(This question has been closed though OP rephrased it.I will risk asking it rephrased again):

Given this quote from Numbers 23:18–20

Then he took up his discourse and said, "Arise, O Balak, and hear; Give ear to me, O son of Zippor! God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it."

Given Jesus used the title the "Son of Man", to refer to himself, 81 times in the Greek text of the four Canonical gospels. For example, he asked his disciples: "who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (Matthew 16:13). Given this expression "the Son of Man" is used only in the sayings of Jesus.

The question is (in view of no consensus—agreed upon single—interpretation of this phrase, "the Son of Man", has emerged despite almost two centuries of Christology):

  • What are the reasons for this disagreement on interpreting Jesus' favorite designation of himself (despite the plain words of both Jesus and Numbers 23:19-20)?

  • What are the major Christological interpretations of this designation "the Son of Man" and what are their biblical bases?

Thank you very much (please do not close).

  • 1
    This question is no clearer than the original. What connection are you drawing between Jesus' designation and the verse in Numbers? I notice it says "son of man" there, but exactly what "plain words" are you referring to? Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 16:11
  • It sounds like you're saying, "There's an obvious interpretation of 'son of man' but for some reason there's no consensus interpretation. Why have so many people missed the obvious?" I'm not positive that's what you're saying, but it sounds like it. If so, what obvious interpretation are you referring to? If not, please refine the question more so that we can understand your real question. Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 16:11
  • 1
    I think he's saying "Numbers seems to be saying that God is not the Son of Man. But Christ is the Son of Man. But Christ is God. How is this possible?" Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 16:42
  • 2
    The confusion and your question depends on a little issue that needs resolving. Unless you resolve it and phrase your question accordingly, it is a problematic question. As you correctly have it Numbers talks about "a Son of Man" - in the Old Testament that means "a (mere) mortal". Matthew talks about "the Son of Man" and that is a very difficult and complex concept. The simple explanation is that an 'a' was changed into a 'the'. I actually charge that it is a fraudulent translation done to suit an agenda. As it stands though, I cannot see your question remaining open. Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 10:02
  • 2
    I agree that it's still a poor question- it seems like you're just asking someone to refute your own assumption. How can someone else argue against your assumption? If you're holding that a contradiction exists as the premise of the question, then any answer that argues against the contradiction necessarily neglects the premise and therefore the question.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 18:18

2 Answers 2


Since I was the OP of the original question I believe the following is a partial answer.First of all, I totally disagree with the frequent denial of historical Jesus.

The answer of @the dark wanderer, "the most common answer to your question is that what you have found is just another Biblical indication of The Mystery of Faith (i.e. the Trinity)", reflects the Christological perspective of what is called Pauline Christianity ( not in a derogate way here) or Trinitarian Christianity as apposed to Unitarian Christianity.

Pauline Christianity perspective on the phrase Son of man is that it is, I gather, a possible affirmation of Jesus humanity as the title Son of God affirms his divinity. Jesus as the Son of God is essential to Trinitarian Christian creed since the first century AD. In contrast, Jesus as the Son of man was never part of Trinitarian Christianity creed.

That is said, in the Hebrew Bible the expression "son of man" (בן–אדם, ben-'adam) also appears far more times. The use of the article the in "the Son of man" in the Koine Greek of the Christian canonical four gospels is not found in any old Greek documents . Geza Vermes says the Christian canonical four gospels usage "the" son of man is not found in the Hebrew Bible , suggesting that the term origin is Aramaic ברנש, bar nash/bar nasha. He concludes that " in these sources "Son of man" is a regular expression for man in general and often serves as an indefinite pronoun and in none of the extant texts does "son of man" figure as a title." jewishencyclopedia elaborates:

"Among Jews the term "son of man" was not used as the specific title of the Messiah. The New Testament expression ὅ ὑιὸς τοῦ ἀνθρόπου is a translation of the Aramaic "bar nasha," and as such could have been understood only as the substitute for a personal pronoun, or as emphasizing the human qualities of those to whom it is applied. That the term does not appear in any of the epistles ascribed to Paul is significant. Psalm viii. 5-7 is quoted in Ḥeb. ii. 6 as referring to Jesus, but outside the Gospels, Acts vii. 56 is the only verse in the New Testament in which the title is employed; and here it may be a free translation of the Aramaic for "a man," or it may have been adopted from Luke xxii. 69. n the Gospels the title occurs eighty-one times. Most of the recent writers (among them being II. Lietzmann) have come to the conclusion that Jesus, speaking Aramaic, could never have designated himself as the "son of man" in a Messianic, mystic sense, because the Aramaic term never implied this meaning. Greek translators coined the phrase, which then led, under the influence of Dan. vii. 13 and the Logos gospel, to the theological construction of the title which is basic to the Christology of the Church."

But still I don't feel I have a satisfactory answer to my original answer and of course yours.This why it is important not to hasten to close questions.This way we will never learn anything.

For farther readings:

Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister E. McGrath (2010)

Addendum: @the dark wanderer statement "docetism hasn't been resurrected as modern heresy for a while, those Muslims commit a modified form of this heresy in saying that Christ was never really crucified, he just created an illusion that appeared to be" is a misstatement based on misunderstanding of both Decetism and Islamic creed about Jesus Christ. Muslims do not say that Jesus Christ made it appear he was crucified.They say 'they slew him not for certain', i.e. he did not die in the cross for certain (that is at least my understanding).


The most common answer to your question is that the what you have found is just another Biblical indication of The Mystery of Faith (i.e. the Trinity). The old testament verse from Numbers indicates that God the Father Almighty is distinct from God the Son. Indeed, "God becoming truly man while remaining fully God" is a common component of short statements of the nature of the Mystery, at least among the Catholic Faith. Differing understandings of how Christ is both human and divine are the essential heart of the Chalcedonian controversy which is one of the largest components of the Great Schism between the East and West. Both East and West, however, agree that Christ was in some sense truly Human and truly Divine; though they attack and insult each other as Arians and Nestorians respectively in neither case are such allegations remotely honest, though they give indication of the direction each feels the other errs.

Christians who profess the heresy of nontrinitarianism would probably say that Jesus isn't God, which explains this set of verses much easier.

There also used to be those, called Docetists, who believed that christ never really came in the flesh but only appeared to be human. The "Son of Man" quotes would thus be facetious or deceptive or ironic or whatever, depending on what motivation you wish to ascribe to God in saying an un-truth. Docetism has hasn't been resurrected as modern heresy for a while, those Muslims commit a modified form of this heresy in saying that Christ was never really crucified, he just created an illusion that appeared to be.

I'm glad you asked for the biblical basis behind the interpretations, because the trinitarian camp, of which I am a part, would look pretty strange otherwise. The fact is, there are a great number of verses which support the trinitarian doctrine to the exclusion of the the two heretical views. Any cursory examination of the Bible should suffice to demonstrate that The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God, and that God is one. As a brief survey, consider:

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God: The Lord is one" (This appears many, many, many times. It is the great prayer of Judaism. It needs no citation and will be given none.)

John 10:30 "I and my Father are One"

Matthew 28:19 "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"

2 Corinthians 13:14 "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, [be] with you all. Amen..."

John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"

John 1:14 "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us..."

Colossians 2:9 "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."

John 10:30-36 "I and my Father are one."

However, the Bible was compiled over about the same period the Trinity and by the same people, so this basis is somewhat questionable. The Docetists in particular made use of a gospel which was ultimately rejected by the Church's later ecumenical councils, the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Peter. This text provides the basis for the Docetist's beliefs, and would have been a part of any Bible compiled by them, was it not repudiated by Bishop Serapion of Antioch who is largely responsible for the end of Docetism as a movement. There are a number of other Docetic texts, but Docetism seems to have thus far largely limited itself to material heresy and docetics have generally abandoned their heterodox beliefs when corrected by the Church (or else held other heresies as well, of a better known and named variety).

The non-trinitarian response is, as far as I know, limited to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah's Witnesses exclusively use as a Holy Book a document known as the New World Translation, which changes the text of most of the verses of the Bible that would contradict their dogma if it was left as it is the version of the Bible developed by the modern Protestant movement. Their version of the Bible also supplies ample textual support for their beliefs, though it has drawn criticism from others for inaccurately describing itself as a translation, since it clearly is not based off of any credible historical text. The Watchtower, for their part, generally respond to such objections by claiming that their translation is, in fact, consistent with existing other texts.

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