According to Holy Scriptures
Paul begins his Letter to the Romans with a lengthy introduction in which he identifies himself and his mission. The calling and “grace” of God have equipped the Apostle to preach the “obedience of faith” to the “Gentiles.” And in his introduction, he includes a brief description of the messianic qualifications of Jesus of Nazareth, and links what God has done in him to His promises recorded in the “Holy Scriptures.”
And Paul begins, not by stressing his title or authority, but by labeling himself a “servant” or ‘doulos’ of God. This is the Greek term commonly used for “slave.” The term does not denote Paul’s high position but means he serves the Master who owns him. Whatever else he may be, he is first and foremost a “slave” of the Living God.
And this “servant” was “called” to be an “apostle.” The Greek noun rendered “apostle” refers to someone who is “sent” to perform an assigned task. It was often used for an agent or “envoy” representing an organization or important person.
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And in all this, Paul has “been separated” for service to the “Gospel of God.” He links this message to God since He is the key subject of the immediate discussion, and what is now “Good News” for the “nations” or “Gentiles” is the result of what God has done in and through His Son:
- “Paul, slave of Jesus Christ, called apostle, separated to the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son, The one who, having come to be from the seed of David according to the flesh, The one who was marked off as the Son of God by power, according to a spirit of holiness, from a resurrection from among the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, Through whom we received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all the nations for the sake of his name, Among whom you also are called of Jesus Christ, To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ”- (Romans 1:1-7).
DECLARED SON OF GOD
The “Gospel” announced by Paul was in fulfillment of what God promised through the “prophets,” promises found in the Hebrew Bible “concerning His Son.” God did not deviate from His original plan out of later necessity when He sent His Son. Instead, in doing so, He achieved His original plans and fulfilled His promises.
Later in the Letter, Paul will describe the “righteousness of God” that is now manifested in Jesus, a righteousness that is “attested by the Law and the Prophets” – (Romans 3:21). Paul uses similar terms and ideas in the Letter’s concluding section in Chapter 16:
- “Now to him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, According to the revelation of a mystery, having been kept silent in age-long times, yet NOW, having been manifested, also through the SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS, According to the commandment of the everlasting God is made known unto all the Gentiles for the OBEDIENCE OF THE FAITH. To the only wise God through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory unto the ages. Amen.“ - (Romans 16:25-26 – Emphasis added. The Greek adverb rendered “NOW” is emphatic).
Jesus was a descendant of the royal house of David “according to the flesh.” This reference further highlights the theme of fulfillment since the Scriptures promised that the Messiah would come from the House of David and sit on his throne – (e.g., Psalm 2:1-8).
In Paul’s usage, the term rendered “flesh” frequently refers to the frailty of human nature; man in his mortal and weakened state. It was the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was destined to rule from the Davidic throne. The point is not to denigrate his messiahship by teaching it was “fleshly” as opposed to “spiritual,” but to reaffirm that he was the promised “son of David.”
And he was “marked off as the Son of God.” The Greek verb rendered “marked off” or “designated” in some English versions refers to something that is “marked out.” That is, he was identified or made known as God’s Son.
And he was so designated “in power.” Paul does not elaborate on what he means by “power,” but this designation precedes the reference to his resurrection, so he is not referring to whatever powers and authority were bestowed on Jesus after his resurrection and elevation to the throne of God.
Most likely, Paul wishes his readers to connect “power” with the “Spirit of Holiness.” That is, the Spirit empowered the Messiah to perform his deeds and teach the Gospel during his ministry. Paul makes a similar point in Chapter 15 regarding his own ministry:
- “For I will not dare to speak of any things save those which Christ wrought through me for the OBEDIENCE OF THE GENTILES, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, so that from Jerusalem and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” - (Romans 15:19 -Emphasis added).
SPIRIT OF HOLINESS
The term “according to a Spirit of Holiness” is not included as a contrast to the claim that he was the “seed of David according to the flesh,” as if Paul is comparing the “fleshly” side of his messiahship with its “spiritual,” and therefore, supposedly superior aspects.
All four characterizations of his ministry are offered in the passage as proof that Jesus was the Son of God. Any aspect of “flesh” or physicality in him was not contrary to or incompatible with his identity as the Son or his mission as the Messiah of Israel.
The phrase “spirit of holiness” is unique in the New Testament. It may be another way of referring to the Holy Spirit that anointed Jesus for ministry. Or perhaps it refers to the holiness that characterized the life of the Messiah.
The Greek noun rendered “holiness,” ‘hagiôsumé,’ is used only two more times by Paul, and in each case, it is applied to believers when they are exhorted to pursue “holiness” and not to Jesus. Paul does not use the term again in Romans – (2 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:13).
The Apostle makes a related remark near the conclusion of the Letter when he describes the “grace of God” that made him a servant of the “Gospel of God for the Gentiles, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being SANCTIFIED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT” – (Romans 15:15-16).
And in this last passage from Chapter 15, the Greek verb rendered “sanctified” or ‘hagiazô’ is related to the noun for “holiness” or ‘hagiôsumé’ in Chapter 1. The idea of both terms is someone or something dedicated for service - consecrated, sanctified, or separated for divine service.
This being the case, in Chapter 1, whether the “spirit of holiness” refers to the anointing that was on Jesus or to the Holy Spirit, the purpose was to separate and consecrate him for his messianic mission.
The phrase may also be an echo of the ritual when Moses first consecrated Aaron for the priesthood – “And he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head and anointed him TO SANCTIFY HIM” – (Leviticus 8:12).
The bodily resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate confirmation that he was and is the Son of God and Davidic Messiah. By raising him from the dead, God validated all that Jesus did. He was “marked out… by a resurrection from the dead.”
And more fully and idiomatically, the Greek clause reads, “by a resurrection out from among DEAD ONES.” The adjective rendered “dead” is masculine and PLURAL. It does not refer to the abstract state of death but to dead persons.
And this understanding suggests that Jesus was the first of many who are yet to be resurrected, and Paul returns to this theme several times in the Letter. The future resurrection of believers is central to its concept of salvation, and it is based on the past resurrection of Jesus:
- “But if the Spirit of him that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he that raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that is dwelling in you” – (Romans 8:11).
Only after the reference to his resurrection does Paul refer to Jesus as “Lord” (“Jesus Christ, our Lord”). This may be for stylistic purposes, or it may be intended to suggest that he became Lord over all things only following his resurrection – (Matthew 28:18-20).
It is through this same Son of God that Saul of Tarsus received grace and his apostolic mission so that he might proclaim the “obedience of faith” among the Gentiles. Paul does not view obedience and faith as mutually exclusive. Genuine faith results in obedience to the Word of God, above all, by placing faith in the one marked off before the world and in accord with the Scriptures as the “Son of God.”