In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Son of Man

  • Introduction
  • “Son of Man” Problem
  • “Son of Man” in Daniel 7
  • “Son of Man” in Greek Daniel 7
  • “Son of Man”’ in the Early Church: Apostolic Fathers and Gnosticism

Biblical Studies Son of Man
Benjamin Reynolds
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0231


Jesus’ use of the phrase “the Son of Man” (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in reference to himself has long been a conundrum for critical scholarship and is often described as the “Son of Man problem” or the “Son of Man debate.” In the four Gospels, Jesus uses the expression “the Son of Man” over eighty times to refer to himself. The only place outside the Gospels where the articular expression ho huios tou anthrōpou is found is Stephen’s declaration in Acts 7:56. Similar expressions (huios anthrōpou) are found in Hebrews 2:6 (citing LXX Psalm 8:5) and Revelation 1:13 and 14:14 (alluding to Daniel 7:13). Jesus’ use of ho huios tou anthrōpou is a “problem” for a number of reasons. To begin with, the Greek phrase ho huios tou anthrōpou is admittedly awkward (literally, “the Son of the Man”). Scholars propose that the phrase translates or mistranslates an Aramaic original: bar (e)nash(a) (or the Hebrew ben adam). If Jesus uttered an Aramaic phrase, was the phrase a generic reference to a human being? Could it be used as a self-reference? Or was the phrase a specific reference to the “one like a son of man” from Daniel 7? But the problem does not end there. Why did no one else refer to Jesus as “the Son of Man”? Why is Acts 7:56 the only other articular use of the phrase in the New Testament? Why was “Son of Man” not used as a Christological title in early Christian worship, as was “Son of God,” and why did “the Son of Man” completely disappear from use in the early church? Just as the debate has many questions and nuances, there are different avenues in which it takes place. Most of the debate in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries was concerned with the words of the historical Jesus. By the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, the scholarly focus had shifted to each respective Gospel’s use of the expression. At the same time, scholars of Second Temple Judaism were reexamining Daniel 7, the Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71), 4 Ezra, and other early Jewish texts to understand the role of Daniel 7 and further Hebrew Bible texts in relation to Jewish messianic expectation. Their work should not be ignored by New Testament scholars, especially since a consensus has developed among them that there were common understandings about the “one like a son of man” from Daniel, even if these interpretations were not unified.

Introductory Works

For good introductions to the literature and issues concerning Jesus’ use of the designation ho huios tou anthrōpou (“the Son of Man”), possible meanings and origins of the phrase, and its meaning in the Gospels, dictionary treatments provide the most concise introduction, particularly for students. Monographs and essay collections address many of these same issues; however, they provide the depth and detail that the dictionary treatments summarize.

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