A Gateway to the Research of the Jesus Seminar

 [Home] [About Site] [Complete Gospels] [Data Base] [Historical Quest] [Westar Institute
[Profiles] [Publications] [Reaction] [ Search ] [What's New?] [Weblog] [Network]


Mahlon H Smith,
Rutgers University

eleusontai hmerai
ote epiqumhsete
mian ton hmeron tou uiou tou anqrwpou idein
kai ouk opsesqe

The days will come
  when you will want 
to see one of the days of the son of man
and you will not see.
-- Luke 17:22



While some sayings using the Greek idiom ho huios tou anthrópou ("son of man") have been the focus of repeated evaluation by the Jesus seminar, no vote has yet been registered for Luke 17:22 (SP 233). The saying is not multiply attested and is widely regarded as an editorial insertion between the repeated "Look, here!" and "Look, there!" of 17:21 and 23./1/  Luke 17:20-21 deals with key themes in Mark: Pharisees demanding signs (Mark 8:11) and the timing of the kingdom of God (Mark 9:1). Luke 17:23-30 picks up Q material about the time of "the son of man" which Matthew (24:26-39) dovetails with Mark's little apocalypse (Matt 24:15-25//Mark 13:14-23)./2/

If Luke 17:22 is merely an editorial link between material drawn from two identifiable sources, there is little reason to consider it as a separate saying that may be traced to Jesus. But a closer look reveals that it ill fits the notch into which it has been inserted. And the logical gaps are large enough to argue that Luke is here utilizing a pre-formed logion that can ultimately be traced to Jesus.



1.1. Wording.

Scholars have regularly interpreted Luke 17:22 as referring to the the son of man's parousia./3/  But the key word here is "interpreted". The word parousia is not found here nor, for that matter, anywhere else in Luke. The subject coming in this sentence is not "the son of man" but "days."

(a) No appearance. 

The "coming" of v. 22 is one of only two verbal links to the preceding Lukan context: v. 20 focuses on the expected "coming" of the kingdom of God and v. 21 warns not to run here or there to see (idein) what is already present. But such links mask the fact that relation of subjects, movement and modifiers in these sayings is not parallel. In v. 20 someone asks when the kingdom will come. In v. 22 there is neither question nor suggestion of the son of man's arrival or epiphany. What is "coming" is days when he will not be seen (idein). Instead of making an appearance, in the coming days the son of man will be discovered to be absent./4/

(b) Discontinuity. 

In reading connected sayings whose logic is discontinuous, one must not draw inferences from the evangelist's context, especially if one of those sayings is transitional, as Luke 17:22 seems to be. Luke is not the only evangelist to link sayings about the coming of the son of man and kingdom of God./5/  But no saying covers the coming of both together./6/  Luke knows sayings about the son of man "coming"./7/  Thus, his decision not to mention his arrival here must be deliberate. The question is whether his choice of words is his own or that of a source.

1.2. Context. 

Scholars disagree over whether Luke 17:22 came from Q./8/  Those who include it in the eschatological discourse concluding the sayings source claim Matthew dropped the first (and last?) of Q's string of son of man sayings (17:22,24,26, and perhaps 28-30) in folding them into Mark's little apocalypse. Those who don't include it, argue that Luke created it as an editorial seam to introduce Q material. The lack of a Matthean parallel sways many cautious scholars to accept the latter option. But even if it is questionable that Luke 17:22 came from Q, one can show that it is not characteristic of Luke.

(a) Q’s cataclysm. 

One can see Luke's understanding of Q's son of man sayings by the way in which he has framed them. On the one hand, he introduces them with the question of the coming of the kingdom of God (17:20-21). On the other, he concludes them (17:28-30) by comparing the "day" of the son of man's apocalypse to the destruction of Sodom in the "days of Lot."/9/  While the kingdom may sneak in silently, Luke certainly doesn't think the son of man will. He will appear with fireworks. All this is just as uniquely in Luke as 17:22. The question here is not whether the Lot saying stood in Q or Luke invented it, but rather what its inclusion here says about Luke’s view of the "day" or "days" of the son of man. The latter’s appearance is as sudden and cataclysmic as anything in Mark or Matthew. It could cost your life (17:32).

(b) Q’s vocabulary. 

Whether Q's eschatological discourse included the destruction of Sodom or only Noah's flood, it is clear that Luke's use of the son of man's "day" or "days" comes from the wording of his source. If Q had mentioned parousia, then Luke has systematically replaced it with a more common Semitic idiom. It is more likely that reference to the son of man's parousia in Matt 24 is a uniquely Matthean hybrid, adapting the language of Hellenistic Jewish eschatology to interpret Q sayings with a Semitic subject./10/  Thus, at the very least the vocabulary of Luke 17:22 is that of Q.

1.3. Viewpoint. 

The perspective of Luke 17:22 is hardly derived from the following Q sayings. In the latter the "day" or "days" of the son of man is a blinding revelation, consuming all but the few alert enough to escape. In the former it is something one cannot find even if one seeks it. The days of Noah (17:26) or Lot (17:28) are times that only the self-righteous would want to see. And only the foolhardy might miss them.

(a) Imported connotation. 

It is generally assumed that Luke 17:22 refers to the eschaton. But again any eschatological connotation has to be read in from what follows. There the "days" of Noah and Lot are described in detail; here the "days" of the son of man are not. Nor is one told which "one" is sought or why.

(b) Clumsy editing? 

Some have suggested that Luke introduced this saying to stress the eschaton's delay. But if so, he could have made this clearer! Why, then, did he bother to copy and emphasize not only Q's eschatological discourse but also Mark's little apocalypse (Luke 21)?/11/  In both Jesus gives instructions for dealing with cosmic emergency. To introduce a warning with a notice that "days will come" when it will not be needed is counter-productive. The idea that Luke rehearsed these eschatological passages simply because, as a meticulous scholar, he felt obliged to quote his sources verbatim and in full, is pure hogwash. His handling of Mark shows his readiness to delete, revise and rearrange material in a written source to make it fit his view of history. Moreover, he proves that he can create polished logical transitions. If so elsewhere, why not here? There must be a better explanation of this verse than to claim that Luke suddenly became a clumsy editor./12/

1.4. Summary

Contextual analysis reveals Luke 17:22 to be an isolated saying that must be evaluated as a self-contained aphorism. Textual and methodological observations show it cannot be dismissed as Luke's creation:

(a) Style

As an awkward transition whose relation to the surrounding material is based on verbal catchwords rather than sequential logic, 17:22 is not typically Lukan. Catchword, thematic and structural parallels are common devices in Q to join sayings with different origins and logic. At other points Luke has discontinuous sequences of proverbial wisdom and cryptic comments. But unless there are obvious Lukan elements, he is generally conceded to be compiling rather than inventing.

(b) Motifs.

17:22 contains no wording that is peculiar to Luke. On the contrary, almost every word is found in the appended sayings, which can be traced to Q. Yet it does not echo either their detail or their viewpoint, making it a poor example of editorial mimicry. As a proven master of detail and logic, Luke can be expected to compose a clearer and closer copy of the Q son of man sayings than this.

(c) Location: 

17:22 neither introduces nor develops the speech in which it stands but, rather, complicates its message by making a prediction at odds with what comes before and after. First the disciples are told not to look for what is here (17:21), then that what they look for will not be found anywhere (17:22), then that it will be visible everywhere, even to those who don't seek it (17:24). One expects such dizzying reversals of the gospel of Thomas but not Luke.



2.1. Dramatic setting

The lack of eschatological detail in Luke 17:22 is important to note. But more basic for locating the historical horizons of both speaker and audience are the internal temporal references. The saying begins and ends with a reference to "days"; but these are not identical.

(a) A ticking clock. 

The fact that the first "days" are future ("will come") starts the clock ticking. The formula echoes Hebrew prophetic threats or promises, but none with an overt eschatological date./13/ Rather, the focus is on a future era when the predicted conditions will finally come to pass. Things will change. Here there are no spatial markers to identify the time of transformation; there is only the movable temporal indicator that as time passes a second set of "days", those of the son of man, will not be seen.

The strict logic of this progression necessitates locating the son of man in the audience's present rather than the future. The condition for the disappearance of his days is the passing of time. There is no hint that they or he cannot be seen now. Far from being an eschatological persona whose presence is approaching, this son of man is a historical presence whose time is running out.

As structured this saying speaks not of eschatological hope but of future regret. There is no claim that those addressed want to see the son of man now, but they are told that sometime in the future they will. It is not a person who is the subject of this coming but the audience's desire. And they are told that this will be frustrated. They will want to see what they no longer can.

(b) Time sharing. 

A detail that is generally ignored or misunderstood is that the predicted longing will be for "one of the days."/14/  This is no way to refer to a cosmic end-time! Eschatology has one temporal focus, the punctiliar climax ("that day" or, in the NT, "hour"), beyond which is only eternity./15/  Events that precede that moment may be expressed in terms of duration ("those days"), but always as an undivided whole.

"Days" is not an eschatological word, but the standard Semitic way of referring to any era: past, present, or future. Their extent is determined by the subject in apposition, which is often a particular human person./16/  So, "days of the son of man" implies his historical presence. And to tell people that they will long for just one of them without qualification is to say that his presence, the time shared with him, is what they will miss.

2.2. Conceptual background

For Semites, God's time is "everlasting"; but human time is measured in terms of "days." And it is axiomatic among Semitic sages that a human's days are limited./17/  One comes, one goes; only one thing is certain: no human will stay forever. To be human is to have a temporary presence.

(a) Existential wisdom. 

While awareness that human existence is fleeting sometimes gave individual Semitic sages an acute attack of existential Angst (e.g., Job), they generally expressed their awareness of temporality in objective generic terms. It is not just "my" days that are few, but those of humanity (adam, enosh) in general.  And so it is not a unique "son of man" whose days disappear; disappearance is an unavoidable fact of human existence. By definition, there will come a day when the days of any "son (or daughter) of man" will not be seen. Thus, Luke 17:22 fits better into the world-view of Semitic wisdom than Jewish Christian eschatology. From this vantage point it is an aphorism of universal existential significance.

(b) Jesus’ usage

The very universality of this aphorism makes it imperative to trace it to the proper speaker. Any Semite might speak of human existence in terms of "the son of man."/18/  But, in the gospels this idiom is found only on the lips of Jesus. This is probably because Greek-speaking Christians regarded it as a barbarism but, out of respect for Jesus, translated it rather literally whenever it occurred in sayings ascribed to him./19/

Luke 17:22 deserves more serious consideration as a genuine Jesus logion than most son of man sayings, since recent writers have established that Jesus' own use of this idiom was probably more generic and existential than eschatological./20/  The Jesus Seminar's voting on son of man sayings has supported this trend./21/   Luke 17:22 is, in fact, an even better example of the simultaneous generic and existential connotations of the "son of man" idiom by Semitic sages than either of the sayings of Jesus that have garnered a pink vote (Mark 2:27-28 par; Matt 8:20//Luke 9:58//Thom 86).

2.3. Criteria

If the characterization of Jesus as a sage is taken seriously, there is no reason to think he could not be the source of a piece Semitic wisdom like Luke 17:22. There are really only two obstacles to showing that he probably was:

(1) Limited attestation: among extant sources, only Luke credits this saying to Jesus;

(2) Lack of dissimilarity: in vocabulary and worldview this saying is such standard Jewish wisdom that anyone could have said it.

The combination of these two criteria justifies some caution in tracing Luke 17:22 to Jesus. Single attestation by itself would pose no problem, if the logion reflected Jesus’ penchant for turning traditional wisdom on its head. For there are several demonstrably genuine Jesus sayings that can be traced to only one written source, and some the most prominent (notably, the parables of the good Samaritan, prodigal son and unjust steward) are now found only in Luke. But their authenticity is granted precisely because they are so unlike the outlook of anyone else at the time. Conversely, even a multiply attested Jesus saying becomes questionable, if it is indistinct from things that others in that period were saying. So reservations about the pedigree of Luke 17:22 must depend ultimately on its apparent lack of dissimilarity.

Yet, this lack of dissimilarity is more apparent than real. Despite the fact that sapiential observations tend to sound alike, the voices of individual sages may be distinguished if one considers not only characteristic speech patterns but dramatic spaces. After all, how clearly you hear a speaker depends upon the path of the sound. Luke 17:22 may seem to be a standard piece of Jewish wisdom, but it comes to us, not from a compendium of Judean proverbs, but from the most obviously Gentile scribe among early Christian writers. We have already noted that this verse is not a typically Lukan construction./22/ So the questions that face us are: where did Luke get if from and why did he ascribe it to Jesus when other more Judaic gospel writers did not? Which is more likely: that Luke interpolated a Semitic common place or that Matthew and others dropped it?

(a) Not a Generalization. 

Luke 17:22 is probably not a free creation by the evangelist. Nor is it a general proverb that might have freely circulated in Jewish Christian circles. Neither is it formally a meditation on the passing of human days. While the speaker has the world of such Semitic wisdom behind him, before him is an audience who is being alerted to time limits on its association with "the son of man".

The use of this idiom here is generic but not general. It makes no more sense to tell people that some day they will miss the time constraints on human existence than to tell them that someday (but not now) they will miss time with one who has yet to appear on the stage of history. The logical space between audience and "son of man" requires that he be seen here as a particular person. The only question is whether this reference to a son of man whose presence will be missed originated as a statement about a third party or about the speaker himself.

(b) Not a third party prediction.  

As elsewhere, the idiom "the son of man" (ho huios tou anthropou) sounds so objective that many scholars interpret such sayings as statements about someone other than the speaker. If the idiom points to Jesus, the saying is taken as a statement by somebody else; conversely, if Jesus is regarded as the speaker, the idiom is read as a pointer to a third party./23/  While such interpretations may make sense of parousia pronouncements, neither option is plausible in the case of Luke 17:22, where the horizons are historical rather than eschatological, and the days of this son of man are not coming but going.

Luke 17:22 is obviously not a Jesus pronouncement about someone else. The only historical person other than Jesus whose imminent disappearance he himself might plausibly have predicted is John the Baptist. But John is clearly not the missing person of Luke 17:22. While Luke transmits the Q passage where Jesus identifies John as "the greatest born of woman" (Luke 7:28//Matt 11:11), in almost the next breath he echoes Q’s radical distinction between John and "the son of man" (Luke 7:33-34//Matt 11:18-19). Nobody who used the son of man designation to contrast two figures so sharply is apt to turn around and confuse them.

Nor was any of Jesus’ followers in a position to announce his impending disappearance. True, long after the crucifixion Mark and John reported that Jesus predicted his own demise in son of man sayings that were not understood until after the fact./24/  The details of such statements are easily recognized as inventions of Christian story-tellers to reassure readers that their vanquished hero was fully aware---and thus master---of his own destiny. For accurate premonitions of catastrophe can transform even the greatest tragedy into a personal triumph, as clairvoyants from Jeremiah to Jean Dixon have demonstrated. Thus, the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion is diminished by gospel assurances that he knew exactly what was going to happen (even if his disciples did not) and confronted death with a triumphant, or at least stoic, spirit.

Luke 17:22, however, is categorically different from both the well-informed predictions ex eventu typical of Mark and the optimistic cryptic euphemisms for crucifixion that one finds in John. Here the speaker neither tells what is to happen to the son of man nor offers a theologized explanation. The audience is left simply with a disturbingly vague reminder that someday someone will be missing in action. This is not the sort of statement that any fan of Jesus is apt to have fabricated to honor him. For the only thing the speaker is sure of is that this human being is not going to outlive his comrades.

(c) Subjective reflection. 

While Luke 17:22 makes little sense in reference to a third party, it makes perfectly good sense as Jesus’ reflection on his own temporal limits. Anyone can tell somebody, "Some day you're going to miss me!," and many, in fact, do. Such a statement requires no special psychic powers, just a realistic awareness that the speaker is not exempt from the constraints that time imposes on the general human condition. The very ordinariness of this observation makes it more likely that Luke 17:22 is a genuine Jesus saying rather than a sentiment that a later Christian author (Luke or the editor of Q) placed on Jesus’ lips.

(1) Editorial nonsense. 

Even though the logical gaps in the context show that Luke did not fabricate this saying, he may have mended it by replacing a first person pronoun with "the son of man" as in 6:22 (cf. Matt 5:11). Those who resist accepting the possibility that Jesus could use "son of man" as a circumlocution for the first person pronoun automatically favor this option. Jesus admittedly used "son of man"; but, they claim, it was the community of his followers who narrowed its usage to a personal nickname for their leader. The evangelists (and probably others) demonstrably created son of man sayings and revised others to include this idiom. So if Luke makes Jesus speak of himself as the son of man elsewhere (at least in 22:48) what is to prevent that from being the case here?

But this makes editorial nonsense! Without "son of man" Luke's only reason for inserting it before Q's eschatological discourse is its reference to "days". But then he surely would have noticed that the subjects' days are portrayed here as slipping inexorably into the past, to join those of Noah and Lot (17:26,28). For him the "day" (sing.!) of the son of man is future emphatic (17:30). If he edits Q by inserting an allusion to the Markan theme of the son of man's suffering (17:25) to clarify for the reader that the historically uncertain "day" of the son of man in 17:24 is to occur after the crucifixion, then why did he not also change "days" to "day" here and eliminate the "not see" as well? Elsewhere he makes Jesus tell his audience to prepare to stand in the son of man's presence (21:36). They would surely see and spend time with him then!

(2) Genuine logion

The only way to account for the wording of this saying on the lips of Luke's Jesus is that it came to Luke as a Jesus saying in its present wording. Either it stood in Q or he got it from an anonymous oral source.

A case can be made for its presence as the original incipit of Q’s so-called "eschatological discourse" (Luke 17:23-37//Matt 24:26-28,37-41). For its key terms ("days" and "son of man") provide the motifs that link the central sayings of Q’s aphoristic cluster (Luke 17:24,26,30). Moreover, without it, this Q discourse begins with an unintelligible warning (Luke 17:23):

            And they'll tell you "Look, there!" or "Look, here!"    [kai erousin umin:idou ekei ekei, idou wde
            Don't rush off! Don't pursue!                                       
mh apelqhte mhde diwxhte]

Unlike a similar sentence in the Markan apocalypse (Mark 13:21) which has the Messiah as the subject sighted, the quest that launches this Q cluster is strangely unfocused despite the fact that its logic requires an identifiable antecedent. Moreover, the logic of Luke 17:23 is identical with that of 17:22.  At some unspecified point in the future what is sought will not be found anywhere.  The implied subject could not have been either the kingdom of God (which Luke 17:20-21 just declared to be already present "within you") or some future day of  the son of man (which Luke 17:24 claims will be visible from horizon to horizon).  Thus, it is the disappearing days of the son of man in Luke 17:22 that provides the best logical grounds for calling off the search in 17:23.

Whether Luke 17:22 was in Q or not, it would have to be either a genuine Jesus saying or an oracle by a Christian prophet. But Christian prophets spoke for a son of man who addressed his followers on earth from heaven. While they understood themselves to share common time, the post-crucifixion community was painfully aware that it was now separated from the son of man by a vast space. This situation gave rise to the the parousia hope. Yet we have already seen that Luke 17:22 is an anti-parousia saying. The son of man's "presence" here is fading and there is no hope that it will come again!

Having rejected all other options, we are left with only one possible conclusion. After the crucifixion the only reason why anyone would claim that Jesus said "there will come days" when you will miss time with "the son of man" is that he actually said this before the crucifixion. From that Friday afternoon he was already missed; and after Sunday morning (or thereabouts) his followers were confident of seeing him again, if not here then in heaven.



Luke 17:22 is commended as a genuine Jesus saying on the basis of all objective criteria except multiple attestation.

3.1. Environment.  

Both terminology and world-view are totally Semitic. The speaker addresses his audience as a Jewish sage telling supporters who take his presence for granted that he too is mortal. Time will pass and you will miss me! Now is not forever.

3.2. Dissimilarity

Both wording and perspective are not like anything found elsewhere in early Christian tradition.

(a) The sense of this melancholic aphorism is totally out of place in Luke, or Q for that matter. Scholars who note the difficulties try to remove them by emendations and explanations that create more problems than they solve. Its internal logic explains why it got placed where it did and does not appear elsewhere. It was axiomatic among Jewish and Christian scribes that the best way to take the sting out of a hard saying is to follow it up with sayings that are easier to accept. And early Christians, including Luke, found an eschatological Jesus much more comforting than a mortal one. The attempt to bury this son of man saying here proves that it was not a scribal invention.

(b) There is a distant parallel between this Lukan son of man saying and those in Mark about his suffering (8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34) and in John about his exaltation (3:14, 12:34). All portray Jesus as predicting his departure. So in the broadest sense one can say that this tradition is multiply attested after all. But there is no similarity in anything else. The Jesus of Mark and John is (almost) omniscient, so he can dispassionately predict his own demise. The speaker in this saying is painfully aware of a certain but unknown end to his existence, so he can speak of it in only the most generic sense. In Mark and John Jesus gives his disciples hints that death is not the end, so there is nothing to be afraid of. The son of man in Mark will be "seen" again; in John, "glorified" before the world. Both reflect post-crucifixion perspectives. But if the speaker in this saying is aware of a happy ending, he doesn't tell. Neither resurrection appearances nor parousia hopes have left their imprint on the logic of Luke 17:22. And that more than anything locates its composition as pre-Easter.

3.3 Coherence. 

Apart from the fact that the speaker of this saying is a Jewish sage who speaks of his own existence in terms of a generic "son of man" the initial impression is that Luke 17:22 has little in common with genuine Jesus sayings. But closer examination reveals that this is not the case. "Foxes have holes" (Luke 9:58//Matt 8:20) also expresses the insecurity of the son of man's existence. And all but a few fellows of the Jesus seminar agreed that this saying either came from Jesus or reflected his outlook on life./25/

Finally, while the language of this saying may sound morbid its logical implications are not. To tell your friends that they will miss you only in the future is not meant to dampen their spirits now. On the contrary, it's a call to make the most of your time together. The time to weep is not now! The speaker is saying: "Hey, I'm only human! Like yours, my days are not many. So let's enjoy them while we can. Tomorrow will be too late!" Thus, it is fully compatible with a son of man who was called "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34//Matt 11:19). Wisdom of this kind is not un-Jewish, though there are Christians who think so. It is vindicated by the words of another radical sage who was seen as a spokesman and ruler of God's kingdom:

        "Here is what I see as good: For a man to eat and drink
        and enjoy all the fruits of his work under the sun
        during the few days of life which God gives him...
        For he will not think about the days of his life
     because God keeps him busy with joy in his heart.

        "For neither sage nor fool has a permanent remembrance
        since in the days to come all will have been long forgotten."/26/

The traditional reason for rejecting Luke 17:22 as a genuine word of Jesus is contextual confusion with eschatological son of man sayings. I humbly request those who regard Jesus as a radical Jewish sage who viewed God's kingdom as present and himself as completely human: Please re-view!

Recommended vote: RED!



/1/ Bultmann: "it is possible that Luke 17:22...is a formulation by Luke (or some earlier editor), meant to serve as an introduction to the following eschatological discourse" (History of the Synoptic Tradition 130). Those less tentative: Tödt Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition 51, Conzelmann Theology of St. Luke 105, Ellis Gospel of Luke 211, Boring Sayings of the Risen Jesus 174, Lindars Jesus Son of Man 94.

/2/ Luke 21:5-36 follows Mark 13 without the Q sayings in Matt 24.

/3/ E.g., Manson Sayings of Jesus 142, Higgins Son of Man in the Teaching of Jesus 56, Vermes Jesus the Jew 185 n. 83; Lindars Son of Man 94, Piper Wisdom in the Q Tradition 139. As reference to the son of man's own future "coming" if not explicitly parousia: Boring Sayings of the Risen Jesus 241; Jeremias NT Theology 1, 163; Tödt Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition 105, Perrin Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus 196, Colpe "huios tou anthropou", 451.

/4/ Leivestad: "...v. 22 is an isolated logion, which has been placed (by Luke) in an unsuitable setting. The saying may be authentic. But then its original meaning can only be to prepare the disciples for a future time of distress. Such afflictions are to come, that they will desire to see again one, if not more than one, of the days when the Son of man was in their midst... They will look back upon the days of the Son of man and wish that they might once more have him among them. Such a wish cannot be fulfilled" ("Exit the Apocalyptic Son of Man," 261). Leivestad’s analysis of this verse has been generally overlooked by later scholars.

/5/ Mark 8:38-9:1, Matt 19:23-28.

/6/ See Perrin Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus 187.

/7/ Luke 12:40 (Q), 21:27 (Mark) and 18:8 (probably Lukan). All use erchomai not parousia.

/8/ See Kloppenborg. Q Parallels 192 for rosters and references.

/9/ See Kloppenborg. Q Parallels 192-4 for reasons to trace 17:28-30 to Q and references to scholars for and against.

/10/ Parousia occurs in the gospels only here in Matthew's version of three Q sayings. It appears frequently in 1 and 2 Thessalonians but only once elsewhere in an eschatological sense in Paul (1 Cor 15:23). Otherwise, he uses it like other Greek writers as reference to the physical presence of any living person, himself included! Its eschatological usage is found in 2 Peter (1:16, 3:4,12) and even James (5:7-8). 1 John 2:28 is the only use by a Greek Christian whose access to traditional Jewish eschatology is not clear.

/11/ There is general consensus that at least Luke 17:32 ("Remember Lot's wife!") is Lukan redaction. And Luke not only keeps Mark's claim that the preceding predictions---including the coming of the son of man (21:27)---will occur before the end of "this generation" (21:32), but he appends his own unique warning to watch and pray that you are prepared "to stand before the son of man" (21:36).

/12/ Pace Lindars Jesus Son of Man 94, Bultmann History of the Synoptic Tradition 130.

/13/ Cf., Amos 4:2, 8:11, 9:13; Isa 39:6; Jer 9:25, 16:14, 19:6, 31:31. Jer 23:5 is the closest to being "eschatological"; but its temporal setting is immediately historicized by 23:7.

/14/ Those who note it but find it odd and in need of correction include: Manson Sayings of Jesus 142, Higgins Son of Man in the Teaching of Jesus 56, Lindars Jesus Son of Man 94-95. Fitzmyer reviews and rejects a number of "farfetched" explanations, but concludes: "It is not at all clear" what Luke means by "this difficult expression" (Gospel According to Luke 1168-69).

/15/ Cf., Amos 5:20, 8:9; Isa 2:12, 4:2, 11:10, 27:12-13; Jer 25:33, 30:7-9; Zech 14; Mal 3:2, 4:1; and Matt 25:13; Mark 13:32; Luke 12:40; 1 John 2:18; Rev 3:3, 14:15.

/16/ E.g., Luke 17:26,28. Cf. Gen 5, 9:29, 26:1,15,18; Josh 24:31; Judg 5:6, 8:28; 1 Sam 7:13, 14:52; 2 Sam 21:1.

/17/ Cf. Gen 6:3, Exod 23:26; but especially Job 7:1-6,16, 8:8-9, 9:25, 10:20, 14:1-2; Eccl 2:3, 5:17-20.

/18/ See my Jesus Seminar paper "To Judge the Son of Man" (Sonoma 88) in Forum 7,3-4:211-219.

/19/ See Lindars Jesus Son of Man 25-26.

/20/ There is general agreement between Vermes (Jesus the Jew 162-186), Lindars (Jesus Son of Man 1-28), Casey ("General, Generic and Indefinite" 36-53), myself and others. Differences are over nuances and detail. Anyone who wants to argue that Jesus used "son of man" in an eschatological sense must address not only these arguments but those of Leivestad ("Exit the Apocalyptic Son of Man") and those who doubt the authenticity of any son of man saying (e.g., Perrin).

/21/ The response to general questions was:
        (a) Jesus used "son of man" in a generic sense: agree 67.7%
        (b) Jesus used "son of man" of apocalyptic figure: disagree 67.7%
        (c) No "son of man" saying goes back to Jesus: disagree 65.5%
Only two son of man sayings got enough support to be printed pink:
        (a) Luke 9:58//Matt 8:20 ("foxes have holes") and
        (b) Mark 2:27-28 ("lord of the sabbath").
Both have generic reference and application to Jesus personally.

/22/ See sections 1.2 and 1.3 above.

/23/ E.g. Bultmann claimed that Jesus "points ahead to the Son of Man as another than himself" (Theology of the NT 1, 9). Perrin, on the contrary, argued that "Jesus could not have spoken of the coming of the Son of man, either in reference to himself or in reference to an eschatological figure other than himself" and concluded that all Son of man sayings were "products of the early Church" (Rediscovering 198).

/24/ Mark 8:31-33, 9:9f &31f; John 12:23, 34.

/25/ On its third consideration in Toronto it received the following vote spread: 56.3% red, 21.9% pink, 9.4% gray and 12.5% black. Of all Q sayings it ranked 9th highest in red votes and 11th over all.

/26/ Qoheleth 5:17,19 and 2:16 (translation from the Hebrew is mine).



Boring, M. Eugene, Sayings of the Risen Jesus: Christian Prophecy in the Synoptic Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Borsch, Frederick H., The Son of Man in Myth and History. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1967.

Bultmann, Rudolf, The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Trans. J. Marsh. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963.

_____, Theology of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Trans. K. Grobel. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951.

Casey, P. Maurice, "General, Generic and Indefinite: The Use of the Term 'Son of Man' in Aramaic Sources and in the Teaching of Jesus," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 29 (1987): 21-56.

Colpe, Carsten, "ho huios tou anthrópou." Trans. Geoffrey Bromiley. Pp. 400-477 in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Ed. Gerhard Friedrich and Gerhard Kittel. vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1972.

Conzelmann, Hans, The Theology of St. Luke. New York: Harper, 1960.

Crossan, J. Dominic, In Fragments. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983.

_____, Sayings Parallels: A Workbook for the Jesus Tradition. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986 [cited above as SP].

Ellis, E. Earl, Gospel of Luke. New Century Bible Commentary.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Gospel according to Luke (X-XXIV) . Anchor Bible 28A. Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1985.

Higgins, A. J. B., Jesus and the Son of Man. London: Lutterworth Press, 1964.

____, The Son of Man in the Teaching of Jesus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Jeremias, Joachim, New Testament Theology. The Proclamation of Jesus. Trans. J. Bowden. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.

Kloppenborg, John S. Q Parallels: Synopsis, Critical Notes & Concordance. Sonoma CA: Polebridge Press, 1988.

Leivestad, Ragnar, "Exit the Apocalyptic Son of Man," New Testament Studies 18 (1971-1972): 243-267.

Lindars. Barnabas, Jesus Son of Man. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983.

Manson, T. W., The Teaching of Jesus. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935.

Otto, Rudolf, The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man. Trans. F. V. Filson and B. L. Woolf. 2nd ed. London: Lutterworth Press, 1943.

Perrin, Norman, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

____, "Son of Man." Pp. 833-836 in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible Supplement. New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976.

Smith, Mahlon H., "To Judge the Son of Man: the Synoptic Sayings" Forum 7,3-4 (1991): 207-242.

Tödt, Heinz Eduard, The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition. Trans. D. M. Barton. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1965.

Tuckett, Christopher, "The Present Son of Man," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 14 (1982): 58-81.

Vermes, Geza, Jesus the Jew. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

Vielhauer, Philip, "Jesus und der Menschensohn. Zur Diskussion mit Heinz Eduard Tödt und Eduard Schweizer," Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 60,2 (1953): 133-177.


copyright © by author 2000-2005
all rights reserved

  • This paper was first presented on 19 October 1990 to the session of the Jesus Seminar at Xavier U, Cincinnati OH. This revised hypertext edition was posted February 16, 2000. An updated expanded version was published in FORUM n.s. 7,1 (2004) 97-115.

  • Hypertext links to this web page are welcome. But the contents of this paper may not be reproduced or posted elsewhere without the express written consent of the author.

- last revised 05 April 2008 -


Website designed by Mahlon H. Smith
copyright © 1997- 2008

Visit  since February 1997 on our Web Counter.