January 13, 2016 3 Comments
‘Son of Man’ in the LXX
In the LXX, the Greek OT, υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (huios anthrōpou), the words translated into English most often as “son of man” – though some use “human being” as a dynamic equivalent – are always anarthrous. However, it must be noted that sometimes the translator renders a particular term definite in a context in which the Greek connotes indefiniteness, or vice versa, when it seems to read better that way in English. But, importantly, this is a translation issue and does not indicate the force of the Greek grammar in these instances.18
In Psalm 80:1719 the context may indicate the people of Israel collectively, Israel as a nation, or a specific person in the king of Israel. In any case, this is best rendered the definite the son of man in English.
In Psalm 8:4 (cf. 144:3; and see Heb 2:6 in next section) υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου is in parallel with ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos, man). In this context huios anthrōpou and its corresponding anthrōpos seem best understood as collective terms for mankind as a whole, rather than a singular person.20 That is, the terms should be seen as collective singulars, similar to the usage of ‘man’ in English in which it can be applied either singularly or collectively as akin to ‘humankind’ or ‘humanity.’21 In other words, ἄνθρωπος and υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου should be understood as synonymous here:22 “What is man that you take thought of him or son of man that you care about him?”23
The very first appearance of son of man is found in Numbers 23:19: “God is not man that he should mislead or a son of man that he should vacillate . . .”24 Here, like the previous example, ἄνθρωπος is in parallel with the expression υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, with the latter possibly understood as qualitative as in “God is not [like] man[kind] that he should mislead or human . . .” In this instance huios anthrōpou appears to be qualitative-indefinite, as opposed strictly indefinite or definite, though some English translators preface it with “the”.
Throughout the Book of Ezekiel the vocative form (nominative of direct address) is used: υἱὲ ἀνθρώπου (huie anthrōpou).25] This form is used as a substitute for the name of the person, as in, e.g. ‘Mr. President.’ This particular term (υἱὲ ἀνθρώπου) is used in place of ‘Ezekiel’ nearly 100 times, and can be understood in English as “human!”26 This same form of the idiom is found once in Daniel, in 8:17, in which the angel Gabriel addresses Daniel as he interprets the vision of a ram and a goat for the Prophet.
The most discussed “son of man” verse in the OT is, of course, Daniel 7:13. In its full context, this verse is clearly messianic and, with the benefit of NT revelation, most understand it to refer to a yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy regarding Jesus’ eschatological return. Importantly, however, Hurtado notes that the arthrous the Son of Man (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ho huios tou anthrōpou), which is Jesus’ favorite self-reference in the New Testament, is not found in any literature – without some ambiguity regarding original transmission27 – before the recording of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry.28 With this in mind, it would be anachronistic to claim that Daniel intended to refer to the figure in this verse as the definite “the Son of Man” (and, again, the articles are not used here or anywhere in the LXX). Instead, this passage should best be translated one like a son of man, construed as the qualitative-indefinite one like a human: “As I continued watching my night vision – lo and behold! – one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Old Testament references to clouds in a setting like the one described here by Daniel are frequently “in connection with the presence of the Lord.”29 Yet describing this heavenly figure using the son of man idiom has “the effect of . . . intensify[ing] the quality in question, so that ‘son of man’ lays stress on the humanity of the person (Ps. 146:3).”30 Archer, interpreting Daniel through the lens of NT revelation, writes:
The messianic Son of Man is brought before the throne of the Ancient of Days (v. 13) to be awarded the crown of universal dominion (v. 14). This refers, not to his inherent sovereignty over the universe as God the Son (as consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit), but to his appointment as absolute Lord and Judge by virtue of his atoning ministry as God incarnate – the one who achieved a sinless life (Isa 53:9), paid the price for man’s redemption (Isa 53:5-6), and was vindicated by his bodily resurrection as Judge of the entire human race (Acts 17:31; Rom 2:16).31
In assessing some of the various occurrences of “son of man” in the Greek OT it becomes clear that context indeed is a major factor in determining meaning. Next we’ll examine the NT to see if context plays a large part in assessing presumed authorial intent there as well.
Go to part 3.
18 An example of this sort of translational difficulty is found in ἐν υἱῷ (en huiō, in son) of Heb 1:2, in which the anarthrous noun in its immediate context seems best understood with a predominating qualitativeness (‘in one whose characteristics and standing is as a son’). Since the referent is clearly Jesus when the larger context is taken into consideration, many translations render it the possessive in His Son, which is a bit too strong. See Wallace, Grammar, pp 245, 247; cf. David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), p 77. Moreover, as Dixon (“Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John”) notes, “Often, the only way to effectively communicate a qualitative noun in the English idiom is by prefacing the noun with ‘a’” (p 47).
19 I’m using the chapter/verse numbering system found in most English Bibles for the Psalms, which are translated from the Hebrew Masoretic Text. This numbering differs from the Septuagint; hence, the Greek here is actually from LXX 79:18. This practice is continued throughout.
20 The psalmist certainly could have used the plural form of either or both of these terms. But that would appear to have lessened the rhetorical effect.
21 The use of singular pronouns (αὐτοῦ/ν, “him”) here does not preclude a collective understanding, in our estimation. For example, in English we could state: “The man ignored the fish [collective singular] on the menu, as he just doesn’t care for it [collective singular] in general.” Assuredly, one cannot impose English usage upon the Greek, but it seems the principle is correlative here, given the overall context of the Psalm (see vv 5-6).
22 F. F. Bruce [The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985 (1964))] notes the “synonymous parallelism” of the two terms (p 35); cf. William L. Lane [Hebrews 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, B. M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Word, 1991)] who states that the writer of Hebrews in quoting the Psalm here, “understood that the parallel expressions ἄνθρωπος, ‘man,’ ‘humankind,’ and υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου, ‘son of man,’ ‘mortal,’ were perfectly synonymous and were to be interpreted in terms of this fact” (p 47). Perhaps one shouldn’t go so far as calling these “perfectly synonymous” – assuming this means exactly equative – as it seems the two are not 100% interchangeable (see corresponding text to note 30 below). Relatedly, υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου is not meant to be strictly gender-specific. There are other examples in which υἱός is gender non-specific, such as Luke 10:6, in which υἱὸς εἰρήνης is more literally son of peace, though Danker [Frederick W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009)] renders it one devoted to peace (p 360 2.b.β).
23 My own translation, though I rely heavily on Accordance / OakTree Software (version 220.127.116.11, 2015) which parses all the words, various grammars, lexicons, and standard English Bible translations as guides. The translations throughout are handled similarly.
24 Credit must be given to David Alan Black whose rendering of the final verbal infinitive as vacillate in the International Standard Version translation seems to best capture, and succinctly state, authorial intent, given the context. My rendering of mislead is based on the LEH-2 [J. Lust, E. Eynikel, K. Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, Second Edition, (Stuttgart: Bibelgesellschaft, 2003)], as from Accordance / OakTree Software, Inc., version 2.5, and Gary Alan Chamberlain, The Greek of the Septuagint: A Supplementary Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), p 40.
25 See Decker, Reading Koine Greek, for more on the vocative case (pp 618-622).
26 See David R. Kirk, “Heaven Opened: Intertextuality and Meaning in John 1:51,” Tyndale Bulletin 63.2 (2012): 237-256, pp 244-245. Leslie C. Allen [Ezekiel 1-19, Word Biblical Commentary, D. A. Hubbard, G. W. Barker gen. eds. (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1994)] prefers “human one” (pp 3, 38).
27 This even includes 1 Enoch (aka Book of Enoch) due to the fact that, while the original language is thought to be either Hebrew or Aramaic, or a combination of both (like the Book of Daniel), the only extant complete text is in Ethiopic [see E. Isaac, “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch” in James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments (New York: Doubleday, 1983), pp 6-7]. Ethiopic lacks the article altogether – see Kirk, “Heaven Opened,” pp 246-247 – hence, 46:3, in which the term is usually translated as definite [see, e.g., Isaac, “1 Enoch,” p 34], could just as easily be a son of man. Cf. Darrell D. Hannah, “The Elect Son of Man of the Parables of Enoch,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’: The Latest Scholarship on a Puzzling Expression of the Historical Jesus, L. W. Hurtado and P. L. Owen eds. (London: T&T Clark, 2011), pp 130-158, esp. pp 137-141.
28 Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), pp 290-306. Hurtado does not find this expression in its arthrous form in any Greek text prior to the canonical Gospels (p 291). See the following blog post by Hurtado in which he briefly discusses this and surrounding issues (in it he provides a link to a pre-publication version of his final essay in a recently published work on this subject (referenced just above in note 27): “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who is This Son of Man?’, pp 159-77): https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/enoch-the-son-of-man/.
29 Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC), D. J. Wiseman gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, (1978) / OakTree Software, Inc. 2009, version 1.5), p 158.
30 Baldwin, Daniel, p 158; emphasis added.
31 Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Daniel,” in Daniel and the Minor Prophets: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, Volume 7, F. E. Gaebelein, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985) , p 91; emphasis added.