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"The Son of Man" Part 3: The Old Testament
As explained in part one of this series, when Jesus used the phrase, “the son of man,” the Greek actually reads, “the son of the man.” Christian teachers claim that this phrase comes from the Old Testament. The statement in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is typical:
That the phrase was not one of Jesus' own invention is manifest, because it occurs often in the Old Testament (link to their article).
They then say that it occurs in Psalms, Ezekiel, and Daniel. However, it actually doesn’t appear anywhere, but a similar phrase appears in those books and in many other places as well. However, except for one instance, it clearly doesn’t refer to the expected Messiah.
In Jesus’s Era
History’s greatest experts on the Old Testament existed at the time of Christ when there was fierce competition over the knowledge of traditional Judean literature. The Sadducees and Pharisees were experts in what the people then called The Law and the Prophets, What Has Been Written, or, most simply, The Writings. Did these experts understand Jesus’s use of the phrase, “the son of the man?” Fortunately, John’s Gospel gives us an answer. Days before Jesus’s death, a group of people, including Sadducees and Pharisees, ask him in John 12:34
KJV: … and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?
The Greek actually reads, “the son of the man” in both places. They are echoing the actual words of Jesus. They recognized that Jesus was using a new phrase, “the son of the man,” one they didn’t understand. They knew the Old Testament, but what appears these is the phrase without both definite articles, "a son of a man." As we explained in part one on this topic, "a son of a man" has a very different meaning than "the son of the man." The Greek definite article is stronger than in English, so in Greek, the phrase is even more definite, closer to "this son of this man."
Old Testament Use
In the examples below, though our English translations often read, “the son of man,” the Greek of the Septuagint actually always reads, “a son of a man.” Ancient Greek has no indefinite article (“a,” “an”), but it can be added for clarity when the definite article is not used. The same is true of ancient Hebrew: it has the definite article, but not the indefinite one. So the Greek Septuagint reflects when the definite article is used in Hebrew.
The Old Testament commonly used this phrase to refer to all humanity, especially our weaknesses, and several prophets used it to refer to themselves. Let us look at some examples.
In these verses, the "a son of a man" phrase is used to refer to all of humanity: Num 23:19, Job 25:6, Psa 8:4, Psa 80:17, Psa 144:3, Isa 56:2, Jer 49:18, Jer 49:33, Jer 50:40, and Jer 51:43. Let us look at the first verse on this list, Num 23:19.
KJV: God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent;
Again, the original actually reads “a son of a man.” In addition to referring to all of humanity, this phrase expresses the general weakness of humanity (Psa 146:3, Isa 51:12). Let us look at Psa 146:3.
KJV: Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
Again, the original is “a son of a man.” In Ezekiel, this phrase is used ninety times, more than all of the other Old Testament uses combined. Ezekiel uses it as his own title when addressed by God or the messenger of God. One example is Eze 2:3.
KJV: And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me:
KJV: I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
Again, the original says “a son of a man.” This verse is especially interesting because Jesus refers to it. In Matthew 24:30, Jesus uses the phrase "the clouds of heaven" to describe the “coming” of "the son of the man.” He does not quote Daniel exactly, changing “a son of a man” to “the son of the man.” He also changes other words in the verse. Jesus saw a connection between Daniel’s vision and his own mission, but, since Daniel also uses “a son of a man” to refer to himself, Jesus may have been clarifying the distinction between those references and Daniel’s vision.
Despite the claims of religious teachers that this title, the son of man, goes back to the Old Testament, there are no occurrences of it that a computer search can find. Except for the Daniel quote, none of the “a son of a man” verses refer to the promised Messiah. If Jesus used this phrase to refer to himself as the Messiah, it was hidden in his reference to “the man” not in prophecies in the Old Testament.