Bible Review 12:4, August 1996

The Son of Man

Who was he?

By Bruce Chilton

Who is the “son of man”? And who is the “one like a son of man”? And who is “the Son of Man” (in capital letters)? What’s the difference in meaning from one phrase to the other? And how do these terms apply to Jesus?

Until quite recently, it was widely agreed that the Gospels referred to Jesus as the Son of Man simply to identify him as the Messiah. Today, however, some scholars vigorously deny that Jesus used the phrase to make any theological claim about himself at all.1 Instead, they say, the phrase simply refers to any human being, one person among others.

The battle is on between those who see the phrase as messianic—the Son of Man—and those who see the phrase as general—the son of man.a General readers and specialists alike can ask the same question that a crowd asks in John 12:34, “Who is this Son of Man?” There is no dearth of literature on the subject. Harvard’s on-line catalogue lists some 72 books, not to mention articles, that are primarily dedicated to this subject.

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