November 28: Romans 1:4 (continued)

Romans 1:4, continued

Following up on the discussion in the previous note, in our study on the Christological formula in Rom 1:3-4, it remains to examine the central expressions of second part of the formula (in verse 4):

    1. e)n duna/mei (“in power”), and
    2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$ (“according to [the] pneu=ma of holiness”)
1. e)n duna/mei

The prepositional expression e)n duna/mei (“in power”) qualifies the primary statement in verse 4—i.e., “the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God”. It introduces the predicate of the clause, but there is some uncertainty regarding the syntax: does it modify the participle o(risqe/nto$ or the title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=)? If the former, then the sense would be adverbial—that is, “having been marked out (by God)…in power”. If the latter, then it is adjectival, clarifying the sense in which Jesus is the Son of God, i.e., “the Son of God in power.”

Much depends, I think, on whether the expression truly is a Pauline addition to an earlier formula, or whether it represents an intrinsic part of the (original) formula as composed. The syntactical question, in this regard, is whether “in power” is an intentional parallel to “out of the seed…”, or whether the principal parallel in the two couplets is “out of the seed of David” / “out the resurrection of the dead”. In my view, the first option is to be preferred, in which case e)n duna/mei would have been part of the original formula. This means the full expression “the Son of God in power” is parallel with “out of the seed of David”, and may be intended to express a contrast along the lines of the Philippians hymn—i.e., incarnate human being vs. exalted divine being. His death/resurrection is greater than his birth, and moves in the opposite direction (ascent vs. descent).

What is certain is that the “power” (du/nami$) is the power of God, the very power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the “right hand” of God in heaven. In early Christian tradition, the power of God is closely aligned with His Spirit—Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38; Luke 1:35; 4:14; cf. also Matt 12:28 par, etc., an association that goes back to Old Testament tradition (e.g., Mic 3:8; Zec 4:6). Paul’s thought follows in line with this (1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:13, 19), and he certainly emphasizes the power of God’s Spirit in raising Jesus (Rom 8:11ff), and how the exalted Jesus shares that same Spirit (1 Cor 15:45; 6:17). Thus, “Son of God in power” is an apt expression for the idea that the exalted Jesus possesses the very Spirit of God and is united with it.

2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$

This phrase is parallel with kata\ sa/rka in v. 3, and thus juxtaposes sa/rc (“flesh”) and pneu=ma (“spirit”). However, this is not the antithetical flesh-vs-Spirit dualism familiar from Paul’s letters (including a number of key passages in Romans); rather, it is meant to illustrate a more fundamental metaphysical contrast—of the material earthly realm (of human beings) with the divine and heavenly realm (of God). This has been seen by commentators as another piece of evidence for a pre-Pauline origin of the formula in vv. 3-4 (cp. a similar contrast in the hymn of 1 Tim 3:16, discussed in prior notes).

Here the term contrasted with “flesh” is not simply “spirit”, but “spirit of holiness [a(giosu/nh]”. This expression does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but is a literal rendering of vd#q) j^Wr in the Old Testament (“spirit of [God’s] holiness” = His “holy Spirit”), Psalm 51:13; Isa 63:10-11; cp. Dan 4:8-9, 18; 5:11. As such, it certainly refers to the Spirit of God, but specifically in reference to the presence (and effect) of His Spirit upon human beings (the people of God). The Qumran Community demonstrates a development in this line of tradition that is, in certain respects, comparable to that which took place within early Christianity. The references in the Dead Sea texts to the “holy Spirit” or “spirit of [God’s] holiness” are worth studying carefully; I have done this in a recent two-part article which I strongly recommend you consult as part of the current study.

If the formula in Rom 1:3-4 took shape earlier, among Jewish Christians, or if Paul himself composed it, then the Qumran usage would be important for an understanding of the background of the Christian development of this concept of God’s holy Spirit. In an early (Jewish) Christian context, the modifying expression (“according to [the] Spirit of holiness”) here would have several particular points of significance:

    • The ancient line of tradition whereby God empowers His chosen ones (prophet, king, etc) with His Spirit
    • As the spirit of holiness, God’s Spirit purifies and perfects His people (the chosen ones); this could easily be applied to the idea of resurrection from the dead
    • It is especially characteristic of the heavenly realm, the throne/sanctuary where the presence of God Himself resides; there is a strong correspondence in the Qumran texts between the faithful ones of God’s people (on earth) and the divine/heavenly beings (Angels, etc), both are designated as “sons of God”, “sons of Light”, etc.

These lines of tradition certainly would have informed the idea of Jesus’ exaltation, according to the contours of the earliest Christology. It was the special understanding of Jesus’ unique identity as the “Son of God” that gave to the Old Testament and Jewish tradition a powerful new Christian significance. At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (c. 57-58 A.D.), this Christology had begun to develop substantially, due in no small part, I am sure, to Paul’s own inspired contribution. The very fact that “Spirit of holiness” (pneu=ma a(giosu/nh) is used here, rather than the more common “holy Spirit” (pneu=ma a%gion), is another indication that Paul is adapting an older formula in Rom 1:3-4.

Following his use/inclusion of this formula, Paul returns in v. 5 to the main thrust of his greeting (v. 1), continuing the identification of himself as a missionary (apostle) and minister specially appointed by Christ (“through him”). The relative pronoun refers back to the concluding words of v. 4, to “Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord” (which themselves echo the opening words of v. 3, “Son [of God]”). Paul is a minister of Jesus Christ, commissioned by him and “set forth” (a)po/stolo$) by him to preach the Gospel and establish congregations (of believers). Even though Paul played no direct role in founding the congregations at Rome, he includes them as fellow believers, with whom he shares a common bond as people “called of [i.e. by] Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 6-7).

The implication is that true believers will affirm the Christological statement in vv. 3-4; there would be no real question on that point. So we may safely regard the statement as a fundamental confession of faith, to be cherished as one of the earliest that has come down to us. The Christology, rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus, defines the essential identity that we all share as believers in Christ. It encompasses his birth as a human being and reaches to his final exaltation as the Son of God in heaven—all in just a few short lines.

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