Is the Son of Man Pre-existent and Enthroned?

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The January/February 2011 issue of BAR featured a book review, written by James C. VanderKam, of King and Messiah as Son of God. We then received a letter from J. Harold Ellens, retired professor of philosophy and psychology at Calvin Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, wishing to clarify the terms and concepts used to describe the Son of Man in the ancient literature. Dr. Ellens’s letter is below, followed by responses from the book’s authors, Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins.



Dr. Ellens’s letter:

In your superb January/February 2011 issue, you published a welcome book review of Adela Yarbro Collins’s and John J. Collins’s King and Messiah as Son of God. The review was written by James C. VanderKam. The review is in many ways quite helpful and the book itself is genuinely useful for our field. However, there is in this review, and in the volume itself, an error that seems to surface frequently when a discussion of Second Temple Judaism is involved regarding the concept of the Son of Man. The review contends that the Son of Man in 1 Enoch, and by implication in Daniel 7, as well as 4 Ezra and other documents, is pre-existent and enthroned. More care must be taken regarding this issue. Nowhere in Second Temple Jewish literature is the Son of Man both pre-existent and enthroned. In Daniel 7–9 he is neither pre-existent nor enthroned. He simply appears in the presence of God in Daniel’s vision sometime around 535 B.C.E. and is given authority and power, but no throne. In 1 Enoch he is enthroned but not pre-existent. Only the idea of the Son of Man and his name is pre-existent in the mind of God in 1 Enoch. Enoch is there named the Son of Man. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Son of Man seems possibly to be enthroned but is not pre-existent. He starts out as a human on earth and ends up in heaven as the Judge (enthroned?). In the final redaction of John’s gospel, with its prologue and final chapters, the Son of Man is pre-existent (1:1–3), and in the end exalted, but not described as enthroned. Many scholars continue to make these mistakes, as in this review. We should let the texts, in each case, say exactly what they literally say.

Dr. J. Harold Ellens
Retired Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at Calvin Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary
Founding Editor, Emeritus Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Farmington Hills, Michigan



Adela Yarbro Collins responds:

The Son of Man is quite clearly expected to be enthroned when all things are renewed (Matthew 19:28). In Mark the Son of Man is very probably expected to be enthroned at some point after Jesus’ death, since he is described as “seated on the right of the Power,” i.e., God (Mark 14:62). The same is true of Luke 22:69. Although it is not stated explicitly, it is likely that the Son of Man is depicted as enthroned for the future judgment in Luke 21:36. Those being judged will “stand” before the judge, the Son of Man, who is expected to be seated.

John J. Collins responds:

I have three brief comments on Hal Ellens’s letter:

1. While the point is tangential to the issue at hand, no critical scholar can date Daniel’s visions to “some time about 535 B.C.E.” They date from the time of the Maccabean revolt in the second century B.C.E.

2. The statement “only the idea of the Son of Man and his name is pre-existent in the mind of God” fails to understand the relation of the name to the person. The naming of his name is a form of pre-existence.

3. Whether the identification of Enoch with the Son of Man is integral to the Similitudes of Enoch is perhaps the most controversial question in the study of 1 Enoch. It is found only in the last chapter of the work (chapter 71), and even there the interpretation is disputed. There are good literary reasons for regarding that chapter as a secondary addition to the Similitudes. Prior to that chapter, there is no hint that Enoch is identical with the Son of Man, or that he is seeing himself in his visions. The interpretation of chapter 71 is admittedly disputed, and this is one issue on which Professor VanderKam and I disagree.

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  • Arlington says

    I’ve read and studied the book of Enoch It is my belief that the son of man dwelled with God before the sixth day creation and we where part of him before creation his very essence was the breath of live or God gave part of himself so we could return to him that gave himself.

  • JN says

    Further, Talmudic sources refer to two messiahs, a Messiah ben-Yosef and a Messiah Ben -David. One pre-existent and one enthroned. There are not two messiahs, but One with two roles. Past present and future. Adonai melech, Adonai malach Adonai yimloch leolam vaed. The reigns, the Lord reigned and the Lord Will reign forever more.

  • JN says

    You may not consider the Book of Enoch scripture, but that’s just your consideration. It’s actually quite racist to make that assumption. Ethiopians have regarded the Book of Enoch as scripture long before you and western civilization even knew it existed. Geez is a language that predates Hebrew and Aramaic for some 1500 years. Also, long before their ever was a Jew, there existed a Temple where the descendants of Enoch, worshipped “El Elyon” G-d on high, after the order of Melchezedek, with no father or mother, on the Holy mountain of Zion. So, yes, Son of man is pre-existent as the reference to “Son of Man” is a reference to the people who knew G-d before time even began. And “Son of man” is enthroned, as Sovereign people. Before men began to shape G-d into the image of mortal men, G-d’s likeness and image had already been depicted in the special Holy people “Son of man” refers to.

  • Jerry says

    I agree with the response of Adela Yarbro Collins. Likewise, the Old Testament did not reveal several mysteries about Jesus the Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man. The New Testament reveals these mysteries. Together with what Mr. Collins said, and the next five verses from the Holy Bible, show the pre-existence and enthronement of Jesus;

    John 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
    John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
    John 17:5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
    1Pe 1:19-20 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,

    And lastly, the written Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the 39 books in the OT, and the 27 books in the NT. Other writings such as the book of Enoch are not Holy Scripture and should not be included with serious study of the Bible. It should be considered a Gnostic type writing.

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