Mark 2:27-28, Lord of the Sabbath

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

//These words were spoken by Jesus to explain why his disciples were eating grain on the Sabbath. But the wording makes no sense. If the Sabbath is made for man, how does that imply that the Son of Man (e.g.: Jesus) is Lord of the Sabbath? What does this have to do with Jesus, anyway? It wasn’t Jesus who was eating the grain.

The mystery is solved when we take this verse and translate it back to Aramaic. On the assumption that these are truly words that Jesus spoke, we should listen to the way it sounds in the language Jesus spoke.

It turns out that Aramaic uses the same word for “man” as it does for “son of man.” It’s the word “barnash.” The original saying, from the lips of Jesus, would then have been “The Sabbath was made for barnash, not barnash for the Sabbath. Therefore, barnash is lord even of the Sabbath.” Now replace barnash with the word man, and read it again.

When the saying was written in Greek, however, the author apparently decided to turn it into a statement about Jesus, not about mankind. It became the Son of Man rules over the Sabbath.


  1. Wait, the famous and ubiquitous “son of man” is the simply the same as “man”? I guess it helps explain why Jesus’ frequent self-labelling of “Son of Man” sounds so weird. Though only partly – it’s still confusing.

    When you say “man”, do you mean “man” (a guy) or “man” (mankind)?

    Either way, the more interesting question, to me, is: what on earth does Jesus mean when he calls himself barnash anyway? Is it to distance himself from God by insisting he’s just a man? Is it to say that he is somehow ‘mankind incarnate’, like some sort of archetypal man? Any ideas?

    I always found the whole Son of Man thing bizzare and insufficiently explained.

  2. :) Well, we shouldn’t oversimply, ha. Yes, “barnash” means either “mankind” or “any old fella,” but the New Testament wasn’t written in Aramaic. Its writers knew precisely what flavor they were conveying when they used “Son of Man” in Greek.

    The derivation of this saying is conjecture on my part.

  3. So what flavour is it that they were conveying? Was the “Son of Man” in Greek meant to have an obvious meaning to ancient Greeks? Because here in the 21st century I haven’t got the foggiest what it’s meant to mean.

  4. “Son of Man” isn’t a Greek concept either, it’s just easier for us to recognize the flavor of its meaning. As a friend pointed out, we don’t really know what sort of voice inflections may have accompanied the spoken word in Aramaic; maybe barNASH meant mankind and BARnash meant any Tom, Dick or Harry. Maybe some other means implied the ONE, the anticipated Messiah.

    That is, after all, how “Son of Man” came to be used. Not in the Ezekiel sense, but in the Daniel sense. Several noncanonical apocalyptic writings point out the expectation of a chosen Savior arising from within mankind, such that they came to speak of THE son of man. He would ascend up to heaven’s courts, be anointed with power and glory by God, and then ride the clouds back down to earth as a mighty conqueror, setting the world right. God would rule supreme from that moment on.

    “Son of Man” was paradoxically a more exalted title than “Son of God,” even given the humble implication of the name. A similar comparison today might be ghetto-dwellers anxiously awaiting the coming of THE HOMIE to spread the wealth around. 😉

  5. lol. Maybe Jesus thought of himself as something like THE DUDE, a la Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (a.k.a His Royal Dudeness). They do kind of look similar, actually.

    I guess I have trouble understanding where the “son” part comes in. To me, “son” tends to imply subservience, passivity, weakness, or immaturity (not that I associate those things with myself necessarily, despite being a son, but neither do I think of myself as being the saviour or leader of my parents), so I guess it never seemed to fit well in my head.

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