In my previous post I talked about the recent debate between Justin Bass at Bart Ehrman and how the pretence of a pure historical method is a false one. Now in this post I’d like to deal with the argument Justin Bass makes relating to Jesus’ claim to be the “Son of Man” of Daniel 7:13,14. Justin Bass says at the 22 minute mark:
The most explicit claim to Deity was Jesus’ claim to be son of man before Caiaphas the night before he was crucified … The son of man figure, if you’re not familiar with it, it comes from Daniel Chapter 7, Daniel sees in these night visions, he sees this Son of man figure, that’s definitely divine. He rides the clouds, which only God does, he is given glory and all peoples and nations worship him, and think about the context of Daniel, nobody worships anyone in Daniel except the God of Israel, but they worship the Son of Man. He is the king of God’s eternal Kingdom, this is an incredibly exalted figure, in fact Bart Ehrman says in his book about the son of man figure, ‘this is an exalted figure indeed, as exalted as one could possibly be without actually being the Lord God Almighty.’
Then later on:
In short whether Jesus says in John ‘before Abraham was I am’, or says to Caiaphas ‘you will see the son of man seated at the right hand of God,’ he is claiming to be divine, he is saying in the language of the Hebrew Scriptures that he Jesus shares the unique identity of the One God of Israel.
What really is the claim here? Notice how we go back and forth from the Son of man figure being highly exalted, to him being the God of Israel. It’s almost as if Justin Bass is saying, “look we’re exalting him really high, it might as well be the God of Israel.” Right off the bat I want to deal with the claim that only God rides the clouds.
This is a claim that is very often made in passing, or made with a scripture cited but not really quoted, there’s a reason for this. The claim is usually made on the basis of Deuteronomy 33:26 which says (in the NRSV):
There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, majestic through the skies.
Now would a serious exegesis of that text come to the conclusion that what we are dealing with here is a claim that anyone or anything that “rides through the heavens” must be identified as Yahweh? Obviously not, it’s a praise verse. You also have other scriptures that might be cited like Exodus 34:5
5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.”
Or Psalms 104:3 (including the context):
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, 2 wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, 3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, 4 you make the winds your[c] messengers,
Or Isaiah 19:1
An oracle concerning Egypt.
See, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
All of these verses describe God as a cloud, as riding a cloud, or as being in a cloud. But what does this all mean? Does it mean that if someone else is associated with a cloud he or she must be Yahweh? Not at all. This language is not unique to the God of Israel, all over the Levant various Gods in the Canaanite Pantheon were depicted as riding the clouds, so what’s the point of this language? I think the verse in Psalm 104 makes it clear, it’s a poetic image of power and majesty, riding the clouds up high, wearing a garment of light, stretching out the heavens and so on. This is not a categorical statement, it is not the case that the text is saying, “Yahweh does this, thus any one described this way is categorically Yahweh.”
Let’s look at the actual son of man scripture in Daniel 7:13,14:
13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being (son of man) coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
For the sake of argument, let us assume the “clouds of heaven” argument is valid, and thus the Son of Man must be Yahweh, then what does the verse say? It would have to say:
I saw Yahweh 1 coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One (Yahweh 2) and was presented before him. 14 To him (Yahweh 1) was given dominion and glory and kingship, (by Yahweh 2) that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him (Yahweh 1). His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
What would be going on in this verse if Justin Bass’ reading were correct? No less than the introduction of either a secondary Yahweh as the son of man, or a secondary Yahweh being the Ancient One. If his reading were correct, this verse would be overthrowing centuries of Jewish belief in a single God Yahweh, and doing so only inadvertently, as if almost by accident. If his reading is correct the huge revolution in Jewish monotheistic thinking did not come with Christ, it came with Daniel.
Is this what Daniel intended? Is this how Daniel was read? There is no evidence that this is the case, there is no evidence that pre-Daniel Jews were Unitarian monotheists, and post Daniel Jews (any of them) were Binitarian, or thought there was a “Son of Man” Yahweh alongside an “Ancient of Days” Yahweh. Let’s look at an intertestamental writing that speaks on this, The Book of Enoch Chapters 46-48 speaks about this Son of Man, I suggest you read the whole passage, it’s quite enlightening. Here is what Enoch 1 chapter 48 says:
2 And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of the Lord of Spirits, And his name before the Head of Days.
3 Yea, before the sun and the signs were created, Before the stars of the heaven were made, His name was named before the Lord of Spirits.
4 He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall, And he shall be the light of the Gentiles, And the hope of those who are troubled of heart.
5 All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him, And will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits.
6 And for this reason hath he been chosen and hidden before Him, Before the creation of the world and for evermore.
7 And the wisdom of the Lord of Spirits hath revealed him to the holy and righteous;
Here we have an extremely exalted Son of Man, just like in Daniel, but is it Yahweh himself? No, he is named by Yahweh, and revealed by Yahweh to be Holy and Righteous. Now back to Chapter 46:
2 And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things, concerning that 3 Son of Man, who he was, and whence he was, (and) why he went with the Head of Days And he answered and said unto me: This is the son of Man who hath righteousness, With whom dwelleth righteousness, And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden,
Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him, And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness for ever.
And then later:
6 And he shall put down the countenance of the strong, And shall fill them with shame.
And darkness shall be their dwelling, And worms shall be their bed, And they shall have no hope of rising from their beds, Because they do not extol the name of the Lord of Spirits.
So Yahweh choses the Son of man, this son of man has preeminence before Yahweh and the son of man puts to shame those who do not extol the name of Yahweh. It’s very clear what we have here. It’s something that is common throughout the bible; Yahweh is exalting someone who in turn will accomplish Yahweh’s will. He does it with Joseph, he does it with Moses, he does it with Saul, he does it with David, and he does it with the son of Man figure. As is brought out in the Back and forth between Bart Ehrman and Justin Bass, in the end in Enoch 1, the Son of man is identified, specifically in chapter 71:
14 And he (i.e. the angel) came to me (i.e. Enoch) and greeted me with His voice, and said unto me ‘ This is the Son of Man who is born unto righteousness, And righteousness abides over him, And the righteousness of the Head of Days forsakes him not.’ 15 And he said unto me: ‘ He proclaims unto thee peace in the name of the world to come; For from hence has proceeded peace since the creation of the world, And so shall it be unto thee for ever and for ever and ever.
So Enoch himself is identified as this son of man. So what are we to make of this? Were the readers of this book thinking that Enoch was identified as Yahweh? Is that the claim being made? Of course not. It’s clear that Enoch is being identified as the son of man in order to present him as a highly exalted figure, an agent of God chosen for a special purpose. No more no less. This is how the writer of this book took the “son of man” figure, and it’s how his readers would have taken it.
The fact that the son of man is exalted to a higher degree than another other of God’s agents doesn’t move him a centimeter closer to being Yahweh at all. The gap between a lowly servant and Yahweh, and an exalted angelic King and Yahweh is the same, infinite.
Daniel is a book of the Jewish Tanakh before it is a book of the Christian bible. When Jesus called himself the Son of Man (I agree with Justin Bass and disagree with Bart Ehrman, Jesus definitely did call himself the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13,14) he did so to a Jewish Audience, an Audience who would have been familiar with Daniel 7 and would have had their own understanding of it.
According to the Jewish Exegete Rabbi Rashi, the Son of Man is a messianic reference. As we saw in 1 Enoch the son of man is also a messianic figure. We also have a similar thought in 2 Esdras Chapter 13, where a vision, very similar to the son of man vision, is understood as being a messianic reference. With that being the case, why is it that the claim of being the Messiah was not automatically considered a claim to be Yahweh? Why is it that Jews never thought of the Messiah as being Yahweh coming in the flesh? Why is it that Jews were still, even after reading Daniel 7, Unitarian Monotheists and still are today? Because the Son of Man was never thought of as being Yahweh himself.
What about the idea that the Son of Man is given worship and glory? Right away, we have to notice that the Son of man is given these things, in other words, they are not his, they are the Ancient of Days’ and he receives them from the Ancient of Days. Nevertheless, as Justin Bass says we have to look at the Context of Daniel, let’s look at a similar verse in the book of Daniel itself. In Daniel 2 there is the dream of the Statue made of different metals; Daniel, in verse 37, starts the interpretation:
37 You, O king, the king of kings—to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory, 38 into whose hand he has given human beings, wherever they live, the wild animals of the field, and the birds of the air, and whom he has established as ruler over them all—you are the head of gold.
Doesn’t that sound similar to the Son of Man verses? Let us not forget one of the main themes in Daniel, it isn’t just that God’s people should only worship Yahweh, a more prominent theme is summed up in Daniel 4 where King Nebuchadnezzar has the dream of the tree, and it is interpreted and prophesied that he will lose his mind until he is humbled, for what purpose? It says in Daniel 4:24, 25:
24 this is the interpretation, O king, and it is a decree of the Most High that has come upon my lord the king: 25 You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will.
This is the point, God gave the kingdom, power, glory and so on to King Nebuchadnezzar, but he can take it away and give it to another, he can give it to whomever he wants. Ultimately this glory and power and honour, and yes, even service which the Kings have, will be given to God’s Messiah who will rule over God’s Kingdom. This is the big message of Daniel. This is the message to which Jesus referred.
So when we get to the son of man statements in the New Testament, cumulating to Mark 14:62, The vision of Stephan in Acts 7:56, and the Visions recorded in the Apocalypse of John, we have to understand who is being spoken to, and how that audience understood the Son of Man. That’s why the Son of Man statement mixed with the Adoni of Psalm 110:1 was so threatening, to not only the Jewish ruling class but also the Roman authorities. Had Jesus been going around claiming to be Yahweh, the Roman’s wouldn’t care, but what he was claiming was to be the Son of man who would overthrow the Authority of the Empires of the world, and establish Gods Kingdom. That is a threat to Rome.
Another thing to keep in mind along with that is that the Son of Man statements are often combined with Psalm 110:1, sitting the son of man at the right hand of Yahweh. Which as I showed in this post, makes it impossible for him to be Yahweh, since the Adoni of Psalm 110:1 is obviously not the Yahweh who’s right hand he sits at.
The Son of man was considered a very exalted figure, perhaps the most in the Old Testament, but Bart Ehrman is right, that it is “as exalted as one could possibly be without actually being the Lord God Almighty.” We cannot sneak things into the text that are not there. If Jesus wanted to say that he was Yahweh, he could have done so a number of ways. Had he wanted to say that he was the exalting Messianic King, who would rule Gods Kingdom and submit everything to God, he would have said exactly what he did.
Now as to why his statement in Mark 14:62 was considered blasphemy, there are many possible reasons, one thing to keep in mind however, is that the trial was not a fair, legitimate trial, but perhaps in a later post I can examine some the possible reasons.