July 19: 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6, 14; Jude 19-20

Today’s note continues (from the one previous) the survey of references to the Spirit in 1 Peter and Jude.

1 Peter 3:18-19

The exhortation and ethical instruction in 1 Pet 3:13-22 continues the eschatological orientation from the prior sections of the letter. This is fully in keeping with much early Christian instruction (in the New Testament), where the need for believers to conduct themselves in a holy and upright manner takes on special urgency, due to the nearness of the coming Judgment. Thus, we should not be surprised when the author (Peter) draws upon the ancient tradition of the great Flood (vv. 19-20ff) to expound and illustrate the instruction in vv. 13-16ff. By the mid/late-1st century A.D., the Flood, through which God judged the world of old, had come to be seen as a type-pattern for the end-time Judgment. This usage goes back to at least the 6th century B.C. (cf. the Isaian “Apocalypse”, chaps. 24-27), and was well-established by the time our letter was written (cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”).

The instruction in vv. 17-18 provides the transition to the Flood illustration that follows. The key point is the contrast between death in the flesh, and life in the Spirit. This essentially reproduces the same dualistic contrast found regularly in Paul’s letters, and is tied to the same central (Pauline) theme—of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such participation is symbolized in the baptism ritual (cf. the explicit reference to baptism in vv. 20b-21). In verse 18, it is Jesus’ own death and resurrection that is in view:

“(For it is) also that (the) Anointed suffered one time over sins, a just (person) over (the) unjust (one)s, (so) that he would lead the way for us toward God—(on the one hand) being put to death in (the) flesh, but (one the other) being made alive in (the) Spirit.”

Believers experience new life from the dead, in the Spirit, even as Jesus himself did. This emphasis on resurrection from the dead leads to the rather enigmatic reference in v. 19 on Jesus’ encounter with “the spirits in (the prison) guard” —that is, the realm of the dead and those who are imprisoned there. The precise nature of this episode is not entirely clear, and interpretations continue to be debated by commentators today. In particular, it is not clear whether the “spirits” refer to divine/heavenly beings (i.e. [fallen] Angels) who were punished, or to the human beings who perished in the flood. Probably the former is primarily in view in v. 19; however, it is clear that the author has the latter in mind as well, and, indeed, it serves as the basis for the subsequent instruction in 4:1-6.

1 Peter 4:6, 14

The focus in the instruction of 4:1-6 is on the need for believers to remain faithful, with the expectation that they will endure suffering as the current Age nears it end. According to the traditional view, the end-time is a period of ever-increasing wickedness and godlessness, comparable to the condition of the world prior to the great Flood. A similar Judgment is coming upon humankind, as stated clearly in verse 5—it is a judgment that will apply to “(the) living and (the) dead”, that is, those who are currently alive and those who have died. This juxtaposition of life vs. death prompts the author (Peter) to recall the instruction from 3:18ff, with its contrast between death in the flesh and life in the Spirit (cf. above). The Gospel is proclaimed to all people, even those who are dead—understood both literally and figuratively—so that they can live in the Spirit. Again this ‘life from the dead’ is to be understood in both a concrete and symbolic sense—the promise of resurrection (in the future), along with the experience of new life in the Spirit (realized for believers in the present). The precise wording in verse 6 is interesting:

“…that they would be judged (on the one hand) according to men, in (the) flesh, but (on the other) according to God, in (the) Spirit.”

The judgment in the flesh, “according to men”, can be understood on two levels:

    • All human beings face the Judgment in the sense that they/we all die physically (“in the flesh”), and
    • All people will be judged for the things done during their/our earthly life (i.e. done “in the flesh”)

Believers face this same judgment, but with a different end result—they/we pass through it, into eternal life. This life also includes the raising of the physical body from the dead. It is only believers who experience this other side of the Judgment, “according to God” —that is, according to our identity as sons/children of God, realized through union with Christ and the abiding presence of the Spirit. This identity is well expressed in verse 14:

“If you are reproached in (the) name of (the) Anointed [i.e. because you are Christ’s], happy (are you), (in) that [i.e. because] the honor [do/ca] and the Spirit [pneu=ma] of God rest upon you.”

In other words, to be “in Christ” means that God’s Spirit is upon us, and that all that happens to us on account of Christ’s name will end in our sharing the honor/glory (do/ca) of God, which already “rests” upon us. The idea of heavenly reward here accords well with the beatitude-form (on this, cf. my earlier study).

Jude 19-20

At the close of the short letter of Jude, we find two references to the Spirit, both of which are well-founded on early Christian tradition, such as we have seen in the Pauline letters (and elsewhere). Verse 19 comes at the end of the main body of the letter, which is comprised of a series of forceful instructions (and warnings) regarding the threats to true Christian faith and teaching that have arisen (and continue to grow) at the end-time. The particular eschatological orientation, as it is expressed, is very close to that of 2 Peter, and most commentators posit some sort of relationship between the two letters.

Especially significant is the way that the wickedness of the end-time is seen as having infiltrated the Christian congregations. This outlook is typical of many of the later writings of the New Testament, in the period c. 60-100 A.D. We find it, for example, prominently as a feature of the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy), the Johannine letters, and (as noted above) 2 Peter. False believers are seen as exerting a baleful influence over the congregations, to the point of drawing some away from the true faith; certainly, such a danger is considered to be present. In vv. 17-18, the presence and activity of such false/wicked Christians is said to be a fulfillment of early Christian prophecies regarding the end-time (cp. Acts 20:29ff; 1 Tim 4:1ff; 2 Tim 3:1ff; also 1 John 2:18ff; 4:1-3). Here is how the author of the letter (“Jude”) summarizes these ‘false’ believers:

“These are the (one)s separating from (the things) marked out, (hav)ing (only a) soul [yuxikoi/], (but) not holding (the) Spirit.”

The adjective yuxiko/$ is extremely difficult to translate in English. I discussed Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 2:14; 15:44, 46, where he contrasts it with pneumatiko/$. The latter is typically translated as “spiritual”, for which there is no corresponding English to render the former (i.e., “soulish”). Yuxiko/$ is often translated blandly as “natural”, but this is rather inaccurate and misleading. As the terms are contrasted by Paul, they clearly have the basic meaning “having (only) a soul” and “having the Spirit”, respectively. Non-believers do not have the Spirit, but only a soul; while believers, on the other hand, hold the Spirit in addition to their soul. This meaning is confirmed by the usage here in verse 19, as well as in James 3:15 (the only other occurrence of yuxiko/$ in the New Testament). The false believers are like the rest of humankind, possessing a soul but living without the Spirit of God.

Another characteristic of the ‘false’ believers, is that they separate from (a)po/) the things “marked out” (root vb o(ri/zw) and by God—i.e. the Gospel and the established (apostolic) traditions, etc. More to the point, this means that they do not belong to the gathering of the true believers. The wording here, using the compound verb a)podiori/zw, compares with what the author of 1 John says of the ‘false’ believers there: that they separated, going out from the true believers, into the world (2:19; 4:5-6; 2 John 7ff).

The reference to the Spirit in verse 20 has a different focus, emphasizing the need for believers to pray in the Spirit. On the specific association of the Spirit with prayer—and the special role the Spirit has in the prayer of believers—see Romans 8:26-27ff and the earlier note on Eph 6:17-18.

July 8: 1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 1:27, etc

In these notes on Paul’s view of the Spirit, we have seen how he draws upon early Christian tradition regarding the nature and role of the Spirit. Often he simply maintains the existing line of tradition, though at times he also develops it in interesting and profound ways. In continuing our survey of references in the Pauline letters (cf. the previous note), we may note the following areas of early Christian thought and belief regarding the Spirit:

The role of the Spirit in the resurrection (of Jesus). Paul deals with this extensively in 1 Corinthians 15 (especially verses 44-46, cf. the earlier note), and also in Romans 8 (vv. 9-11, 23ff). In his resurrection (and exaltation), the life-giving Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead, transforming his entire person so that he “became a life-giving Spirit”, wholly united with God’s own Spirit. This is expressed less clearly in Romans 1:3-4, which many commentators believe represents an earlier credal formula that Paul has adapted. In verse 4, this statement declares that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the Son of God through the resurrection, which took place “according to (the) spirit of holiness”. The Greek pneu=ma a(giwsu/nh$ (“spirit of holiness”) is a literal rendering of the Hebrew vd#q) j^Wr, which typically refers to the Spirit of God’s holiness; however, it can also refer to the holiness of a righteous person’s spirit, as we saw in several of the Qumran texts (cf. the earlier study). There is thus some ambiguity in the use of the expression here.

1 Timothy 3:16 is also thought to represent an older hymn or creed-fragment expressing the early kerygma. The opening lines parallel the thought of Rom 1:3-4:

“…(he) was made to shine forth [i.e. was manifest] in (the) flesh,
(and he) was made just/right in (the) Spirit…”

The second line alludes to the resurrection of Jesus, though the use of the verb dikaio/w (“make right/just”) creates certain difficulties in light of Paul’s frequent use of the same verb (in Romans, Galatians, etc) to express the idea of believers (human beings) being made right/just in God’s eyes. Such a sense of the verb, applied to Jesus, would be highly problematic in terms of a developed (orthodox) Christology. This atypical use of dikaio/w is a strong indicator that the verse may be pre-Pauline in origin.

Again, it is not entirely clear whether pneu=ma refers to the Spirit of God or Jesus’ own spirit, or both. The fundamental idea, in terms of the earliest Christological thought, has to do with the injustice that was done to Jesus by his death. Not only was he innocent of any crime, but as God’s own Anointed One (Messiah), he certainly was not deserving of such treatment. This situation was “made right” by God through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, which took place through the work of God’s own Spirit, but also involved the glorification/transformation of Jesus’ spirit (1 Cor 15:44-46). Admittedly, this exaltation-Christology is problematic in the context of subsequent belief (and revelation) regarding the pre-existent deity of Jesus, but it very much reflects the early Christian view in the New Testament (at least prior to c. 60 A.D.).

Washing/Cleansing by the Spirit. This is perhaps the earliest aspect of the Spirit emphasized by Christians, being inherited as it was from the Old Testament and Gospel tradition (beginning with the historical tradition of John the Baptist’s ministry). It was a core component of the baptism ritual from the beginning, and was so basic that it scarcely needed to be explained or expounded further. Paul makes relatively few direct references to believers being cleansed by the Spirit, the most obvious being in 1 Cor 6:11:

“…but you were washed from (sin), but you were made holy, but you were made right—(all) in the name of the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed and in the Spirit of our God.”

Clearly this refers specifically to the cleansing symbolized by the water-rite of baptism (cp. Eph 5:26). A similar statement is found in Titus 3:5:

“…but according to His mercy He saved us, through (the) washing of coming to be (born) again [paliggenesi/a] and being made new again [a)nakai/nwsi$] (through the) holy Spirit.”

The process of sanctification—of believers being “made holy” (vb a(gia/zw)—begins with baptism, but continues throughout the course of one’s life. This sanctification is a fundamental goal and purpose of the Spirit’s work, and of the Gospel ministry (cf. Paul’s statement in Rom 15:16). It underlies the ethical instruction associated with the baptism ritual proper, and likewise informs much of the instruction and exhortation given by Paul to believers throughout his letters. Such ethical instruction is central to the “flesh vs. Spirit” juxtaposition, for example, in Galatians 5-6. The references to the Spirit in Gal 5:16-25 were discussed in an earlier note, but mention should be made of the agricultural illustration in 6:7-9 as well; note verse 8 in particular:

“…the (one) scattering (seed) into his flesh will harvest decay out of the flesh, but the (one) scattering (seed) into the Spirit will harvest life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life] out of the Spirit.”

This Flesh/Spirit dualism is most prominent in Galatians, but we have also seen it in Romans (esp. 8:4-9ff). Elsewhere, it is relatively rare, but I would note Philippians 3:3, where circumcision (and worship of God) in the flesh is contrasted with that for believers in the Spirit (cf. also Rom 2:25-29; Col 2:11; Eph 5:18-19).

Love and the Spirit. Paul is scarcely alone in emphasizing the association between the Spirit and love—the divinely-inspired love that binds and unites believers together. It has even greater prominence in the Johannine Gospel and Letters, for example, and is rooted in a core Christian tradition (i.e., the love command or principle) that goes back to Jesus’ own teachings. Paul is the only New Testament author, however, who develops this tradition in terms of the “New Covenant”, stressing how, in this New Age for believers in Christ, the Spirit takes the place of the old Law (Torah), even as the “love command” represents the fulfillment of the entire Law. This point has been discussed in prior notes, and there is no need to cite again the most relevant passages in Corinthians, Galatians and Romans. However, several specific references should be mentioned here, connecting love with the Spirit:

    • Rom 5:5—the famous image of God’s love being “poured into our hearts” through the holy Spirit
    • Rom 15:30— “I call you alonside[, brothers], through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, and through the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me…”
    • 2 Cor 13:14— “…the love of God and the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the holy Spirit (be) with you all”
    • Phil 2:1— “…if (there is) any calling alongside [para/klhsi$] in (the) Anointed, if (there is) any speaking alongside [paramu/qion] of love, if (there is) any common-bond [koinwni/a] of (the) Spirit…”
      —the nouns para/klhsi$ and paramu/qion are similar in meaning, i.e. giving help or comfort alongside (para/) someone
    • Col 1:8— “…your love in the Spirit”
    • See also the immediate juxtaposition of the Spirit and love in the ‘virtue lists’ of 2 Cor 6:6 and Gal 5:22 (fruit of the Spirit).

Unity of believers in the Spirit. An especially important point of emphasis for Paul in his letters is on the unity of believers in Christ. This applied not only to the question (in Galatians and Romans) of the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers, but to anything that might cause separation or disunity (cf. the central issue of divisions among the congregations in 1 Corinthians). For Paul, there were two primary guiding forces for unity—(a) the love principle (cf. above), and (b) the presence of the Spirit. We noted the expression “the common-bond [koinwni/a] of the Spirit” in 2 Cor 13:14 and Phil 2:1 above, and how it was closely connected with the divinely-inspired love which believers share in Christ. Mention should also be made of Paul’s instruction in Phil 1:27, were he urges believers

“…that you would stand (firm) in one Spirit, and (with) a single soul, contending together in the trust of the good message [i.e. faith of the Gospel]”

Regarding the rather unusual expression “(with) a single a soul”, one is reminded of the repeated use of the term o(moqumado/n in the early chapters of the book of Acts (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; also 15:25), used to express the unity of the first believers. Literally, that word means something like “(with) one impulse”; in English, we might say “of one mind” or “with one heart” —sharing a common bond and with a single guiding purpose. Paul clarifies what this “single soul” entails: that believers stand together “in the Spirit”, here specified as “in one Spirit”. In a non-Christian context, the expression e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati could mean in a single (human) spirit, i.e. acting and living and thinking in a common way. Certainly Paul does expect cooperative unity at that level, but such is only realized truly through the far deeper bond of our union with the Spirit of God (and Christ). As history has proven repeatedly, it is almost impossible for human beings to achieve lasting, positive unity, without the presence and work of God’s Spirit; efforts at unity, even with the best of intentions, often devolve into destructive and oppressive patterns of behavior.

No writing in the New Testament addresses the theme and goal of Christian unity so powerfully as does the Pauline letter to the Ephesians. In the next daily note, we will examine several of the key references to the Spirit in Ephesians.

July 5: Romans 8:1-13

Romans 8:1-11

These verses immediately precede 8:12-17 (examined in the previous note, along with Gal 4:1-7), and represent the most extensive discussion of the Spirit by Paul in any single passage of his letters. It thus deserved to be examined closely as part of this series of notes.

Chapter 8 of Romans marks the climax of the main body of the letter (1:18-8:39), the last of four main sections of the probatio:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God) (article)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah) (article)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin (article)
    • Rom 8:1-39: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation) (article)
      The links in parentheses above are to articles in the series “Paul’s View of the Law” (part of “The Law and the New Testament”)

Chapter 8 may be further divided as follows:

    • 8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (Rom 7:7-25), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit. Two main themes which we have examined recently in these notes are present in the discussion on the Spirit here in Rom 8:1-11:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks the New Covenant for God’s people (believers), taking the place of the Old Covenant Law (Torah) as the guiding and governing principle
    • The Spirit is tied to believers’ union with Jesus Christ, as symbolized in the baptism ritual

Let us consider the references to the Spirit, and the line of argument, in this passage.

Verses 1-2

“(So) then, now (there is) not any judgment against the (one)s in (the) Anointed Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in (the) Anointed Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (vv. 1-2)

The entirety of the old order of things—bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and the corresponding bondage under the power of the Torah (with its regulations regarding sin)—has been swept away for believers in Christ. We are truly set free from both—sin and the Torah. Paul plays on the word no/mo$, which typically in his letters refers to the Old Testment Law (Torah), though occasionally he uses the expression “the law [no/mo$] of God”, which has a wider meaning—i.e., the will of God for his people, as expressed (specifically) in the Torah. Paul uses the word in both of these ways here in vv. 1-11, but also in two specialized expressions:

    • the law [o( no/mo$] of the Spirit [tou= pneu/mato$] of life [th=$ zwh=$]
    • the law [o( no/mo$] of sin [th=$ a(marti/a$] and of death [kai\ tou= qana/tou]

The formal parallelism shows that here “the Spirit” is parallel with “sin”, and is meant as an absolute contrast; in light of the overall discussion in Romans, this would be defined as “bondage under sin” vs. “freedom in the Spirit”. Thus, in addition to the Torah itself, there is a “law of the Spirit” and a “law of sin” —two great guiding principles for all of humankind. Believers in Christ follow the law of the Spirit, while all other people are bound to continue following the law of sin. The Torah, which previously played a kind of intermediary role between these two principles, no longer applies for believers. Since it is sin that leads to a sentence of judgment (kri=ma) from God, and believers are freed from the power of sin (and all its effects), there is no longer occasion for any such sentence to be brought down (kata/) against us. Life is the opposite of death, which would be the ultimate punishment (judgment) for sin.

Verses 3-4

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.” (vv. 3-4)

These powerful verses are dense with key elements of Pauline theology, expressed in language that can be difficult to translate (as the glosses in brackets above indicate). There are two especially important ideas that define Paul’s line of thought:

    • it is in the “flesh” (sa/rc) that the power of sin is localized and manifest in human beings, evident by a universal impulse toward sinful thoughts and actions; even for believers, this impulse to sin remains in the flesh (to varying degrees), though we are no longer enslaved by its power—i.e. we have the ability not to respond to the impulse
    • it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that enables believers to be free from the power of sin (and the judgment of God against sin)

Paul uses the verb katakri/nw (“judge against, bring down judgment [against]”), which is cognate to the noun kata/krima in verse 1 (cf. above), to make the point that the judgment against sin was realized in the death of Jesus—not against the human beings who sinned, but against sin itself, stripping it of its death-yielding power over humankind. The matter of the relationship of Jesus’ death to sin is highly complex, and cannot be discussed in detail here (cf. my earlier note on these verses [along with 2 Cor 5:19-21]). The main point of emphasis here, in these notes on Paul’s view of the Spirit, is twofold:

    • Christ’s death freed humankind (believers) from the power of sin, located in the “flesh”
    • Believers are likewise freed from the Law—and we effectively fulfill the Law completely (and automatically) insofar as we “walk according to the Spirit” (cf. the prior note on Gal 5:16-25)

Verses 5-8

“For the (one)s being [i.e. who are] according to the flesh give mind (to) the (thing)s of the flesh, but the (one)s (who are) according to (the) Spirit (give mind to) the (thing)s of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh (leads to) death, but the mindset of the Spirit (leads to) life and peace, through (the fact) that the mindset of the flesh (means) hostility to God, for it is not put in order under the law of God, and (indeed) it is not able to be; and the (one)s being [i.e. who are] in (the) flesh are not able to please God.” (vv. 5-8)

These verses essentially expound the contrast between “walking according to the flesh” and “walking according to the Spirit”, the ethical and religious aspect being broadened to cover the anthropological (and ontological) dimension of humankind. We are dealing with two kinds of people: (1) faithful believers in Christ, and (2) all other human beings. The first group is guided by the Spirit, the second by the flesh (and the impulse to sin that resides in the flesh). This shows how deep the flesh vs. Spirit dichotomy (and dualism) was for Paul.

Verse 9

“And (yet) you are not in (the) flesh, but in (the) Spirit, if indeed (it is that the) Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you. And if any (one) does not hold (the) Spirit of (the) Anointed, that (person) is not his [i.e. does not belong to Christ].” (v. 9)

The condition of being and “walking” (i.e. living/acting) in the Spirit depends on the Spirit being in the believer. The reciprocity of this relationship is stressed by Paul no less than in the Johannine writings. What is striking is the way that this is expressed by the dual identification of the Spirit as both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ“. The latter expression is rare in Paul’s letters, but, as this verse indicates, “Spirit of Christ” is used interchangeably with “Spirit of God”, as though both refer equally to the same Spirit. For more on this point, see my discussion in the previous note (and the earlier note on 1 Cor 6:17ff; 15:44-46).

Verses 10-11

“And if (the) Anointed (One is) in you, (then on one hand) the body (is) dead through sin, but (on the other hand) the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness. And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] (with)in you.” (vv. 10-11)

Again, the Spirit dwelling in the believer means Christ dwells in the believer, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ. As I have discussed previously, this theological point is based on the exaltation-Christology of the New Testament (which dominated Christian thought prior to c. 60 A.D.). Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, his person (and spirit) was transformed, being united with God’s own Spirit, so that the two are one Spirit (cf. on 1 Cor 6:17; 15:44-46). This means that, when we are united with the exalted Jesus through faith (and symbolized by baptism), and his Spirit unites with our spirit, we are also united with the Spirit of God.

The baptismal symbolism involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul only alludes to this here, having addressed the point earlier in 6:1-11; indeed, it is one of the most distinctive aspects of his theology. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection is communicated to us through our union with his divine Spirit. The power of his death puts to death the sin in our “flesh”, while the power of his resurrection transforms our entire being with divine life, so that even our decaying bodies will be raised to new life—just as his own body was raised by the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit is literally to be understood as the very life of God.

Verses 12-13 are transitional to vv. 14-17ff (cf. the previous note), but they also serve to bring the discussion on the Spirit in vv. 1-11 to a close. Paul’s statement in v. 13 could not be more direct or to the point:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die away, but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.”

In the next note, I will begin a brief survey of the most relevant remaining references to the Spirit in the Pauline letters.

 

June 19: 1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

1 Corinthians 6:17ff; 15:44-46

In the previous note, I mentioned Paul’s implication (in 1 Cor 2:9-16) that the “mind of Christ” is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Paul did not go into any detail on the theological or Christological basis for this idea; however, there are certain passages in his letters which do shed some light on the matter. In today’s note, I wish to bring together two passages in 1 Corinthians where Paul refers to the Spirit.

1 Cor 6:17-19

The first of these is in 1 Cor 6:17-19, the closing verses of an extended section on ethical instruction in chapters 5-6. Two specific issues are addressed by Paul, in 5:1-5ff and 6:1-8, respectively; in each case, a more general ethical exhortation for believers follows (5:9-13, 6:9-11). This exhortation is given a more definite theological dimension in 6:12ff, involving the juxtaposition of the human body (in its essential limitation and corruptibility) with the presence of God. Paul uses the example of sexual intercourse (vv. 13-15), as a motif for the uniting of two persons (v. 16). He emphasizes illicit/immoral intercourse (i.e. with a prostitute, po/rnh), in particular, so as to make the contrast between worldly and spiritual union more pronounced. Note this contrast:

    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the prostitute is one body [e^n sw=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 16),
      with “one body” further equated with “one flesh [sa/rc]”
    • “the (one) being joined [kollw/meno$] to the Lord is one spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]” (v. 17)

Paul adds to the juxtaposition of body (sw=ma) and Spirit (pneu=ma) the religious image of the temple (shrine/sanctuary, nao/$) as the dwelling-place of God (v. 19). The body of the believer—and of all believers collectively—is like the Temple-sanctuary, in that the Spirit of God dwells in it:

“have you not seen that your body is (the) shrine of the holy Spirit (dwelling) in you, which you hold from God, and (which) you are not yourself? For you were obtained at market [i.e. purchased] of (great) value; (so) then, you must honor/esteem God in your body.” (vv. 19-20)

The imagery is part of the overall ethical instruction, but it contains certain profound theological implications. The religious motif of the sanctuary shrine (Tent or Temple) relates to this ethical instruction in terms of the ritual purity that needed to be maintained for the sanctuary and its altars. This purity is further tied to the idea of God’s holiness, and nearly all of the purity regulations in the Torah are rooted in the ancient principle of the Community’s encounter with the divine holiness. A defiled sanctuary—and the defilement by one individual is enough to defile the whole—disrupts the connection of the Community (the people of God) with God and His holiness. In Christian terms, this religious dynamic is expressed in terms of preserving the holiness of the Community of believers—which means each individual believer as well as the Community as a whole. On this same sort of emphasis within the Qumran Community, cf. my earlier article. Paul made use of this same Temple-motif in 3:16-17, and it also occurs in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (on this passage, cf. my earlier studies).

The individual believer receives the Spirit at baptism, and thus joins the Community of all other believers (who likewise possess the Spirit of God). It is God’s own holy Spirit, and  thus the exhortation is focused on the individual preserving this holiness, continuing to live in a pure and upright manner, appropriate to the holiness of God’s own Spirit. As the discussion in 5:1-8 makes clear, the immorality of one individual affects the Community as a whole.

Even more striking, however, is the idea expressed by the comparison in vv. 16-17—that the believer who joins with the Lord becomes “one spirit” with Him. The relative ambiguity surrounding the dual-use of the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) by early Christians was mentioned in the previous note. Here the immediate context (of the prostitute illustration) suggests that “the Lord” primarily refers to Christ—that is, the believer joins with Christ and become “one spirit” with him. At the same time, it could just as well apply to God and His Spirit—the believer joins/unites with His Spirit. That both subjects (God and Christ) are in view seems clear from Paul’s phrasing in verse 11:

“…but you were washed from (sin), but (also) made holy, but (also) made right
in the name of the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed and
in the Spirit of our God.”

The believer is baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” and “in the Spirit of God” —two aspects of the same religious experience. Again, Paul does not explain the theological basis for the dual-motif, though the association of both Christ and the Spirit with the baptism ritual is obvious enough and well-established throughout the New Testament. But Paul’s thinking runs rather deeper, as we shall see.

1 Cor 15:44-46

I have discussed Paul’s famous chapter (15) on the resurrection at length in earlier articles and notes. Here I wish to focus on one Christological detail, which Paul expounds, if only in seminal form, in verses 44-46.

In dealing with the subject of the resurrection, Paul introduces the same contrastive pair of adjectives—yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$—used in 2:14-15. As I discussed in the previous note, the adjective yuxiko/$ in this context refers to a person with only a soul (yuxh/), but not the Spirit (pneu=ma) of God—that is, the contrast is between believers (who have the Spirit) and all other human beings (who do not). The situation is a bit more complicated in this discussion on the resurrection, as Paul is contrasting the human body with the soul, which believers share with all other people, and the body transformed by the Spirit, which only believers experience. And believers are able to experience this because of what Jesus experienced in his resurrection, and by virtue of our union with him.

Let us trace the logic of Paul’s line of argument here:

    • The distinction of the believer’s body (person) before and after it is raised from the dead (v. 44)
    • The parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the last man) (v. 45)
    • A parallel further defined by the contrast between earthly and heavenly (vv. 46-47)
    • Believers in Christ join with him in belonging to this heavenly nature (v. 48)
    • And so we will partake in this same heavenly existence after being raised (v. 49)

The Christological aspect of this heavenly/spiritual existence is emphasized strongly in verse 49:

“just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens”, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God. However, before we, as believers, can be transformed by the Spirit, it was necessary that Jesus should first be transformed:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

The idea seems to be that Jesus, in his resurrection (and exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven), was joined and united with God’s Spirit, according to the principle expressed in 6:17 (cf. above). While this may be somewhat problematic in terms of the subsequent Christological emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus, it is fully in accord with the early Christology of the period 30-60 A.D. Paul may have harmonized the two aspects—pre-existence and exaltation/deification—by way of a rudimentary “kenosis” doctrine, if Philippians 2:6-11 (c. 60 A.D.) is any indication. In any event, the statement in 1 Cor 15:45 suggests how Paul would explain the communication of the mind/spirit of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) to believers. Since Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, the Spirit which believers receive is not only God’s Spirit, but also the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, we find the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” (or “Spirit of Jesus”) used interchangeably by Paul, though there are no such examples in 1-2 Corinthians (1 Cor 6:11 being the closest); several instances in the other letters will be discussed in upcoming notes.

 

April 13: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

John 17:20-23, continued

Line 2: John 17:21b, 22c-23a

Following the i%na-clause in line 1 (cf. the previous note), in each of the two stanzas of vv. 21-23 there is an explanatory kaqw/$-clause. The comparative particle kaqw/$ (kata/ + w($) is a bit difficult to translate literally and concisely, but it means something like “just as”. It is used rather frequently in the Johannine writings—31 times in the Gospel (almost always in the Discourses), and 13 in the Letters (9 in 1 John), making up about a quarter of all New Testament occurrences.

Keeping in mind that the clause is epexegetical—that is, it explains the meaning of the initial statement in line 1—here is how it reads in each stanza:

    • “just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you” (v. 21b)
      kaqw\$ su/ pa/ter e)n e)moi/ ka)gw\ e)n soi/
    • “just as we are one, I in them and you in me” (v. 22c-23a)
      kaqw\$ h(mei=$ e%n: e)gw\ e)n au)toi=$ kai\ su\ e)n e)moi/

The point being made is that the unity of believers, which Jesus requests in line 1, is to be explained in terms of the unity between Jesus (the Son) and God the Father. For many orthodox or otherwise pious-minded Christians, this is something of an uncomfortable comparison. Indeed, I would argue that the force of the clause is more than comparative—the unity of believer is not just similar to that between Father and Son, but is the same kind of unity. There is a tendency to soften the implications of this, popularized by the theological distinction between the “natural” sonship of Jesus and the more general (or “adopted”) sonship of believers. However, such a distinction, while made out of a genuinely pious intention, is facile and artificial, and more or less unsupported by the New Testament evidence.

For one thing, the distinction is meaningless in terms of legitimate sonship—the ‘adopted’ son has the same legal rights, status and privileges, as the naturally-born. Moreover, while Paul does make use of the idea of ‘adoption’ (lit. placement as a son, ui(oqesi/a), it is foreign to the Johannine writings, where believers are repeatedly described, in biologic-existential terminology, as ones who have “come to be (born) out of [e)k] God” (1:13, cf. also 3:3-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). The only clear distinction in these writings is that the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) tends to be reserved for Jesus, while believers are almost always referred to as tekna/ (“offspring, children”). This use of the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) is applied to believers, rather than to Jesus; however, in 1 John 5:18, the textually difficult verse is best understood as referring both to Jesus and to believers, using the same sort of terminology:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God [i.e. believer] does not sin, but (that) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] keeps watch (over) him, and the evil {or, the Evil [One]} does not attach itself to him.”

Thus, we must take seriously that the unity of believers is to be understood in terms of the relationship between Father and Son. Let us consider the kaqw/$-line of the first stanza, where this is established.

Verse 21b

“just as you, Father (are) in me and I in you”

Throughout the Gospel of John, this relationship is described (by Jesus himself, in the Discourses) using the ordinary human imagery of the relationship between parent and child (father/son). This is basic to the Gospel and early Christian tradition; however, the first generation of believers understood this Sonship of Jesus almost entirely in terms of the resurrection—his exaltation to a divine status and position at the right hand of God the Father. The situation is rather different in the Gospel of John, which reflects considerable Christological development; the emphasis is on an ontological (and eternal) relationship that Father and Son have shared from the beginning. In classic theological terms, we would refer to this as an emphasis on the divine pre-existence of Jesus. In the Discourses, this is perhaps expressed most clearly here in the Prayer-Discourse, both in the opening (v. 5) and closing sections (v. 24, right after the passage under discussion).

How is the Father “in” (e)n) the Son, and the Son “in” the Father? Working from the human metaphor, this could be understood using the biological correspondence—the ‘seed’ of the offspring is contained in the parent, while, correspondingly, the genetic nature and makeup of the parent is contained in the child. Or, we could utilize the simple image of an embrace—where interlocking parent and child form a single entity, and each is contained “in” the other. This would be close to the Johannine understanding, with the repeated emphasis on love (a)ga/ph). We are reminded, for example, of the image of the Son resting in the lap (or at the bosom/breast) of the Father (1:18), even as the Son’s beloved disciple rests close to him (13:23, 25). We should also not ignore the aspect of motion that characterizes this relationship, with the Son coming toward (pro/$) the Father (1:1-2, etc), and ultimately returning to Him. Communication takes place along this chain of relationship, with words being sent, and, indeed, the life-giving Spirit being sent as well (the divine Word and Spirit being essentially the same, 6:63). The unifying character of the Spirit is discussed further below.

Verse 22c-23a

“just as we are one, I in them and you in me”

The kaqw/$-clause in the second stanza is more complex, folding believers into this unity between Father and Son (“we are one”). This demonstrates that it is not simply a comparison; rather, the very unity of believers is dependent on the unity between Father and Son. In the first stanza, the Father-Son unity was reciprocal, now it is part of a triadic chain of relationship. This is fundamental to the Johannine Discourses, where Jesus repeatedly indicates that he is giving to his disciples (believers) what the Father has given to him. This will be discussed in more detail when we come to line 5 (vv. 22a, 23d). By reversing the phrases in v. 23a we can illustrate this chain of relationship:

    • You => in me
      • I => in them

In speaking of unity (or oneness), it is worth considering a key passage where the same neuter numeral (e%n) is used—10:30, which happens to be the only other such passage in the Gospel which refers to the Father and Son together:

“I and the Father are one [e%n].”

This climactic declaration lies at the heart of the discourse in 10:22-39. The discourse centers on the relationship of Jesus (the Son) to the Father, with similarities to the long and complex discourses in chapter 5 and 7-8. It may be divided into two portions, the second of which builds upon the first. There are two exposition-sections by Jesus (vv. 25-30, 34-38), each of which concludes with a powerful declaration of the unity of Father and Son; the corresponding declaration in v. 38 is:

“the Father (is) in me and I (am) in the Father”

This is exactly the language Jesus uses in 17:21b (cf. above), and the parallel clause in 22c-23a confirms that the unity (e%n) of believers is based on the unity (e%n) of Father and Son. We will explore this point further in the next daily note, on line 3 (21c, 23b).

Before concluding today, it is worth mentioning again a point made in a prior note, regarding the resurrection of Jesus. As discussed above, the earliest Gospel preaching and teaching tied the divine Sonship of Jesus to the resurrection (and his exaltation to the Father). Paul, in his letters, tended to follow this Christological understanding, though on occasion he evinces an awareness of the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity (e.g., Phil 2:6ff) as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul makes the striking statement that, with his resurrection, Jesus came to be (e)ge/neto) a “life-making Spirit”. This must be understood in terms of the Spirit of God, in light of how the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” could be used interchangeably (by Paul and others) to refer to the (Holy) Spirit. The same interchangeability is found in the Johannine Last Discourse, where the Spirit is said to come from the Father, from Jesus, or (in essence) from both together (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 1 Cor 15:45, the idea seems to be that the spirit of Jesus was transformed into the Spirit of God, in accord with the early Christology that located his divine Sonship with the resurrection/exaltation. Paul’s words in 6:17 are suggestive of this dynamic:

“the (one) being joined (together) with the Lord is one Spirit [e^n pneu=ma/ e)stin]”

This can be understood of Jesus’ union with God the Father, as well as equally (and properly here) of the believer’s union with Christ, and, through him, with the Father. The same neuter numeral e%n (“one”) is used in 1 Cor 6:17, and tends to confirm what the Johannine context of the Prayer-Discourse already makes clear—that the unity of believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. This triadic unity of Father, Son, and believers, may be illustrated by a simple diagram, which will be expounded in some measure in the following notes:

April 5: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

1 Corinthians 15:45-49

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul [yuxh\n zw=san], the last man into a life-making Spirit [pneu=ma zw|opoiou=n]” (v. 45)

This is part of Paul’s famous chapter on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (discussed recently in the series “Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament”), a chapter that begins with the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus (vv. 3-7, cf. the previous note), and concludes with a memorable declaration of the resurrection (of believers) as a climactic end-time event (vv. 50-56). Thus the idea of the future resurrection of believers is blended together with the resurrection of Jesus—the latter serving as the basis (and pattern) for the former.

Indeed, in verses 45-49, as part of his attempt to describe the nature of the resurrection, Paul establishes a contrast between the living body of a human being (possessing a soul, yuxh/), and the body of a resurrected person that has been transformed by the Spirit (pneu=ma). This is expressed in verse 44 (and following) by a bit of wordplay that is most difficult to translate accurately in English. Paul uses two parallel, but contrasting, adjectives: yuxiko/$ and pneumatiko/$. For the first adjective (yuxiko/$) there is no comparable English word. It is derived from yuxh/, i.e. the cool wind/breath that animates a living being, and typically translated “soul”. Thus, as an adjective, yuxiko/$, would properly mean something like “possessing a soul”, “animated by a soul” —that is, a living (human) being. However, the point of the contrast with pneumatiko/$, is that the living being only possesses a soul, being animated/guided only by its natural soul-breath, and not by the Divine life-breath of the Spirit (pneu=ma). The same contrast is made, even more pointedly, by Paul in 1 Cor 2:14-16. That the point of the contrast is as I have explained here, is confirmed by Jude 19 (cp. James 3:15).

In 1 Cor 15:44ff, the adjective yuxiko/$ is primarily neutral, rather than negative, in meaning. The negative aspect is only hinted at, implied by the reference to Adam, and the idea that humankind is mortal, fated to die and return to the dust (i.e. decay). More important to Paul’s line of argument is the parallel between Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the second/last man), used also in Rom 5:12-21. All human beings share the nature and characteristics of the first man, but only believers in Christ take on the nature/characteristics of the second (and last) man. And what are the nature/characteristics of the second man, Jesus? Here is how Paul describes it in vv. 45-49:

“…the first man Adam came to be (made) into a living soul, the last man into a life-giving Spirit. But the (thing possess)ing the Spirit (does) not (come) first, but the (thing possess)ing a soul (comes first), (and) upon [i.e. after] that, the (thing possess)ing the Spirit. The first man (is from) out of the dirt, the second man (is from) out of heaven.”

Jesus is a life-making (i.e. life-giving) Spirit, possessing and animated by the Spirit of God. He is also heavenly, coming from out of heaven, and sharing the nature and character of the One who is upon (i.e. above/over) the heavens. Paul understands this of Jesus, primarily, not in terms of divine/eternal pre-existence, but in terms of the resurrection, and his exaltation to the right hand of God the Father. In the wording of v. 45, Paul indicates that Jesus “came to be” (transformed) “into” a life-making Spirit; this certainly refers to the resurrection and exaltation.

The relationship between Jesus and the Spirit is complex, and there is no definitive treatment of the matter in the New Testament. The Johannine writings deal with the relationship extensively, as does Paul, in his own way, in his letters. The Spirit can be referred to as “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ,” almost interchangeably (see esp. Rom 8:9); in some passages, the Spirit seems to be a divine power (or being) separate from Jesus, at other times it clearly represents the power and presence of Christ himself. The passage which connects the Spirit most closely with the resurrection is Romans 8:9-11ff. It is said that the resurrection of Jesus came about by the power of the Spirit of God (that is, of God the Father), and yet, just two verses earlier (v. 9), Paul refers to “the Spirit of Christ” as that which dwells in believers. The idea seems to be that, with the resurrection, God’s Spirit is united with Jesus, so that they share the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17).

In Rom 1:4, Paul, following the early line of Christian thought, describes Jesus’ identity as the Son of God as based on the power of the resurrection, by which he was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. This power is connected with “(a) spirit of holiness” —it was according to this spirit (pneu=ma) that Jesus was “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the “Son of God”, language that reflects the earliest Christian preaching and tradition (cf. Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31). The expression “spirit of holiness” could be understood as “Spirit of holiness”, i.e. “holy Spirit”, even though it lacks the definite article. Certainly, it would only take a small step of Christological development for the wording in Rom 1:4 to be understood in terms of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus’ resurrection, even as Paul states in 8:11:

“But if the Spirit, the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead, houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you.”

The precise reference of the expression “his Spirit” is a bit ambiguous—is it again God‘s Spirit, or is the reference now to the Spirit of Christ as that which dwells in the believer? Almost certainly, the latter is intended, being part of the same Christological belief reflected in verse 9, and stated above. With the resurrection, Jesus comes to share the very Spirit of God which raised him from the dead, and it is this “Spirit of Christ” that dwells in the believer; we experience the Spirit of God (the Father) through the Spirit of Christ (the Son). This unifying and uniting principle is presented even more clearly in the Gospel and Letters of John, but, in this regard, Pauline and Johannine theology are very close.

Thus, when Paul says that Jesus came to be (transformed) “into a life-making Spirit”, this is to be understood in the sense that his spirit comes to be united with God’s own Spirit; this occurs through “a spirit of holiness”, the transforming power at work in the resurrection/exaltation of Jesus (Rom 1:4). With this exaltation, Jesus is identified as God’s Son (“Son of God”), and, as such, he shares the same Spirit as God the Father. While Paul likely held an (early) form of belief in Jesus as the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:13-20), when speaking of the Sonship of Jesus, he tends to follow the earlier Christology that defines this in terms of the resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand.

The promise in Rom 8:11b—

“…the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through his Spirit housing (itself) in you”

which declares that the resurrection of believers will follow after the pattern of Jesus’ own resurrection, is essentially stated by Paul again in 1 Corinthians 15, as the Adam/Christ parallel and illustration continues in vv. 48-49:

“Such as the (one made) of dirt (is), even (so) these (one)s (made) of dirt (are); and such as the (One) upon the heavens (is), even (so) these (one)s upon the heavens (are). And, just as we bore the image of the (one made) of dirt, (so) also we shall bear the image of the (One) upon the heavens.

I.e., human beings resemble the first man (Adam) in being made “of dirt” (xoi+ko/$), while believers in Christ, similarly, resemble the second man (the exalted Jesus) in having a heavenly nature/character (“upon the heavens, e)poura/nio$). Believers are unique, in that they/we share the characteristics of both the first man (Adam) and the second (Jesus). It is Jesus’ own incarnate life—including his death and resurrection—which allows us to share both natures, earthly and heavenly, a living body (with a soul) and also a body transformed by the life-making Spirit of God.

April 4: John 20:17

John 20:17

Yeshua says to her: “You must not attach yourself to me, for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father. But you must travel toward my brothers, and say to them, ‘I step up toward my Father and your Father, and (toward) my God and your God’.”

Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in 20:17 represent perhaps the most challenging (and controversial) detail of the Johannine resurrection narrative. Much attention has been paid to the precise meaning of the prohibition “you must not attach yourself [a%ptou] to me…”, but this tends to ignore the reason given by Jesus in the words immediately following: “…for I have not yet stepped up toward the Father”. The verb a)nabai/nw (lit. “step up”), is common enough, frequently used in narrative in a general sense (i.e. “go up” {to a place}); however, in the Gospel of John, it has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, along with the related verb katabai/nw (“step down”). In the account of Jesus’ baptism, katabai/nw is used to describe the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (1:32-33, cf. Mk 1:10); similarly, in the visionary scene of Jesus’ saying in 1:51, katabai/nw and a)nabai/nw are used together (i.e. Angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man).

In the Johannine Discourses, katabai/nw refers to the descent of the Son of God to earth as a human being, especially in the Bread of Life discourse (6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58). In descending from heaven, the Son comes to earth from the Father, and is ultimately to ascend back to Him. This is the context of a)nabai/nw in 6:62, and also in 3:13, where the two verbs are paired together. The Son’s ascension (return) to the Father occurs with the completion of his earthly mission—that is, his sacrificial death. In early Christian thought, the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus were closely connected, almost to the point of being considered part of a single event (Acts 2:32-33; 1 Pet 3:21-22, etc). This tends to run contrary to the thinking of later Christians, where the “ascension” of Jesus is fixed in terms of the narrative in Luke-Acts (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:1-3ff, 9-11), as a separate event occurring at least forty days after the resurrection, following a number of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. I have discussed this at length in an earlier set of articles.

The references in the Gospel of John to Jesus’ ascension (“stepping up”) to the Father are complicated, because they function on two different levels:

    • Jesus ascends to the Father, then returns to the disciples, and they receive the Spirit
    • Jesus ascends (departs) to the Father, only to return at a future (end) time, and believers receive the Spirit

The first level involves the traditional narrative, and the historical traditions regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. At the second level, the same dynamic of the historical tradition is repeated again for all future believers. Jesus’ words to Mary refer to the first level (i.e. the first ascension); that is to say, after his resurrection, Jesus ascends (“steps up”) to the Father, and is then able to give to his disciples the Spirit when he appears to them (vv. 19-23).

Why does Jesus give the prohibitive command to Mary (“You must not attach yourself to me”)? The Johannine understanding of the resurrection (outlined above) fits uneasily in this narrative framework. It would have made much more sense for Jesus to ascend immediately after his resurrection, without the initial appearance to Mary. However, this would have been impossible, from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative; the historical tradition of a post-resurrection appearance to certain women (and Mary, specifically) was so well-established that it had to be included. In the Synoptic Tradition, Jesus appears to a group of women that included Mary (Mk 16:1ff par), while in John, it is to Mary alone. It is not entirely clear whether this difference is specific to the Johannine Tradition, or whether it reflects an intentional simplification of the scene, for literary and dramatic effect. In any case, the Johannine interpretation of the resurrection takes place within the historical-traditional context of the appearance to Mary.

Beyond this, the exchange between Jesus and Mary does have genuine theological significance, and it is important to the Johannine narrative. It establishes a contrast between the disciples (believers), relating to Jesus in terms of his earthly human life, rather than through the presence and power of the Spirit. As Jesus notes in his famous saying in 6:63: “The Spirit is the (thing) making [i.e. giving] life, the flesh is not useful, not (for) one (thing)…”. Mary was seeking to unite with Jesus again at the level of the flesh (i.e. human friendship/discipleship), whereas the true and proper union of the believer with Jesus can only take place through the Spirit; and, the Spirit cannot be given until Jesus ascends to the Father.

That is the very point Jesus makes to his disciples in the Last Discourse, in 16:7:

“But I relate to you the truth: it bears together (well) for you that I should go away. For if I should not go away, the (One) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you; but if I travel (away), I will send him toward you.”

For the disciples, this was fulfilled in the Passion and Resurrection, with the sending of the Spirit, narrated briefly, but pictorially, in 20:22. This serves as the type-pattern for all future believers, who receive the Spirit, though no longer in the visible presence of Jesus on earth (cf. 20:29ff and 17:20-23). Until Jesus goes away (ascends, “steps up”) to the Father, he does not send the Spirit.

The relationship between the Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus is often ignored or neglected by Christians. One main reason for this, I think, is the overriding influence of the narrative in Acts 1-2, which effectively separates the coming/sending of the Spirit from the Resurrection. The Spirit is recognized in commemoration of Pentecost, not Easter/Resurrection Sunday. The situation would be different, however, if we focused instead on the narrative in the Gospel of John. Not only does the sending of the Spirit function clearly as the climactic moment of the resurrection narrative in chapter 20, but Jesus’ teaching regarding the coming of the Spirit/Paraclete is central to the Last Discourse that precedes his Passion. I will discuss this further in the next daily note, for the second day of Easter (Easter Monday), when we turn to Paul’s famous discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

January 11: Baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12)

Baptism: Union with Christ and Participation in His Death

The unique contribution made by Paul to the early Christian understanding of baptism was his emphasis on the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Elsewhere, he makes use of the simple symbolism of washing (vb lou/w), i.e., the earlier/original idea of a cleansing of sin, referring to the waters that (symbolically) wash away a person’s sins—1 Cor 6:11; also Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5. However, when it comes to the distinctly Christian development of the dunking/washing ritual (baptism)—(1) being performed “in the name of Jesus”, and (2) the association with the Holy Spirit (cf. the previous two notes)—Paul gave to these elements of the ritual a greater theological depth and significance. He did this primarily through his emphasis on the participatory aspect; that is to say, baptism symbolized the believer’s union with Jesus Christ, and, with it, a participation in Jesus’ own death.

Romans 6:3-4

This was very much a theological emphasis of Paul’s, even when there was no particular reference to baptism—see, most notably, Galatians 2:19-21 (also 5:24; 6:14). The central idea is that, through trust and union with Jesus, we die to sin (and its power). This goes a step beyond the traditional religious requirement of repenting from one’s sins; it means that the believer in Christ is actually dead to the power of sin. For Paul, it is the sacrificial death of Jesus that accomplishes this, freeing humankind from bondage to sin. This is the central tenet of Pauline soteriology, best and most fully expounded in chapters 5-8 of Romans; and it is in Romans 6:1-11 that Paul draws upon the baptism ritual to illustrate how believers have died to sin (and so must think and act accordingly). The ethical, paraenetic thrust of the passage is clear from the rhetorical question posed in verse 1 (“Shall we remain upon sin…?”), and which Paul answers himself in verse 2: “May it not come to be so! We, the (one)s who died away to sin, how shall we yet live in it?”. This leads to the argument based on the significance of Christian baptism:

“Or, are you without knowledge that, we, as (many) as were dunked [e)bapti/sqhmen] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? So we were buried together with him through the dunking [ba/ptisma] into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.” (vv. 3-4)

The concluding exhortation in v. 4 is part of the ethical instruction Paul is giving in these verses, but it, in turn, is based on a key theological and Christological point: we should “walk in newness of life” because we are united with both Jesus’ death and his resurrection:

“For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (it cannot be) other (that that) we will also be (in the likeness) of his standing up (out of the dead)…. And, if we died away with (the) Anointed, we trust that we also will live together with him, having seen [i.e. known] that (the) Anointed (One), (hav)ing been raised out of the dead, does not die away any longer, (and) Death no longer acts as Lord (over) him.” (vv. 5, 8-9)

This idea of baptism symbolizing our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection does not appear to be part of the earliest Christian understanding of the dunking ritual (based on the evidence in the book of Acts, as discussed in the previous notes). How, then, did Paul come to emphasize and develop this particular aspect? Several factors seem to be involved. First, it is a natural development of the ritual action—i.e., stepping down into the water represents death, while emerging again indicates the beginning of new life. And, even though this symbolic dimension was, it seems, not part of either the Johannine dunkings or the earliest Christian baptisms, it is known from contemporary initiation rituals (in the mystery cults, etc). Tertullian specifically notes the similarities (On Baptism 5.1), and, indeed, it is to be expected that early Christians (and perhaps as early as Paul) would come to interpret baptism in a corresponding way.

Second, the ritual meal (the Lord’s Supper) specifically signified a participation of believers in Jesus’ death, and it would be natural for the baptism ritual to take on a similar significance. Unfortunately, we have precious little detail in the New Testament on how the earliest Christians viewed the Lord’s Supper, but the Gospel tradition, attested in multiple sources (Mark 14:22-25 par; 1 Cor 12:23-26ff; cf. also John 6:51-58), suggests that the ritual would have carried this meaning from the earliest times.

Third, it is a natural development of the fundamental belief that believers are united with Jesus. This union means that we are also joined with him in his death, and all that was accomplished in it. Note how Paul has developed the traditional idea of being baptized “into [ei)$] the name of Jesus” (cf. the earlier note), and the expression which would have signified that a person belonged to Jesus, as his trusting follower. Now, however, in Rom 6:3, Paul speaks simply of being baptized “into [ei)$] the Anointed Yeshua” —that is, into the person of Jesus himself. This is essentially equivalent with idea of being “in [e)n] Christ”, an expression (and theological statement) used repeatedly by Paul (8:1-2; 12:5; 1 Cor 1:30, et al), including here at the close of the passage (v. 11).

Finally, though sometimes overlooked, we have the Gospel tradition of the saying of Jesus whereby he refers to his suffering and death as a “dunking” (i.e. baptism, ba/ptisma); there are two ‘versions’ of this saying:

“Are you able to drink (of) the (same) drinking cup that I drink (from)? or to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with) the (same) dunking [ba/ptisma] that I am dunked [bapti/zomai]?…” (Mark 10:38f)
“And I hold a dunking [ba/ptisma] (that I am) to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with), and I am held (tight) together until the (time when) it should be completed!” (Luke 12:50)

The Markan version, with its pairing of the cup and the “dunking”, effectively establishes both Christian rituals—Lord’s Supper and Baptism—as being fundamentally tied to the disciple’s participation in Jesus death.

Colossians 2:12

The participatory aspect of baptism is stated again in Colossians 2:12, and in similar ethical, exhortational context—cf. verse 6: “So, as you received the Anointed Yeshua, the Lord, alongside, you must walk about in him [e)n au)tw=|]…”. This is the familiar Pauline idea of being “in Christ”, and is repeated in verses 10-11:

“…and you are in him [e)n au)tw=|] having been made full, (in the one) who is the head of all chief (rule) and authority, in whom [e)n w!|] also you were cut around [i.e. circumcised]—a cutting round [i.e. circumcision] done without hands, in the sinking out (away) from the body of the flesh, in the cutting round of (the) Anointed—”

The statement regarding baptism follows:

“(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [ba/ptisma], in whom [e)n w!|] also you were raised together, through the trust (you have) of the (power) of God working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead” (v. 12)

This is precisely the same dying and rising with Christ theme expressed in Rom 6:3-4, stated more concisely in context of the framing concept of being “in Christ”. What is notable here is the way that Paul (accepting the genuine authorship of Colossians) blends baptism together with the motif of circumcision, suggesting that the ritual dunking holds a similar place for believers (in the New Covenant) as circumcision did for Israel (in the Old Covenant). This is the only place in the New Testament where such a parallel is drawn; however, the comparison here is perhaps better understood in terms of the nature and significance of the ritual action—that is, of cutting away the flesh. It very much fits the Pauline idea of the believer as a new creation, having set aside the old nature of things that had been in bondage under sin; indeed, this is the aspect Paul emphasizes here, when he refers to the ‘putting off’ (lit. sinking out away from, a)pe/kdusi$) the “body of the flesh”, as a snake would shed its skin. The same point is made in verse 13, uniting even more closely the motifs of baptism and circumcision:

“and you, being dead [in] the (moment)s of falling alongside, and in the (outer) edge of enclosure of the flesh, he (has) made you alive together with him, (hav)ing shown favor to you…”

I have translated the noun a)krobusti/a quite literally as “(outer) edge of enclosure”, rendered more commonly (and correctly) as “foreskin” (i.e. of the male genital organ). The paraptw/mata are the failings or sins (lit. “[moment]s of falling alongside”) of the believer, especially those committed while still under bondage to the power of sin. The “foreskin” signifies the outermost part of this old condition, and thus that which is most dead. Through trust in Jesus, and symbolized by the baptism ritual, this ‘old nature’ is cut off and put away—the believer dies to the old and comes alive again to the new.

This symbolic dimension of baptism is more frequently expressed with clothing imagery—i.e., of removing an old garment and “putting on” one that is new. This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we explore Paul’s understanding of the role of the Spirit in the baptism ritual.

January 6: Galatians 3:27; 1 John 3:2

Believers as the “sons of God”, continued

In this short study on the “birth” of Believers as the sons/children of God, I have presented this in terms of Christian experience, as a process made up of four ‘stages’. The first two were discussed in the previous note, each with a representative Scripture verse; the last two will be examined today.

    1. Pre-existent sonship (predestination/election as sons)
    2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus
    3. Sonship recognized/symbolized in the ritual of Baptism
    4. Sonship realized through resurrection/exaltation
3. Sonship symbolized in Baptism (Galatians 3:26-27ff)

In the conceptual framework I have adopted, the baptism of believers corresponds, appropriately enough, with the baptism of Jesus (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note). As Jesus was declared God’s Son at the Baptism, so the sonship of believers is recognized (and symbolized) in the ritual of baptism.

References to baptism are surprisingly rare in the New Testament, outside of the Gospels and Acts. Indeed, Paul is the only author to deal with subject (apart from 1 Peter 3:21), and he appears to have developed a distinctive interpretation of the ritual. Drawing upon a common early tradition, he has infused baptism with a deeper theological (and Christological) meaning. There were two factors which led to the association between baptism and the identity of believers as sons of God. The first of these, as noted above, is the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ own baptism. All four Gospels include the tradition of the heavenly voice (of God) declaring Jesus to be his Son. While there is some textual uncertainty regarding this declaration in John (1:34, v.l.), the Synoptic tradition is relatively fixed (Mark 1:11 par). As discussed in an earlier note, the heavenly declaration almost certainly alludes to Psalm 2:7 (in Luke 3:22 v.l. it is a direct citation), and, as such, has definite Messianic significance, though, as we have seen, Christians also came to understand the title “Son of God” (and the statement in Psalm 2:7 itself) in a deeper sense, in terms of the pre-existent deity of Christ.

The second factor involves the significance of the ritual act, as it developed among the earliest believers. From the original idea of cleansing (from sin), baptism came to represent the essential identity of the believer in Christ. This was patterned along the lines of the Lord’s Supper, as presented in the early (Gospel) tradition—as a participation in the death of Jesus, symbolically imitating his own sacrificial act. By going into the water, one dies (symbolically), participating in Jesus’ death; and, in emerging again from the water, our new life in Christ is symbolized—a “rebirth” effected by the same divine power (the Spirit) that raised Jesus from the dead. No one emphasized or expressed this participatory aspect more than Paul. It is clearly and powerfully stated in Romans 6:3-5:

“…are you without knowledge that we, as (many of us) as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? Then we were buried together with him through th(is) dunking into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the Father, (so) also we should walk about in newness of life. For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (then) also will we be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up (out of the dead)…”

The same idea is expressed, more concisely, in Colossians 2:12, which better captures the essence of the ritual act:

“…(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [i.e. baptism], in which also you rose together, through the trust (you have) of God’s working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead”

In Galatians, this participatory language also occurs at several points, not always in the context of baptism (see especially 2:19-21). The theme of baptism is introduced at 3:27, directly following the declaration in verse 26 regarding the identity of believers as sons of God (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The entirety of chapter 3 (indeed, all of chaps. 3-4) deals with this question of Christian identity—i.e., believers in Christ as the people of God, heirs to the covenantal promises originally given to Abraham (and Israel). The true identity of humankind as the sons of God comes through trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit—both of which are represented in the baptism ritual. Here is how Paul concludes his discussion in chapter 3:

“For all of you are sons of God through the trust (you have) in (the) Anointed Yeshua, for as (many) of you as were dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed, you sunk yourselves into (the) Anointed (as a garment). (And) there is in (him) no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek, there is in (him) no slave and no free (person), there is in (him) no male and female—for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua! And if you are of the Anointed (One), then you are the seed of Abraham, (the one)s receiving (his) lot, according to (the) message [i.e. promise] (of God) upon (it).” (vv. 26-29)

This same sort of ritual language and imagery is used by Paul in 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:10-11 (cp. Eph 4:24). His use of the image of ‘putting on a garment’, with the verb e)ndu/w (literally “sink in”, i.e. into the garment), is even more widespread. It is typically used in the middle voice, that is, of believers reflexively putting on Christ (as a garment). The ‘garment’ signifies the participatory union we have with Jesus (the Son), but also the new life (and new way of life) that this union brings. It is the baptism ritual that symbolizes this new life, but it still must be realized by believers, in the present, each day. Thus, Paul uses the idiom in an ethical context, urging believers to live and walk in this newness of life, which means walking according to the guidance of the Spirit. For the verb e)ndu/w in this context, cf. 1 Thess 5:8; Romans 13:12-14; Col 3:9-12 (cp. 2:11-12); Eph 6:11, 14; and, for similar instruction specifically referring to the Spirit’s guidance, note Rom 8:4-5ff; Gal 5:16-18, 25; 6:8. That the baptismal ‘garment’ is essentially to be identified with the Spirit is clear from 1 Cor 12:13.

In 1 Cor 15:53f and 2 Cor 5:3 the verb e)ndu/w and image of putting on the (new) garment is used in an eschatological context, referring to the resurrection and future glory of believers. It is this (final) aspect of the sonship of believers that I discuss briefly below.

4. Sonship realized through Resurrection/Exaltation (1 John 3:2)

It is in Romans 8:18-25 that Paul addresses the identity of believers as the “sons of God”, as it is finally realized at the end-time, in the resurrection. I have discussed this passage earlier, as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and will not repeat that study here. Instead, I turn to 1 John 3:1-3, for an expression of this eschatological aspect.

The principal thrust of First John has to do with the identity of those who are true believers in Christ. This is defined by the great dual-command of (a) trust in Jesus and (b) love for one’s fellow believers, according to Jesus’ own example (3:23-24). For the author of the letter, sin is understood primarily as violating the dual-command. The section 2:28-3:10 deals with the relationship between sin and the believer; no true believer can sin in the sense of transgressing the dual-command, only false believers will sin this way. He warns of the false believers who do not have a proper trust or belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and also do not show love (since they have separated from the Community of believers). And, in common with the Johannine theology, the true believers are identified as children of God, using the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), i.e. “the ones having come to be born out of God”. This is the language used in 2:29 (also 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), while the plural noun te/kna (“offspring, children”) occurs in 3:1-2, 10; 5:2; in the Gospel, note 1:12-13; 3:3-8. In the Johannine writings, te/kna is preferred over ui(oi/ (“sons”, except Jn 12:36 “sons of light”), with the noun ui(o/$ reserved for Jesus as the only “Son”.

The section 2:28-3:10 is given an eschatological setting, referring to the end-time coming of Jesus, in 2:28. The author clearly believed that he and his readers were living in the last days (“last hour”, 2:18), and would likely live to see the return of Jesus. The false view of Jesus is called antichrist (a)nti/xristo$, “against the Anointed”) and is a sure indication that the end is near. Thus, in 3:1-3, the identity of believers as sons/children of God has both a present and future aspect, with the future soon to be realized:

“You must see what (sort of) love the Father has given to us, that we would be called (the) offspring of God [te/kna qeou=], and (so) we are. Through [i.e. because of] this, the world does not know us, (in) that [i.e. because] it did not know Him. Loved (one)s, we are now (the) offspring of God, and yet it has not been made to shine forth what we will be. We have seen that, when it should (indeed) be made to shine forth, we will be like Him, (in) that we will look with (open) eyes (seeing) Him even as He is. And (so) every (one) holding this hope upon him makes himself pure, even as that (one) is pure.”

The key eschatological statement is verse 2 (in bold). There are four different dimensions to the believers’ identity as the “offspring of God”, and they generally correspond with the four ‘stages’ outlined in this study:

    • “we would be called” —the love and intention God has for us [Election/Predestination]
    • “we are” —our essential identity and reality as believers [Trust in Jesus]
    • “we are now” —our identity in the present, realized in the Christian life [Symbolized by Baptism, etc]
    • “we will be” —our identity fulfilled at the end-time coming of Jesus [Resurrection/Exaltation]

The syntax of vv. 1-3 poses certain problems, as the referent for the 3rd person singular verbal subject and pronoun is not always clear. Does “he/him” refer to God the Father (the immediate subject in v. 1) or to Jesus (his return, the subject in 2:28). Moreover, the verb fanerwqh=| is unclear—is the subject “what we will be”, or does it refer to the appearance of Jesus? The former is to be preferred as more natural to the syntax, and also to the point the author is making; it should be read “when it should be made to shine forth…”. As to the identity of “he/him”, in my view, it is God the Father in vv. 1-2, but then switches (back) to Jesus in v. 3. The hope of believers is “upon him”, that is, upon the return of Jesus (2:28), and the demonstrative pronoun e)kei=no$ (“that one”) refers back to Jesus. In between, 2:29-3:2, the focus is on God the Father, and our (believers’) relation to Him as His offspring. Admittedly, the syntax is a bit confusing; it requires careful attention to the nuance of the author’s line of argument.

This eschatological dimension of sonship is not that unusual; it relates to the traditional Jewish idea of the righteous as “sons of God”, an identity that will only be fully realized in the blessed afterlife, after having passed through the Judgment—e.g., Wisdom 5:5; Philo On the Confusion of Tongues §147; cp. Matt 5:9; 2 Cor 6:18. We also have the eschatological image of the faithful ones being gathered together, at the end-time, as “sons of God” (Psalms of Solomon 17:28-30; cp. John 11:52). The blessed future life for the righteous involves the vision of God, i.e. seeing God Himself, and it is this experience which fully transforms the righteous (believers) into sons/children of God who resemble their Father (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 3:18; in Jewish tradition, e.g., Philo On Abraham §§57-59; Pesiqta Rabbati 46b [11.7]; Midrash on Psalm 149 [270a]). Cf. R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982), p. 425, and the discussion throughout pp. 378-435.

Ultimately, however, for believers, this transformation is based on our union with Jesus (the Son), through the Spirit. This builds on the familiar idea that our identity as God’s sons/children stems from Jesus’ own Sonship. Paul recognizes this throughout his discussions on the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23ff, 45-49; 2 Cor 4:14; Phil 3:20-21, etc), but most notably in Romans 8:18-25ff, and the climactic statement in verse 29:

“…that the (one)s whom He knew before(hand) He also marked out before(hand) together in (the) shape of the image of His Son, unto his being (the) first-produced [i.e. firstborn] among many brothers

Thus, we are to become truly God’s sons, brothers to Jesus as His Son. Much the same idea is to be found in Hebrews 2:10:

“For it was fitting for Him, through whom all (thing)s (have their purpose), and through whom all (thing)s (came to be), (in) leading many sons into honor/splendor [do/ca], (was) to make complete the chief leader of their salvation through sufferings.”

In 1 John 3:1-3, this relationship is indicated by the outer references to Jesus (2:28, 3:3) which frame the inner references to God the Father. Our sonship derives from Jesus’ own sonship, and our exaltation is similarly based on Jesus’ own exaltation. When he returns, this final aspect of our identity as sons of God will be realized.

December 27: Romans 1:4

In the previous note, we saw how, in the earliest Christian preaching, the deity of Jesus—and, in particular, his identity as the Son of God—was understood primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. The birth/sonship motif was introduced by way of Psalm 2:7, applied to Jesus (as the Messiah). This featured in the kerygma of Paul’s Antioch speech in Acts 13 (vv. 32-33), but it is also representative of the wider preaching done by the first missionaries, reflecting a seminal Christology. Long before the Infancy narratives had been written—and even years before any Gospel was written at all—there was a core story of Jesus’ birth, of how he can to be “born” as the Son of God.

If the book of Acts preserves Gospel preaching (in substance, at least) from the early years c. 30-45 A.D., then the Pauline letters represent the next stage of development, documents recording early Christian theology in written form, during the years c. 45-60. And, in those letters, the title “Son of God”, and references to Jesus as God’s Son, occur more frequently than they do in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. The few passages which mention God sending his Son (Rom 8:3, 32; Gal 4:4ff) may allude to a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity (cp. with Phil 2:6-11)—at any rate, they certainly point in that direction. However, most of Paul’s references do not evince a Christology that goes much beyond what we see in the book of Acts. Two of the earliest such references to Jesus as God’s Son, like those by Paul in the Acts speeches, etc, are still very much defined in relation to the resurrection.

1 and 2 Thessalonians are likely are the earliest of Paul’s surviving letters, dating perhaps from 49-50 A.D. They contain just one reference to Jesus as God’s Son—the eschatological notice in 1 Thess 1:10:

“…how you turned back toward God, away from the images, to be a slave for the living and true God, and to remain up (waiting for) His Son (from) out of the heavens, whom He raised out of the dead—Yeshua, the (one hav)ing rescued us out of the coming anger (of God)”.

Here, again, Jesus’ status as God’s Son appears to be tied to his resurrection. This is more or less assumed by Paul in the subsequent letters, but never again stated so clearly in terms of the traditional belief. Within just a few years, apparently, Paul’s Christological understanding had deepened; certainly, by the time he wrote 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, in the mid-late 50s, he refers to Jesus as God’s Son somewhat differently, with new points of emphasis. Romans, in many ways, represents the pinnacle of his theology; however, it begins with a doctrinal formulation (1:3-4) that many commentators regard as much earlier, a creedal statement that Paul inherited and adapted. This critical hypothesis is probably correct, given the atypical language, phrasing and theological emphases that occur in these two verses. If it does indeed represent an older, established creedal formula, then it may have been in existence any number of years prior to being incorporated by Paul in the opening of Romans. It may well reflect the Christological understanding of believers c. 45-50 A.D.

Romans 1:4

Here is the statement in Rom 1:3-4, given in literal translation:

“…about His Son, the (one hav)ing come to be out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God, in power, according to the spirit of holiness, out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead—Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord”

Two participial phrases are set in parallel:

    • “coming to be out of the seed of David
      • according to the flesh”
    • “being marked out (as) Son of God…
      • according to the spirit of holiness”

The modifying prepositional phrases (with kata/, “according to”) are also parallel. The first clearly refers to Jesus’ human birth, while the second, properly, to his “birth” as the Son of God. Both aspects of Jesus’ person and identity are fundamentally Messianic. The first phrase indicates that he was the Davidic (royal) Messiah from the time of his birth, and apparently, assumes the tradition of a Davidic geneaology (cp. Matt 1:1-17). The second phrase, most likely builds on the early Christological statements in Acts 13:32-33, etc (cf. the previous note), which applies Psalm 2:7 to Jesus, in the context of the resurrection, and so defines his identity as the “Son of God”. This basic qualification of the title would seem to be confirmed by the wording in verse 4, especially the modifying expression “in power” and the specific phrase “out of the standing up [i.e. resurrection] of the dead”.

The expression “in power” (e)n duna/mei) refers to God’s power (duna/mi$) that raised Jesus from the dead, as seems clear from Paul’s wording in 1 Cor 6:14:

“And God raised the Lord [i.e. Jesus] and will (also) raise us through His power [dia\ th=$ duna/mew$ au)tou=]”

The power that raised Jesus also established him as God’s Son, in a position at God the Father’s right hand in heaven. The modifying phrase “according to the spirit of holiness” is a bit more ambiguous. Despite the similarity in wording, and the familiar Pauline contrast between flesh (sa/rc) and Spirit (pneu=ma), the expression “spirit of holiness” probably should not be taken as equivalent to “the Holy Spirit”; it is better understood here in the sense of the transformation of Jesus’ person and human body (“flesh”) which occurred in the resurrection. In 1 Cor 15:45, Paul states that Jesus (the “last Adam”) came to be (transformed) “into a life-giving spirit”. Elsewhere, Paul essentially identifies the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of Jesus that is at work in and among believers, so there is clearly some conceptual overlap and blending of these ideas. The exalted person of Jesus comes to be closely identified with the Holy Spirit, especially when understood in relation to believers.

We must keep in mind that the parallel with Jesus’ physical/biological human birth in verse 3 confirms that v. 4 refers to Jesus’ “birth” as the Son of God. This is understood, in line with the earliest Christian belief, in terms of the resurrection, however problematic this might be for subsequent Christology. That some were indeed troubled by the wording here is suggested by the common Latin rendering that developed (praedestinatus), which would presuppose the reading proorisqe/nto$ (“marking out before[hand]”) instead of o(risqe/nto$ (“marking out”). The verb o(ri/zw literally means “mark out”, as of a boundary, setting the limits to something, etc. It can be used figuratively (of people) in the sense of appointing or designating someone, in a position or role, etc. The use of the verb here of Jesus (cp. Acts 17:31; 10:42) suggests that he was appointed to the position/status of God’s Son only at the resurrection; while the prefixed proori/zw is more amenable to a belief in Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

Paul’s initial words in verse 3 allow for the possibility of the pre-existent Sonship of Jesus—i.e. that he was God’s Son even prior to his birth. This would seem to be confirmed by the language used in 8:3, 29, 32 (cp. Gal 4:4ff). In all likelihood, Paul would have affirmed (in Romans and Galatians) the Christological understanding evinced in the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11, expressed in terms of God sending His Son to humankind. While this is not so forceful a view of pre-existent Sonship as we find in the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), it seems clear enough. The apparent contrast with the Christology of Rom 1:3-4 can be explained by the critical theory, that those verses preserve an older/earlier mode of expression, a creedal formula which Paul has adopted.

Before proceeding to consider Jesus’ identity as the Son of God in Rom 8:3ff and Gal 4:4-7, and how this relates to the birth/sonship motif, it is necessary to turn first to the early Gospel tradition, and how this motif was applied to Jesus’ Baptism and the period of his earthly ministry. This we will do in the next note.