For most Bible readers, Jesus’ status as the “Son of God” describes his divinity. Conversely, when Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man” the title seems to denote his humanity. Yet, it’s usually the other way around: “son of God” is a phrase for a human being, and “son of man” describes divinity.

On the surface, it would seem to make sense that “son of God” would be a moniker that marks one’s affinity to God or divine status. For instance, when Peter says of Yeshua, “You are the Messiah (Χριστὸς; Christos), the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), one would expect that Peter refers to his divinity. But these titles do not denote divinity in Israel’s Scriptures. The Hebrew term “Messiah” (משׁיח; Mashiach), or “Christ” in Greek, means “anointed one,” and this same language appears in the Psalms to describe the earthly Davidic king who is also called God’s son. The psalmist says that the nations set themselves “against the Lord and against his anointed one (משׁיחו; mashicho)” (Ps 2:2), and this anointed king responds, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son (בני; beni); today I have begotten you” (2:7). Thus, when Peter calls Jesus the Messiah and Son of God, he is making a declaration about Jesus’ royal status as David’s descendant.

The same reference to royalty holds for God’s description of Solomon. While it will be David who has a son, the Lord assumes fatherhood over the earthly king, saying, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son (בני; beni)” (2 Samuel 7:14). Elsewhere in the Bible, sonship under God doesn’t include any insinuation of divinity. For instance, Exodus describes the entire people of Israel as the son of God when the Lord tells Moses, “Israel is my firstborn son (בני בכרי; beni bekhori)” (Exod 4:22). To give an example from the Gospels, Luke’s genealogy ends a long list of fathers and their sons with “Adam [son] of God” (Lk 3:38), but the evangelist does not imply that Adam was divine. Instead, “son of God” is a title for individuals who have a close relationship with God, but who are not deific themselves.

On the other hand, “son of man” (or “son of humanity”) sounds like it should describe a terrestrial human being. After all, God calls the earthly Ezekiel “son of man” (בן אדם; ben adam) almost a hundred times (e.g., Ezek 2:1-8; 3:1-25), so shouldn’t Jesus’ self-application of “son of man” mean the same thing? But Ezekiel is written in Hebrew, and Jesus would have spoken Aramaic. While the two languages are related, “son of man” means something very different in the Aramaic text of Daniel than it does in the Hebrew Ezekiel. In a night vision, Daniel sees “one like a son of man” (בר אנשׁ; bar enash) approaching the heavenly throne on the clouds and receiving divine “dominion and glory” from God (Dan 7:13-14). In Aramaic, “son of man” denotes divinity. This why the high priest charges Yeshua with blasphemy when Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man (υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου; huiòn tou anthrópou) seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). It was not blasphemous for someone to assert that he was the “Messiah” or “son of the Blessed,” as the priest puts it (Mk 14:61)—he knew these terms were used of mortal men in their Scriptures—but for Jesus to equate himself with Daniel’s divine “son of man” was a step too far.

To modern Bible readers, it may seem paradoxical that “son of man” denoted divinity and “son of God” meant a mortal. Jesus is both “Son of God” and “Son of Man”—human and divine—but the meaning of these titles isn’t necessarily self-evident today. In the ancient biblical world, things are not always what they seem! Luckily, a look into Scripture’s Jewish languages and contexts can illuminate its original intent.  

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28 COMMENTS

  1. Another mind blowing text. Way to break things down. This is why it's so important to grasp the original language. I enjoy so much the insight that you Dr. Schaser and others bring to the table. I pastor a church and have a Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies. I am being challenged in so many different ways as I study scripture in the original language and Jewish perspective. Between Israel Bible Center and Israel Institute of Biblical Studies I feel as if I am getting a Masters Degree.... thanks again...
    • Thank you for studying with us, Dwight. Glad you enjoyed the article. In fairness, at IBC/IIBS you're getting teaching from people who either currently teach or have taught at universities and graduate schools, so you're doing much the same thing that MA and MDiv students do. Thanks again for reading and commenting.
    • In Daniel 7 the Son of Man does not have to be Jesus Christ. The Son of Man could be the Jewish Messiah and have nothing to do with Jesus. Jesus went beyond the Torah, sat in judgment on the Torah, broke hygiene rules and said the Torah did not apply in certain circumstances. He sounds like a rebel to me.Brutal regimes like the Nazis are man-made utopias. If you obey the rules you can have anything you want, and life is a paradise, but the leaders must have 100 percent compliance to make it work. Jesus Christ must have been an incarnate god, otherwise his voice box would have blown out within seconds with screaming on the cross. So who was he? Was he Nimrod, come to take us all by stealth?
  2. My view is that the one like a Son of Man is the Jewish Messiah, probably King David. The little horn that speaks blasphemies is Jesus, called Christ. Jesus was a rebel. He refused to submit to the Rabbis who were trying to manage a dangerous political threat to the Jewish identity.
  3. Dr. Schaser, Could the "son of God" also denote divine being although human being was described as "son of God" denoting close relationship with God? In Job 1:6 "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them" and Job 38:7 "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy", are the "sons of God" in these verses referring to divine beings in heavenly realm?
    • Yes, "son of God" can also describe a divine being in the heavenly realm. In the earthly realm, "son of God" usually refers to one's humanity, rather than divinity, but there are exceptions. For instance, Jesus refers to himself as the "son of God" in John 10:36 right after citing Psalm 82, which describes the God of Israel executing judgments on other gods in the heavenly realm. In this case, Jesus refers to himself as "son of God" in order to highlight his divinity. But this is the exception to the rule.

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  4. Hi, this is very interesting. Does this affect the meaning of Peter's claim, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God !"
    Thanks
    • Yes (see the 2nd paragraph), Peter is making a declaration about Jesus' status as a descendant of David; that is, a royal human being rather than a divine being.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
    • At this point, all our courses are in English, Luis. We hope to make them available in Spanish (and other languages) in the future.
  5. Great explanation, always wondered which offended them, "son of God" or son of man. He was persecuted for calling himself "son of man" and not son of God.

    Matthew 26
    64.Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
    65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further need do we have for witnesses? See, now you have heard His blasphemy.
    66 What do you think?” They answered, “He is guilty unto death.” 67 Then they spat in His face and struck Him. And others slapped Him with the palms of their hands.
  6. It means he is the secret servant of God almighty and he is the only one that knows what he must do because he is the one with the white stone and the horse men that spit fire from their mouth and tails are the centaurs not men on horses
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