A shorter version of this essay appears in the latest issue of The Harvard Ichthus:
No historical issue related to the life and teaching of Jesus is more perennially resistant to scholarly consensus than his frequent use of the expression “son of man” in the Gospels. Frustratingly enough, neither is any single matter more critical to recovering Jesus’ own original sense of his identity and mission. Simply put, we cannot hope to understand Jesus if we fail to grasp what he intended by repeatedly designating himself as the “son of man.” It may seem unwise and even naive to venture another interpretation of Jesus’ enigmatic form of self-reference in such brief, summarizing fashion here, but my intention is captured well by Oliver Wendell Holms: “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.” No one familiar with the history of debate over the phrase “son of man” can doubt that the theme is chock full of complexity. But what many continue to sincerely doubt—that a basic simplicity does exist underneath all the evidence that can make sense of all the data coherently and compellingly—is what I seek to assert and defend here.
A concise overview of why the “son of man” issue proves to be both important and difficult (in equal parts) is apropos as a starting point—particularly in light of how ignored the expression tends to be in spite of its self-evident prominence in the Gospels. As one recent writer laments, “Rarely does this ‘title’ [“son of man”] function regularly and significantly in Christian thinking and spirituality. Such a situation is remarkable.”
The Importance of “The Son of Man”
The importance of the “son of man” expression in Jesus’ ministry is obvious for several reasons. First, there is the sheer prominence of the expression as some sort of title or identifying marker for Jesus, spread right across all four canonical Gospels. “Son of man” appears 69x in the Synoptic Gospels—39x in Matthew, 23x in Luke, 14x in Mark—and also shows up 12x in John.
Second, and much more strikingly, only Jesus ever makes use of the phrase in the Gospels; it is never found on the lips of anyone else—not the crowds, not his disciples, not the Jewish religious leaders, not the Roman authorities, not the demons, not even God. And whereas other characters with “speaking parts” in the story of Jesus use such titles as “Christ/Messiah,” “Son of God,” “Son of David,” “Prophet,” “Lord” and the like to address Jesus, Jesus himself is (in)famously depicted in the Gospels as being quite reluctant to adopt such expressions to himself. That the early church practically abandoned the expression in both its missionary proclamation and its own internal teaching for committed disciples only reinforces the oddity of this phenomenon.
Third–and following logically on the heels of the strange, remarkable pattern that emerges from the previous two points—perhaps the most historically indisputable fact concerning the recorded “sayings” of Jesus (if one is inclined to be categorically suspicious of the trustworthiness and integrity of the four Gospels) is that he actually employed the phrase “son of man” on a regular basis. As James Dunn points out: “If we cannot be confident that Jesus used the phrase ‘the son of man’ in his speech, and quite regularly, then there is almost no feature of the Jesus tradition of which we can confidently assert that Jesus spoke in this way.”
Finally, the “son of man” sayings in the Gospels (as we shall see) cover an astonishingly broad scope of thematic material in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God—and, more specifically, in clarifying his own role in the decisive coming of that kingdom. As Morna Hooker persuasively contends, the expression “son of man” virtually encapsulates the identity of Jesus in the Gospels. “This term seemed the most adequate and appropriate one to express his person and destiny…The title ‘Son of man’ expresses the fundamental truth about Jesus’ person and work.” And Cullman argues that “the idea of the Son of Man is even more comprehensive [than other titles for Jesus]; it embraces the total work of Jesus as does almost no other idea.” I would argue that the identification of Jesus as “the son of man” serves as an interpretative framework or grid for rightly discerning the true meaning of his sayings and actions throughout his public ministry. In other words, “son of man” functions as the Rosetta Stone of the story of Jesus. We do well to pay heed with diligence.
The Difficulty of “The Son of Man”
Unfortunately, the challenges involved in grasping what the Gospel writers intended to communicate to us through the “son of man” expression are legion. As Dunn writes, “It is no wonder that the Son of Man material in the Jesus tradition has proved so intractable…The degree of complexity of the data is unparalleled in the Jesus tradition.” In what sense is the available data so complex that it resists a coherent, unified explanation of the meaning of “son of man”?
First, the fact that the early church subsequently dropped the expression “son of man” in its proclamation of Jesus, while intriguing, seemingly renders us unable to consult other diverse, creative interpretative uses of the phrase outside of Jesus’ own usage.
Second, there is not even a consensus on the most likely background for the source, origin or inspiration for Jesus’ manner of speaking. As Adela and John Collins point out: “There are two main theories about the origin of all these sayings. One is that the oldest Son of Man sayings are the ones that allude to Daniel 7 and that the other types derive from these. The second is that all the Son of Man sayings derive from the use by Jesus of a Semitic idiom in which ‘son of man’ means ‘a man’ or ‘man’ in general.” The implications of whether Jesus’ use of the phrase is theological (the Old Testament background) or linguistic (the Aramaic idiom) or in some sense both (I will argue that these two apparently disparate dimensions are actually logically intertwined) are radical for interpreting each and every occurrence of the expression, and (therefore) for how the story of Jesus is understood in its totality.
Third, regardless of what source of origin one might prefer, Jesus’ consistent style of communication remains utterly unprecedented. With respect to both the mainstream Aramaic idiom and the vast number of Old Testament occurrences, the expression is always anarthrous (“a son of man” or “sons of men”) in our extant sources, while Jesus’ peculiar use of the phrase is always articular (“the son of man”).
Fourth, and as a cumulative result of these factors, the sheer number of quasi-plausible options for the meaning and referent of “the son of man” may seem almost paralyzing. Some argue that “son of man” is nothing more than a fancy circumlocution for “I” on Jesus’ lips. Others hold it to be a generic reference to all human beings. Or perhaps “son of man” refers to a more particularizing subset of a broader, general category (“a man in my unique position), or a more vaguely indefinite meaning (“someone”). A few have even proved so daring as to suggest that Jesus referred to someone other than himself with the phrase, an eschatological redeemer who would vindicate Jesus in the future after his rejection and suffering, perhaps even a mysterious heavenly doppelganger! Still others are convinced that Daniel 7 is the key (theological) background, and that speculations about an Aramaic idiom that may be reconstructed only by diving “behind” the actual Greek text of the Gospels are an exercise in futility, and one that can only distract from the real issues. Finally, some contend that Psalm 8 and/or Genesis 1:26-28 have paramount relevance for grasping Jesus’ point.
How can anyone hope to make any sense out of this mess?
Categorizing “The Son of Man” Sayings
Perhaps the most common approach to the ‘son of man’ material in the Gospels is to sort the various sayings into three broad categories. Going back to Rudolph Bultmann, this taxonomy usually consists of the Son of Man being proclaimed, rejected/suffering, and vindicated. Two particular strengths of this paradigm deserve to be mentioned. First, it is indisputable that at great many of the “son of man” sayings are indeed reflective of these broad themes. In passages where Jesus employs the expression “son of man,” he is often seen to be openly proclaiming this role in public. Even more notably, Jesus surprisingly predicts that this same “son of man” will be rejected and suffer and ultimately die at the hand of sinners. Nevertheless, the heinous, cruel verdict given against Jesus will be reversed by God himself; the ‘son of man’ will be vindicated and exalted. Notably, these last two categories (rejection/suffering and vindication) frequently appear in the same passages, linked together by some unspoken logic.
Second, it is obvious that these three “grids” for dividing up the “son of man” sayings are a tidy summary of the entire story of Jesus according to the four Gospels. Sent by God, Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God and his own role in the coming of God’s ideal society. After a brief public ministry of teaching, miracles, and exorcisms, Jesus is rejected and crucified in Jerusalem. Three days later, God raises him from the dead and installs him as Lord and King over all. So once again, we find evidence that the “son of man” phrase is central to Jesus’ conception of his mission, and in some sense “frames” his entire story. Yet these three categories, in isolation, really do no more than vaguely repeat what we already know about Jesus. Perhaps “son of man” really is just a fancy way of saying nothing more than “I”? Indeed, if this is all one can say about our enigmatic expression in the gospels, then “the term ‘Son of man’ is left unrelated to the majority of the contexts in which it appears.”
Two Unifying Threads for “The Son of Man” Tapestry
However, possibilities remain for unraveling still further layers of meaning in the fabric of the “son of man” tapestry. The work of Morna Hooker, which has for too long been unjustly ignored, is of enormous relevance here. She argues that two unifying threads are scattered throughout the three stages of “son of man” sayings, which together evoke a central plotline of the Hebrew Scriptures.
First, Hooker contends that all three stages of the “son of man” sayings revolve around a basic idea: authority. Jesus openly proclaims his God-given authority, his claim to authority is rejected by the religious leaders (and thus he suffers), and in being raised from the dead, Jesus’ authority is vindicated by God. A closer inspection of the texts demonstrates the truth of this proposal. In Mark 2:10, Jesus heals “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. In Mark 2:28, a controversial debate with the Pharisees is concluded with the words “therefore, the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” In Matthew 19:28, Jesus claims that precisely as “the Son of Man” he will one day sit on a “throne of glory” and rule the new world God ushers in through his ministry. In Matthew 25:31ff., Jesus appropriates the same imagery of sitting on a glorious throne once again, this time with God’s rule delegated to him to pronounce judgment between the sheep and the goats on the final day. It is likewise clear that at Jesus’ trial, it is his preposterous claim to such unique authority that Caiaphas and the other religious leaders find so blasphemous (Mark 14:58-65). And certainly all four Gospels make crystal clear that the Roman charge against Jesus, hung over his cross in ironic symbolism, was for claiming to be the “King.” Thus, as Hooker writes:
“The vital point with which they are all linked is the question of Jesus’ authority—the authority which he claims and which his followers accept. The term ‘Son of man’ can appropriately be used when the authority of Jesus is claimed or accepted, and this is why it is used in conversation with those who follow or challenge him. It is because he is Son of man that Jesus acts with the authority which characterizes his ministry.”
Second, Hooker persuasively demonstrates that the authoritative activity of Jesus as “son of man” is never portrayed in the Gospels as an isolated reality, but is seen to possess a corporate significance for those who are identified with Jesus (i.e. his followers). Furthermore, the corporate associations between the ‘son of man’ and his disciples are evenly distributed throughout all three stages of the sayings: the authority of Jesus as proclaimed, rejected and vindicated is “shared” by others; this tapestry’s curious pattern does not belong to Jesus’ story alone. As Hooker notes, “In this pattern [authority given, rejection, suffering, vindication] Jesus and his followers are inextricably bound together.”
Consider Matthew 9:1-8. Here Jesus not only pronounces his “authority” to forgive sins, but Matthew summarizes the implications of Jesus’ bold activity, he writes that “when the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” This audacious claim is fleshed out in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, as other human beings among Jesus’ followers begin to participate in his authority to forgive sins (cf. John 21:21-23 in view of 5:27). In Mark 2:25-28, Jesus defends not only his own controversial actions on the Sabbath but also those of his disciples by appealing to the authority of the “son of man” over the Sabbath. In the case of both David and Jesus, it is “he and those who were with him” (v. 25) who participate in this authority, and therefore “he also gave it to those who were with him” (v. 26). This provocative phrase, importantly enough, then reappears in Mark 3:14-15, where we are now explicitly told that Jesus gave “authority” to his disciples—that is, to those who were appointed “that they might be with him.” Mark 6:7-12, too, states that Jesus “gave authority” to his followers to engage in the very same sort of activities that he has been engaged in throughout the Gospel: teaching/proclaiming the kingdom, healing the sick, and liberating those oppressed by the demonic.
Moreover, the apparently triumphal undertones of these passages are severely countered by the gradual revelation that Jesus’ followers will not only share in his authority, but also in its rejection and the suffering it entails. As is well known, Mark contains three passion predictions in the central section of his narrative (8:31-33, 9:30-32, and 10:32-34) in which Jesus’ role as “son of man” comes to the forefront. It is not a coincidence that each of these cross-shaped predictions for how Jesus’ story will soon end are immediately followed by Jesus’ insistence that the stories of those who follow him must likewise take the shape of the cross (8:34-35, 9:33-37, 10:35-45)—to be a disciple of Jesus is to be rejected and suffer, to use one’s authority to serve, to be humbled that others might be exalted.
However, just as it proved to be the case for Jesus, rejection and suffering and humiliation are not the final word for “those who are with” the “son of man,” either. As Jesus’ authority was vindicated, so also will the disciples participate in his vindication—provided that they suffer with him first, of course. In Matthew 19:28, it is not Jesus alone who will “rule” the new world as “the son of man,” but his followers will reign with him. In Mark 13:26-27/Matt. 24:30-31/Luke 21:27-28, the “coming of the son of man” is accompanied by the gathering and vindication of his “elect” from the four corners of the earth. And in Acts 7:56, Stephen is vindicated in the midst of his suffering and martyrdom by the vindicated “son of man” who is at God’s right hand.
A cumulative pattern is now becoming clear. As Hooker astutely observes, “The destiny of the Son of man extends beyond Jesus himself to those who follow him.” Her final conclusion is therefore apt: “[The] pattern of ‘Son of man’ sayings is revealed, then, as a logical and coherent whole.” Jesus as “the son of man” is given authority by God but is spurned by sinful human beings, suffers for it to the point of death on a cross, and yet is vindicated by God and raised from the dead to be Lord over all. And in all of this, his followers participate in the authority of Jesus, and—therefore—in the pattern of suffering and vindication. This raises one final question: what is all of this actually about? Why is a “son of man” given authority by God which has corporate consequences for others—all in the unexpected shape of suffering followed by vindication? Is there a meaningful story behind the tapestry’s pattern?
The “Son of Man” as Israel (and Israel as Adam)
Scholars have long been aware that numerous allusions to Daniel 7 exist in the various “son of man” sayings in the four Gospels. A glance at the evidence in light of Daniels’ apocalyptic vision produces a wealth of intertextual echoes present in Jesus’ speech about his role as “son of man”: “coming,” “see,” “glory,” “thrones,” “holy ones,” “given authority,” “kingdom,” “handed over,” “serve,” “clouds,” “heaven and earth,” “glory,” and more—all come directly from Daniel 7. However, modern scholars have been generally suspicious of tracing the source of Jesus’ sayings to Daniel 7 for a number of reasons. I wish to contest that skepticism by rethinking what is going on in Daniel 7, and how that might fruitfully illuminate Jesus’ use of “son of man” for his mission.
Daniel 7 is clearly split into two overall sections. First, in 7:1-14 there is an apocalyptic vision of four beasts rising up out the chaotic sea to oppress and destroy, who are countered by God’s judgment which arrives in the form of “one like a son of man” coming to the Ancient of Days to receive the authority of God’s kingdom (7:13-14). The result is that all peoples, nations and languages should serve this mysterious figure. Second, there is the inspired, angelic interpretation of the vision in 7:15-28. The four “beasts” are four kings (7:17) who represent four successive kingdoms that will dominate Israel. The “son of man” does not reappear in the interpretation, but his role now seems to be played by “the saints of the Most High”—the people of Israel (7:18, 22, 26-27). God’s judgment brings about a stunning reversal; the pagan kingdoms are humbled and their power taken away from them, while Israel is granted the rightful authority over the nations of the world.
While disputed, it seems clear enough that there is some connection between the “son of man” figure in Daniel 7 both with Israel’s future king (or Messiah) and with the people of Israel corporately, given that the four “beasts” represent both particular individual kings and the kingdoms as a whole. So the connection between “son of man” as a unique human figure who has corporate impact on others he represents can be traced back to Daniel 7. Likewise, the theme of “authority” is undeniably the heart of Daniel’s vision (7:13-14, 27), just as it is in the Gospels. Furthermore, the three-fold idea that someone 1.) inherently possesses God-given authority, 2.) suffers for it, and 3.) is then vindicated by God is a pattern that finds its inception in the story of Daniel 7.
As the background to Jesus’ “son of man” sayings, Daniel 7 also reveals another crucial piece of our puzzle. Key to everything else is the recognition that the war between the “beasts” (pagan kings/kingdoms) and the “son of man” (Israel’s king/Israel) is an apocalyptic retelling of the story of creation in Genesis 1, particularly 1:26-28. Dunn comments on the creation imagery that saturates Daniel 7: “The implication is clear: that as ‘man’ = the human being was climax to creation and given dominion over the rest of creation, so Israel was the climax of God’s universal purpose and would be given dominion over all other nations.” This point is widely recognized, but not usually given the weight it deserves.
When examined more closely from this perspective, Daniel 7 proves to be the tip of a much larger theological iceberg: throughout the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, the constant assumption is that Israel has been called into existence as God’s covenant people precisely in order to play the role that God originally intended humanity to fulfill in the world. Created in God’s image and given dominion (“authority”!) over the entire earth, human beings were meant to exercise this royal stewardship by seeking to extend His blessing, presence and glory to the world around them as the human race was fruitful and multiplied throughout God’s good creation. Psalm 8 famously celebrates this fundamental human vocation by employing the phrase “son of man” to evoke God’s original call to rule over the earth (Ps. 8:3-6). Crowned with glory and honor, God intends to set all things under our feet—most notable of which are the various “beasts” or animals of the world (Ps. 8:7-8). Yet in idolatry and sin, human beings turned away from God’s purposes and forfeited their “glory”—their God-given authority over the created order—and have now become subjected to slavery and death.
Yet beginning in Genesis 12:1-3, a remarkable pattern emerges again and again throughout Israel’s story: the language, imagery and ideas of the creation story are reoriented around Israel’s mission in the world. Israel (not Adam) is now called to reflect God’s character, imaging Him forth to the world. It is Israel that must now be fruitful and multiply, exercising dominion over the world and called to bring blessing to the nations as God’s “royal priesthood” (Ex. 19:4-6). “The Son of man [in Daniel 7 is the] inheritor of God’s promises to Adam.” It is Israel in particular, and not human beings in general, that is now called to be the light of the world, the authoritative agents of God’s kingdom and presence extending to the four corners of the earth (corporate impact) as God originally intended. N. T. Wright in particular has stressed this organic link between Adam and Israel that functioned as a core assumption of 2nd Temple Judaism:
“The use of ‘Adam’ themes in the Jewish literature which may without controversy be considered a part of the background to the New Testament…consistently makes one large and important point: God’s purposes for the human race in general have devolved on to, and will be fulfilled in, Israel in particular. Israel is, or will become, God’s true humanity. What intended for Adam will be given to the seed of Abraham. They will inherit the second Eden, the restored primeval glory. If there is a ‘last Adam’ in the relevant Jewish literature, he is not an individual, whether messianic or otherwise. He is the whole eschatological people of God. If we take ‘Adam’ language out of this context we do not merely distort it; we empty it of its basic content.”
Hooker puts the matter in this way: “The idea which gave rise to the emergence of the Son of man [is] that Israel was Adam’s true heir.”
That Israel’s story ends in catastrophic failure (just as humanity’s did in Genesis 3) is one of the most obvious “points” of the Old Testament as it stands. Daniel 7 looks to the future and sees a mysterious figure, “one like a son of man,” who will soon arrive to embody and enact the vocation of Genesis 1:26-28—the very task that both humanity and the people of God had failed to achieve. Thus, as France points out, “While Daniel 7:13 was the source of Jesus’ title ‘Son of man,’ the implications of the title are far wider.” What will the future redeemer, the Messiah of Israel, be and do when he comes on the scene? According to Daniel 7, nothing more and nothing less than what humanity and Israel were each commissioned to undertake: to rule the world on God’s behalf, as the image-bearing agent of His blessing, glory and holy presence.
To sum up: the “son of man” in Daniel 7 is the coming Messiah who will exercise the authority (or “dominion”) given first to corporate humanity in Genesis 1:26-28, and later bequeathed to corporate Israel. The phrase, just a common Aramaic idiom for “human being,” carries in itself the most profound theological point. Those who pursue the origin of the “son of man” expression in Jesus’ ministry should not play off the Aramaic idiom and Daniel 7 against each other as contrasting alternatives. The linguistic meaning of the idiom and the theological vision of Daniel 7 belong together. As Collins notes, “In itself the phrase ‘son of man’ only means ‘human being.’” But as we have seen, to be a human being, a “son of Adam,” carries momentous privilege and responsibility in Judaism—the dignity of ruling over the world to bless it in imitation or reflection of God’s own character, even if this task now belongs solely to Israel as God’s renewed humanity. In using the unprecedented articular form of the phrase throughout his ministry, Jesus implicitly “frames” all of his actions and teaching around the stunning claim to be “the human being.” That is, Jesus identifies his person and mission with God’s original ideal and vocation for humanity (and later Israel). The church fathers were correct to see in the expression “the son of man” an allusion to Jesus’ true humanity. But they were wrong to perceive the claim to be in contrast to his divinity (a non-sequitur, in the original historical context of Jesus’ ministry, if there ever was one). Rather, the phrase highlights Jesus’ true humanity in contrast to the faithlessness of all other human beings throughout history (both Gentile and Jewish).
A recent scholarly survey of the history of the debate over the phrase “son of man” in the Gospels concludes this way:
“The interpretation of the Son of man in the New Testament Gospels is in free fall until it is recognized that the expression does not have any special meaning before it receives it through its concrete context in the respective Gospels.”
I am suggesting that this is to get the matter entirely backwards. It is Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that are without real, concrete meaning (or, at least, without their correct significance) until we interpret them through the lens Jesus himself offered as the key to his identity and mission: in everything Jesus does, he acts as “the son of man.” In his public ministry, the Gospels ask us to “see” Jesus’ teaching, healings and exorcisms as manifestations of the kingdom of God—that is, as moments in which an image-bearing human being who reflects God’s character acts with God’s own authority in the world to extend His presence and reign to new situations. After all, what is the offer of God’s forgiveness to others (Mark 2:10) but what the original human vocation of Genesis 1-2 looks like in a fallen world, the unique combination of royal authority and priestly service? What is Jesus’ triumph over the Satanic forces but the successful recapitulation of Adam’s failure to cast the serpent out of the garden? What is Jesus’ healing of the blind and the lame, or his stilling of the storm or feeding of the great multitudes, but his dominion over the created order to bring blessing rather than cursing?
Likewise, in his death (suffering) Jesus uses his holy authority in love to serve others rather than to be served by them, and thus Pilate’s words take on a much profounder significant than he knows when he displays the bloodied Jesus to the crowd moments before his crucifixion: “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). And in his resurrection (vindication) Jesus is given all authority in heaven and earth and seated at God’s right hand to rule the world for Him. A son of Adam has finally become Lord over all (Genesis 1:26-28)! Creation can at last get back on track and experience the blessing of God’s gracious reign, free from the tyranny of sin, death and Satan.
Most modern Christians are (rightly) familiar with the claim that when we look at Jesus, we see what God is like. Absolutely. What I am suggesting is that what all four Gospels are trying to say about Jesus as “the son of man” is just as earth-shattering, if we are paying attention to their logic: namely, that when we look at Jesus, we see what a human being is supposed to look like. This is what God intended humanity to be and to do from the beginning, transposed onto the changed background of a fallen, broken, idolatrous world. Thus, to call Jesus “the son of man” is to realize that the peculiar elements of his story did not take place in a historical vacuum, now open to the importation of any random ideology or agenda we desire. Rather, Jesus’ story takes the shape of what our stories should have looked like all along. This is what God wanted from humanity, and what He wanted to do through humanity. This is what the people of God were called to be in the world, failed to be in the world…but still can be in the world.
Yes, remembering that “the son of man” not only has the authority of Genesis 1/Psalm 8 (Adam) and Daniel 7 (Israel), but also functions as a corporate figure who impacts others, we cannot stop with Jesus’ past accomplishment as God’s true human being. We must hear the challenge of all four Gospels anew, which do not tell the story of Jesus for its own sake, but that we might hear his call to follow as disciples in the kingdom of God. As we have seen, following “the son of man” takes the shape of his story: given authority to bring blessing to creation (teaching, healing, casting out demons), yet met inevitably with rejection, hostility and suffering, only to be finally vindicated by God in the end. In other words, if “the son of man” expression teaches us that Jesus’ story takes the shape of the stories God originally intended us to faithfully embody, then it is no less true that to follow Jesus means that our stories henceforth must take the shape of his story. In other words, if we confess that the story of Jesus is where we see what it means to be truly human, and if we acknowledge that we are each of us radically dehumanized by sin and idolatry (and ultimately death), then it follows that if we desire to be truly human again—to bear the image of God in its fullness—then there is no other path back to that goal except the one that runs straight through the cross. Taking up your cross and following Jesus in worship to God and suffering, loving service to the world is the only way to be fully human again.
As Irenaeus saw so long ago in the 2nd century, the heart of the gospel is recapitulation. Jesus became what we (Adam and Israel) should have been, in order that we (Jew and Gentile) might become what he now is—fully human, the image of God, ruling over the world as Lord over all to bring blessing as far as the curse is found. This is the good news that results from Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—it is the best news the world has ever heard. We can be truly human again, under God and over creation:
“He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam …the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man [born] of woman who conquered him. … And therefore does the Lord profess Himself to be the Son of man, comprising in Himself that original man out of whom the woman was fashioned, in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death.”
 “Indeed, the ongoing ‘Son of Man’ debate is one of the great embarrassments for modern historical scholarship, since it has been unable to produce any major consensus.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1, p. 725)
 Eugene E. Lemcio, “The Gospels Within the New Testament Canon,” Canon and Biblical Interpretation, eds. Bartholomew, Hahn, Parry, Seitz and Wolters, p. 131. Cullmann, turning to a survey of church history, similarly points out that “surprisingly, systematic theologians have never dealt as exhaustively with its important Christological implications as it deserves…We possess no real Christology founded on the Son of Man.” (Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, rev. ed., p. 137)
 “After ‘the kingdom of God/heaven’ there is no phrase so common in the Jesus tradition as ‘the son of man.’ Its importance within the Jesus tradition, and possibly as a key to that tradition, therefore, can hardly be exaggerated.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1, p. 724)
 John 12:34 is only an apparent exception, as the use of the phrase by the crowds is prompted merely by Jesus’ own mysterious use of it in 12:23. Luke 24:7 is in the same category: the angels are repeating and summarizing Jesus’ own earlier prognostications to the disciples in 9:22, 44, 18:31-33, etc.
 Acts 7:56, Hebrews 2:5-9, and Revelation 1:13, 14:14 are, once more, not really exceptions to this general pattern upon closer inspection. The phrase in Acts 7:56 is found in a context in which Stephen’s death is being portrayed as a recapitulation of Jesus’ own martyrdom in Luke’s Gospel. Hebrews 2 is a quotation of Psalm 8, from which the phrase is taken over. And Revelation’s dependence on the book of Daniel (cf. Dan. 7:13-14) is well-known, given the shared literary genre of apocalyptic.
 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1, p. 760
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, pp. 78, 190
 Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, rev. ed., p. 137
 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1, p. 759
 Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature, p. 156
 “Nowhere in Aramaic texts dating from around the time of Jesus do we find any individual being referred to as ‘the son of man.’” (Paul L. Owen, “The Son of Man Debate: What’s the Problem?,” in ‘Who Is This Son of Man?’ The Latest Scholarship on a Puzzling Expression of the Historical Jesus, eds. Larry W. Hurtado and Paul L. Owen, viii)
 See Larry W. Hurtado, “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who Is This Son of Man?’ The Latest Scholarship on a Puzzling Expression of the Historical Jesus, eds. Larry W. Hurtado and Paul L. Owen, pp. 161-62)
 Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 1:30
 See Matt. 9:6, 12:8, Mark 2:10, 2:28, Luke 5:24, 6:5, John 5:27, 6:27
 See Matt. 8:20, 12:32, 40, 17:12, 26:2, 24, 26:45, Mark 9:12, 14:21, 41, Luke 6:22, 9:44, 9:58, 11:30, 22:22, 48, John 12:34
 Matt. 10:23, 13:41, 16:27-28, 17:9, 19:28, 24:30, 25:31, 26:64, Mark 8:38-9:1, 9:9, 13:26, 14:62, Luke 9:26-27, 12:8, 18:8, 21:27, 36, 22:69, John 1:51, 6:62, Acts 7:56
 Matt. 11:19, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34, Luke 7:34-35, 9:22, 18:31-33, 24:7, John 3:13-14, 8:28, 12:23-24, 13:31-33
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 188
 See Matt. 9:6, 12:8, 19:28, 25:31, Mark 2:10, 2:28, Luke 5:24, 6:5, John 5:27, 8:28
 “All are expressions of this authority, whether it is an authority which is exercised now, which is denied and so leads to suffering, or which will be acknowledged and vindicated in the future. This theme binds the three ‘groups’ of ‘Son of man’ sayings together.” (Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 180). This point has been affirmed by others: “The theme of authority is the basic factor in the general corpus of sayings.” (I. Howard Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology, rev. ed., p. 77); cf. “The treatment of his authority [is] the consistent theme…The central aspect of the identity of the Son of Man…is his authority.” (Simon Gathercole, “The Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel,” Expository Times 115 (2004), pp. 368-69)
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 179
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 140
 The connection between the rejection and suffering of the “son of man” and that of his followers is well-attested elsewhere, too (cf. Matt. 8:19-22, Luke 6:22, 9:57-62)
 Note, too, that Matthew 10:5-39 as a whole manifests the entire pattern of Jesus’ sharing his authority with the disciples to participate in his mission, their rejection on account of that authority, and their eventual vindication when they are acknowledged before the Father by Jesus. At the heart of this vision is the “coming of the son of man” in relation to the mission of the disciples in 10:23.
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 139
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 182
 The primary reasons: 1.) a misunderstanding of “apocalyptic” language as referring only or primarily to the “end of the world,” 2.) a mistaken fascination with the Aramaic idiom that Jesus may or may not have used in speaking of himself as the “son of man” as contrary to the “theological” background to the phrase in the OT, and 3.) a sense that many of the “son of man” sayings that do not directly echo Daniel 7 must therefore have to do with something else. Each of these convictions, I suggest, is unjustified and blind interpreters to the pervasive, comprehensive unity of the sayings.
 “All of these elements [authority revealed, rejected, vindicated] draw directly from Daniel 7. While other scriptural sources are accumulated along the way, it is Daniel 7 which consistently powers the engine of the Son of Man narrative.” (Simon Gathercole, “The Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel,” Expository Times 115 (2004), p. 366)
 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1, p. 729
 For instance: “In Daniel 7, the Ancient of Days has the same type of relationship with the ‘Son of Man’ [as exists in Genesis 1:26 between God and humanity].” (Andre Lacocque, “Allusions to Creation in Daniel 7,” in The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, vol. 1, eds. John J. Collins and Peter W. Flint, p. 122). Later Lacocque writes that “the ‘Son of Man’s’ kingship has its foundation in the event of creation. His kingship is on the model of Adam’s kingship.” (p. 124)
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 26
 N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, pp. 20-21. He later writes that “Abraham will be God’s means of undoing the sin of Adam…Abraham and his family inherit, in a measure, the role of Adam and Eve.” (pp. 21-22). See also Seth D. Postell, Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh
 Morna D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark, p. 72. Cf. “The role of Israel as God’s chosen people is expressed in terms of God’s purpose for ‘man.’” (p. 74)
 R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: His Application of Old Testament Passages to Himself and His Mission, p. 137
 “We have here the recapitulation of a narrative that reaches all the way back to both Eden and Sinai…The authority and reign that God intended for humanity as rulers over all of creation has been granted to Israel, and this function of Israel is carried out by a symbolic figure that represents, and in some sense even is, Israel in person.” (Michael F. Bird, Are You The One Who Is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, p. 84-85)
 John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, p. 180
 Mogens Muller, The Expression ‘Son of Man’ and the Development of Christology: A History of Interpretation, p. 416
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.21.1. Cf. also “Christ was in these last days, according to the time appointed by the Father, united to His own workmanship, inasmuch as He became a man liable to suffering … He commenced afresh1 the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam—namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus.” (Against Heresies, 3.18.1)