Son of Man

Jesus refers to himself often as the Son of Man (using the definite article). This title had always confused me. I thought that what distinguishes him from me and you – each of us likewise a child of men (note the indefinite article) – is that he is the son of God, and that this unique status formed the basis on which his ministry, his crucifixion, his Atonement for our sins, and so our redemption and salvation, all rested.

Why would Jesus characterize himself as the Son of Man? I mean, sure, everyone in Palestine back then knew exactly what he meant in doing so. “Son of Man” was in the symbolic language of Israel another way of saying “Son of God.” But then, why should that have been so?

In apocalyptic literature, “Son of Man” is a title for a supreme divine being. In the seventh chapter of his book (Daniel 7:13-14), Daniel reports seeing one like a Son of Man presented in the throne room of Heaven to the Ancient of Days – the Most High God – and given dominion over all creation:

… and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 10:5-6 continues:

I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with gold of Uphaz. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the noise of a multitude.

The first century Similitudes of Enoch describe the Son of Man as one who existed before the Creation: “even before the sun and the constellations were created, before the stars of heaven were made, his Name was before the Lord of Spirits” (1 Enoch 48.3)(cf. Philippians 2:9-10: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”); and, “from the beginning the Son of Man was hidden, and the Most High kept him in the presence of his power and revealed him only to the chosen” (1 Enoch 62.8).

Some representative texts from the New Testament:

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

“… then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory… “ (Matthew 24:30).

“But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64; cf. Mark 14:62).

“But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69).

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).

… and in the midst of the [seven] lampstands one like a Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength (Revelation 1:13-16).

Compare John’s description from Revelation with the description in Daniel’s tenth chapter, and it is clear that both men are describing the same personage. Now compare Daniel’s description of the Ancient of Days:

… one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him … (Daniel 7:9-10).

It is not hard to detect a family resemblance between the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. Ezekiel fleshes out the vision of the Son of Man considerably:

And above the firmament over [the heads of the Four Living Creatures] there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 1:26-28).

When they saw this being, John, Daniel and Ezekiel all fell on their faces in terror.

It seems clear that the Son of Man is none other than YHWH, the only begotten son of El Elyon, the Most High God. This accounts for their family resemblance. But why should these eternal persons appear to be anthropomorphic, “as a Son of Man,” or “appearing as a Son of Man”? We get that Jesus is a man, and that when he ascended into Heaven, he took his human body along, so that where he now sits on the throne at the right hand of his Father, he is (whatever else he is) embodied as a Nazarene of Galilee. But why would both YHWH and his Father El have appeared in the likeness of men to Ezekiel and Daniel, prior to the Incarnation?

It won’t do to suggest that YHWH appears in the form of a man to men because he is accommodating himself to their categories of thought. All that is needed to see this is a quick reading of Ezekiel’s description of the Chariot Throne in verses 4 through 21, immediately preceding his description of the God he saw sitting upon it. The Throne and the Four Living Creatures shatter human conceptual categories.

Why would the Persons appear as men?

As infinity is prior to all other quantities, eternity is prior to time. Whatever happens, then, happens in eternity; and some of those things happen also in time. For God, who understands all things under the aspect of eternity, all events, whatever their temporal loci, originate and terminate in his single Act, by which he is, creates, knows, provides, governs, redeems, judges, and saves. Thus for the Incarnation as for every event eternity is as it were the alpha and omega of its causal coordinates; by virtue of its eternity it happens in time.

But this means that before all worlds – and, also, with them, and after them – YHWH is a Nazarene from Galilee. And El, who understands himself eternally as the Father of YHWH, understands himself in and through his Son, who is a Nazarene from Galilee. The Galilean who is the Logos is the Word of El, so that his humanity was found first in his Father; and when the person of the Son takes human form, the being of God – the whole being of God – takes human form. El too, then, is “as a Son of Man.” Likewise also the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

This is not to say that YHWH, El, and Ruach are *nothing but* men, as they appeared to Abraham and Sarah at Mamre, or that their manhood anywise exhausts their Being and Nature. That God are as men does not mean they are only men. It means rather that their expression in manhood is a synecdoche of their Being and Nature, as we could say likewise are the Bread, the Wine, the Church, and the Word – the teaching, the Law and the Logos – that they all communicate to us, and to all creatures.

Jesus creates Adam

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38 thoughts on “Son of Man

  1. Surely the conception of Jesus as the ‘Son of Man’ is the direct and resultant corollary to Adam being created ‘in the image of God’?

    I like the concept of the eternal coalescing through the point of incarnation though.

    • Well, yes, in a way; but the point of the post is that the vector of the corollary implication runs the other direction. Adam being created in the image of God is the result of Jesus being the Son of Man (as may be seen in the icon I inserted at the end of the post). This is I admit all terribly confusing when we think in terms of before and after. I think it helps to remember the notion of Adam Kadmon, the Primordial Form of Adam, which is an eternal aspect of the eternal God. Man in our actual original father, Adam of Eden, takes that Form, as do we; and so in the Incarnation does God. But it is the eternal taking of that Form by God in the Incarnation that makes it possible for man in Adam and his sons to be formed in the Imago Dei.

      • Marty McFly is cool because his parents are cool, but his parents are only cool because Marty McFly traveled back in time to make them cool, but Marty McFly had to be cool in order to make his parents cool, which means Marty McFly’s coolness is prior to his parents coolness, yet temporally Marty McFly’s parents were cool before Marty McFly was born of a non-virgin and a non-cool father, and yet Marty McFly’s father’s redemption (of coolness) occurs prior in history to Marty McFly’s incarnation. Whoah.

  2. According to Enoch’s record, Man of Holiness is one name of God: “In the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ”. God further declared in the revelation to Enoch: “Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name”

    In almost a dozen instances, the pre-Christian Nag Hammadi text “Eugnostos the Blessed” uses similar terms — “Immortal Man,” “First Man” and “Man” — for the Father (Robinson, pp. 229-31). Another Nag Hammadi tractate, “The Second Treatise of the Great Seth,” refers to God as “the Man” and “Man of Greatness” (Robinson, p. 364). Thus, ancient authors likewise seem to have defined the Father as a glorified person with a body in whose image man was created.

    • In the religious literature of the Ancient Near East, there is a long tradition of describing divine beings – angels, gods, God – as anthropomorphic – or, rather, as appearing human, *among other things.* That’s part of what I’m getting at in saying, “That God are as men does not mean they are only men.” These beings far outpass the power of human telling.

      Ezekiel’s description of the Four Living Creatures is a case in point; human appearance is just one aspect of their multifarious appearance. Near the end of Perelandra, Lewis does a good job of telling how hard it is for Ransom to decide what the angels of that planet look like. First he thinks they look like one thing, then another; he can’t quite peg them.

      The cherubim are like that: griffins. Not one animal, not quite another, but like many animals, depending on how you look at them. The Assyrians depicted these angelic gatekeepers with human faces, like that of the Sphinx.

      Assyrian Cherub

  3. 5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

    Isn’t this the description of an angel sent to fight against the prince of Persia?

    If this is so then it’s so unlike the depictions of angels in art and general culture.

    • Commentators are divided on whether the being who appeared to Daniel in chapter 10 was Gabriel, or the Great Angel – the Angel of the Presence, YHWH in his angelic hypostasis – or Michael, the chief of all the Heavenly Hosts, who is thought by some to be coterminous with the Angel of the Presence (because both YHWH and Michael are characterized in different places as the prince of Israel). It may not matter too much; the Angel of the LORD is in some way also the person of the LORD; not just the vicar of the person, but the person himself.

      But, in any case, angels and the Persons all seem to have the appearance of men – or, rather, they seem to have the appearance of men, among their various appearances.

      • My contention is that angel are portrayed in modern culture. As either cupid or women and women without breasts. Virtuous women are discribed as angels. And certain effeminate men are described as angelic in appearance.

        I have good reason to believe that this angel is not the angel of the LORD. God never has trouble handling angels. He can defeat them at a moments notice.And he certainly wouldn’t need Michael.

        This is likely to be Gabriel who visited Daniel before in a vision. It may be no coincidence that angels reflecting the glory of god will look like the description above.

      • It could well be that the being Daniel describes in chapter 10 is Gabriel. As you say, this would nowise vitiate the main argument of the post; indeed, it would have rather the contrary effect.

        In an absolute sense, it is of course correct that, as omnipotent, God could delete any problems with any angels instantly, at his will. But consider then that, this being the case, God could delete the problem of Satan – likewise the problem of evil, the problem of sin, all problems whatsoever – instantly, at will. Thus there is no reason why any of his angels ought to have any trouble with any of his adversaries. He could simply unmake all his enemies, hey presto!

        He does not: he neither forces his creatures to obey him, nor does he destroy them in the very instant when they do not obey him. There must be a good reason for this forbearance.

        Given that forbearance, God is constrained to deal with his creatures using various sorts of persuasion. And this sort of persuasion – particularly of angels acting as princes or tyrants of temporal creatures – might take time, in just the same sort of way that it can take time (as we measure it) for God to work patiently in our lives to bring us to the threshold of salvation, often failing to persuade us at the last to step across it.

        Who knows how angels contend with each other? Perhaps they fight the way that Thor and Loki do in the Marvel comic books. Or, perhaps theomachy is carried on in ways that we cannot understand or visualize except by way of the poor analogy offered by Marvel’s artists, or for that matter by such artists as Guido Reni, who in 1636 painted the image that appears in the masthead of this site, of St. Michael defeating Lucifer.

        As for the feminine appearance of angels in post-Medieval Western art – a good example may be seen in Reni’s depiction above – it is due to the doctrine of Scholastic theology that angels are not individual instances of species, as plants and animals are, but rather each a species unto himself. Humans individuate, angels speciate. They do not reproduce, nor therefore are they sexed. What about the angels in Genesis who came down to Earth to mate with human women? They had to fall from their angelic state in order to do so, I suppose.

        Finally, the depiction of cherubim as winged infants seems to have arisen on account of their innocence, which is as pure as that of a newborn.

  4. Pingback: The Thinking Housewife › Why the “Son of Man?”

    • Nope. It’s *way* older than the Church. It came as a shock to me, too, when I first learned of it. Try bearing it in mind as you read Scripture for a while. I think you’ll find it clears up lots of things.

      I forget now exactly where in the Catechism I encountered it a few weeks ago, but there it was. I’ll try to find the article.

      • That YHWH is the Holy Father seems to be a popular conception. But what is the ground for this?

        I think the orthodox view is whenever God is referred to in the scripture, it means all of the Trinity, the persons are not distinguished.

      • I think the ground for that idea is simply that almost none of us have ever been taught anything about it.

        Here’s the relevant bit from the Catechism, the clincher being in Article 209:

        205 God calls Moses from the midst of a bush that burns without being consumed: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” God is the God of the fathers, the One who had called and guided the patriarchs in their wanderings. He is the faithful and compassionate God who remembers them and his promises; he comes to free their descendants from slavery. He is the God who, from beyond space and time, can do this and wills to do it, the God who will put his almighty power to work for this plan.

        “I Am who I Am”

        Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’. . . this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

        206 In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH (“I AM HE WHO IS”, “I AM WHO AM” or “I AM WHO I AM”), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is – infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the “hidden God”, his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.

        207 By revealing his name God at the same time reveals his faithfulness which is from everlasting to everlasting, valid for the past (“I am the God of your father”), as for the future (“I will be with you”). God, who reveals his name as “I AM”, reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them.

        208 Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance. Before the burning bush, Moses takes off his sandals and veils his face in the presence of God’s holiness. Before the glory of the thrice-holy God, Isaiah cries out: “Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.” Before the divine signs wrought by Jesus, Peter exclaims: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But because God is holy, he can forgive the man who realizes that he is a sinner before him: “I will not execute my fierce anger. . . for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” The apostle John says likewise: “We shall. . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

        209 Out of respect for the holiness of God, the people of Israel do not pronounce his name. In the reading of Sacred Scripture, the revealed name (YHWH) is replaced by the divine title “LORD” (in Hebrew Adonai, in Greek Kyrios). It is under this title that the divinity of Jesus will be acclaimed: “Jesus is LORD.”

        Jesus identifies himself as YHWH in John 8:58:

        Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

      • Kristor,
        “Jesus identifies himself as YHWH in John 8:58″
        True. But that does not mean that the Father and Holy Ghost are not YHWH.

      • It is true that the younger layers of the OT more and more conflate YHWH with El – in the very period when, during and after Israel’s Captivity, her angelology was florescing (as may be seen in Ezekiel, Daniel, the intertestamental texts, the Gospels, and Revelation). It was out of that conflation that the doctrine of the Trinity crystallized in the first two centuries after the Resurrection. Under that doctrine, each of the Persons has what both of the others have, with the exception of personhood. E.g., what is true of the Father is true also of the Son, with the exception that it is not true to say of the Son that he is the Father. Thus as I point out in the post, the fact that the Son is incarnate as a Galilean means that the Father and the Holy Ghost, as both sharing in the Nature of the Son, can both like him appear as human; and, going in the other direction, the Son cannot in the first place have obtained the form of a son of man from any source other than the Godhead: his Father, and the Holy Spirit, and himself.

  5. Me, too. It’s funny. When I learned that Jesus Melchizedek our Great High Priest is YHWH, the Great Angel, only begotten Son of the All-Father El Elyon, and LORD and Captain of Sabaoth his starry angel host, the light of their light, it made the whole Judeo/Christian pantheon clear to me for the first time; as if Hesiod had come along and explained all the confusing relationships. And this had the effect of making it all much more *definite.* And that definiteness made it all much more solid, concrete, and aweful; less a vague mystery, more a blast on a ram’s horn, more real than death.

  6. “It seems clear that the Son of Man is none other than YHWH, the only begotten son of El Elyon, the Most High God.”

    Where did you get this notion of YHWH being the son of EL Elyon??

    Aren’t they two alternative names for God in OT?

    • You’ll see that the Scriptures and the Fathers are shot through with the notion, when you read them under the supposition that it informs them. I was reading Irenaeus this morning, and Justin Martyr, and both of them rather take it for granted. This should hardly surprise us, as the idea was widespread throughout the Mediterranean watershed and the Fertile Crescent. The only thing the Hebrews did with their pantheon that was different from what their neighbours were doing was insist that their national deity was, not just one among the angel sons of the Most High God, but the only angel who was begotten, not made, so that he was with his Father not just the ruler of Israel, but of the cosmos. Mark Smith’s Early History of God is a fascinating account of how this innovation came about. The Hebrews went from thinking that El and YHWH were God and created angel, to thinking that they were God and Only Begotten Son of God, to thinking that they were the same being, so that the two terms were more or less interchangeably applicable to the One God. The Trinity cooked out of that confluence of El and YHWH: El and YHWH *are* one God, but signify different Persons. YWHW and El are both God, but neither is the other. Nevertheless, it is not inaccurate to say of El Elyon that he is He Who Is (which is more or less what YHWH means), and also to say of YHWH that he is, not a god, but God (which is what El means).

      Article 211 of the Catechism reiterates the identification of the Only Begotten Son with YHWH:

      … Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that ‘I AM’. (John 8:28)”

      And so indeed it came to pass:

      … when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. (Mark 15:39)

      • “The Hebrews went from thinking that El and YHWH were God and created angel”

        Interesting if indeed true. Could you provide some evidence, biblical or extra-biblical, to support this conjecture that YHWH (which means I AM) was ever considered a created angel by Hebrews
        or Jews before Incarnation of Jesus.

        I mean, YHWH simply means I AM or something like this. It was the self-revealed name of God Himself, revealed to Moses. So who thought that I AM was a created angel?. Did Moses?

        I am not disputing that Jesus or Holy Son is I AM. What I would like to see evidence of that I AM and God or God Most High (EL) were ever considered to be different.

      • Best I can do is refer you to Smith’s book, already linked. The “Origins and adoption as ‘God of Israel’” section of the Wikipedia article on YHWH touches briefly on the archeological and demographic arguments about the provenance of YHWH, his changing relations with El, High God of the region of Palestine, and so forth.

        I would point you also to Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel, particularly the chapter on the Name.

        Both books are absolutely fascinating.

  7. Smith’s book, Barker’s book, and a Wikipedia article are not necessarily orthodox sources to me. Sorry, but this all sounds like liberal Christian speculation. The names El and YHWH both appear in the books of Moses for God the Father. We do not have to trace from “earlier” to later books of the Old Testament to find one or the other. When Wellhausen first proposed the Documentary Hypothesis to explain the authorship of the Pentateuch, it was often referred to as the JEDP Hypothesis because there was initially a strict separation between the “E” author who used El/Elohim and the “J” author who used Jehovah/YHWH. Continual revision of the hypothesis over the ensuing decades relaxed the strictness of this separation (not that I believe the hypothesis in the first place; I am just pointing out that both names occur numerous times in the Pentateuch).

    Citations of scripture to establish that there is a difference between El and YHWH would be more helpful than telling me to read entire books that I suspect are built on liberal or secular presuppositions concerning the “development” of the Pentateuch and other Old Testament writings. If you cannot provide such citations, just say so, but be aware that your stated claim sounds heterodox to many of us, and not because “we were never taught” anything about this subject.

    • Your wariness is certainly understandable, and is after all only to be expected in a traditionalist. On the other hand, it is important to be able to discern the difference between mere novelty and heterodoxy. Homo-ousion was novel in its day, too, and was a tremendous development of doctrine; that does not mean that it was a departure from tradition or orthodoxy (although the Arians would surely have argued that it definitely was, as some Mormons do today). Having read books by both Smith and Barker from what is, so far as I can tell, as arch-traditionalist and orthodox a Christian perspective as I have ever encountered – mine – I detected in them no jot of heterodoxy. On the contrary, both seemed to me to lend great support to orthodox doctrine. For them to suggest that Hebrew theology developed over time, and to try to understand how, is nowise innovative; indeed, this development is one of the basic narrative threads of the Old Testament.

      And, finally, try as I might I can find nothing heterodox in the notion that YHWH may be distinguished from El, any more than I can find heterodoxy in the notion that the Logos or the Son may be distinguished from the Father and the Holy Ghost. Is there in that distinction some heterodox consequence that you can identify? I’d be glad to hear of it.

      As for citations from Scripture, Jesus identifies himself as YHWH in the passages already cited above, and as the Son in so many passages as to make citation superfluous. I conclude that, as both identical with Jesus, YHWH and the Son are likewise identical with each other: ((A = B) & (B = C)) → (A = C). But Jesus differentiates himself from the Father, by praying to him, for example (his cry of dereliction from the Cross being perhaps the clincher in this respect, even if we take it, as an invocation of the whole of Psalm 22, to be therefore also a triumphant cry of faith and of dedication to his consecration as a victim). ((A = B = C) & (B ≠ D)) → ((C ≠ D) & (A ≠ D)).

      It’s not quite that simple, of course, for “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). But it is certainly heterodox – indeed, it is apostasy – to believe that Jesus might have been mistaken when he identified himself with YHWH and the Son, and distinguished himself from the Father. What’s a thoughtful Council of Fathers to do about this conundrum?

      Both perspectives are captured and clarified, and reconciled, in the doctrine of the Trinity, for which their apparent contradiction cried out as a solution. As I’ve already noted in this thread, and indeed in the original post, under that doctrine the Father and the Son have everything in common except Fatherhood and Sonship, so that it makes perfectly good sense to say of the Son that he is God (this being the sense of the term “El”), and of the Father that he is the great “I AM” (this being the sense of the term “EHYEH”). The fact that it does make good theological sense to use these terms in reference either to the Father or the Son suffices to account for the fact that the OT often does just that. But that the OT does often do just that in no way undermines the notion that at one point early in their history of emergence from polytheism the Hebrews thought of YHWH and El as distinct beings, the former being the angel, son and vassal of the latter, and that over time, realizing more and more that YHWH was the Only Begotten Son of El, they came more and more to identify the two as one being, as we now do, the one unutterably transcendent, invisible, hid from our eyes, the other Present, manifest and visible in Jesus our Great High Priest, in the Temple, the Shewbread, the Cosmos at large, and so forth.

      • No one has disputed that Jesus identified himself as “I AM.” The point of dispute is whether the Hebrews distinguished YHWH and El as two separate beings at some point, then evolved away from this view. You continually refer to the point that is not in dispute while failing to substantiate the other point. Furthermore, to claim that the Hebrews emerged from polytheism implies that God failed to communicate his nature clearly beginning in the earliest revelations to the patriarchs. I consider this heterodox. Can you cite catechism or any other orthodox reference to substantiate such a claim?

      • … to claim that the Hebrews emerged from polytheism implies that God failed to communicate his nature clearly beginning in the earliest revelations to the patriarchs.

        No; that just doesn’t follow at all. A claim about the Hebrews is not a claim about God. Like the Israelites, you and I err about God. Does that imply that God errs?

        Given Jezebel, Solomon, the Golden Calf, the book of Hosea, on and on, I am having a hard time understanding your difficulty with the notion that Israel had to struggle to get out of polytheism. Why is this idea either difficult to substantiate Scripturally, or hard to swallow? I mean, it’s all over the place.

        It appears that, to you, the logic of the commutation operating in God’s statements about himself in the Gospel of John does not signify. You don’t notice it, at any rate, even to dispute it.

        In Deuteronomy 32:8-9 in the Greek of the LXX and the Hebrew of Qumran – not, note, the later, and in many instances apparently tendentious Masoretic of the Pharisaic rabbis – we read:

        8 When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.
        9 And his people Jacob became the portion of the LORD, Israel was the line of his inheritance.

        “LORD” is the way that the Hebrew “Adonai” is generally translated into English; and “Adonai” was used by the Hebrews to refer to YHWH without actually transcribing the Tetragrammaton. This is why many translations of the OT use “Jehovah” in verse 9, rather than, “LORD.”

        It seems then that the original authors of Deuteronomy understood YHWH as numbered among the angels or sons of the Most High.

        An angel of the Most High is not the same sort of thing as the Most High, simpliciter. If these two sorts of things were really only one sort of thing, the OT would never have distinguished between the two concepts to begin with, and we would never have heard there any talk of angels. But it everywhere does.

        NB however that even though they differ, an angel of the Most High can indeed be the same thing as the Most High. Under the doctrine of the Trinity, the idea that YHWH is an angel of God in the Highest *simply does not conflict* with the notion that “YHWH” and “El Elyon” refer to different aspects of one being, in just the way that “Son” and “Father” refer to different Persons of one Being.

        So, if you wanted to argue back that verse 9 indicates that El Elyon kept Israel for himself, I would agree with you.

      • It took me a while to understand your argument from Deuteronomy 32:8-9, until I realized that this is partly of matter of presuppositions, and you are assuming that which must be proven. Apparently you are reading verse 9 to mean that YHWH is separate from The Most High of verse 8, and that the nation of Israel was reserved for YHWH as opposed to the Most High. Given the presupposition that Hebrews at the time believed that Most High and YHWH were separate beings, then this might be a natural reading. Given the presupposition that Most High and YHWH are two references to the same being, this is far from a natural reading. Hebrew authors often alternated references; note the use of “Jacob” and “Israel” in verse 9, rather than simply repeating a single name twice. Without your presupposition, verses 8-9 merely say that God ordained that there should be many nations, but one of them would belong to Him in a special way.

        In addition, there is a difference between a name and a title or epithet. Thus, Adonai, translated Lord, is a reference to God, but is not the NAME of God. It is a title or epithet. YHWH is explictly declared to be the name of God. Various epithets are used of God, such as Rock, Fortress, Redeemer, etc. Rarely, an epithet can even be used in a grammatical construction in the way that a name would be used, e.g. in Numbers 2:20 appears the name Pedazhur, which means “Rock is my Redeemer.” It is more common for Hebrew names to contain El, a name of God. So, El is a name for God, as is YHWH, and Elyon (Most High) is an epithet, as are Adonai et al. We can conclude that God has two names that are commonly used in scripture (El and YHWH) and numerous epithets, some of which are used (rarely) in name form. The question remains: Does the use of two names (rarely, more than two) for God imply that Hebrews conceived of more than one deity and gradually had to be weaned from this belief? If we assume that which must be proven, then we will apply that presupposition to every passage that contains El and YHWH and confirm our presupposition. If we do not assume any such thing, then such passages (Deuteronomy 32:8-9, for example) will communicate no such thing to us. (Nor will such passages communicate to us that Jacob and Israel were two separate nations, when we understand the general pattern of Hebrew parallelism while avoiding exact repetition.)

        As an aside, Deuteronomy 32 is the covenant song of Moses, so I personally feel no need for vague references to the “early authors of Deuteronomy” in this case.

      • You are proposing that the books ascribed to Moses include expressions of theological error …

        No. I am proposing that the Israelites gradually discerned the true state of theological affairs, so that by the time the Pentateuch was composed, they had it properly figured out: there is one Most High God, and many angels; one Deity, many divinities. The key step in that pre-Mosaic process of doctrinal development came with the discovery that their national divinity, YHWH, was – unlike the gods of the other nations – *the same being* as the Most High God, El Elyon, to whom Abraham made sacrifice at Jerusalem with Melchizedek – “Righteous Angel” – and with whom he communed in a meal of bread and wine.

        Nothing in this notion suggests either heterodoxy or Biblical errancy.

        To be sure, it is for us moderns strange to think of YHWH as an angel, who can stand in the assembly of the Sons of El, or picnic with Abraham at Mamre. But it was not strange to the peoples of the ancient Near East. And, it is certainly no more strange than to think of YHWH as a man, who can stand in the assembly of the Sons of Israel at Nazareth, or lunch with his friends at Emmaus. If God can be a man, then he can certainly be an angel as well.

        Apparently you are reading verse 9 to mean that YHWH is separate from The Most High of verse 8, and that the nation of Israel was reserved for YHWH as opposed to the Most High.

        Not quite. I apprehend no such opposition. I see nothing to suggest that the apportionment of Israel to YHWH was not ipso facto her apportionment to El. YHWH is not properly speaking a different being than El.

        The following passage from the Wikipedia page on Elyon admirably sets forth two different interpretations of Deuteronomy 32:8-9:

        This passage appears to identify ʿElyōn with Elohim, but not necessarily with Yahweh. It can be read to mean that ʿElyōn separated mankind into 70 nations according to his 70 sons (the 70 sons of Ēl being mentioned in the Ugaritic texts), each of these sons to be the tutelary god over one of the 70 nations, one of them being the god of Israel, Yahweh. Alternatively, it may mean that ʿElyōn, having given the other nations to his sons, now takes Israel for himself under his name of God.

        It seems to me that you take the second interpretation to be correct, and as ruling out the first; and that you take me to be saying that the first is correct, and rules out the second. But what I am really saying is that *both* interpretations are correct. The genius of this passage is that it can be read both ways. I would suggest that it *should* be read both ways, and that there is, not contradiction, but profound agreement between them – an agreement which is spelled out at last in the Nicene Creed.

        Re your aside on “early authors of Deuteronomy,” I meant to indicate only the writers who influenced the text prior to the Incarnation – Moses, his secretaries and scribes, copyists, editors and redactors (and indeed even curators and librarians) down through the centuries, the 70 translators of the LXX, and so forth. All would naturally have contributed one way or another (if only by copying errors) to the exact text treated by Jesus and the Apostles as authoritative scripture – i.e., the LXX – but I find no difficulty in ascribing all such effects to the ordaining power of the Holy Spirit.

        Later authors of Deuteronomy would include all those who influenced the text after the Resurrection: the compilers of the Masoretic, St. Jerome, the translators of the KJV, Tolkien (who had a hand in the New English Bible), et alia. Their efforts too must ex hypothesi have been guided by the Holy Spirit, as are all things. But for my money, and that of the Orthodox communion, the LXX is pretty much the final word on the OT; for, as the Evangelists tell us, God himself takes it as his own canonical Word.

      • If the Israelites had it figured out properly prior to the writing of the Pentateuch, then why would there be any indication of the earlier, incorrect understanding in the Pentateuch?

      • Well, in saying that “the Israelites had it properly figured out,” I didn’t mean that *all* the Israelites had it nailed! The category error of thinking YHWH was *just* a god like the other gods of the nations is evident, not in the doctrines set forth in scripture, but in the scriptural descriptions of Israelite behavior. E.g., the episode of the Golden Calf in Exodus. If the Israelites had all been clear on the concept that Moses was teaching them, it would never have occurred to them to sacrifice to the god represented by the calf.

      • I should have been more specific. Let’s stick to our running example, the covenant song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, specifically verses 8-9. Did Moses have it figured out by the time he composed this song? If so, why would the song reflect an earlier misunderstanding?

      • It doesn’t. It reflects the correct understanding in which the doctrine of the Trinity is implicit:

        ʿElyōn separated mankind into 70 nations according to his 70 sons, each of these sons to be the tutelary god over one of the 70 nations, one of them being the god of Israel, [Yahweh; and,] ʿElyōn, having given the other nations to his sons, now takes Israel for himself under his name of God.

        It’s both.

      • You had asked for a citation to Scripture that gave evidence that the Hebrews had ever distinguished between El and YHWH, and that passage does.

        I emphasize again that to distinguish between El and YHWH is not to say that they are separate beings, any more than to distinguish between the Father and the Son is to say that they are separate beings.

    • Let’s take Solomon as an example. There is a difference between saying that Solomon was led astray into idolatry by his many wives, and saying that when Solomon wrote canonical scripture, he expressed idolatrous beliefs. The first statement is directly supported by scripture; Solomon did indeed get led astray into idolatry and is used as a cautionary example to us (e.g. see I Kings 11:1-13).

      However, we would be startled to find in one of Solomon’s proverbs an exhortation to worship Astarte. That would call into question the inerrancy of scripture, the meaning of canonical with respect to such books, etc. Those who believe in scriptural inerrancy do no deny the terrible things done by some of the human authors of scripture, but we do not think that God permitted their errors to be TAUGHT in scripture.

      You are proposing that the books ascribed to Moses include expressions of theological error that are not condemned or corrected. Rather, we just notice that later on other books do a better job on these matters. This is an entirely different matter than saying that David, Solomon, et al. fell into error in their own lives but did not express those errors when writing scripture.

      I will address Deuteronomy 32:8-9 separately.

  8. Kristor talks about the development of the Hebrews’ understanding of God; our (i.e., Christian) understanding has developed with time as well. This is yet another instantiation of Mark 4:22:

    For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.

    We’re supposed to find out, but we will find out on God’s timetable, not our own.

  9. Pingback: The Name of the Word | The Orthosphere

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