, and the 
developing conception of what that death meant to the world, 
would almost of themselves stamp the words as an utterance 
of the growing faith of the church, and not as an utterance 
of Jesus himself. 

We may advance the matter a step further by observing 
somewhat more in detail some of the passages where the 
phrase "the Son of Man" is inserted in one gospel where the 
parallel passage in one or both of the other gospels is without 
it. Thus in the passage which Matthew takes from Mark, 3 
he inserts (vs. 28) the phrase "the Son of Man coming in his 

"Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28. "Luke 22:24-27. 

'Matt. 16:24-28; Mark 8: 34 — 9:1; Luke 9:23-27. 



506 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

kingdom." Bousset has called attention to the fact that in 
this instance, and in several others peculiar to Matthew, the 
conception of a kingdom of Christ seems to have taken the 
place of the Kingdom of God about which Jesus preached. 
Any such substitution of one conception for the other must 
of course be much later than the time of Jesus. That such a 
substitution has taken place in this instance is confirmed by 
the fact that Mark and Luke not only lack the phrase "the 
Son of Man," but instead of "in his (Christ's) kingdom" read 
simply and naturally, "the Kingdom of God." 

Matthew has a similar insertion of our phrase in his sen- 
tence, 1 "When the Son of Man sits upon the throne of his 
glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the tribes 
of Israel." The body of this section appears to be taken from 
Mark, 2 but to have been influenced in both Matthew and Luke 
by a non-Markan source common to them. The part of the 
discourse containing our phrase is apparently taken by both 
Matthew and Luke, not from Mark but from this other source. 
But though Luke has thus derived his statement "Ye shall 
sit on twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel" from the 
same source as Matthew, Luke's version of it does not con- 
tain the phrase "the Son of Man." Matthew has added it. 
The source of Matthew and Luke is here obviously an old one, 
probably older than Mark, going back to a time of predomi- 
nantly Jewish Christianity; but the phrase added by Matthew 
does not appear to have been contained in it. Matthew's 
habit of heightening the eschatological character of various 
passages is further illustrated by the fact that elsewhere in this 
same section he reads "the Son of Man upon the throne of 
his glory," where Luke reads merely "my kingdom." Here 
again, of course, in both gospels, occurs the substitution of the 
kingdom of Christ for the Kingdom of God. 

In Matthew's twenty-fourth chapters occur two instances 
of our phrase peculiar to him, though he is here depending 

1 Matt. 19 : 28. ' Mark 10 : 28 f . 3 Vss. 30 and 39. 



DID JESUS CALL HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN? 507 

upon Mark. "The little apocalypse," to which the passage 
belongs, is now generally considered to be a Jewish document 
worked over, or worked into the speech of Jesus, by the 
evangelists or by a tradition anterior to them. In the first 
instance just referred to, Matthew has the words, "And then 
shall be seen the sign of the Son of Man in heaven"; they 
are lacking in both Mark and Luke. In the second instance, 
the passage concerning "the days of Noah," Matthew and 
Luke (Mark has here no parallel) once use our phrase in 
common; 1 but Matthew adds it a second time 2 where it is 
lacking in Luke. That the words are to be credited to Matthew 
(or his source ?) instead of to Jesus, is further indicated by the 
fact that here, as in other instances where the phrase is peculiar 
to him, he has coupled them with the word "parousia," a 
usage peculiar to Matthew. 

While Matthew contains a larger number of the insertions 
of our phrase where Luke or Mark (or both) in parallel pas- 
sages are without it, Luke is to be credited with a few such 
insertions. In his beatitude 3 "Blessed are ye when men shall 
hate you .... on account of the Son of Man," Matthew's 
somewhat close parallel to this beatitude is without this 
phrase. This is one of the few passages where the phrase is 
not used in an eschatological sense. But Luke's language 
here, implying that the Christians are or have been persecuted 
for their messianic expectations concerning Jesus, certainly 
betrays a time much later than that of Jesus himself. The 
passage 4 "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will 
the Son of Man confess before the angels of God" is obviously 
eschatological. It contains the same confusion of first and 
third persons which has been noted in other instances. In his 
parallel verse Matthew says simply, "Him will I confess. " s 
In most instances, therefore, it is Matthew, but in a few 

'Matt. 24:37; Luke 17:26. "Vs. 39. ^6:22. < Luke 12:8. 

s Other instances of Luke's peculiar use of our phrase have been discussed above, 
but they occur in passages not duplicated in the other gospels. 



508 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

instances it is Luke, who represents Jesus as referring to him- 
self as "the Son of Man" where in the other gospel he says 
simply "I," "me," or "mine." 

In one or two instances Matthew and Luke agree in the 
use of our phrase where they are dependent upon Mark but 
where Mark does not use it. Most notable of these is the 
passage concerning "the sin against the Holy Ghost." I 
suppose that any reference to "the Holy Ghost" in the 
mouth of Jesus is liable to suspicion on general grounds; 
since the Fourth Gospel undoubtedly represents the early 
tradition that "the Holy Ghost was not given" till after the 
death of Jesus. In this case, however, we are not left to such 
general considerations. Matthew and Luke agree in making 
Jesus say, 1 "Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of 
Man, it shall be forgiven him." They thus contrast those 
who speak against Jesus, with those who speak against the 
Holy Ghost; the former may be forgiven, the latter not. 
Mark, 2 from whom the passage is taken, does not contain this 
contrast, as he does not contain our phrase. He does, how- 
ever, have the phrase " the sons of men." If Mark had before 
him the same source from which Matthew and Luke derived 
their phrase "the Son of Man," it is hard to say why he 
should have replaced this phrase, with its direct and unmistak- 
able reference to Jesus, by his more general and colorless 
phrase. But the entire passage, either as recorded in Mark 
or in some earlier source or as worked over by Matthew 
and Luke, obviously comes from a period of the developing 
life of the church when the members of the church were recipi- 
ents of the Spirit and those outside were not. Blasphemy 
against the Holy Ghost was then much worse than blasphemy 
against the Son of Man, because one might speak ill of Jesus 
without knowing or understanding him, but one who spoke 
ill of the Holy Spirit struck at the very life of the church, 
and reviled the gift by which all Christians lived. The pas- 

'Matt. 12:32; Luke 12:10. '3:28-29. 



DID JESUS CALL HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN? 509 

sage reminds one of Paul's statement, "I give you to under- 
stand that no one speaking in the Spirit calleth Jesus accursed," 
and was probably written, or assumed its present form, some- 
where near the time these words of Paul were written. 

There remain certain instances where the phrase "the 
Son of Man" is used by both Matthew and Luke, in parallel 
passages not derived from Mark. Such is the passage in which 
Jesus compares himself to Jonah and Solomon. 1 Luke says 
simply that as Jonah was a sign to his generation, so the Son 
of Man shall be to his. The meaning seems eschatological. 
Matthew however changes the meaning by introducing the 
extremely definite prediction about the "three days and nights 
in the heart of the earth." The definiteness of this prediction, 
so different from anything else reputed to have been said by 
Jesus, has of itself led many to suspect that the exact wording 
of Matthew's passage took shape after the resurrection. This 
explanation would certainly relieve Jesus of the responsibility 
of comparing himself so freely with Solomon, and claiming 
such superiority to him — a thing eminently proper for the 
early church to do, but somewhat strange as coming from 
Jesus himself. 

A similar passage, open to a similar objection, is that in 
which Jesus compares his parousia to the lightning. 2 Of this 
comparison, Bousset 3 remarks that it can be attributed to 
Jesus only upon the supposition that he had "completely 
mythologized his own person." Of the passage, "Ye know 
not in what hour the Son of Man cometh," 4 it need only be 
remarked how ill the words fit the time of Jesus himself, and 
how well they fit the period in which the gospels were written, 
when men were looking with eager expectancy for the parousia. 
The same thing is true of the statement, "Ye shall not finish 
the cities of Israel before the Son of Man be come. 5 If as 
has been suggested by Mr. James Hardy Ropes (if I remember 

1 Matt. 12:40; Luke 11 :3c 3 Kyrios Christos, pp. 11-12. 

2 Matt. 24:27; Luke 17:24. <Matt. 24:44; Luke 12:40. sMatt. 10:23. 



510 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

correctly), the section in which this saying occurs was first 
compiled as a book of instructions to the early Christian 
preachers, the words fall beautifully into place; the preachers 
are to make haste, as their task can hardly be completed, at 
best, before the parousia. In the mouth of Jesus, alive and 
well and with no immediate prospect of death before him, 
they are strangely out of place. 

It would be too tedious to ask the reader to examine every 
passage in which our Synoptic Gospels use the phrase "the 
Son of Man." By far the larger part of them have now been 
gone over. To the writer's mind, not one of them is unsuspect. 
In many instances the phrase is obviously inserted by one 
writer into a context where one or both of the other gospels 
are without it. In others, it is textually suspicious. In 
others it is obviously an editorial remark which the author 
never intended to be taken as part of the speech of Jesus. In 
others its introduction produces confusion in the persons of 
the verbs and in the structure of the sentence. In others it 
betrays a point of view obviously unlike that of Jesus and 
impossible in his time. It abounds in passages which speak 
of the death and resurrection and "parousia" of Jesus in 
precisely such terms as he would not have been likely to use 
but as were entirely natural for his followers to employ after 
his death and while awaiting his parousia. 

If Jesus did not call himself the Son of Man, the question 
naturally arises, at what period the phrase began to be applied 
to him. Light is thrown upon this question by the fact that 
the phrase is never employed by Paul. It is found once in 
the book of Acts, in the mouth of Stephen; but the speech 
of Stephen is probably much later than Stephen himself. 
It occurs in the common non-Markan document that lies 
behind Matthew and Luke; whatever that document be called, 
its most probable date is a few years later than the Pauline 
epistles. The title is used oftener by Mark than by this 
earlier source, and oftener by Matthew and Luke than by 



DID JESUS CALL HIMSELF THE SON OF MAN? 511 

Mark — an indication that it only gradually acquired its place 
as a recognized messianic title of Jesus. 

If Jesus did not call himself the Son of Man, the further 
question remains whether, and how far, he thought of himself, 
in any way, at any time, as the Messiah; or whether, if he did, 
he connected with that idea those images of a return upon 
the clouds and a messianic throne and kingdom which the 
early church reports him as having entertained. The present 
study is of course not conclusive upon such a point. But 
many or most of those messianic conceptions which are most 
materialistic and most obnoxious to modern minds, find 
their expression in precisely those passages where the phrase 
"the Son of Man" is most freely used. The present study 
does certainly throw doubt upon the authenticity of these 
passages as coming from Jesus, and therefore relieves him of 
the responsibility for the grosser elements of the messianic 
conception.