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. 5–8), 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.