Continued from Part V
The Old Testament Background to Romans 1:4
Having attended to the immediate context of Rom. 1:4, we have only arrived at a very sketchy understanding of what Paul meant by Jesus’ post-resurrection appointment as the Son of God with power. Any explanation of the significance of the title “Son of God” in Rom. 1:4 cannot possibly be complete without a discussion of the Old Testament prophetic/typological foundation. The Gospel of God that Paul has summarized here in Rom. 1:3-4 is “the Gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.”
“Through his prophets” ought not to be limited to a particular section of the Old Testament, as if Paul was simply referring to the writing prophets of the latter monarchy. Rather, Paul doubtless designates the entire Old Testament corpus as penned by “prophets” (see Paul’s use of the oJ no/moß as prophetic of the Gospel in Rom. 3:21, 31; 8:4; cf. Heb. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:10).
Furthermore, by describing the Son’s coming into the word as "of the seed of David," Paul invites us to consider the typological /prophetic links between the Davidic kingship and Jesus appointment as Son of God with power.
And finally, by concluding with the words "Jesus Christ, our Lord," which follow immediately after Jesus’ designation as the Son of God with power, and seem to be placed in apposition to that royal title, Paul concludes his explication of the Gospel by alluding to the common confession of the apostolic church—a confession in which each word savors of profound Old Covenant associations. The Son of God is the Greater Joshua, the Anointed One who now reigns as Lord for us.
Sonship is not a discrete concept or relation in the Scriptures. It is connected with other similar ideas, names, relations, and actions such as father, image, inheritance, maturity, firstborn, paternal intimacy and love, blessing, right hand, house-building, ruling, kingship, Lordship, anointing, Spirit, temple/palace, priest, throne, authority, power, vindication, victory, wisdom, servant, service, and more. As one moves further from the center of the web, the connections attenuate somewhat. Nevertheless, the web will not hold together without these systemic conceptual dependencies. More specifically, one will not understand the concept or relation of sonship without the help of these other attendant concepts. Even though each separate image is profoundly related to the others, we will have to start somewhere and move through these Old Testament images and concepts one by one. It will be best to move from the more obvious to the not so obvious and provocative.
First, there is no evidence that either the singular “son of God” or the plural “sons of God” or “my son” (spoken by God) are used in the Old Testament with anything like technical precision. Sometimes angels are called “sons of Elohim” (Job 1:6; 2:1; Ps. 89:6; Deut. 32:8 ; Daniel 3:25), a designation which is probably evidence of the connection between the concept of sonship and ruling. The angels in Job are God’s advisors and governors. The “heavenly beings” called “sons of God” in Psalm 89:6 are rulers like, but lower than, Yahweh. They anticipate Psalm 89:27 where David cries out to Yahweh as Father, and Yahweh in turn will “make” or “appoint” him (cf. 1 Sam. 12:13; 1 Kg. 1:48; 1 Chron. 12:9) “the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.” One should notice here the links between sonship, ruling, and firstborn status, conceptual connections that are important for understanding the Davidic covenant and Jesus’ appointment as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and Firstborn Ruler over the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5). But I digress.
The phrase “sons of God” may also apply to the people of God, and there are good reasons for thinking that this is the meaning in Genesis 6:2 and 4 (the godly line of Seth as opposed to the apostate line of Cain). This usage may be in the background when the appellation “my son” is given to the nation of Israel by Yahweh (Ex. 4:22-23). Although the favor and love of Yahweh as Father may be dominant in these cases, here again we might detect a connection between the privilege of firstborn status and Israel’s sonship, which implies the right to rule and not be enslaved in Egypt. The term primarily designates that Israel has been graced with a special, close filial relation to Yahweh (Deut. 14:1; 32:6, 18; Jer. 31:9, 19; Hos. 11:1, 10). Some commentators have applied this usage to Rom. 1:4, seeing in God’s appointment of Jesus as the Son of God evidence that he is now the true Israel, the eschatological fulfillment of Old Covenant Israel’s typological significance.
Second, as is evident from the brief survey above, although sonship as a distinctive concept and relation does not originate at the inauguration of the Davidic covenant, it arguably does attain its most prominent place in Old Covenant redemptive history in the revelation associated with David and the era of the kingdom. The Davidic son has both the favor and authority of his divine Father. As we discovered in our analysis of Romans 1:1-4, Paul himself makes the Davidic connection with his reference to the Son being born” a descendent of David” (Rom. 1:3). In other New Testament passages Paul (especially the Lukan account of Paul’s preaching, Acts 13:22-23; 32-34; but see also 2 Tim. 2:8) and others link Jesus as exalted Son of God with certain key Old Testament passages pertaining to the Davidic covenant (Matt. 1:1; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; Luke 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4; 3:23-41; Acts 2:30; Heb. 1:5; Rev. 5:5; 22:16). Therefore, the Davidic covenant seems like an appropriate place to begin our discussion of sonship in the Old Covenant.
We'll move on to sonship in the Davidic covenant next time.