November 26: Romans 1:3 (continued)

Romans 1:3, continued

The first part of the Christ-hymn (or confessional formula) of Rom 1:3-4, discussed in the previous note, deals with the incarnation of Jesus as a human being, and specifically refers to his birth. As such, it makes a fitting entry to our Advent- and Christmas-themed studies this year. However, there are two aspects of the verse which require a more detailed examination; I framed these as two questions to be addressed:

    1.  Whether (or to what extent) the identification of Jesus as God’s Son implies the idea of divine/eternal pre-existence, and
    2. What is the precise significance of the expression “seed of David”?

Let us deal with the second of these questions first.

spe/rma Daui/d (“seed of David”)

The word spe/rma (something “scattered,” i.e., “seed”) often refers to the biological descent of a child (son) from his father (or ancestor[s]). This means that: (a) “seed of David” is a reference to a descendant of David, and (b) that the expression is equivalent to “son of David”. The latter expression occurs a number of times in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 10:47-48; 12:35ff pars; Matt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 21:9, 15), and is tied to the fundamental Messianic belief in a ruler from the line of David, who will appear at the end-time to defeat/subdue the nations and restore the kingdom of Israel. This is the Davidic-ruler figure type, which I discuss in great detail in Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

In the early Christian preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the first half of the book of Acts, Jesus is associated with David in several ways: (1) David prophesied in the Psalms regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection, (2) specific Psalms given a Messianic interpretation are applied to Jesus, and (3) Jesus is seen as fulfilling the covenant and promise to David. The most notable references are:

    • Acts 2:25-36, which cites Psalm 16:8-11 in the context of Jesus death and resurrection (vv. 25-28), and Psalm 110:1 in terms of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand God in Heaven (vv. 34-35). In verse 30, Jesus is seen as the descendant of David who would sit on the throne as King (cf. Ps 132:10-11 and 2 Sam 7:11-16 etc), and is specifically said to be the “Anointed (One)” of God in the concluding verse 36.
    • Acts 4:25-27, where Psalm 2:1-2 is cited and applied to the Passion of Jesus; again he is identified with the “Anointed (One)” of God.
    • Acts 13:22ff, 33-37—again Psalm 2 and 16 are cited (Ps 2:7; 16:10), as well as Isaiah 55:3, indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise/covenant with David.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are several references to Jesus as a descendant of David (including here in Rom 1:3):

    • 2 Timothy 2:8—”Remember Yeshua (the) Anointed (One), having been raised out of the dead, (and) out of the seed of David…”
    • Revelation 22:16—(Jesus speaking) “I am the root and the ge/no$ of David…” (cf. also Rev 5:5, and note 3:7)

In Rev 22:16, ge/no$ is literally the coming to be (cf. gi/nomai in Rom 1:3), in the sense of something which grows or comes forth (from the ground, womb, etc), i.e. “offspring”, but given the use of “root” (r(i/za) something like “sprout” or “branch” may be intended. Jesus declares that he is both the root of David and the branch/sprout coming out of the root. For the Messianic significance of such images (from Isa 11:1ff etc), see the discussion in Part 7 of the aforementioned study series.

In the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives, the birth of Jesus is clearly tied to the idea of his Davidic descent (on the references, cf. the discussion in Part 8 of “Yeshua the Anointed”), a point that is reinforced by the genealogy of Jesus in each Gospel. Despite their differences in detail, the Matthean and Lukan genealogies show Jesus’ ancestry as stemming from David’s line (cf. the explicit statement in Matt. 1:1). However, both genealogies clearly belong to Joseph and not Mary, and so attest to a legal, rather than biological, ancestry. Yet the wording in Rom 1:3 indicates that a biological descent from David is in view, a view (from Paul’s standpoint) that would tend to be confirmed by the parallel with Galatians 4:4:

“…God se(n)t out from (Him) His Son, (hav)ing come to be (born) out of a woman

Here the expression “out of a woman” matches “out of (the) seed of David”. This would imply that Jesus’ mother also was of Davidic descent, a belief which, to be sure, came to be held by many early Christians, even though the only available New Testament evidence suggests that Mary was from the tribe of Levi, rather than from Judah (Lk 1:5; 36, 39ff).

Far more important, however, is the identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, which along with the title “Son of God”, was the central Christological designation for Jesus among early believers; on the pairing of these titles, cf. Mk 1:1 [v.l.]; Lk 4:41; Matt 16:16; 26:63; Jn 11:27; 20:31, etc.

o( ui(o/$ au)tou= (“His Son”)

I have already noted the close connection between the titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God”; on the Messianic significance of the title “Son of God” itself, and also its relation to the Davidic-ruler figure type (“Son of David”), cf. Part 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The main question I wish to consider here is whether the use of “His Son” (i.e. the Son of God), in this context, implies a belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus, such as we find in the Philippians Christ-hymn (2:6).

The earliest Christology was defined almost entirely by the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus; this is a point that I have discussed at some length in earlier studies (cf. the notes on the Philippians hymn), and will not repeat here. It was not until c. 60 A.D., at around the time that Paul wrote Philippians, that we see a pre-existence Christology emerge and begin to develop into greater prominence, by the end of the 1st century. That Paul indeed held such a Christology, at least in a rudimentary form, is suggested by several references, in his letters, to God sending His Son. The most significant of these is Gal 4:4, mentioned above:

“when the fullness of time came, God se(n)t out from (Him) His Son, (hav)ing come to be (born) out of a woman…”

Since the “sending” precedes Jesus’ birth as a human being, the implication is that he is to be identified as God’s Son even prior to his earthly life (and his resurrection). Similarly, in Rom 8:3 (cf. also v. 32), the divine Sonship of Jesus precedes his incarnation as a human being. The relatively close parallel in wording between Gal 4:4 and Rom 1:3 suggests that, at the very least, Paul would have viewed the two passages in a similar way. Romans was presumably written sometime during the years 57-58 A.D., likely a few years earlier than Philippians.

If Paul is drawing upon an earlier Christological statement in 1:3-4, then a plausible time-frame for the statement itself would be c. 45-55. We can only speculate as to whether a substantive pre-existence Christology had developed among believers by c. 50, and what form it may have taken. Based on a traditional-conservative view of the sermon-speeches in Acts, the speeches would be representative of authentic Christian preaching during the years 35-60 A.D., and yet I find no trace of a pre-existence Christology in any of those passages. The earliest evidence for a belief in the pre-existence of Christ would seem to be the letters of Paul (i.e., Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Romans) written in the mid-50s, but even there the evidence is rather slight. On the whole, Paul seems to have followed the earlier exaltation Christology, focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus, in accordance with the main lines of the Gospel kerygma in the apostolic period (c. 35-60). This will be discussed further when we consider the use of the term ui(o/$ (“Son”) in verse 4, in the next daily note.



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