There are a number of places where Jesus refers to himself in the third person. The most common is when he uses the title 'Son of Man' (by my count, there are some 78 times Jesus uses that title in the gospels!). For example Matthew 16:13 (NIV):

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

I understand the significance of that title (e.g. Daniel 7:13-14) but why does Jesus use it so often to describe himself? Complicating matters in my mind is the fact that the various gospels seem to use 'Son of Man' and 'I' interchangably. For example, Mark 8:27 is a parallel passage to the one above but it says:

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"

One other major case of third person titles that intrigues me is in John 17 where Jesus is praying and refers to himself as God's son and 'Jesus Christ':

1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

  "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."

Why does he suddenly refer to himself as Jesus Christ here but nowhere else?

  • 7
    Richard does that occasionally as well.
    – Richard
    Oct 12, 2011 at 14:28
  • 1
    Also when Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit, He's technically speaking in the 3rd person as well. ;)
    – 2tim424
    Mar 7, 2014 at 0:11
  • @2tim424 By that logic, when He speaks of God also.
    – Zoe
    Aug 6, 2014 at 4:08
  • @Zoe this is a pun based on the fact that we refer to the Holy Spirit as the 3rd person of the Trinity. So when He speaks of the Father He is speaking in the 1st person according to this logic. :)
    – 2tim424
    Aug 7, 2014 at 9:24
  • In and as are different words though.... As the 3rd and in the 3rd.
    – Zoe
    Aug 7, 2014 at 13:27

6 Answers 6


I think a large part of His reason for doing this is to make shed more light on His identity. The title used reflects additional information about the person using it. So, to look at a few of Jesus's many titles:

  • "son of man" -> associates Jesus with the glorious figure seen in Daniel 7
  • "son of David" -> associates Jesus with the promise God made to David about a descendant who would sit on the throne forever
  • "son of God" -> describes Jesus as a king (since some of the kings of Israel were called "sons of God") although it is sometimes used in other ways by other people ("Son of the living God", "the Son of God") to refer to Jesus's divine nature.
  • "messiah" / "Christ" -> associates Jesus with prophecies about a prophet from God who would rescue Israel

So when Jesus used a particular title, it would evoke a particular image and bring to mind different ideas, even though they were all correct.

Short example of how this makes a difference. Say I'm trying to get into a fancy restaurant and the guy at the front is looking doubtful that I "fit in". I could say (assuming it was true):

  • I'm Richard, let me in.
  • I'm the son of the owner of this restaurant, let me in.
  • I'm cousin to the President, let me in.

They might all be true, but I'd be gaining something from the use of different titles.

Likewise, Jesus used different titles to show different aspects of Himself. Here is a great article on some of them (although it does miss a bit theologically).

  • 2
    Heh. You overestimate my power to get into fancy restaurants! =D
    – Richard
    Oct 12, 2011 at 14:49
  • LOL. How about: I'm Richard, chosen by God to share in His eternal glory with Christ Jesus, saviour of the world. Let me in.
    – Screamer
    Oct 13, 2011 at 20:53
  • I don't mean to sound flippant - merely thinking that I don't have any titles of my own, but I can boast in the work of Christ. I doubt, though, that it would get me into any restaurants ;-)
    – Screamer
    Oct 13, 2011 at 20:55
  • 1
    +1 Thanks for the great answer. This gives good support for the use of titles and when/why various titles would be more appropriate. But it doesn't directly address use of first person...'I'm cousin to the President, let me in.' versus 'The cousin of the President wants to be let in' is a big different in my mind. Oct 15, 2011 at 3:42
  • In the right context, the 2 phrases you suggested can be similar, i.e. when I'm saying "The cousin of the President wants to be let in" and it's clear that I'm referring to me, then it is merely a different way of saying the same thing. Another example, kings often refer to themselves in the plural, "We are pleased with you" even though they're actually saying "I am pleased with you", but evoking a different tone. Remember that Jesus's prayers are more for our benefit reading them than His - he could have prayed all this in his head but WE learn something about him from his choice of words.
    – Screamer
    Oct 15, 2011 at 16:20

It is also known as the "Messianic Secret," that Jesus was not ready to fully disclose His identity until later on in His mministry.

Ben witherington III (a well known conservative NT scholar) holds that

  1. if Jesus were to let on too early who He was He would have been crucified before being able to get done whatever preaching and teaching and miracles He did get done.

  2. if Jesus' own followers didn't understand fully what He meant by calling Himself the son of man and the son of God, then how much more so everyone else? The full disclosure of who He was came after the resurrection (because no one understood that the Messiah would have to be crucified and then raised) when in John 21 Thomas calls Him "my Lord and my God!"

  • I agree with this, but it should be noted that the Messianic Secret extends to more than just speaking in the third person. See also this question
    – Richard
    Oct 12, 2011 at 14:44
  • Yep! But the Messianic Secret does include the third person perspective, the third person is just a manner of distancing oneself from one's own words and being!
    – jchaffee
    Oct 12, 2011 at 14:47
  • He would have been crucified before being able to get done whatever preaching and teaching and miracles He did get done This isn't actually scriptural, John 10:18: "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself." Remember all those times they wanted to stone/kill Jesus but he would just walk right out past them? Jesus was in full control of His own death.
    – Xeoncross
    Apr 14, 2014 at 18:24
  • @Xeoncross But what about the time before He turned water into wine? He did say it wasn't His time... and when He asked the disciples not to disclose His identity? Many examples in the other gospels also... It does point to Him not wanting to die too early before His mission was completed and had to fall in complete perfect timing with the will of the Father.
    – Zoe
    Aug 6, 2014 at 4:11
  • "Him not wanting to die too early" makes it sound like one slip up and he would have died before he wanted too. This is God we are talking about. "A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps." - Proverbs 16:9
    – Xeoncross
    Aug 6, 2014 at 14:35

To add just one more thought to the answers already posted. Jesus didn’t seem to be about the business of glorifying himself. Not only in the verses quoted here, but throughout the New Testament, when Jesus spoke about himself it appears that he was deliberately taking the focus away from himself and directing the listener’s attention back toward God, the Father.

  • Agreed. His use of the titles is informative, not to pump Himself up but to make the Scriptures clearer to us. Jesus glorifies the Father, the Spirit brings glory to Jesus (John 16:14). Perfect humility.
    – Screamer
    Oct 13, 2011 at 20:59

The original questioner credited an Old Testament source, Daniel 7:13-14, as being significant in the use of the title "Son of Man". Clicking on the link takes one to the passage in the NIV, where there's also a footnote about the translation. The footnote reads:

Daniel 7:13 The Aramaic phrase bar enash means human being. The phrase son of man is retained here because of its use in the New Testament as a title of Jesus, probably based largely on this verse.

This is entirely circular. It seems to say that an incorrect translation here is likely the source of New Testament usage of "the Son of Man" as a title of Jesus. It also says that it's because of the incorrect New Testament usage that the translators of the NIV have retained "a son of man" in Daniel 7:13. It states that the correct rendering should just be: "human being".

The Biblegateway.com website allows you to display other translations side-by-side. The King James translations used the definite article and capital letters: "the Son of Man", which fits its usage as a title given to Jesus. The NIV translation retains a nod to the previous interpretation, but it's clear that the translators disagree with the interpretation given in the King James versions, by the use of the indefinite article "a" instead of "the", the removal of the capital letters, and with that footnote.

The Wikipedia article on Son of man indicates that in the Hebrew texts, when referring to the singular (son of man), the source is "ben-'adam" (literally, "son of adam"). The source in Daniel is the Aramaic "bar enash", not "ben-'adam", which the editors of the NIV have indicated should be rendered as "human being" and not "son of man", and definitely not "the Son of Man". Moreover, the use of the definite article in "the Son of Man" is said to be entirely new to the Greek texts and did not occur in the Old Testament at all.

Also, this source at The Jewish Encyclopaedia, while favoring the interpretation of Daniel 7:13 as a reference to the Messiah, claims that "son of man" is an often used expression of the time, used to refer to oneself. It has no divine connotations in such usage.

I've had a book I'd been meaning to read called Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the Bible and why, by Bart D. Ehrman. One point from the back cover reads "The King James Bible was based on inferior manuscripts that in many cases do not accurately represent the meaning of the original text."


Here's my take: Jesus has different reasons in different circumstances to use this reference. Sometimes to keep "a secret", delay an event, or to allude to Daniel. Here's my example:

In all three Gospels he takes his disciples aside to predict his death. He speaks in third person. (Mt 20:17, Mark 10:32, Luke 18:31). But just a few chapters earlier he says the same thing to Peter (Mt 16:21) and the writer states that Jesus said "he" was going to be killed. In Mt 16, Peter fully understands since he tries to deter Jesus. This contrasts to Luke 18:31-34 where the disciples (Peter included) "understood none of these things". So - why be direct, then later use third person?

I think Jesus is nearing Jerusalem, and it's getting difficult. So - in this instance - he uses third person to avoid being deterred and discouraged (as Peter did earlier), and to avoid discouraging his disciples. But he alludes to the event using third person in order that - later - the disciples will remember and understand Jesus knew what he was doing and intentionally went to the cross.


One can only speculate about this, but in the synoptic gospels Jesus most likely referred to himself as 'son of man' knowing that men who would come after him would make a god out of him, and this reference would have been used to remind people that he was merely human and not the god that they would make him.

The gospel of John on the other hand, which almost didn't make it into the canon, puts the title of Jesus as 'THE Son of God' and 'Jesus Christ'. This marks the beginning of the church transforming the image of Yeshua the man into Jesus Christ the only begotten son of God -- a god and a part of the so-called 'godhead'. The gospel of John is so mixed with Greek philosophy and mythology, there is very little that could actually be referred to as gospel in the Jewish believer's sense in the early first century.

  • John almost didn't make the canon? What? Revelation didn't, but from the beginning all four gospel were recognised. It was at the latest recognised by Irenaeus in 160AD.
    – curiousdannii
    May 15, 2014 at 22:44
  • You're right. I was confusing it with Revelations. However, the philosophy of the Logos was Greek and a man being born of a virgin and being the son of a god is Greek mythology and is contrary to Jewish philosophy.
    – Doug Brown
    May 16, 2014 at 1:38

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