Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Son of God - Part IV

Continued from Part III

Against this two-natures interpretation of Romans 1:4 at least five broad arguments will be offered.

First, the divine-nature interpretation of “Son of God” seems to be advocated most often by those who are concerned to avoid any explanation that might lend credence to Adoptionist or Arian theological sympathizers. Apparently, if we allow any other meaning for “Son of God,” we open the door to those who would deny Jesus' divine nature as the eternal Son of the Father. The title "Son of God" must therefore be reserved as a technical term that denotes the Son’s essential divinity. Reymond, for example, argues that
while it is true that the verb oJri÷zw can also mean ‘appoint’ or ‘constitute,’ Paul cannot mean that Jesus was ‘appointed’ or ‘constituted’ the Son of God at the point of or by reason of His resurrection from the dead inasmuch as he had already represented Jesus by the first ‘bracket’ phrase as the Son of God prior to and independent of not only his resurrection but also His birth in Bethlehem of the seed of David (Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990], p. 207).
Reymond seems to be chained to a technical definition of “Son of God” such that he cannot allow another dimension or meaning to arise other than the one that designates Jesus as the eternal Son of the Father. The argument appears to be something like “if Paul uses ‘son’ in one sense in v. 3, he cannot use it in another sense in v. 4.”

Without putting too fine a point on it, Paul does not use the phrase “son of God” in his first “bracket” as Reymond suggests; rather, Paul says “God sent his Son.” Paul introduces the phrase “Son of God” in v. 4 to designate that status and title to which Jesus was “appointed” by the Resurrection from the dead. By not allowing for the possibility that the word “Son” in v. 3 and 4 has two different nuances, those who advocate the two-natures interpretation are forced to reduce the significance of the resurrection in these verses to a noetic function with reference to Christ’s divine nature. His resurrection simply made evident his divinity. As Richard Gaffin notes, this is an odd, even foreign notion not found anywhere else in Paul. “The resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of the firstfruits, the firstborn, the second Adam. It has no meaning apart from the solidarity between Christ and believers, apart from what he has in common with them. With reference to Christ’s person, for Paul the resurrection concerns his human nature, not his divine nature" (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978], p. 104-105). As Paul says in Romans 1:2-4, it is the Son as man that is raised from the dead and appointed to be “the Son of God with power.”

Second, the two-natures interpretation does not do justice to the passive participle tou 'oristhentos by translating it as “declared” or even “marked out.” Each time it occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (Lk. 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:41; 11:29; 17:26, 31; Heb. 4:7) the verb orizo means “to determine, appoint, or fix.” John Murray explains “that Jesus was ‘appointed’ or ‘constituted’ Son of God with power and points therefore to an investiture which had an historical beginning parallel to the historical beginning mentioned in verse 3” (The Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1959], p. 9). This meaning should not be abandoned by orthodox commentators and theologians simply because it threatens to be theologically suspect or troublesome. It becomes a theological burr only if one fails to acknowledge that when biblical authors speak of Jesus as “Son” and “Son of God” the meaning is often broader and more varied than its common usage in systematic, dogmatic, and polemical theology. Unfortunately, failure to appreciate differences in usage and a desire to defend a high orthodox christology drive many orthodox commentators to insist that orizo cannot here mean “appoint” or “determine” because Jesus was the Son of God from all eternity! John Murray’s comments are helpful:
It might appear that this encounters an insuperable objection; Jesus was not appointed Son of God; as we found [in v. 3], he is conceived to be the eternal Son, and this sonship had no historical beginning. But this objection has validity only as we overlook the force of the expression “with power.” The apostle does not say that Jesus was appointed “Son of God” but “Son of God in power.” This addition makes all the difference. Furthermore, we may not forget that already in verse 3 the Son of God is now viewed not simply as the eternal Son but as the eternal Son incarnate, the eternal Son subject to the historical conditions introduced by his being born of the seed of David. . . .The apostle is dealing with some particular event in the history of the Son of God incarnate by which he was instated in a position of sovereignty and invested with power, and event which in respect of investiture with power surpassed everything that could previously be ascribed to him in his incarnate state (Epistle to the Romans, p. 10).

To Be Continued


David A Booth said...


You seem to be following Schreiner's commentary on Romans quiet closely. Are there any areas where you fundamentally disagree with his approach?

I'm a little bit cautious about giving full consent to your explanation. In part, that is simply because Romans 1:4 a surprisingly difficult verse to translate.

Your (also Murray's and Schreiner's) argument seems to hinge on two points:

1. The necessity of
translating 'oristhentos as "constituted"; and
2. Taking "en dunamei" as modifying "Son of God".

Yet, the semantic range of 'oristhentos seems to be broader than you are allowing (as per BDAG 3rd edition, p. 723 - for 'oridzo). The usage in a few other NT passages is suggestive, but given the small number of times 'oridzo is used - we can hardly determine the boundaries of its usage simply by these few examples. Also, since God is the subject of the verb (except in Acts 11:29) - it is difficult to absolutely separate "declaring" from "constituting", since God declares with absolute sovereignty.

Then there is an additional consideration: Given that 'oridzo carried the basic idea of delimiting, there are alternatives to "appoint" or "constituted" that would also fit the context of other Biblical usages of 'oridzo - for example "mark out".

See how this fits:
Hebrews 4:7 - "He again 'marks out' a certain day ..."
Acts 17:26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having 'marked out' periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, ..."

The difference between "mark out" and the standard translations is that "mark out" may mean constituted - but it is a vaguer term that could mean "marking out something for what it already was". We can get into trouble as translators by thinking that the alternatives are "declaring" and "constituting" when there isn't a one-to-one correspondence between either of these words and 'oridzo.

If "with power" is taken as modifying the "declaring" or "marking out" rather than "Son of God"; then I don't see why the the meaning of this passage couldn't be (very loosely) paraphrased as:

"The world had condemned Jesus to death as a false Messiah, but God overturned that verdict - powerfully declaring that Jesus was the Messiah, that is the Son of God, by raising Him from the dead."

I'm not saying that I believe this is the correct explanation - or even a better explanation than the one that you are offering - only that you have yet to convince me that your understanding is clearly the correct one.

BTW - I am greatly enjoying this series.


Jeff Meyers said...


Thanks for the long note. I believe my future posts will answer your questions.

But for now let me say that your paraphrase near the end of your comment seems perfectly acceptable to me. And I'm open to the possibility that Paul worded his statement in such a way that it would include both the idea that Jesus was vindicated as Messiah and that he was appointed as the royal Son of God by means of the resurrection.

And, of course, your interpretation does not really fit with the classical two-natures view either. It was the incarnate Jesus who as declared to be the Messiah/Son at the resurrection. It was not merely that he was shown to be divine.

Thanks for the helpful comments!