Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus as the Divine Son of God – A Markan Perspective Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where we left off.

Lest we be accused of reading too much into the text of Daniel, we cite the words of Orthodox Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin. Although his views of the Holy Bible are more liberal and critical than conservative, his lengthy comments concerning the text of Daniel are nonetheless relevant and worth quoting in full:

“In this remarkable text, we find the prophet Daniel having a vision in which there are two divine figures, one who is depicted as an old man, an Ancient of Days, sitting on the throne. We have been told, however, that there is more than one throne there, and sure enough a second divine figure, in form ‘like a human being,’ is brought on the clouds of heaven and invested by the Ancient of Days in a ceremony very much like the passing of the torch from elder king to younger in ancient Near Eastern royal ceremonial and the passing of the torch from older gods to younger ones in their myths…

“We can begin to see here a notion about redemption that is quite different from the expectation of the restoration of a Davidic king on the throne of Jerusalem. What this text projects is a second divine figure to whom will be given eternal dominion of the entire world, of a restored entire world in which this eternal king’s guidance and rule will be in accord, completely and finally, with the will of the Ancient of Days as well. Although this Redeemer figure is not called the Messiah–this name for him will have to wait for later reflections on this Danielic vision, as we shall see below–it brings us close to at least some of the crucial characteristics of the figure named later the Messiah or the Christ.

“What are these characteristics?

  • He is divine.
  • He is divine in human form.
  • He may very well be portrayed as a younger-appearing divinity than the Ancient of Days.
  • He will be enthroned on high.
  • He is given power and dominion, even sovereignty on earth.

All of these are characteristics of Jesus Christ as he will appear in the Gospels, and they appear in this text more than a century and a half [sic] before the birth of Jesus. Moreover, they have been further developed within Jewish traditions between the Book of Daniel and the Gospels. At a certain point these traditions became merged in Jewish minds with the expectation of a return of a Davidic king and the idea of a divine-human Messiah was born. This figure was then named ‘Son of Man,’ alluding to his origins in the divine figure named ‘one like a Son of Man/a human being’ in Daniel. In other words, a simile, a God who looks like a human being (literally Son of Man) has become the name for that God, who is now called ‘Son of Man,’ a reference to his human-appearing divinity…” (Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ [The New Press, New York, NY 2012], pp. 31-33; bold emphasis ours)


“There are many variations of traditions about this figure in the Gospels themselves and in other early Jewish texts. Some Jews had been expecting this Redeemer to be a human exalted to the state of divinity, while others were expecting a divinity to come down to earth and take on human form; some believers in Jesus believed the Christ had been born as an ordinary human and then exalted to divine status, while others believed him to have been a divinity who came down to earth. Either way, we end up with a doubled godhead and a human-divine combination as the expected Redeemer.*…” (Ibid, p. 34; bold emphasis ours)

In a footnote he states:

* In these ideas lie the seed that would eventually grow into doctrines of the Trinity and incarnation in all of their later variations, variations that are inflected as well by Greek philosophical thinking; the seeds, however, were sown by Jewish apocalyptic writings. (Ibid)

He goes on to write the following:

“In this prophetic narrative, we see two divine figures, one who is clearly marked as an ancient and one who has the appearance of a young human being. The younger one has his own throne (that’s why there is more than one throne set up to start with), and he is invested by the older one with dominion, glory, and kingship over all the peoples of the world; not only that, but it is an eternal kingship forever and ever. This is the vision that will become in the fullness of time the story of the Father and the Son.

“From the earliest layers of interpretation and right up to modern times, some interpreters have deemed the ‘one like a son of man’ a symbol of a collective, namely, the faithful Israelites at the time of the Maccabean revolt, when the Book of Daniel was probably written [sic]. Other interpreters have insisted that the ‘[one like a] son of man’ is a second divine figure alongside the Ancient of Days and not an allegorical symbol of the People of Israel. We find in Aphrahat, the fourth century Iranian Father of the Church, the following attack on the interpretation (presumably by Jews) that makes the ‘one like a son of man’ out to be the People of Israel: ‘Have the children of Israel received the kingdom of the Most High? God forbid! Or has that people come on the clouds of heaven?’ (Demonstration 5:21) Aphrahat’s argument is exegetical and very much to the point. Clouds–as well as riding on or with clouds–are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (Greek for ‘God appearances’) by scholars. J.A. Emerton had made the point decisively: ‘The act of coming with clouds suggests a theophany of Yahwe himself. If Dan. vii. 13 does not refer to a divine being then it is the only exception out of about seventy passages in the O[ld] T[estament].’ It is almost impossible to read the narrative here of the setting up of thrones, the appearance of the Ancient of Days on one of them, and the coming to him of the one like a son of man apart from the stories of the investiture of young gods by their elders, of close gods by transcendent ones. Some modern scholars support Aphrahat unequivocally. As New Testament scholar Matthew Black puts it bluntly, ‘This, in effect, means that Dan. 7 KNOWS OF TWO DIVINITIES, the Head of Days and the Son of Man.’ Those two divinities, in the course of time, would end up being the first two persons of the Trinity.” (Ibid, 39-40; bold and capital emphasis ours)

There is much more that Boyarin has to say about this subject, some of which include:

“Ancient Jewish readers might well have reasoned, as the Church Father Aphrahat did, that since the theme of riding on the clouds indicates a divine being in every other instance in the Tanakh (the Jewish name for the Hebrew Bible), we should read this one too as the revelation of God, A SECOND GOD, as it were. The implication is, of course, that there are two such divine figures in heaven, the old Ancient of Days and the young one like a son of man. Such Jews would have had to explain, then, what it means for this divine figure to be given into the power of the fourth beast for ‘a time, two times, and a half of a time.’ A descent into hell–or at any rate to the realm of death–for three days would be one fine answer to that question.

“The Messiah-Christ existed as a Jewish idea long before the baby Jesus was born in Nazareth. That is, the idea of A SECOND GOD as a viceroy to God the Father is ONE OF THE OLDEST OF THEOLOGICAL IDEAS IN ISRAEL. Daniel 7 brings into the present a fragment of what is perhaps THE MOST ANCIENT OF RELIGIOUS VISIONS OF ISRAEL THAT WE CAN FIND…” (Ibid, p. 44; bold and capital emphasis ours)


“The two-thrones apocalypse in Daniel calls up a very ANCIENT strand in Israel’s religion, one in which, it would seem, the ‘El-like sky god of justice and the younger rider on the clouds, the storm of god of war, have not really been merged as they are for the most of the Bible. I find it plausible that this highly significant passage is a sign of the religious traditions that gave rise to the notion of a Father divinity and a Son divinity that we find in the Gospels.

“Taking the two-throne vision out of the context of Daniel 7 as a whole, we find several crucial elements: (1) there are two thrones; (2) there are two divine figures, one apparently old and one apparently young; (3) the young figure is to be the Redeemer and eternal ruler of the world. It would certainly not be wrong to suggest, I think, that even if the actual notion of the Messiah/Christ is not yet present here, the notion of a divinely appointed divine king over earth is, and that this has great potential for understanding the development of the Messiah/Christ notion in later Judaism (including Christianity, of course). The SECOND-GOD Redeemer figure thus comes, on my view, OUT OF THE EARLIER HISTORY OF ISRAEL’S RELIGION. Once the messiah had been combined with the younger divine figure that we have found in Daniel 7, then it became natural to ascribe to him also the term ‘Son of God.’ The occupant of one throne was ancient, the occupant of the other a young figure in human form. The older one invests the younger one with His own authority on earth forever and ever, passing the scepter to him. What could be more natural, then, than to adopt the older usage ‘Son of God,’ already ascribed to the Messiah in his role as the Davidic king of Israel, and understanding it more literally as the sign of equal divinity of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man? Thus, the Son of Man became the Son of God, and the ‘Son of God’ became the name for Jesus’ divine nature–AND ALL WITHOUT ANY BREAK WITH ANCIENT JEWISH TRADITION.

“The theology of the Gospels, far from being a radical innovation within Israelite religious tradition, is a HIGHLY CONSERVATIVE return to the very MOST ANCIENT moments within that tradition, moments that had largely been suppressed in the meantime–but not entirely. The identification of the rider on the clouds with the one like a son of man in Daniel provides that name and image of the Son of Man in the Gospels as well. It follows that the ideas about God that we identify as Christian are not innovations but may be deeply connected with some of THE MOST ANCIENT of Israelite ideas about God. These ideas at the very least go back to an entirely plausible (and attested) reading of Daniel 7 and thus to the second century B.C. [sic] at the latest. They may even be a whole lot older than that.” (Ibid, pp. 46-47; bold and capital emphasis ours)

In a footnote, Boyarin mentions and comments on some of the later rabbinic reflections on Daniel 7:13-14:

* Note that at least some of the later Rabbis also read this passage as a theophany (self-revelation of God). The following passage from the Babylonian Talmud (fifth or sixth century) clearly shows this and cites earlier Rabbis as well as seeing an important moment in the doctrine of God emerging here.

One verse reads: “His throne is sparks of fire” (Dan. 7:9) and another [part of the] verse reads, “until thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days sat” (7:9). This is not difficulty: One was for him and one was for David.

As we learn in an ancient tradition: One for him and one for David; these are the words of Rabbi Aqiva. Rabbi Yose the Galilean said to him: Aqiva! Until when will you make the Shekhina profane? Rather. One was for judging and one was for mercy.

Did he accept it from him, or did he not?

Come and hear! One for judging and one for mercy, these are the words of Rabbi Aqiva. [BT Hagiga 14a]

Whatever the precise interpretation of this talmudic passage (and I have discussed this at length elsewhere), there may be little doubt that both portrayed Rabbis understood that the Daniel passage was a theophany: “Rabbi Aqiva” perceives two divine figures in heaven, one God the Father and one an apotheozied King David. No wonder that “Rabbi Yose the Galilean” was shocked. In an article in the Harvard Theological Review, I have presented the bases for my own conclusion that such was the original meaning of the text as well; see Daniel Boyarin, “Daniel 7, Intertextuality, and the History of Israel’s Cult,” forthcoming. (Ibid, pp. 40-41; bold emphasis ours)

Concluding Remarks

We have seen that, contrary to the assertions of the Muslim polemicists, Mark doesn’t portray Jesus as God’s Son in the sense of his being a righteous servant and prophet of God. The several passages that we briefly examined clearly demonstrated that Jesus is the pre-existent Son of God who is the very human manifestation of Yahweh God.

This shows that Mark’s portrait of Jesus as the divine Son of God is consistent with John’s depiction of Christ. For instance, like Mark, John presents Jesus as God’s beloved Son and Heir whom the Father is pleased with:

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” John 3:35

“And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” John 8:29

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,” John 13:3

All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:15

“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them… Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.’” John 17:1-2, 10, 24

And, just as in Mark, the religious leaders in John wanted to have Jesus put to death for claiming to be God’s Son:

“The Jewish leaders insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’” John 19:7

The reason why they did so is exactly the same as in Mark. John’s Gospel explains that the establishment viewed Jesus’ statements to be blasphemous since they could see that he was making himself out to be God’s Son in such a way as to be essentially one with, and therefore equal to, God the Father.

For example, Jesus argued that as God’s unique Son he possesses the same divine right that the Father does to work on the Sabbath, and is actually capable of doing everything that the Father does:

“The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” John 5:15-21

Jesus also taught that he is the Son who is one with the Father in the act of giving eternal life to his flock, and in preserving them from ever perishing:

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father WE ARE one (hen esmen).’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’ Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.” John 10:25-39

Hence, there can be no denying that Mark and John (as well as Matthew and Luke which we didn’t have time to look at) are in complete agreement concerning Jesus’ divine identity.

In light of the foregoing, it is time for these Muslim apologists to come up with some better arguments since their claim that the earlier Gospels do not present Jesus as the unique, divine Son of God is simply erroneous to say the least. The fact of the matter is that all of the Gospels portray Jesus as Yahweh Incarnate, and therefore agree that he is the eternally preexistent Son of God who became man for the redemption of his people.

Amen! Come Lord Jesus, come! We bear witness that you are the beloved Son of God and risen Lord whom all the nations must, and eventually will, worship to the glory of God the Father! By your perfect grace, we shall love and adore you as Lord forever and ever! Amen!

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though existing in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited, but made himself nothing, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11