March 22: Romans 8:15 (continued)

Romans 8:15, continued

In the first part of verse 15 (cf. the previous note), Paul makes the seemingly obvious point that believers in Christ, in receiving the Spirit, did not receive a “spirit of slavery”. This continues the slavery-freedom contrast that has run through the probatio of Romans (especially in chaps. 58), and is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters—most notably, in Galatians. His use of the adverb pa/lin (“again”) refers to Christians allowing themselves to go back under a kind of bondage—to the “flesh”, as an echo of their earlier bondage (before faith in Christ) to the power of sin. In Galatians (5:1), he uses the same sort of language with regard to bondage under the Law (i.e., the Torah regulations). These two kinds of bondage are combined together in the expression “the law of sin and death” in Rom 8:2.

In the second part of verse 15, Paul builds upon the declaration in v. 14, modifying the slavery-freedom contrast so as to juxtapose slavery with sonship—i.e., believers as “sons of God”. The implicit idea is that the son of a free person is also free, and not a slave; moreover, the son who is an heir, inherits all that belongs to the father.

“…but (rather), you received (the) Spirit of placement as sons, in which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!'”

This statement is quite similar to that expressed in Gal 4:5-6; and, indeed, throughout chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians, Paul makes extensive use of the sonship motif. In both passages, the noun ui(oqesi/a is used. Literally, this word means “placement as a son [ui(o/$]”; in the Greco-Roman world, it was specifically used as a technical term for what we would call adoption—that is, of establishing the legal status of sonship for a person who was not a natural/biological son. In most translations, ui(oqesi/a is rendered flatly as “adoption”; however, in my view, a literal translation is more appropriate, as it preserves the keyword (ui(o/$, “son”) of this section. Paul uses it again later on in v. 23 and 9:4, and it also occurs in Ephesians 1:5, which is worth citing here:

“…having marked us out beforehand unto [i.e. for] placement as sons, through Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto Himself, according to the good consideration of His will.”

These five occurrences in the Pauline letters are the only instances of ui(oqesi/a in the New Testament; nor does the word occur in the LXX. It is thus a distinctively Pauline term, particularly as he makes use of it in a theological (and spiritual) sense.

Eph 1:5 makes explicit what is certainly implied here in vv. 14-17—namely, that the sonship we, as believers, receive is realized “through Jesus Christ”. The parallel in Gal 4:5-6, further emphasizes that the presence of Christ is realized through the Spirit:

“…that we should receive from (Him) the placement as sons; and, in that you are sons, God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying (out) ‘Abba, Father!'”

Paul identifies the (Holy) Spirit both as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, to the point that he is able to use both expressions interchangeably, here in the very context of our passage (v. 9). Christ dwells in us through the presence of the Spirit, and this is the basis of our union with him; it is this union with his Spirit that confers upon us the same status as God’s son. The Sonship of Jesus remains unique, but we, as believers, share in it.

Both in v. 15 and Gal 4:6, Paul uses the same idiom of believers crying out (vb kra/zw) “Abba, Father” (a)bba o( path/r). The word a)bba (abba) is a transliteration in Greek of the emphatic Aramaic noun aB*a^, which literally means “the father”, but which is also used as a vocative: “O, father!” Elsewhere in the New Testament, this word (and expression) occurs only in Mark 14:36, and there can be little doubt that Paul has inherited it from the early Gospel tradition, being rooted in Jesus’ own (Aramaic) use of aB*a^ in addressing God (as Father). It is the Spirit (of Christ) in us that allows us, legitimately, to use the same manner of addressing God the Father as Jesus himself used. This further confirms the sonship we share with Jesus.

Paul’s development and application of this sonship-motif are distinctive, but the motif itself is hardly unique to him. The identification of believers as “sons/children of God” seems to have been commonplace among early Christians, ultimately being inherited from Old Testament usage—first, of God’s people Israel as His ‘son(s)’ (cf. the discussion in the prior note); and, secondly, of faithful/righteous Israelites and Jews as His children. The New Testament usage (outside of Paul) is not as frequent as one might expect, but it attested, for example, in Hebrews 2:10; 12:5-8; and Rev 21:7; the Gospels also preserve usage by Jesus (Matt 5:9, 45 par; 13:38; Luke 16:8, etc). It is most prominent in the Johannine writings, though the term “son” (ui(o/$) is reserved for Jesus, and te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used exclusively for believers—cf. Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; on the use of the verb genna/w to express the same relationship, cf. Jn 3:3-8; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18.

We will find similar parallels between Pauline and Johannine thought, in this regard, when we turn to v. 16 of our passage, which we will do in the next daily note.


March 3: Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2

Matthew 6:9b; Luke 11:2b

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke is introduced in a similar way, even though the overall context and setting may be different (on this, see the introductory discussion). Consider both the similarities and differences:

“(So) then you must speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] this (way)…” (6:9a)
ou%tw$ ou@n proseu/xesqe u(mei=$
—An emphatic contrast with conventional religious behavior (vv. 1-8)

“When(ever) you would speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] you must say/speak (this way)…” (11:2a)
o%tan proseu/xhsqe le/gete
—Disciples instructed to follow Jesus’ own example and pattern (v. 1)

The opening word(s) of the Prayer are an invocation to God, as is common in most forms of prayer. As indicated in the translation above, the Greek verb proseu/xomai literally means “speak out (aloud) [eu&xomai] toward [pro$] (someone)”, often in the sense of making a (forceful) request. It was used frequently in a religious sense, i.e. speaking toward God, sometimes referring to a religious vow, but more generally as a petition or wish. The imperative (“you must…”) form of the verb used by Jesus indicates that he is giving authoritative instruction to his followers.

Pa/ter (“[O] Father”) [Lk]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in the heavens”) [Matt]
Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n tw=| ou)ranw=|
(“Our Father, the [One who is] in heaven”) [Didache]

All three versions of the Prayer begin the same way, with the vocative Pa/ter, “(O,) Father”. The Lukan invocation contains just this single word, while Matthew’s version (followed by the Didache) has a more expansive expression. Most critical scholars believe that Luke preserves the original form of the invocation, as it would have been spoken by Jesus at the historical level (on this, cf. the discussion in the next daily note). Almost certainly, the vocative Pa/ter in Greek is a translation of the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°) a definite/emphatic form of the noun ba^ (°a», “father”)—literally “the father”, but regularly used in place of the noun with pronominal suffix (yb!a&, Dan 5:13) as “my father”. That Jesus used this Aramaic word when addressing God in prayer is confirmed by the preservation of aB*a^ in Greek transliteration (a)bba=) once in the Gospel tradition (Mk 14:36), where it is translated strictly as “the father” (o( path/r). Paul also uses the transliterated Aramaic in a similar way twice in his letters (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), both times in the context of prayer (involving the Holy Spirit, cf. the next note for more detail).

Jesus addresses God, or otherwise refers to him, as “Father” numerous times in both the Synoptic and Johannine Gospels, though not as often as one might expect in the core Synoptic tradition—just 4 times in Mark (8:38; 11:25; 13:32; 14:36). It is more common in Matthew and Luke (including the “Q” material), being especially frequent in Matthew (41 times, including 17 in the Sermon on the Mount). In terms of the Lukan version of the Prayer, the occurrences in chapters 10-11 are most important:

    • Twice in Jesus’ own prayer (10:21)
    • Three times in the saying which follows, dealing with the relationship between Father (God) and Son (Jesus) (10:22)
    • Once in the teaching in 11:11-13 (“Q” material, cp. Matt 7:9-11)—comparison between earthly fathers and God as heavenly Father. Cf. also twice in 12:30-32 (cp. Matt 6:32-33)

Thus, in his instruction to his disciples, Jesus teaches them to follow his own example in addressing God as “my Father”. The idea of God as Father to humankind is, of course, a widespread religious idea, and well-attested in both the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world. Of the many passages in the Old Testament, I would note: Deut 1:31; 32:6; Psalm 89:26; 103:13; Prov 3:12; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Mal 2:10. Israel as God’s chosen people was referred to as His children (or, collectively, His “son”), as was the (Davidic) King—Exod 4:22-23; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1; 2 Sam 7:14; Psalm 89:27ff, etc. God is addressed specifically as “our Father” in Isa 63:16; 64:8 (cf. also 1 Chron 29:10; Tobit 13:4; Sirach 51:10). Other examples in the New Testament are found in the openings of Paul’s letters (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3-4; Phil 1:2, etc). The Aramaic for “our Father” (Gk vocative Pa/ter h(mw=n) would be an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹°). Jewish prayer tradition, both Hebrew and Aramaic, would often address God this way as “our Father”—for some early examples, cf. the Eighteen Benedictions (5th and 6th petitions); a prayer for rain attributed to R. Akiba (b. Taan. 25b, “Our Father and our King…”); the instruction to children in the Targum Yerus. II on Exod 15:2 (to confess of God, “He is our Father”), etc.

The full expression “Our Father the (One) in the Heavens” (Matt/Didache) will be discussed in the next note.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.