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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 58, 2010

BENJAMIN E. REYNOLDS, The Apocalyptic Son of Man in the Gospel of John (WUNT 2/249; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). Pp. xv + 314. Clothback. 64.00.

The Apocalyptic Son of Man in the Gospel of John is a revised version of Benjamin Reynolds’ Ph.D. thesis that was completed at the University of Aberdeen in 2007. It comprises an introduction, two parts and a conclusion. Reynolds states in his Introduction (10), “A need exists for a study that thoroughly investigates the possible relationship between the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7, the interpretations of the Danielic figure, and the Johannine Son of Man,” and this is what Reynolds attempts to do. It is the links with the figure in Daniel and subsequent apocalypses that attract the adjective “apocalyptic” to the Johannine Son of Man.

Part One is entitled, “The ‘One Like a Son of Man’ and the Interpretations of this figure in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and Early Christianity.” It considers the apposite passages in the MT, the OG and Theodotion of Daniel 7, the Similitudes of Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, 4Q246 (in an Excursus), Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts and Revelation. Three criteria were used when deciding which works to include, viz. Jewish and Christian works from between 150 BCE and 100 CE which verbally allude to Daniel 7 and which describe a figure reminiscent of Daniel 7 even when the phrase ‘son of man” is not used (20). Reynolds concludes that in the Jewish texts that follow Daniel, the son of man figure is often pre-existent and heavenly, is the Messiah, executes judgement, is like God in some way and gathers the righteous, although there are variations in interpretation between the texts. The Christian works have similar features and also exhibit variations amongst their interpretations, although all portray Jesus as the son of man. The Synoptic Gospels have a present and a future advent of the son of man and, along with Revelation, present him as dying and rising again. Luke’s Gospel stresses his soteriological function and necessary suffering. While, in common with current thinking on the son of man figure, Reynolds denies that a unified concept exists, his work demonstrates that there is a strong similarity in the way that the figure is presented in all texts.

Part Two, by far the longest, is entitled “The Son of Man in the Gospel of John.” In it Reynolds examines all the passages in John’s Gospel that feature the son of man and finds that they portray him as having similar characteristics to those attributed to him in the Jewish and Christian works examined in Part One. In addition, distinctive features appear, including a much stronger emphasis upon his present activity in terms of judgement and salvation, although there is still a belief in a future final judgement. Another distinctive feature is the son of man’s exaltation and glorification at death. Reynolds then reflects upon his findings under two headings. First, “The Significance of the Apocalyptic Son of Man for Johannine Christology,” revisits the questions of whether the title “son of man” promotes Jesus’ humanity, whether “son of man” and “son of God” are identical and whether the title “son of man” is central to Johannine Christology and responds negatively to all of them. Under the second heading, “Some Implications of the Apocalyptic Son of Man in John,” Reynolds points out that as far as the “son of man” is concerned, the picture in John’s Gospel is closer to that of the Synoptics than hitherto thought and that both “present what could be described as a Christianized interpretation of the Danielic son of man” (226). Further, Reynolds puts forward the suggestion that although John’s Gospel is different to the usual apocalypse in that Jesus is not just God’s mediator but also is identified with God, the Gospel itself should be described as an apocalyptic Gospel. Finally Reynolds refutes the notion that the “son of man” in John indicates either a docetic or anti-docetic tendency on the part of the Evangelist.

Overall, The Apocalyptic Son of Man in the Gospel of John is a scholarly work that has been well executed. An appendix with tables listing both the common characteristics of the son of man in the works studied and then the uncommon characteristics should prove useful to the scholar and student. The bibliography extends to twenty-three pages and there are indices of all Biblical and extra-Biblical passages, of all cited authors, and of subjects and key terms referred to. Typographical errors are at a minimum although a disturbing one occurs on p. 53 where it is said the man from the sea in 4 Ezra “carves out a mountain with his hands (13.6), which is something God does in Daniel 2.34, 44.” However, the cited verses in Daniel say “without hands.” Nevertheless, the book sets out to prove a thesis and certainly comes close to doing so. Whether it is correct in its entirety depends upon whether Reynolds has extracted as much as can be extracted from Daniel about the son of man figure who appears there, for all else in the book rests upon that foundation.

Review by
Dr Anne E. Gardner
History Program
La Trobe University
Bundoora VIC 3086
E-mail: A.Gardner@latrobe.edu.au