The Son of Man

Rom 1:20  For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:


A few Sunday’s ago we were singing in church and I noticed the following phrase in the hymnal, “the Son of God and the Son of man.”   The writer capitalized the word Son and God.  He did not capitalize the word man. This reflects the sad truth of how most people think of the Savior.  It shows the pervasive influence of the decisions made at the Council of Chalcedon[1].  If the writer had understood the title the Son of Man he would have capitalized the word man.  For the word man in this title is not a reference to the human side of Christ, as is commonly believed, it is in fact a reference to God the Father. 


Mankind tends to think of the term man as referring exclusively to humans.  God doesn’t.  The term man is a name that is first and foremost a name for God. We are created in the image of the True Men – God the Father and His Son[2].


The invisible God created the world in such a way as to bare witness of Himself.  His creatures are like they are for a reason, and ultimately the reason tracks back to the person of God.  When God created lions He did so to portray specific characteristics of His person.  A lion is a strong ruler and protector of his pride, a being to be feared.  Knowing what a lion is gives the meaning to the title the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, a title that Christ bears.  God just didn’t happen to find this analogy in His creation; rather He created lions as they are to reflect this aspect of His glory. 


Men were created to reflect certain things about God as well.  Men were to rule the earth, just as God rules over the creation.  Men were to be fathers and have sons that bear their characteristics, just as God has a Son that is the express image of His person.  Men were to be fruitful and multiply upon the earth, just as God multiplies His seed upon the earth through the new birth.  Adam was to lead and care for a wife that was fashioned from his rib, just as Christ leads and cares for the believers and will ultimately give his bride a body that is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh[3]. 


The point of all of this is that God is the true Man – created men bare witness of this aspect of God’s person.  So to find God the Father referred to as the Man which is in heaven, something we will study in the next section, should not surprise us.  It is no different than referring to Him as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah or the Lamb of God.  We do this with the understanding that these names are referencing back to the nature of the invisible God.  He is the original Man, He is the original Lion, and He is the original Lamb.  

The Son of the Man which is in heaven…John 3:11-19


John 3:16 is often used as a simple statement of God’s salvation, yet few speak of these verses in context.  The context, as Jesus gave it, is that God the Father gave His Son from heaven. 


John 3:11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.[4]

John 3:12  If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

John 3:13  And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of the man which is in heaven.

John 3:14  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

John 3:15  That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:17  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:18  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:19  And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil


In verse 12 Jesus tells Nicodemus he is about to speak of a heavenly thing and that He doubts Nicodemus is going to receive it.  In verse 13 He begins His explanation of this heavenly thing by teaching Nicodemus about a man that comes down from heaven.  This is the context, the foundation for, John 3:16.


Notice above that in John 3:13 I have inserted the article the in front of the word man.  That’s because in the Greek the article is present.  Here’s how the phrase looks in Greek.  I have underlined the articles[5]. 


                o uioV      tou anqrwpou            o wn              en tw ouranw

               the son          of the man       the one which is       in the heaven


Notice that in the Greek the title the Son of Man contains two definite articles. There is a “the” in front of the word Son, and there is a “the” in front of the word man.  This is the way this title is normally written when referring to Christ in the New Covenant[6].  The second “the” is not translated in the King James Bible but it should be to complete the sense. So the literal translation of this title is the Son of the Man. 


According to Greek grammar, this construction could be a generic reference to mankind, or it could be pointing out a specific individual, a specific man.  God hasn’t left us to make this interpretation on our own.  John 3:13 clarifies the meaning of the title the Son of Man because it tells us who the man referred to in this title is.   It says the Man which is in heaven.  The man which is in heaven is God the Father.  This makes perfect sense when you understand, as we discussed above, that God is the original and true Man.


The title the Son of the Man is in fact a very strong statement about the divinity of Christ. The Greek article was “originally derived from the demonstrative pronoun [this, that]… and always retained some of the demonstrative force[7]” and “the presence of the article as a rule draws attention to or defines more precisely the person or thing denoted by the word it modifies[8].” So the title the Son of the Man is pointing out in a very definite way that Christ is the Son of a particular man, and as John 3:13 teaches us, that man is the Man which is in heaven – God the Father.   This is the opposite of how this title is commonly taught.  Most teach the title Son of Man is a reference to Christ’s humanity.  It isn’t.  It is a reference to that which is most important about Christ.  He is the Son of the Heavenly Father.



God is the original Man.  He has a Son.  The title the Son of the Man highlights this truth. When Jesus used this title to refer to Himself He was laying claim to being the Son of God.  He wasn’t identifying with the men of this world as the writer of the hymn referenced at the beginning of this section thought.  John 3:16 was given with this as the context.  The Son of the Man that is in heaven came down from heaven and died for the sins of the world. 


Let the scriptures speak.

[1] See The Council of Chalcedon and Today’s Beliefs.

[2] Genesis 1:26-27

[3] See section entitled Because of the Resurrection Body We Hope For

[4] This witness is the witness of the Father and the Son.  See John 8:17-18, Matthew 16:13-17.


[5] The articles are spelled differently because this is how case is communicated in Greek grammar. Case refers to the usage of a noun.  For example, if a noun is used as a subject it is said to be in the nominative case.  If a noun is used to describe something it is in the genitive case.  An article modifying a noun in the nominative case is spelled “o” and an article modifying a noun in the genitive case is spelled “tou.”

[6] I counted 81 times where Christ is called the Son of Man in the New Covenant.  There is only one instance where both articles are not present. This occurs in John 5:27 where Christ says, “And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man.”  In Greek, the absence of the article in a construction where you would normally expect it places emphasis on the qualitative idea of the noun.   In John 5:27 Christ is saying that because He is the Son of this True Man (God the Father), inheriting all of His qualities and making Him one and the same as the Father (John 5:18), then He can judge in omniscient righteousness just as the Father and consequently the Father has granted Him this authority. The qualitative aspect of God the Father as the righteous Man and source of Christ’s being is being emphasized and the absence of the article is appropriate.

[7] Dana & Mantey, 1955, p.136

[8] Vaughn & Gideon, 1979, p. 84




11 Responses to “The Son of Man”

  1. 1 timruah February 21, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Your analysis of John 3:13 is incorrect. In the phrase ο υιος του ανθρωπου ο ων εν τω ουρανω, the relative clause “who is in heaven” must refer to the son, not to the man. The word “son” and the relative pronoun are both nominative, while “man” is genitive. In order for the verse to be understood as you’re proposing, the relative pronoun would have to be in the genitive to agree with “man” — not in the nominative to agree with “son.” No ambiguity here.

  2. 2 hayesrod February 23, 2009 at 3:11 am

    Thanks for the comment Timruah! I’d like to dialog a bit before we come back to the grammer if you don’t mind. I’d like to understand your intepretation of the verse. If the phrase, “the one which is heaven” refers to the Son, what is God communicating here? I can’t diagram it in this comment and it would be hard to put into English, but if “the one which is in heaven” refers to the Son it doesn’t seem to make sense (given the Son of God was on earth at the time He spoke these words). Look forward to your thoughts. hayesrod

  3. 3 timruah February 23, 2009 at 3:21 am


    ο ων εν τω ουρανω has puzzled interpreters for centuries. I’d guess that’s why it’s omitted in the Alexandrian text-type.

    I’ve always taken it as a gloss by John. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, He was, of course, not in heaven. But when John wrote his gospel, Jesus was in heaven. I believe that’s what our phrase reflects.

    This is one of those passages where the direct quotation melds seamlessly into the author’s words (Galatians 2:14ff is another example). Although I believe 3:15 concludes Jesus’ remarks and v.16 is John’s extension, I also see the phrase ο ων εν τω ουρανω as coming from John’s pen rather than Jesus’ mouth.

  4. 4 hayesrod February 23, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Hmmm…Timruah you sound like a very thoughtful Bible believing guy – I doubt you are fully satisfied with the explanation you gave above. I’d like to tap into your knowledge of Greek and try probe this grammer a bit. I’ve studied this particular phrase a lot and while I cannot find a direct reference to a usage of this kind in my grammers, the sense of the verse and the structure of the verse seems to me to point toward the phrase ο ων εν τω ουρανω as an appositive of some sort. What do you think about this as a possibility? I’ve also seen reference to how in some Greek structures the declension is in reference to an implied word or thought. I wonder if that could be the case here? Very much interested in your thoughts!

  5. 5 timruah February 23, 2009 at 10:53 pm


    Actually, I’m pretty satisfied. In fact, it’s quite possible the entirety of v.13 is a Johannine gloss, since, technically, Jesus had never ascended to heaven at the time of His conversation with Nicodemus. The statement “no one has ascended except the Son of Man” is not actually correct until after Jesus’ ascension, no? Now it’s possible, I think, to interpret the ει μη a bit loosely here. It’s sometimes used in the sense of “but in contrast” rather than “except;” sometimes the one(s) following ει μη are not actually included in the control group (e.g., Luke 4:26). So it might possibly be alluding to Christ’s heavenly origins rather than literally referring to a prior ascension. (Although compare Paul’s statement: το δε ανεβη τι εστιν ει μη οτι και κατεβη πρωτον [Now this ‘He ascended” — What sense does that make unless He first descended?]) But, if we want to interpret the verse as narrowly as possible, it has to have originated after Jesus ascended in Acts 1.

    As for the phrase ο ων εν τω ουρανω being in apposition, you’re entirely correct. But an appositive must agree with the case of its referent. ανθρωπου is in the genitive, υιος is in the nominative. ο ων is in the nominative to agree with υιος. It’s really an open and shut case, as best I can tell. It strains my imagination — and when it comes to languages, I’m pretty imaginative — that ο ων could refer to ανθρωπου. You’d have to come up with another example of the same structure where something — i.e., something grammatical, not something theological — would preclude the possibility that the appositive refers to the antecedent with which it agrees morphologically.

    I have no idea what “in some Greek structures the declension is in reference to an implied word or thought” might mean. I simply see no possibility whatsoever for the text to read as you’re trying to read it.

  6. 6 hayesrod February 26, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Timruah, sorry I took a little time to reply. I was doing some research. I think John 3:13 may be a Nominative of Appellation. “Nominative of Appellation – a title appears in the nominative and functions as though it were proper name. Another case would normally be more appropriate, but the nominative is used because of the special character of the individual described. The key is that the nominative is treated as a proper name, which is expected to be in another case” Dana and Mantey give Rev. 1:4 as a possible example of this and the grammar seems similar. In Rev 1:4 you have ο ων και ο ην και ο ερχομενος where grammatically you would expect the ablative. In John 3:13, you have “ο ων εν τω ουρανω” where you would expect the genitive. I believe John is using the phrase “the one who is” as a title (i.e. the Self-Existent One, the I Am.” Thoughts?

  7. 7 timruah February 27, 2009 at 12:17 am


    I’ll get back to you when have a bit more opportunity. Meanwhile, could you check the link in your post above? I get a 404 when I click on it.

  8. 8 hayesrod February 27, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Try this one, it may be the period at the end of the link above that is breaking the link

  9. 9 timruah February 28, 2009 at 2:01 pm


    Link works now, thanks.

    In citing nominative of appellation, you’re really stretching.

    The only example of this proposed construction I’ve seen referenced outside of Revelation is John 13:13, υμεις φωνειτε με ο διδασκαλος και ο κυριος. But in this instance, I would see it as an example of direct discourse: “You call Me ‘Teacher and Lord,’ and do well…” φωνεω isn’t often used to introduce direct discourse, but there are examples in classical Greek and one clear example in the NT in Luke 8:8. So I see no need for a “nominative of appellation” in John 13:13. As for the examples in Revelation… Revelation is so full of solecisms, that’s how I’d take the nominative in 1:4. (It’s also perhaps complicated by the unusual phrase ο ην, which would not lend itself to normal syntax.) Wallace describes this verse as the first and worst grammatical solecism in Revelation, but many more are to follow.” Citing Revelation 1:4 as a precedent for your proposed alternative reading of a text which makes absolutely perfect sense when parsed according to the standard rules of Greek grammar is, in my opinion, going way too far out on a limb.

  10. 10 hayesrod March 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Well my friend I think we’ll have to differ here. The nominative of appellation is a legitimate grammatical construct in Greek, its usage makes sense in the context (clarifying who the Father is of this Son who came down from heaven), and it is consistent with other scriptures that teach that God is the Father of Christ. As I said before, it doesn’t make sense as a modifier of ο υιος because Jesus was on earth at the time He spoke the words. And I can’t accept this as a “gloss” added after the fact by John. The way the scriptures read these are the literal words Christ spoke. Regarding the texts that leave this phrase out – I think this is an example of something that began to occur over the centuries. The teaching of Christ as the pure Son of God was being attacked and muddied and the teaching of Him as a hybrid, God/Human, was gaining ascendance. Modifying the scriptures – e.g. dropping a phrase – to support that line of thinking should come as no surprise. So in the end, I guess we both must admit that grammar reaches a limit -it’s good at describing the basic mechanics of a language, but it can never capture every nuance of thought that can be put to paper. We are on safest ground if other scriptures support our reading of a verse – and I think the scriptures are clear that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  11. 11 timruah March 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm


    I certainly can’t disagree with your assertion that God is the Father of Christ and that Christ is the Son of God.

    But I disagree with your assessment that grammar reaches a limit. The ‘nominative of appellation’ is a tenuous concept at best; there’s no other example in the NT of anything similar to what you’re proposing; and the standard take on the verse makes perfect sense.

    I’m not sure how much time you’ve got on your hands, but I’d like to ask you to find 10 recognized scholars of NT Greek and submit your proposed reading of John 3:!3 to them and see if any of them believe it’s viable.

    Beyond that, I guess our discussion has run its course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


January 2009
« Apr   Feb »

Blog Stats

  • 23,252 hits

%d bloggers like this: