Jens Schröter on Jesus’ use of the Son of Man Expression as Aufmerksamkeitssignal

Today’s model sentence is excerpted from Jens Schröter‘s attractive attempt to answer the Gretchenfrage of the Son of Man Problem in his book Jesus of Nazareth – Jew From Galilee, Savior of the World (2014)Jesus von Nazaret: Jude aus Galiläa – Retter der Welt (1st = 2006; 4th = 2012).

For my other posts on this book, see here. For all my Schröterposts, see here.

Jesus of Nazareth (p. 167): The Son of Man expression can then be placed into the profile of the activity of Jesus as follows: Jesus used this expression in such a way that with it the distinctive character of precisely his activity was stressed … Thus, Jesus used the expression “Son of Man” rather than merely saying “I” in order to point to the distinctiveness of his person: everything that took place through him and toward him was of singular significance because as the representative of God he established God’s reign and confronted human beings with the decision over salvation and judgment. Thus, one can understand Jesus’ use as an attention-attracting signal with which he pointed to the distinctiveness of his person.

Jesus von Nazaret (4th edition, p. 254-255): Der Menschensohnausdruck lässt sich dann folgendermaßen in das Profil des Wirkens Jesu einzeichnen … Jesus benutzt demnach den Ausdruck “Menschensohn” und sagte nicht einfach “ich”, um damit auf die Besonderheit seiner Person hinzuweisen: Alles, was sich durch ihn und an ihm ereignete, war deshalb von einzigartiger Bedeutung, weil er als Repräsentant Gottes dessen Reich aufrichtete und die Menschen mit der Entscheidung über Heil und Unheil konfrontierte. Man kann die Verwendung durch Jesus also als ein Aufmerksamkeitssignal verstehen, mit dem er auf die Besonderheit seiner Person hinwies.

Grammatical Analysis: the subject is Menschensohnausdruck/Son of Man expression. I usually translate the expression lässt sich + infinitive (here: einzeichnen) as can be verb-ed (here: “can be placed into” or “can be sketched into”). dann = then. folgendermaßen = as follows. in das Profil (acc) + des Wirkens (genitive) + Jesu (genitive) goes with einzeichnen: can be placed/sketched into the profile of the activity of Jesus. Jesus is the subject and benuzt/uses is the verb. With a view to readability, I translated demnach as “thus” rather than “according to this”. den Ausdruck/the expression is the object of the verb and Menschensohn/Son of Man represents the expression that is in view. I translated und sagte nicht einfach (and said not simply) as “rather than merely saying” with a view to English style. “ich” = “I”. um + zu + infinitive = in order to verb: the zu is found in the verb at the end (hinzuweisen = zu hinweisen = “in order to point to”). I left damit untranslated: I sometimes translate damit with “thereby” or “in this way”. auf goes with the verb (to point to); it takes the accusative die Besonderheit/the distinctiveness + genitive seiner Person/of his person. Alles, was = everything which/that (I chose “that” because it seems to me that the clause is defining rather than non-defining). sich ereignete is the verb (happened/took place); durch ihn = through him. an ihm is more difficult and I’ve never discovered a great way to capture the sense in English, since “on him” doesn’t work so well and “toward him” or “to him” is not much better; sometimes I use “in relation to him”. war von Bedeutung = was of importance/significance + einzigartiger = was of singular or unique significance. deshalb/weil literally means  “therefore/for this reason …. because” but in this construction it is probably better to leave deshalb untranslated. weil/because introduces a subordinate clause and therefore the verbs aufrichtete/established and konfrontierte/confronted move to the end of their sentence segments. als Repräsentant Gottes = as representative God; in English it seemed necessary to write “as the representative of God”, though it probably would have been better to translate this phrase with “as God’s representative”. dessen Reich is the object of aufrichtete: established his reign/kingdom. In the context, his = God’s. Given the German word choice it may have been preferable to translate Reich as kingdom, but the translation really depends on knowing what emphasis the author wants to set with each use of this term. die Menschen = “people” or “human beings” is the object of konfrontierte. mit + dative (der Entscheidung) goes with konfrontierte = “confront … with the decision”, which is defined further via the preposition über/over + the two objects of the preposition, namely Heil/salvation and Unheil/judgment. Unfortunately, the word “unsalvation” doesn’t exist in English, so it is necessary use a word such as “judgment”, “ruin” or “disaster”: one of the the latter options may be preferable. Man = one or people. Man kann …x…als … verstehen = “one can understand x” or “x can be understood as”: the latter is often preferable despite the change from active to passive. die Verwendung (object of verstehen) = the use; durch Jesus = by Jesus: it would have been possible to alter the syntax and simply write “Jesus’ use”. also = thus/therefore (not “also”, which is a false friend): in English it is often best to move “Thus” to the beginning of the sentence. als ein Aufmerksamkeitssignal = “as an attention-attracting signal”: it is in the same case as die Verwendung (accusative), which would make it an object complement in Greek, but I’m not sure if this is the way one would speak of this construction in German/English. mit dem = with which. It introduces a subordinate clause and the verb hinwies (from hinweisen) moves to the end: with which er/he … points + auf/to + accusative die Besonderheit/the distinctiveness + genitive seiner Person/of his person.

Substantive analysis: I am attracted to and convinced by Schröter’s interpretation of Jesus’ use of the Son of Man expression as an Aufmerksamkeitssignal, which I think makes good sense of what we find in the narratives of the Gospels and good sense of what seems likely for the earthly Jesus.

Let me conclude today’s post by giving a plug for my wife Ingie Hovland‘s latest blog post on the anthropology of Christianity: Hidden determinants of Christians’ behavior: Reading Annelin Eriksen and Joel Robbins on values in Christianity!

Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page here.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! Unfortunately, I have found it increasingly difficult to write a new post each Monday, but I hope to be able to write at least two or three Monday blog posts each month. We’ll see. Best, Wayne.



Solving the “Gretchenfrage” of the Son of Man problem with Eugene Boring

The title of this post is intentionally misleading. It aims to raise one’s hopes that this post will unlock the great mysteries associated with the interpretation of the “Son of Man” expression in the Gospels. Though it can, of course, do nothing of the sort, I hope that it will resolve a minor “Son of Man” problem that for me at least had remained a mystery until now, namely the problem of making sense of the title of Anton Vögtle’s 1994 book Die “Gretchenfrage” des Menschensohnproblems (3rd edition 1997).

Whenever I had read Vögtle’s title, I had wondered about the precise meaning of “Gretchenfrage”. It was clear that it meant something about the “question of the Son of Man problem”, but I remained completely in the dark about what it meant beyond that. Fortunately, Eugene Boring shed some light on this matter for me in a helpful note in his translation of Udo Schnelle’s Theology of the New Testament. It reads as follows (p. 150, n. 274):

“[To ask the ‘Gretchen question’ is to ask about someone’s deepest religious or political convictions; from Goethe, Faust, I.—MEB]”

In my further attempts to determine the precise meaning of the term, I found the following explanations:

The Redensarten-Index defines Gretchenfrage as “eine wesentliche Gewissensfrage” (a fundamental question of conscience) and as “die entscheidende Frage” (the decisive question).

Wiktionary provides a number of definitions, among which [1], [2], [3], [4] and [5] could all be relevant for Vögtle’s usage. In other words, it might convey the nuance/connotations of  [1] evoking the usage in Faust, [2] weighty/significant, [3] pertaining to religion, [4] calling for a decision, and/or [5] tricky/difficult and therefore hard to answer.

Finally, Jeremy Gray suggests that the “Gretchen Question” is comparable to the English expression “where’s the rub”?, which is if nothing else a brilliant attempt to convey the force of a Goethe reference with the help of an allusion to Shakespeare!

[And Ben Simpson noted in his comment on this post that “the Collins Dictionary defines this as the “sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.”]

In the end, I still remain somewhat uncertain about how exactly this phrase should be translated. In other words, should the translator simply write the “Gretchen question” or should an attempt be made to signal the meaning of this phrase? If the latter, how should this be done? Would the “decisive question” or the “all important question” or the deeply penetrating question” or the “crucial question” or the “fundamental question” of the Son of Man Problem be adequate? Or would a more expansive solution like “the decisive yet difficult question of conscience that calls for a decision” be required to convey something of the possible range of nuances?! Given the depth of meaning of the term, I suspect that it may be best to retain the phrase the “Gretchen question” as Eugene Boring has done, perhaps with an explanatory footnote.

For some other links that touch on the “Gretchen question”, see here and here and here and here and here and here.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page here.

German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.