May 3: Romans 8:21-23

Romans 8:21-23

Towards the end of chapter 8 (cf. the previous note on Rom 8:10-11), Paul brings in a strong eschatological emphasis. Many Christians today do not fully appreciate the importance of eschatology in early Christian thought. I have discussed the subject at length in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (cf. the Part 2 of the article on Romans). For first-century Christians, their eschatology was imminent, expecting  that the end would come very soon, probably within the lifetime of most believers. Salvation was understood primarily in terms of being saved from the coming Judgment.

Following the Judgment, a New Age would be inaugurated for humankind; the eschatological expectation of many Jews and Christians of the time included the idea of a complete transformation of all creation—drawing upon the prophetic tradition of a “new heavens and new earth” (Isa 65:17ff; 66:22; cf. Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:13). Paul is expressing a similar idea here in Rom 8:18-23, working from the premise, shared by most Christians at the time, that the New Age had already been ushered in, but was only realized (in the present) for believers. This way of thinking is typically referred to as “realized eschatology” —the promise of salvation, eternal life, the resurrection of the body, and so forth—all of this is experienced by believers in Christ, in a preliminary way, through the presence of the Spirit.

Thus, as Paul expounds the matter in vv. 18-23, believers represent the ‘first-fruits’, a)parxh/, literally the beginning (of the ingathering) from (the harvest)—the harvest being a natural motif for the end of the Age. The good grain/fruit is brought in, while the bad/useless chaff is discarded (and burnt up)—cf. Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 38ff; Rev 14:15-20; also Matt 9:37-38 par; John 4:35; cp. Jer 51:33; Joel 3:13, etc). From an eschatological standpoint, this signifies a temporal priority—i.e., the initial transformation of believers, through our possession of the Spirit, marks the beginning of the New Age.

For believers in Christ, the end time, in spite of the suffering (like that of a woman in labor) that takes place, ultimately provides a reason for great hope. Indeed, Paul declares that the present (eschatological) suffering cannot compare to the honor/splendor (do/ca) which we are about to experience (v. 18). In his words, the sufferings of “the time (right) now” are not comparable to the do/ca “being about to be uncovered [i.e. revealed] unto us” (note the imminence of this expectation). The prepositional expression ei)$ h(ma=$ could also be translated “in us”.

This hope for believers also gives hope to the rest of creation (as a whole). Paul refers to this in verse 19 as the “a)pokaradoki/a of the foundation”. The compound noun a)pokaradoki/a is almost impossible to translate; it essentially refers to the act of stretching out one’s head (and neck) with the hopes of seeing/perceiving something. The noun kti/si$, which I translate as “foundation,” properly refers to something that is founded or formed (vb kti/zw), cf. Rom 1:25. It is best understood here in a comprehensive/collective sense, referring to all of creation (cp. the use in Rom 1:20). Creation is looking out, hoping to receive (i.e. experience) the end-time manifestation of “the sons of God” (i.e. believers). Currently, this identity of believers is hidden, realized only internally, through the presence of the Spirit; eventually, the honor/splendor (do/ca) of this status will shine forth for all to see.

In verses 20-22, Paul strikingly attributes to all of creation, the same bondage (doulei/a, lit. slavery) which human beings suffered, prior to the coming of Christ. Just as all of humankind was in bondage to the power of sin and death, so all of creation is similarly enslaved. The primary manifestation of this is the fact that all of creation is subject to death and decay (fqora/). Creation has been put in (submissive) order under the authority of sin/death; this idea is expressed by the verb u(pota/ssw. However, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta in v. 20, referring to the person who put creation under this bondage, is not entirely clear. The best explanation is that Paul identifies God as the ultimate cause—He subjected creation to this bondage, allowing it to be so enslaved, with the final hope in mind: that eventually all of creation would be set free from this bondage.

Currently, this freedom is only experienced by believers in Christ, and only through the internal presence of the Spirit. But the time will (soon) come when the same freedom will be realized by all of creation:

“…even the foundation [i.e. creation] itself will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the offspring of God.” (v. 21)

All of creation collectively suffers (v. 22), groaning and being in pain (like a woman in labor), but this suffering will lead to a new birth—the manifestation of the sons/children of God. Here in chap. 8, Paul utilizes both the noun ui(o/$ (ui(oi/, “sons”), and the more generic te/knon (pl. te/kna), “offspring”, with no real difference in meaning. By contrast, in the Johannine writings, believers are always referred to as “offspring [te/kna] of God”, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) reserved for Jesus. Paul’s use of ui(oi/ in vv. 14, 19 is perhaps influenced by the adoption motif in chapter 8 (esp. verses 14-17). The noun ui(oqesi/a literally means “placement as a son” (cf. also Gal 4:5 in context). Paul does, however, share with the Johannine writings the belief that Divine sonship is realized exclusively through our relationship to Jesus, the unique Son (vv. 29ff).

The climax of this exposition comes in verse 23, where Paul (finally) makes reference again to the Spirit. He makes clear that the transformation of creation will occur just as it does for believers—through the life-giving power of the Spirit:

“And not only (this), but (we our)selves, holding the beginning from (the harvest) of the Spirit, we also groan in ourselves, (look)ing out to receive placement as son(s), the loosing from (bondage) of our bodies.”

The occurrence of the noun ui(oqesi/a again here in v. 23 (indicated in light gray text) is problematic, and some commentators would omit it. Indeed, it is not present in a number of manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). Its inclusion would imply that believers do not already have “placement as (God’s) sons,” quite contrary to what Paul indicated earlier in vv. 14-17. By contrast, what we are currently still awaiting is the full realization of this identity—which will take place at the end-time resurrection, when our bodies will at last be set free from bondage to death. In this regard, we have the same groaning expectation as the rest of creation, even though we have already been set free from bondage within, through the presence of the Spirit.

Though Paul does not state this here, the transforming power of the Spirit, communicating the live-giving power of God (over death), is specifically related to our participation in the death of Jesus. This is to be inferred based on what was said earlier in vv. 10-11 (as also in 6:1-11)—on which, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

March 24: Romans 8:17

Romans 8:17

“And, if (His) offspring, (then) also (one)s holding the lot—holding the lot of God, and holding the lot together with (the) Anointed; (and) if indeed we suffer with (him), (it is) that also we shall be honored with (him).”

This final verse builds upon the theme of believers as sons of God. Here, as in v. 16 (cf. the previous note), the more general (and inclusive) term te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used; however, the context of inheritance clearly shows that Paul still has the sonship idea in mind. The plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) was used in v. 14, along with the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son,” i.e., adoption) in v. 15. The son-heir theme also features prominently in Galatians 3-4, and the parallels between Gal 4:5-6 and our passage have been noted.

The noun klhrono/mo$ literally means “one holding the lot [klh=ro$]”. A klh=ro$ is a broken piece or small fragment (of wood, stone, etc), used in the casting of lots. From this specific (concrete) usage, the more general idea of a portion or allotment developed. Often this refers specifically to an inherited portion—i.e., an inheritance; and, thus, the klhrono/mo$ is a person holding the right to an inheritance, i.e., an heir.

Here, Paul is declaring that believers hold the right of inheritance, as sons of God. It is indeed, from God Himself that we inherit, as the expression “heirs of God” (klhrono/moi qeou=) indicates. The genitive qeou= (“of God”) is an objective genitive, designating what it is that we inherit—namely, the things belonging to God. However, it is normally the eldest son who inherits; and, in applying such an illustration to a Christian context, this means that Jesus Christ, the Son, is the true heir of God. We, as believers, can be considered heirs only through our union with him. Paul expresses this point here through use of a me\nde/ construction (“on the one hand…on the other…”):

    • me\n:
      klhrono/moi qeou=
      (“heirs of God”)
    • de/:
      sugklhrono/moi xristou=
      (“heirs together with Christ”)

On the one hand (me\n), we are indeed heirs of God; but, on the other hand (de/), this is only true because we are heirs together with Christ. Syntactically, the two expressions are the same, and the translation probably should reflect this:

      • “heirs of God / co-heirs of Christ”

Literally, this would mean that we all, together as believers, are co-heirs to what Christ, first, inherits. However, what follows in v. 17 suggests that the preposition sun– should be understood in relation to Christ (i.e., together with him). This would mean that the noun sugklhrono/moi would be translated “heirs  together with (him)” (lit. [one]s holding the lot with [him])—i.e., we share Christ’s inheritance together with him.

And, how is that we come to share in his inheritance? Paul alludes to this in the remainder of verse 17: it is by way of our union with him, realized through the Spirit. This point is essential to Paul’s spiritualism, and is deserving of special attention. We focus on the nature and significance of this spiritual union in the next daily note.

March 23: Romans 8:16

Romans 8:16

“The Spirit itself gives witness together with our spirit that we are (the) offspring of God.”

In verse 15 (cf.the previous note), Paul refers to the Spirit within believers as “the spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]” —that is to say, through the Spirit we, as believers, acquire the status of sons (i.e., children) of God. We share this sonship with Jesus himself, as is clear from the parallel in Gal 4:6, where Paul refers to “the Spirit of His Son”. Earlier in our passage (v. 9), Paul uses the expression “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably, as a reference to the Spirit. It is thus the Spirit of Jesus (the Son) even as it is the Spirit of God (the Father), the two sharing the same Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 15:45 combined with 6:17). In a similar way, through union with Christ, believers also share in this Spirit.

Here, in verse 16, Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit as a witness (ma/rtu$) to our identity as God’s children. He uses the compound verb summarture/w, which means “give witness [marture/w] together with [sun] another”. The ‘other’ witness is our own spirit.

The noun pneu=ma is one of several terms that refer generally to the inner aspect of a human being. Paul uses pneu=ma in this sense in Rom 1:9, and also in 1 Cor 2:11; 5:3-5; 7:34; 14:14-16; 2 Cor 7:1; Gal 6:18; 1 Thess 5:23, and in a few other references as well. There is not always a sharp distinction made between pneu=ma (“spirit”), yuxh/ (“soul”), and nou=$ (“mind”)—all three terms variously reflect overlapping aspects of what Paul elsewhere calls the “inner” (e&sw) person (Rom 7:22; 2 Cor 4:16; also Eph 3:16); and note also the inward/outward contrast in Rom 2:29. Paul’s emphasis on the inward aspect of Christian identity and religious (spiritual) experience is a general indication of his spiritualism.

In Rom 8:23, Paul makes clear that we, as believers, hold the Divine sonship within (e)n) ourselves, through the presence and work of the Spirit. Paul gives us a portrait of how the Spirit of God (and Christ) interacts with our own spirit in vv. 26-27; cf. also the discussion on 1 Cor 2:10-14 in the earlier article in this series. Here the Spirit’s interaction (with our spirit) does two things: (1) it confirms for us that we are, indeed, the sons of God; and, (2) it gives us the authority/ability to declare this, by crying out (vb kra/zw) “Abba, Father!” —declaring God to be our Father, in the same manner in which Jesus (the Son) addressed the Father (e.g., Mk 14:36). The second aspect was emphasized in v. 15, the first is the focus here in v. 16.

That is to say, here the Spirit functions as a confirming witness. This dual-witness concept is not unique to Paul, as it seems to have been an important component in early Christian thought. Outside of the Pauline letters, it is particularly emphasized in Luke-Acts and the Johannine writings. In the case of Luke-Acts, the dual-witness motif is part of a broader narrative treatment of the role of the Spirit among early believers, and in the inspired (prophetic) nature of the Gospel proclamation; in particular, we may note the wording in Acts 5:32 and 15:28. In the Johannine Gospel, the Spirit clearly functions in a way that parallels the disciples’ own teaching (which they received from Jesus himself)—cf. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13ff. There are closer parallels to our passage in 1 John, where the Spirit’s witness confirms that Jesus Christ (and his sonship) abides in us, and that we, in turn, are also sons/children of God—cf. 3:24; 4:6, 13. The “witness” motif is particularly prominent in the Johannine writings, and the Spirit is the ultimate witness for believers (Jn 15:26; 1 Jn 5:6-8).

Verse 16 begins with the (neuter) personal pronoun au)to/ (“he/it”), in emphatic position. The neuter case agrees with the noun pneu=ma, and the pronoun is used used here in an emphatic/intensive way—i.e., “the Spirit itself.” This could also be translated “th(is) same Spirit” —that is, the “spirit (of sonship)” mentioned in v. 15, which is also the “Spirit of God” (in v. 14). In other words, the very Spirit of God in us, the Spirit that establishes us as His sons, confirms the truth (for us) that we are, indeed, His children.

In v. 14, Paul used the plural ui(oi/ (“sons”), while here the neuter plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used. There is no real difference in meaning, though te/kna is certainly the more general and inclusive term, which makes clear that the statements in vv. 14-15 apply to all believers—male and female. As previously noted, in the Johannine writings, te/kna is always used of believers (Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2), never the noun ui(o/$, which is reserved for Jesus. Paul shares this belief in the uniqueness of Jesus’ Sonship, but is not averse to using the noun ui(o/$ when speaking of believers as God’s children. Through our union with Jesus, who is the Son (and heir) of God, we share in the same Sonship, and thus become, ourselves, sons (and co-heirs) with him; cf. the discussion in Galatians 3-4, and here throughout chapter 8. The point is made more explicit in verse 17, which we will examine in the next daily note.

March 22: Romans 8:15 (continued)

Romans 8:15, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


March 20: Romans 8:14

Romans 8:14-17

As part of the recent article on Romans 8:1-17ff (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), I will be presenting a short set of exegetical notes on verses 14-17. These verses are an integral part of Paul’s discussion on the role of the Spirit in chapter 8. They must be understood in light of the main proposition of the chapter, stated in verse 2, and then expounded in the verses that follow:

“The law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (has) set you free from the law of sin and death”

I have summarized the theme of chapter 8 as an announcement of Life in the Spirit; this follows the theme in chapters 67, of the announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin.

Romans 8:14

“For as (many) as are led by (the) Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

This is perhaps the clearest and most succinct statement by Paul regarding the central place of the Spirit for believers, in terms of their new religious identity as God’s people. In this regard, Paul is drawing upon earlier Old Testament tradition, whereby Israel, as God’s chosen people, was identified as God’s “son(s)” —cf. Exod 4:22; Deut 14:1; Isa 1:2; Hos 11:1; Jer 3:19ff; 31:9; Wisd 18:13, etc. It is clear from the context in Romans (e.g., 9:4) that Paul was fully cognizant of this religious background.

The declaration here in v. 14 is parallel with Galatians 4:6a, where Paul states the identity of believers even more bluntly: “you are sons” (e)ste ui(oi/)—that is, sons of God. The role of the Spirit is also emphasized in Gal 4:6, though it must be said that the idea of the Spirit as a witness to the essential identity of believers is not unique to Paul’s thought, since it is found at several points in the Johannine writings (1 Jn 3:24; 4:13; 5:6), where it can also be connected with the idea of believers as “children of God” (cf. Jn 1:12; 3:5-8; 1 Jn 3:1ff; 4:4).

One might be inclined to translate the expression ui(oi\ qeou= here as “children of God,” since Paul does use the more inclusive term te/kna (“offspring, children”) in vv. 16-17. However, in light of the parallel with Gal 4:6, it is better to retain the more literal translation “sons of God” here in v. 14, as it relates to the specific Pauline motif of believers as God’s heirs. The (eldest) son is the heir to the Father, and Paul unquestionably has this concept in mind here, just as he does in Galatians 34. Christ is the Son, but believers through union with him, also receive the same status and identity as sons. This also is very much part of Johannine thought, except that the noun ui(o/$ is explicitly reserved for Jesus, with te/kna always being used for believers.

The demonstrative pronoun ou!toi (“these”) refers back to the first clause, clearly identifying the “sons of God” with those who are “led [a&gontai] by the Spirit of God”. The demonstrative ou!toi is parallel with the correlative pronoun o%soi (“as [many] as”). Essentially this means everyone who is led by the Spirit of God is a son of God. It is a statement of fundamental identity.

The verb a&gw (“lead”), a common verb in narrative, is relatively rare in Paul’s writings, occurring just seven times. In 1 Cor 12:2 (and also 2 Tim 3:6), it is used in a negative sense, of people being “led away/astray” by evil influences. More important for our study are the other instances where God is the actor, leading believers (Rom 2:4; 1 Thes 4:14). The use of the passive in v. 14 also means that God is acting, specifically through the presence of the Spirit. The parallel usage in Gal 5:18 is most relevant:

“if you are led [a&gesqe] by (the) Spirit, you are not under (the) law”

This is precisely the context of Romans 8, emphasizing the freedom of believers from the law (no/mo$), by which is meant (primarily) the Torah regulations of the Old Covenant. In place of the Torah, believers are now guided by a different law (no/mo$)—that of the living and indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. This is what Paul means by the expression “the law of the Spirit of life” (o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$) in verse 2.

However, this guidance of the Spirit does not take place without the willingness of the believer. There is a volitional component—we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit. This is central to Paul’s instruction in Galatians 5, where he twice specifically exhorts his readers to “walk” in the Spirit; this exhortation frames the instruction in vv. 1625, where he first uses the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) as an imperative, and then the verb stoixe/w (“walk/move in line”) as a subjunctive (with imperative/cohortative force).

The volitional aspect is perhaps emphasized even more forcefully here, as expressed in the preceding verses 12-13, where believers are exhorted not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka), as though still under bondage to the power of sin (and the law), but instead to “put to death” (vb qanato/w) the “deeds of the body”. This is done by living and ‘walking’ “in/by the Spirit” (pneu/mati)—or, using the language of v. 14 (and Gal 5:18), by letting ourselves be led by the Spirit.

This will be discussed further, in the next daily note (on v. 15).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 29

Psalm 29

Dead Sea MSS: 5/6HevPs (vv. 1-2)

The antiquity of this Psalm is admitted by nearly all critical commentators, who recognize it (on objective grounds) as one of the oldest surviving Psalms (no later than the 10th century B.C.). Its relative age is marked by the many details and features reflective of Canaanite poetry of the period. Some would go so far as to claim that Psalm 29 represents a Canaanite Baal-hymn that has been adapted for worship of Yahweh (cf. the earlier studies by H. L. Ginsberg, T. Gaster, F. M. Cross, and M. Dahood).

The meter of the Psalm will be mentioned in the notes below. The superscription marks it as a musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to David”. The admitted age of the poem makes it one of the few Psalms where it is possible to date it to a time close to that of David himself.

Verses 1-2

“Give to YHWH, sons of (the) Mighty (One),
give to YHWH weight and strength!
Give to YHWH (the) weight of His name,
bow to YHWH at (the) appearance of (His) holiness!”

These are best presented as 4-beat (4+4) couplets; however, it may be more in keeping with ancient Canaanite style to view them as a series of short 2-beat (2+2) couplets. The repetitive parallelism of these short lines is typical of the Canaanite poetic style, as attested in the Ugaritic texts of the 14th-13th century. The repeated imperative Wbh* is of the verbal root bhy, “give”, in the transferred sense of offering to a great personage (i.e. God as king/ruler) a ‘gift’ of praise. The noun dobK* is translated in its fundamental meaning of “weight”, i.e. worth, value, and the honor that is to be accorded to something based on its worth.

The expression “sons of the Mighty (One)” in the opening line uses the ancient Semitic name and title la@ (°¢l), literally something like “mighty” —that is, the “Mighty (One)”, usually rendered “God” in English. The form <yl!a@ (°¢lîm) would normally be understood as a plural (“Mighty [One]s”, ‘gods’), comparable to the later expanded form <yh!ýa$ (°§lœhîm). However, Cross (p. 45-46) and other commentators prefer to view it as the singular (la@) with an enclitic <. Psalm 89:7 is another such example, as well as what likely is the original reading of Deut 32:8 (according to the Qumran MS ). The only definite instance of <la as a true plural would seem to be in the Song of the Sea (Exod 15:11, cf. the recent daily note). In Canaanite polytheism, the “sons of °E~l” simply means the gods/deities in general, who are regarded as the offspring of the Creator (°E~l) and those divine beings who assemble in the court of His heavenly dwelling. Under the influence of Israelite monotheism, the “sons of God” are reduced to lesser heavenly beings who function as servants and messengers (i.e. Angels) of Yahweh (cf. Job 1:6; 2:1, etc). These beings appear to have been closely connected with the stars (Job 38:7) of heaven. Use of both singular la@ and plural <yl!a@ largely disappeared in Hebrew, being replaced by the expanded plural form <yh!ýa$; the older forms are preserved almost exclusively in poetry.

The noun hr*d*h& in the fourth line, usually translated “beauty”, is better understood in the fundamental sense of “adornment” —that is, of adorning one’s appearance to make it more attractive. The emphasis is on the splendor and majestic of YHWH’s appearance (i.e. as he appears). Given the storm-motif that is central here to this Psalm (cf. below), it is fair to assume that a theophany (manifestation of God on earth) is intended.

Verse 3

“(The) voice of YHWH (is) upon the waters,
(the) Mighty (One) of the weight brings thunder,
YHWH (is firmly) upon (the) many waters!

This is the first of a series of short stanzas dealing with the voice (loq) of YHWH, which is an ancient idiom for thunder—i.e., thunder conceived of as the “voice” of God. It is part of a wider stormtheophany—that is, of God manifest in the storm. Such storm-imagery was especially associated with the deity Haddu (called “Lord/Master”, or Baal) in Canaanite religious tradition, but was also connected with the Creator °E~l, and so similarly applied to Yahweh by the Israelites. The conflict between a strict worship of Yahweh and a (syncretistic) worship of Baal-Haddu in ancient Israel was based, in part, on these similarities.

The Sinai theophany, which was central to ancient Israelite religious thought and tradition, is described in terms of storm-theophany (Exodus 19:16-20; 20:18-21). The imagery is found in a number of Psalms and early poems as well, most notably in Psalm 18 (= 2 Sam 22), vv. 8-16, discussed in an earlier study; cf. also 89:6-19; 97:1-6; 77:16-18; 104:2-7; 144:5-6; Deut 33:26-29, and other examples. The power of the storm—both in its life-giving and destructive aspects—indicates control over the ancient waters.

In cosmological myth, this is often described in terms of the deity defeating and subduing the primeval waters (the Sea). There are likewise allusions to this conflict with the Sea in Old Testament poetry, and it is a component of the storm-theophany, as applied to YHWH. When the Psalm states that the voice of YHWH was “upon” (lu^) the waters it emphasizes God’s control over them; the preposition could also be understood in the sense of “against”, which would then contain an allusion to the cosmological conflict-motif. The context of creation may also entail a parallel with the traditional account in Genesis, where God’s presence (His breath/spirit) is “upon” the dark waters at the beginning of creation (1:2). The parallel between God’s breath and voice is obvious; in the Genesis account, the order of creation is established when He speaks (1:3ff).

The “weight” (dobK*) of YHWH—indicating His greatness and power, and the honor that is to be given to Him—is manifest especially through His presence in the storm. To ancient peoples, the storm, both through its terrifying power and life-sustaining rainfall, was held in awe and wonder. The religious focus shifts to the deity who is manifest in the storm, and has control over it.

Verses 4-6

“(The) voice of YHWH (is manifest) in power,
(the) voice of YHWH (is splendid) in appearance;
(the) voice of YHWH is breaking up (the) cedar trees,
YHWH breaks up (the) cedars of the white (mountains)—
He makes (the) white (mountains) jump like a bull-calf,
and the snow-peak(s) like (the) son of a wild bull!”

The use of repetitive parallelism is especially strong here, as the lines emphasize the grandeur and power of God’s “voice”. This power is manifest especially in the way that the storm (with its wind and lightning bolts) causes even the great cedar trees of the “white-capped” (/onb*l=) mountains (i.e., the Lebanon range) to burst/break apart (vb rb^v*). The parallel term /oyr=c! indicates the snow-capped (i.e. white) peaks of the mountains. The storm is depicted as affecting not only the trees, but the great mountain range as a whole.

Verses 7-9a

“(The) voice of YHWH is cutting through (with) flames of fire,
(the) voice of YHWH makes (the) hinterland [i.e. desert/wilderness] whirl,
YHWH makes whirl (the) hinterland of (the desert) sanctuary [Q¹¼¢š];
(the) voice of YHWH makes (the) deer twist (in anguish),
and makes bare (the) thicket (of the forest)!”

These verses continue the description of the thunder-storm’s effect on the land. If the focus in vv. 5-6 was on the mountains, in vv. 7-8 it is on the desert steppe (the “hinterland”, rB^d=m!, usually translated in English as “desert” or “wilderness”). Just as YHWH, through the power of the storm, can make the mountains “jump” (vb dq^r*), so he is able to make the desert steppe “whirl” (vb lWj). The reach of this power extends to the forest thickets in the flatland, where the deer and other animals dwell. As the land twirls, so also the deer “twist” (vb ll^j*) in anguish; this verb can refer specifically to the writhing of a woman in labor, so there may be here an allusion to the storm in its life-producing power. The destructive strength of the storm is also part of the fertility it brings to the land.

The mixing of imagery in verse 9 is further complicated by the incomplete/irregular meter, notably the two-beat line “and he makes bare the thicket”, which seems rather out of place. This, along with other factors, have led commentators to make various attempts at emending and/or rearranging the lines throughout verses 6-9 (e.g., Cross, pp. 154-155; Dahood, pp. 174-5). As there is no solution which, in my view, is remotely satisfactory or convincing, I make no attempt to do anything of the sort in my translation above. Instead, I work from the traditional Masoretic text as we have it, recognizing that the text, in verse 9 at least, is likely corrupt or incomplete. Unfortunately, there is no help from the Dead Sea texts, since the one surviving manuscript of Psalm 29 contains only the first two verses.

Verses 9b-10

“In all His palace (His) weight [i.e. glory] is shown—
YHWH sits against [i.e. over] (the) flood (waters),
and (so) YHWH sits (as) king into (the) distant (future)!”

Verse 9b is also problematic (cf. on 9a above), both rhythmically and in terms of the syntax. The line is awkward, due mainly to the presence of oLK% (“all of it” [?]), which Cross (p. 154) would omit as evidence of a scribal mistake (dittography). As it stands, the line is consistent with the 4-beat (or double 2-beat) meter that dominates throughout the poem, and many commentators would try to make sense of the text without modifying it. I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 179) in understanding the term as modifying “his palace”. Literally, this would yield “in His palace, all of it”, which is exceedingly awkward in English; I have simplified this for the sake of poetic style, while preserving the presumed sense of the line—i.e., “in all His palace”.

The second line clearly alludes to the cosmological myth-tradition of God defeating/subduing the primeval waters. In Near Eastern thought, the regular flooding that occurs—often catastrophic in effect, but also necessary to make the land fertile—represents a temporary return to the primeval condition, when the cosmos was comprised of a dark mass of water (Gen 1:2). By ‘subduing’ this water, the Creator deity brings order and structure to the universe. This work of creation marks God as Sovereign over the universe.

Verse 11

“YHWH will give strength to His people,
YHWH will bless His people with peace.”

Like many Psalms, the closing lines here apply the message of the poem to the people of Israel collectively, and assume a definite worship setting. The power of YHWH manifest in the storm, and which subdued the waters at the beginning of creation, will likewise act on behalf of His people. This may allude to the ancient concept of El-Yahweh as the fashioner of the heavenly “armies” —the forces of nature, of the sun and moon, sky and storm, etc.—which fight against the enemies of God at His command. For more on this idea, cf. the current daily notes on the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-12ff).

References above marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).
Those marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).

July 6: Romans 8:23, etc

These recent daily notes have dealt with the Old Testament traditions regarding the Spirit of God, and how they were developed by early Christians (as expressed within the New Testament). This study is a continuation of the series on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, and has proceeded through the (Synoptic) Gospels, the book of Acts, and the letters of Paul (through Romans, c. 58 A.D.). These letters—1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans—provide the best evidence for Paul’s view of the Spirit, and his distinctive development of the early Christian tradition. The references to the Spirit in the remainder of the Pauline corpus generally follow along the same lines, and, for the most part, it is not necessary to examine them all in detail. Before proceeding with a survey, however, it is worth considering a particular aspect of his view of the Spirit, which is expressed primarily in Romans 8:18-23. I have discussed this passage in detail as part of the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, and here focus on the concluding verses (22-23).

Romans 8:23

“For we have seen that all th(at has been) formed groans together and is in pain together, until th(is moment) now; and not only (this), but also (our)selves, holding the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit, even we (our)selves groan in ourselves, looking out to receive (our) [placement as sons], (and) the loosing of our body from (bondage).” (vv. 22-23)

Two different images are employed here, both of which were traditionally used in an eschatological context: (1) the pain of giving birth, and (2) harvest imagery. Both images refer to the climax of a period (of growth and labor, etc), thus serving as suitable figure-types for the end of the current Age. The birth-pain imagery was used especially in reference to the end-time period of distress (cf. Mark 13:9, 17 par; Luke 23:28-29ff, etc), while the harvest tended to prefigure the end-time Judgment (Matt 3:12 par; 13:39-43; Mark 4:29; Rev 14:15ff; cf. also Luke 10:2; Jn 4:35). This judgment-motif involved the separation of the righteous from the wicked (i.e. the grain from the chaff), which was understood in terms of the gathering of believers to Jesus at the moment of his end-time return (Mk 13:26-27 par; Rev 14:15-16). Paul, at least, specifically included the resurrection of dead believers in this gathering (1 Thess 4:14-17), and clearly made use of harvest-imagery in his discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 20-23, 36ff). Jesus himself was the “beginning (fruit) from (the harvest)” (a)parxh/), and believers share this same status, through the Spirit, possessing the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is what Paul means when he says that as believers we hold “the beginning (fruit) from (the harvest) of the Spirit“; elsewhere the Spirit is described as a kind of deposit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), guaranteeing for us the promise of resurrection:

“And the (One) making us firm with you in (the) Anointed, (hav)ing anointed us, (is) God, the (One) also (hav)ing sealed us and (hav)ing given (us) the a)rrabw/n of the Spirit in our hearts.” (2 Cor 1:21-22)

The word a)rrabw/n is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew (loanword) /obr*u@, and refers to a pledge or deposit as a guarantee of future payment. Paul’s use of it is eschatological—it is a promise of resurrection for believers, entailing transformation of the human person (body-soul-spirit) to share in the heavenly, eternal life of God. Our resurrection (as believers) is patterned after Jesus’ own, and is made possible by our union with him, realized through the Spirit. As we participate in his death, so also we participate in his resurrection. The motif of the seal (sfra/gi$, vb sfragi/zw) has two aspects of meaning: (1) marking the identity of the one making the promise (God), and (2) preserving the promise and keeping it intact for a period of time (until the end). The second aspect is particularly emphasized by Paul; on the first aspect, cf. 2 Tim 2:19 (and cp. Rev 7:1-8). The same imagery occurs in Ephesians:

“…in whom [i.e. Christ] also, (hav)ing trusted, you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] with the holy Spirit of the e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise], which is the a)rrabw/n of our share (in) the lot (of God), unto (the) loosing from (bondage)…” (Eph 1:13-14)

“And you must not bring sorrow (to) the holy Spirit of God, in which you were sealed [e)sfragi/sqhte] unto (the) day of loosing from (bondage).” (Eph 4:30)

The “loosing from [bondage]” (a)polu/trwsi$) refers to human existence in the current Age, this present order of creation. Paul’s entire discussion in Romans 8:18-23ff relates to this idea that all of creation will be transformed in the Age to Come, and that believers in Christ are the “first fruits” of this transformation (cf. above). On the Holy Spirit as e)paggeli/a—that is, God’s announcement (or message, a)ggeli/a) regarding salvation and eternal life in Christ—cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, 39; 13:23, 32, etc; it is identified specifically as such by Paul in Gal 3:14ff.

Because believers continue to live in the world, in the current created order, as human beings, we groan suffering along with all of creation, since our bodies (our “flesh”) remain, to some extent, under the old bondage to sin and death. We must still confront the impulse to sin in our flesh, and we all face the reality of physical death. Our deliverance from this bondage will not be complete until the transformation of our bodies, as stated here by Paul— “the loosing of our body from (bondage)”, using the noun a)polu/trwsi$. His temporal expression a&xri tou= nu=n is a shorthand for the tou= nu=n kairou= (“of the moment now”) in verse 18, another indication of the imminence of Paul’s eschatology—that is, it was about to happen now.

There is some textual uncertainty regarding the noun ui(oqesi/a (“placement as son[s]”) in verse 23, as it is omitted in a number of key manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). If secondary, then the text originally would have read: “…looking out to receive the loosing of our body from (bondage)” —i.e., the reference would be entirely to the resurrection, without any mention of the ‘adoption’ motif. However, as the sonship-theme was central to vv. 12-17, as also the expression “sons of God” in v. 19, the use of ui(oqesi/a would be entirely fitting here in v. 23. The resurrection serves to complete the realization of believers as the sons (children) of God. On the role of the Spirit in terms of our identity as “sons of God”, cf. the prior note on Gal 4:1-7 and Rom 8:12-17.

July 2: Galatians 4:1-7; Romans 8:12-17

Galatians 4:1-7; Romans 8:12-17

In the previous notes, we looked at how Paul developed the early Christian idea that the coming of the Spirit upon believers in Christ represented the fulfillment of the Prophetic tradition, regarding the role of the Spirit of God in the restoration of Israel in the New Age. Paul sharpened this concept of a “new covenant” in the Spirit, drawing a clear contrast between the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) that has now passed away, and the new covenant (of the Gospel and the Spirit) that remains in its place. The experience of believers being “filled” with the Spirit—and of the holy Spirit of God dwelling in them—was compared in terms of God writing with his “finger” (= “Spirit”) upon the hearts of His people.

While these covenantal associations are unmistakable, and fully in accord with the Prophetic traditions regarding the Spirit, for ministers like Paul this role of the Spirit was thoroughly Christian, in the sense of being rooted in the message (the Gospel) of Jesus Christ. It was not merely a matter of the spiritualization of the Old Covenant; the presence and activity of the Spirit was tied directly to the believer’s trust in Jesus, and the salvation brought about by his death and resurrection. Indeed, from the earliest moments of Christianity, the coming of the Spirit was related to a confession of trust in the Gospel message of Christ. This traditionally took place (publicly) in connection with the baptism ritual.

Paul says relatively little in his letters regarding baptism directly; he clearly follows the early Christian tradition, and yet, as he makes use of this tradition, he embues the ritual form and imagery with new theological (and Christological) depth. In these notes on Paul’s understanding of the Spirit, we must examine this baptismal aspect; it can be seen, strikingly, in a pair of passages in Galatians and Romans, which express a similar line of thought.

Galatians 4:1-7

These verses continue the arguments of chapter 3 on behalf of the central proposition (propositio, 2:15-21) that believers in Christ are freed from the binding obligation to observe the Torah. To illustrate this, in 4:1ff Paul uses the example of the son who is heir to his father’s estate. Though he has a legal right to everything the father possesses, while he is still a minor (or, until a specific time established by the father), the child is under the restrictive guidance of household servants. Though free, the child, during this time, has a practical status very much like a servant or slave (3:23-25; 4:1-2).

This illustration refers to the believer, in the period prior to coming to faith—or, viewed in terms of salvation history, to the time prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This period of guardianship is the current Age where humankind is in bondage to the power of sin, and also in bondage under the regulations of the Law (Torah)—Paul views the two aspects together. Through a clever bit of argument, Paul puts non-Jews (Gentiles) under the Law just as much as Jews and Israelites, even though they may be unfamiliar with the specific regulations of the Torah (vv. 3, 8ff, and cf. his more extensive discussion in Romans 2:12-3:20).

The illustration is followed by a Christological statement in vv. 4-5, which may be pre-Pauline in origin—that is, Paul may derive it, in part, from earlier Christian tradition (cp. Rom 1:3-4). Verse 5 more clearly expresses the Pauline application: Christ came to earth to free humankind from bondage under the Law. To this, he adds the emphasis on the identity of believers as “sons” (ui(oi/) of God. The context of the climactic declarations in verses 6-7 is thus profoundly Christological, and involves three key points which Paul develops from early Christian tradition:

    1. The identity of Jesus as the Son of God.
      This is not to be understood from the standpoint of the developed Christology (and trinitarian theology) of later generations, but, rather, in terms of the early Christian belief that located the divine Sonship of Jesus ostensibly at the time of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. While Paul may evince belief in a rudimentary doctrine of Jesus’ divine pre-existence (Phil 2:6ff, cf. also Col 1:15-17), it does not feature prominently in his letters.
    2. Jesus as the “seed” of Abraham, the son who inherits the divine promise to Abraham. This is the focus of Paul’s argument in 3:6-14ff (cp. Romans 4), using an over-literal reading of the singular “seed” to identify Jesus as the seed, the only son of the promise (i.e. the Spirit), vv. 14, 16-18.
    3. Believers are united with Jesus—this is realized at the time of baptism (3:26-27ff), when they/we receive the Spirit.

All three points run through the arguments of chapters 3-4, and, indeed, are central to them; however, they are generally emphasized in the reverse order given above, which also accords with the logic of Christian experience and revelatory insight:

    1. The Galatian believers are united with Jesus and experience the Spirit, as symbolized by the baptism ritual—3:2ff, 26-27ff
    2. This union with Jesus means that they share in the sonship of Jesus as the promised “seed” of Abraham, and receive the promised blessing (of the Spirit)—3:6-9, 16-18, 29
    3. The union of sonship further means that believers share in Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and are likewise sons (i.e. children) of God, through the presence of the Spirit—4:4-7

The language whereby this is expressed in 4:6-7 is most significant for an understanding of Paul’s view of the Spirit. Following the Christological statement, identifying Jesus as God’s Son, and drawing upon the traditional idea of our union with Jesus (symbolized in the baptism ritual), and the identity of believers as sons/children of God, Paul states in verse 6:

“And (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God se(n)t out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

The coming (or pouring) of the Spirit into the hearts of believers is a traditional image, adapted by early Christians (Rom 5:5, cf. 2 Cor 3:3; Rom 2:29), part of the wider idea of being “filled” by the Spirit. Normally, however, this is understood as the Spirit of God, but here Paul’s uses the unique expression “Spirit of His Son” (pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou=). This would identify the holy Spirit (of God) as also being the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, Paul appears to use the expression “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably, though the latter is admittedly rare (Rom 8:9, and “Spirit of Jesus Christ” in Phil 1:19). The theological basis for this is Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, as understood through the early Christological belief regarding Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). It was through the resurrection/exaltation that Jesus’ spirit and person was transformed by God’s own Spirit—forever united as one life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 6:17; 15:45). This Christology would eventually develop to include a belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus as the Son of God, however, the exaltational aspect remains at its core in the New Testament (cp. both sides of the portrait in Phil 2:6-11).

Thus, the coming of God’s Spirit upon believers, means that it is also Christ’s Spirit that fills us and empowers us, and through the Spirit we are united with the exalted Jesus, our spirits uniting with his and being similarly transformed (cf. again 1 Cor 6:17; 15:45ff). This means that, as believers, we share in his divine Sonship, receiving all that he does, as co-heirs to God:

“And so (then), not any (more) are you a slave, but a son; and if a son, (then) also (one) receiving the lot [i.e. an heir] through God.” (v. 7)

Romans 8:12-17

Paul largely repeats this argument in Romans 8:12-17, developing it, however, in several respects—one of which is the strong ethical emphasis on believers being guided by the Spirit, otherwise found in Galatians in a later section (5:1-6:10). This ethical aspect, utilizing the flesh/Spirit contrast, is clearly present in the Sonship statements of Romans 8:12-17. Note the strong contrast in verse 13:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die off; but if, in the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Many of the themes and much wording from the instruction in Galatians are present here, and could have been lifted out of the earlier letter:

“For as (many) as are led by (the) Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, unto fear, but you received (the) Spirit of placement as a son [ui(oqesi/a], in which we cry ‘Abba, Father’.” (vv. 14-15)

The noun ui(oqesi/a is typically translated as “adoption”, but literally means something like “placement (as) a son”. It refers to a person’s legal status as a son, though one may not be a son by birth. In the New Testament, the word occurs only in the Pauline letters—here further in verse 23, and also 9:4; Gal 4:5, and Eph 1:5. The context of its use in Gal 4:5 is virtually identical (cf. above).

In verses 16-17, Paul expands on the thought in Gal 4:6-7, giving more detail on how he understands the Spirit “crying” out in us, as well as what it means to be a co-heir of God with Jesus:

“The Spirit it(self) gives witness together with our spirit that we are  (the) offspring [te/kna] of God. And, if (His) offspring, (then) also (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs]—(on the one hand, one)s receiving the lot of God, but (on the other hand, one)s receiving the lot together (with) (the) Anointed, if indeed we suffer together with him, (so) that also we will be given honor together with (him).”

The Greek syntax makes repeated use of verb and noun forms prefixed with the preposition su/n (“[together] with”), which serves as a powerful emphasis of the believer’s union with Jesus (the Son):

    • The Spirit gives witness together with (vb summarture/w) our spirit. The idea is that our own spirit responds to the presence and action of God’s Spirit, and we become aware of our identity as sons (or children) of God. Here Paul uses the term te/kna (“offspring”) which is more common, referring to believers as ‘children’ of God, in the Johannine writings.
    • Being united with Jesus (the Son and heir) we also understand our identity as co-heirs (sugklhrono/moi) of God. Literally the compound noun means “(one) receiving/sharing the lot together with (another)”.
    • At the heart of our union with Jesus is a pair of verbs:
      • “suffer together with” (sumpa/sxw)—i.e. we suffer together with him
      • “are honored together with” (sundoca/zw)—we receive honor/glory together with him

This latter point, with its pair of verbs, reflects a uniquely Pauline emphasis, which may be referred to as believers “dying and rising with Christ”. Central to the baptism ritual, as it symbolizes our union with Jesus, is the idea of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is through the Spirit that the power of both Jesus’ death and resurrection is communicated to us, so that we are able to participate in it. This will be discussed further in the next note.

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.

January 5: Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 3:26

Believers as the “Sons of God”

Having examined the development of the early Christian belief regarding Jesus as the Son of God (and his “birth” as the Son), it is now time, in these Christmas season notes, to consider the second part of the paradigm—the identity of believers as the sons (or children) of God. If the first part was studied in terms of the Gospel message, the second part will be explored in terms of Christian experience. That is to say, how do we, as believers, come to experience our identity as children of God? Even as the Christology of the New Testament developed, progressively, through revelation and contemplation, so the experience of the believer in Christ is also a process. This process may be defined in four ‘stages’, which mirror those of the Christological development:

    • Jesus as the Son of God through his resurrection and exaltation
      • Recognized as Son from the point of his Baptism
        • Called the Son of God from the very time of his Birth
          • His pre-existent deity as the eternal Son
          • Our predestination/election as Sons of God
        • Our spiritual birth as God’s Children, through trust in Jesus
      • The symbolic recognition of this Sonship in the Baptism ritual
    • The final realization as Sons of God in our resurrection (and exaltation)

It is in the Johannine Writings (the Gospel and 1 John) that the central themes (the innermost pair above) of Jesus’ pre-existent deity and the pre-existent election of believers is most prominent. This was already discussed in the previous note, in considering John 1:12-14, where both themes are combined, using the same image of birth/sonship. However, in the Johannine writings, only Jesus is ever called “Son” (ui(o/$); for believers, the plural te/kna (“offspring, children”) is used instead—1:12; 11:52; 1 Jn 3:1, 10; 5:2. The plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) is used in Jn 12:36, in the specific expression “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$, also Lk 16:8, and by Paul in 1 Thess 5:5). That particular expression draws on the earlier ethical-religious idea of the righteous—i.e., the faithful ones of Israel—as God’s sons. This language is part of Israelite and Jewish wisdom traditions (e.g., Wisdom 2:13, 18; 5:5; Sirach 4:10), and is used by Jesus in his teaching (Matt 5:9, 45 [par Lk 6:35]; 13:38; Luke 16:8, etc).

Outside of the Johannine writings, it is Paul who makes most use of the birth/sonship theme, applying it to believers on numerous occasions. He also is influenced by Old Testament tradition, for example, in the way he cites Hosea 1:10 in Rom 9:26, i.e., of faithful Israelites as “sons of the living God” —he applies this specifically to the “remnant” of Israel that has trusted in Jesus (v. 27). Thus, the divine sonship of believers is tied directly to faith in Jesus (the Son). This is very much the emphasis in the Gospel and letters of John as well—believers are called the “children” (te/kna) of God, and are identified as ones “having come to be born” (perfect participle of genna/w) out of God, because they/we trust in Jesus as God’s Son. This will be discussed further below.

If we keep in mind the four ‘stages’ indicated above, the first two will be dealt with in this note, focusing on two representative verses:

    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
1. Pre-existent Sonship (Ephesians 1:5)

The idea of believers’ pre-existent sonship—that is, of our election/predestination as the sons/children of God—is most clearly stated in Ephesians 1:4-5:

“…even as He gathered us out in him [i.e. in Christ] before the casting down [i.e. founding] of the world, (for) us to be holy and without flaw (there) in His sight, in love, (hav)ing marked us out before(hand) unto (our) placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], through Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto Him, according to the good consideration of His will.”

Many critical commentators would question or dispute the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, but this passage very much reflects Paul’s genuine thought. In particular, he utilizes the key word ui(oqesi/a, meaning the placing (from the verb ti/qhmi) of someone as a son (ui(o/$); indeed, he is the only New Testament author to use this noun (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal 4:5). In English, it is typically translated “adoption”, but this obscures the important etymological tie with the word son (ui(o/$). A comparison with Romans 8:14-16 is instructive:

“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God [ui(oi\ qeou=]. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, into fear, but (rather) you received the Spirit of placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a], in which we cry out: ‘Abba, Father!’ For the Spirit it(self) gives witness together with our spirit that we are children of God [te/kna qeou=].”

Paul’s syntax here indicates that he has in mind the sonship of believers primarily in terms of our receiving the Spirit, and that this occurred at the point when we came to trust in Jesus (cf. below). However, as he makes clear in vv. 29-30, this is part of a process which begins with the election/predestination of believers:

“(For it is) that the (ones) whom He knew before(hand), He also marked out before(hand) (in the) shape together of the image of His Son, unto his [i.e. Jesus’] being the first-formed among many brothers…”

Thus, clearly, believers are predestined by God to be His sons, though this is defined entirely in terms of Jesus’ own Sonship. On the application of the verbs proginw/skw (“know before[hand]”) and proori/zw (“mark out before[hand]”) to believers, cf. also 1 Cor 2:7; Rom 11:2; Eph 1:5, 11.

The language and imagery Paul uses in Gal 4:4-6 is similar to that of Rom 8:14-16:

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent out from (Him) His Son…(so) that he would purchase out the (one)s under the Law, (so) that we would receive from (Him) the placement as sons [ui(oqesi/a]. And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

It is by the Spirit that we receive sonship, and yet, even before this, believers already have the identity as sons (“because we are sons…”). This confirms again that, for Paul, the sonship of believers is comprehensive, and part of a process that is prior even to our coming to faith.

2. Sonship through trust/faith in Jesus (Gal 3:26)

It hardly needs to be pointed out the centrality of trust in Jesus for the identity of believers (as sons/children of God). This is clear enough from the passages we have already considered (above), but it is worth noting several verses where this association is made explicit. I begin with Galatians 3:26:

“For you all are sons of God through the trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

It is hard to imagine a more concise and direct statement. One might, however, clarify something of the context for this statement—it has to do, again, with the traditional idea of Israel (esp. the faithful Israelites) as the sons/children of God. Fundamentally, this is based on the ancient covenant concept, as applied within the Israelite religious setting. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul radically re-interprets the covenant idea; actually this reflects a process of interpretation that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, but Paul develops it in a unique way, making the religious identity of God’s people depend entirely on trust in Jesus. This necessitated a complete break from the earlier covenant, introduced in the time of Abraham, and for which the Law (Torah) represented the binding terms. Through Jesus there is a new agreement, and the Torah is no longer binding for believers; instead, it is trust in Jesus, along with the presence of the Spirit, which binds people to God (as His sons/children).

This explains the parallel between Gal 3:26 and the earlier statement in verse 7: “Therefore you must know that the (one)s (who are born) out of trust [i.e. in Jesus], these are the sons of Abraham”. I have filled in the expression oi( e)k pi/stew$ (“the [one]s out of trust”) with the idea of being born, as this relates to being a “son”. The proper point of reference is verse 2, where the focus is on receiving the Spirit—Paul asks the Galatians whether they received it “out of works of the Law” (i.e., by observing the Torah) or “out of the hearing of trust” (i.e., trusting in the Gospel message they heard). These two themes—receiving the Spirit and being born (as sons)—are combined most effectively in the Gospel of John, especially in the famous discourse with Nicodemus, 3:3-8. That coming to be born “out of the Spirit” is also defined in terms of trust in Jesus is clear enough from what follows in vv. 11-15ff. It is also expressed definitively in the prologue (1:12-13), as we saw in the previous note. It is worth comparing Jn 1:12 with Rom 8:14 (cf. above):

“But as (many) as received him, to them, to the (one)s trusting in his name, he gave the ability to become the children of God” (Jn 1:12)
“For as (many) as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14)