How did Jesus refer to Himself? As “Son of God” or as “Son of man”?
Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. This man was then banned from the temple by the Pharisees. When Jesus later met this man, He asked him an extremely important question. Did He ask him: “Do you believe in the Son of God?”, or did He ask him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”.
To find an answer to this question, we use three criteria, the first looking at the manuscripts that contain the two variations and see what we could derive from the evidence there.
1. External criteria
|Variation:||Son of Man:||Son of God:|
|Witness:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:|
|101-200||Papyrus 75, Papyrus 66|
|301-400||Sinaiticus, Vaticanus||Achmimic, Bohairic, Fayyumic, Syriac||1 Old Latin, Vulgate, Bohairic, Gothic|
|401-500||Bezae, Washington||1 Old Latin||Chrysostom*||Alexandrinus||3 Old Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian||Chrysostom*, Cyril, Nonnus*|
|501-600||Uncial 0124||1 Old Latin|
|601-700||4 Old Latin, Syriac|
|701-800||Regius, Atous- Laurae, Uncial 0250|
|801-900||Cyprius, Monacensis, Sangallensis, Koridethi|
|1001-1600||Ethiopic||Family 1 and 13, 21 Minuscules, Byzantine Manuscripts, Lectionaries||1 Old Latin, Ethiopic|
Two papyrus manuscripts from around 200 A.D. as well as four other Greek Manuscripts up to 500 A.D. have the version “Son of Man” while only one Greek manuscript of around 450 A.D. have the version “Son of God” This makes a strong appeal for “Son of Man”.
On the other hand “Son of God” is stronger in both the antique translations (11 vs. 5) and the Church Fathers (6 vs. 1).
According to the manuscript evidence, “Son of Man” has the greater possibility to render the original autograph.
Our second criterion is to look at the typical work of the scribe and to try to establish how the variation could have originated.
2. Internal criteria
If “Son of God” had been the original, someone must have changed it to “Son of Man”. But in this chapter there is no indication of why anyone would have done that, not deliberately nor as a casual mistake.
Had “Son of Man” been the original, two reasons for altering the clause to “Son of God” are immediately obvious. First as a casual alteration due to the repeated role “God” plays in this chapter, easily causing a scribe to alter the expression from the mind. Secondly someone could deliberately have altered the clause because God and the role He plays in this chapter is so prominent. Nobody that does not come from God, could do such things. When Jesus confronts the man, why would He then talk about “Son of Man” which could also be understood as a mere human being? What sense would it be to ask him whether he believes in a “human being”? Superficially it makes no sense, and therefore a scribe could deliberately alter it – for he knew that Jesus wasn’t an ordinary man, but indeed the “Son of God”!
According to these indications it is almost certain that the variation could only have originated from “Son of Man” to “Son of God”, and not the other way around.
That gives a clear indication that “Son of Man” would have been the original.
3. Intrinsic criteria.
If we accept that “Son of Man” had been the original words, why would Jesus refer to Himself that way, and not as “Son of God”? Where does the expression “Son of Man” come from and what is meant by it?
We have to bear in mind that Jesus acted from the context of the Old Testament. Therefore the origin of this term should be found in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Old Testament it is found no less than 107 times. Most commonly it is used as a form of addressing someone, i.a. 93 times in Ezekiel. Then it is also used to indicate the contrast between man and God or the Celestial beings (Num. 23:19, Ps. 8:4). But it is also used as a specific term to indicate the future person through which God would fulfil his final judgement (Dan. 8:17).
In the New Testament Jesus uses this term to refer to Himself in Mat. 8:20: “And Jesus said to him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven have a resting-place; but the Son of man has nowhere to put his head.”
But this term was also known as an indication of the coming Christ. Therefore the crowd asked Jesus to explain how it was possible that the Christ would be lifted up, meaning crucified? John 12:34: “So the crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ ” It is therefore obvious that this term was well established as an indication of the coming Christ.
In John 1:51 Jesus refers to Himself as “Son of Man”; also in 3:13. But in 5:57 it is clearly about His position as the Messiah. Chapter 6 is devoted to the Messianic work of Jesus and again He indicates Himself as the “Son of Man” in verses 27, 53 and 62. In 8:28 it is about the crucifixion, as also in 12:23 and verse 34 that we discussed above.
These Scriptures indicate that Jesus surely used this term to refer to Himself in his role as the Messiah.
But how is the term “Son of God” used in the gospel of John?
John the Baptist indicates Jesus as the “Son of God” (John 1:34), as does Nathaniel (John 1:50). In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus refers to Himself as “God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). The disciples acknowledge Jesus as “Son of God” (John 6:69). In John 10:36 Jesus refers to the fact that He called Himself Son of God. That was in a reasoning with the Pharisees where Jesus mentioned that the Old Testament (Ps.82:6) called humans “Gods”. In John 11 with the illness death and resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus again refers to Himself as Son of God (11:4). John ends his gospel with a reference that his readers have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (20:31).
The term “Son of God” is used in John directly as an indication of Jesus as the One sent by God who would fulfil the will of the Father.
Though both terms are used by Jesus to indicate His intimate relationship with the Father, or His calling as Messiah, both are linked directly to his role as the Redeemer or Messiah. In John we do not find a definitive differentiation in the use of these terms.
The Intrinsic criteria do not bring us nearer to decision on which version would be a rendering of the original autograph.
Two of the three criteria to our disposal indicate “Son of Man” as the greater possibility to be in accordance with the original autograph.
The fact that Jesus did not ask the healed blind man just to believe in Jesus as person, but in the “Son of Man” has a definite significance. Jesus wanted to emphasize that it is not merely about believing in Him as person, but about faith in Him as the Messiah.
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