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(how to tell the biblical story
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The connection between "kingdom of God" and "Son of Man"

One of the arguments raised against the authenticity of the Son of Man sayings—notably by Vielhauer—has been that in the earliest strata of the Gospels “kingdom of God” and “Son of Man” belong to separate strands.1 Since there is little debate about the authenticity of the kingdom of God theme, the conclusion is reached that the Son of Man material was introduced into the narratives by the church after the Easter event. Dunn points out that attributing the Son of Man sayings to Jesus’ followers doesn’t solve the problem—it merely relocates it; and he has an explanation for the failure of the two motifs to intertwine:

A simpler explanation is that the two motifs did not naturally lie together: where ‘the son of man’ implied only weakness and suffering, kingdom was hardly an obvious companion; and where ‘the son of man’ contained any allusion to Dan. 7.13 it also thereby included an allusion to dominion and kingship, making further reference to the kingdom of God redundant. Some such explanation must be offered, whatever the son of man’s entry-point into the Jesus tradition.2

I think Dunn may have overstated the separation between the “son of man” as weak humanity theme and the “Son of Man” who receives dominion and kingship theme. On the one hand, the “son of man” as humanity is given dominion and the power to rule (Ps. 8:6-8; 80:17). On the other, Daniel’s “one like a son of man” stands for the suffering righteous to whom dominion and kingship will be given.

But otherwise he makes a crucial point: the coming kingdom of God is the kingship or rule that will be given to the Son of Man—and to his persecuted elect when he comes on the clouds of heaven to deliver them from their enemies. This is a central argument of the New Testament: those who suffer out of loyalty to Jesus, under conditions similar to the repression of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes, will in due course—that is, in the course of history—be vindicated.

  • 1. J.D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 736.
  • 2. J.D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 738.