Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 1:3–4—God’s Son is both Messiah and powerful Lord (part 2).

3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh
4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness
by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

We continue to make our way through Paul’s succinct phrases describing essential qualities of God’s Son. By tailoring his language to a creedal tradition no longer available to us, Paul has made modern interpreters’ task all the more challenging. So far we have a fair degree of certainty about Paul’s meaning. But that certainty now faces its biggest test.

Our reward for looking closely at this next phrase, if we can understand it correctly, will be the discovery of a key theme Paul will extend in chapters to come.

“According to the Spirit of holiness”
Difficult as the previous phrases are to interpret, this one is more so. Douglas Moo says the views come in a bewildering variety, and Charles Cranfield notes that every word of the phrase is problematic.

A major issue is whether spirit (pnĕuma) refers to Christ’s spirit or to the Holy Spirit (this is a matter of interpretation because ancient manuscripts have no capitalization, nor any punctuation). Most modern translations do capitalize, and most scholars I consult agree with that choice, though with some ambivalence.

A matter of contrasts
One clue is the intentional contrast between this phrase and “according to the flesh” in verse 3. Some scholars assume that spirit must stand for something about Christ in contrast with his flesh. Three of these lower-case options are to understand Paul as contrasting Christ’s human and divine natures, or the human frailty of Christ’s flesh and the holiness of his spirit, or his earthly existence and his exalted position after his resurrection.

But this contrast also fits well with interpretations that feature the Holy Spirit. Cranfield summarizes several possibilities. One view contrasts Christ’s life in the flesh with the Holy Spirit’s role in raising him to his powerful position as the Lord.

Another option, favored by Cranfield himself, takes note of the fact the Holy Spirit has been given by the exalted Christ. Cranfield thus regards the Spirit as the manifestation of Christ’s power and majesty “and so the guarantee of His having been appointed Son of God in might.”

Distinct ages of salvation history
Another interpretation follows an alternative meaning of the Greek preposition translated “according to.” It could be translated “in the sphere of” or “in the realm of.” This makes possible the idea that “flesh” and “Spirit” represent two different eras or ages of salvation history. If Paul has in mind “the realm of the Spirit,” he would be “characterizing Christ’s appointment as Son of God in power as an eschatological event, the beginning of God’s new creation” (Cranfield).

One scholar who prefers the latter view is Moo. He explains that Jesus lived his earthly life as the Davidic seed, the Messiah, in “the realm of the flesh,” the old age dominated by sin and death. The resurrection of Christ put an end to that old age and inaugurated the new age of redemptive history “characterized by righteousness, life, and the eschatological gift of the Holy Spirit” (Moo). In this new age Jesus Christ is in “the realm of the Spirit.” He reigns in power as the Son of God, and Christians reign in life through him.

Set free from sin’s dominion
Additional evidence that favors regarding these phrases to represent old and new ages of salvation history is found later in this epistle. The old-age/new-age framework governs much of Paul’s teaching in chapters 5 and 6. There he contrasts two kingdoms—the old reigns of sin and death having been brought to an end and the new reigns of grace and life having been inaugurated through Christ (see 5:17 and 5:21). In the old age Christ himself was “under the dominion of death,” and through his death “he died to sin” (see explanation at 6:8–10).

At present these two ages overlap. Sin and death continue to plague humanity, including Christ’s followers. But their allegiance is to the Lord of the new age, who has freed them from the dominion of sin (6:14) and from the fear of death. This is the basis for Paul’s command to believers in 6:11, “Reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”—the subject of my book.

Two additional phrases complete Paul’s brief description of God’s gospel.

The resurrected Lord
This is certain: Jesus is alive! His victory over death certifies that he is the Son of God and the one Savior of humankind. The Greek preposition translates more correctly “resurrection of the dead” (Marvin Vincent). Paul later refers to the Son as “the firstborn among many brothers” (8:29) because his resurrection is also the resurrection of his followers (6:5).

Seated with power alongside his Father in heaven, Jesus Christ is the risen, sovereign Lord before whom every knee bows. He lives to give life to those who believe in him. We who believe call him “our Lord.”

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die,
yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this?”
—Jesus Christ (John 11:25–26)