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§ 59. Import of the Title Son of Man, as used by Christ himself—Rejection of Alexandrian and other Analogies.

Christ must, therefore, have had special reasons for adopting, with an obvious predilection, the less known Messianic title. Even if we were to grant that lie used it more frequently because of its less obvious application, in order, at first, to lead the Jews gradually to recognize him as Messiah; still we should not have a sufficient explanation of his employing it so generally and so emphatically.145145   I must differ here from Scholten, Lücke, Von Cöln (Bibl. Dogm., ii., 16), and Strauss (Leben Jesu); and agree with Schleiermacher, Tholuck, Olshausen, and Kling (Stud. u. Krit, 1836, i., 137). Justly says Schleiermacher of the title “Son of Man,” “Christ would not have adopted it had he not been conscious of a complete participation in human nature. Its application would have been pointless, however, had he not used it in a sense inapplicable to other men; and it was pregnant with reference to the distinctive differences between him and them” (Dogmatik, ii., 91, 3d. ed). Certainly there is manifest, in the often-repeated expressions, sayings, and proverbs uttered by Christ, more the impression of an original and creative mind than a mere appropriation of what might have been given to his hand by his age and nation. It is one of the merits of the great man whose words we have just quoted, that he vindicated this truth in many ways in opposition to a shallow theology. The unclean spirit which he banished is now endeavouring, with seven others worse than himself, to take possession of this age, in which endeavour, please God, he will not succeed. We find a better reason for it in Christ’s conscious relation to the human race; a relation which stirred the very depths of his heart. He called himself the “Son of Man” because he had appeared as a man; because he belonged to mankind; because he had done such great things even for human nature (Matt., ix., 8); because he was to glorify that nature; be cause he was himself the realized ideal of humanity.146146   Conf. Matt., xii., 8; John i., 52; iii., 13; v., 27; vi. 53. The force of the first passage in John (i., 52) is, that Christ would glorify humanity by restoring its fellowship with celestial powers. The second (iii., 13) imports that he reveals his Divine being in human nature, and lives in heaven as man. The third (v., 27), that as man he will judge the human race. The fourth (vi., 53), that we must thoroughly take to ourselves and be penetrated by the flesh and blood (i. e., the pure humanity, the form of which he assumed to reveal the Divine) of him who can be called man in a sense that can be predicated of no other, and who himself has incarnated the Divinity. (On the passage from Matt., see p. 89.) In Matt., ix., 8, there is in the statement that the entire human nature is glorified in Christ, an intimation of what is expressed in the title “Son of Man” in Christ’s sense of it.
   It is remarkable, that while this emphatic title of the Son of Man appears in the discourses of Christ both in the synoptical Gospels and John, that its deeper sense, although not to be mistaken in some of the passages in the former, is far more vividly expressed in John. Yet if it were the case (as has been said) that John, following the prevalent opinion, designed to represent Jesus as the Logos appearing in humanity, and, leaving the human nature in the back-ground, to present the Divine conspicuously, he could not have used this title so frequently. There is no trace of Alexandrianism in John, nor can his preference for the expression be attributed to his individual peculiarities, for there is nothing of the kind in his Epistles. The only individual peculiarity that we can detect in John, in this respect, is his susceptibility to impression from certain emphatic expressions especially such as relate to the person of Christ.


We certainly cannot find in Christ’s use of the title any trace of the Alexandrian Theologoumenon of the archetype of humanity in the Logos, of Philo’s distinction between the idea of humanity and its manifestation (or the Cabbalistic Adam Cadmon); notwithstanding it was not by accident that so many ideal elements, formed from a commingling of Judaism and Hellenism, were given as points of departure to the realism of Christianity; although this last was grounded on the highest fact in history.

So, too, the fundamental idea of the title “Son of Man” is, perhaps, allied to that involved in the Jewish designation of Messiah as the “second Adam;” but it is clear that Christ was not led by the latter fact to employ it. Much rather do we suppose that the name, although used by the prophets, received its loftier and more profound significance from Christ’s own Divine and human consciousness, independent of all other sources. It would have been the height of arrogance in any man to assume such a relation to humanity, to style himself absolutely Man. But He, to whom it was natural thus to style himself, indicated thereby his elevation above all other sons of men—the Son of God in the Son of Man.

The two titles, “Son of God” and “Son of Man,” therefore, bear evidently a reciprocal relation to each other. And we conclude that as Christ used the one to designate his human personality, so he employed the other to point out his Divine; and that as he attached a sense far more profound than was common to the former title, so he ascribed a deeper meaning than was usual to the latter.

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