Romans 1:4

Jan 14, 2020

I learned a valuable lesson from this verse, completely unrelated to what the verse actually says! It’s also a lesson I already knew and should have been more careful to pay attention to.

When I first set out to memorize this verse, I read several translations and the Greek, which is good and what I should have done; however, none of them seemed to make much sense so I gravitated toward the one that made the most sense to me on the surface (NLT) before studying the verse in depth. As a result, I got it wrong.

My initial translation was:

“Jesus Christ, our Lord, was declared the Son of God when He was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

There are three subtle errors here. I mistranslated declared (ὁρισθέντος), “by the power of” (ἐν δυνάμει), and “Holy Spirit” (πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης). What what is a better translation? After studying it all last week, I think the best wat to translate this verse is:

“Jesus Christ, our Lord, was appointed the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead.”

The problem with the correct translation is that the meaning makes little sense. It’s filled with vague or ambiguous terms that don’t make sense without further study. I’m going to walk through these specific translation issues to explain what each phrase means.

Was appointed
Jesus was always the Son of God. There’s no question about that. So then what does it mean that He was appointed by the resurrection? Before the resurrection, Jesus was fully human, meaning He had human constraints, at least to some degree. The resurrection formally appointed Jesus as Son of God in a unique way. In other words, the resurrection was the official beginning of a new age, which is nothing new to Christians.

In power
The debate on this verse is what power modifies. In other words, is it best translated:

  1. Appointed with power
  2. Son of God in power (or powerful Son of God)
  3. Power of the Holy Spirit

Due to word order and parallelism with verse 3 (in contrast to “descendant of David”), I chose “Son of God in power.” The resurrection was the event that ushered in Jesus’ full power, above and beyond the power He had prior to the resurrection.

Spirit of holiness

Most translations say Spirit of holiness while some say Holy Spirit, but they are essentially the same thing because the capital S on spirit means it is referring to the Holy Spirit. The other option is the translate it as “spirit of holiness” which would refer to Jesus’ spirit in contrast to His flesh, which is the state He lived in from birth to crucifixion.

Many of the commentaries point to the parallelism with v. 3 (in contrast to “according to the flesh”) and the fact the πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης is never used in the rest of the NT to refer to the Holy Spirit as arguments against this being a reference to the Holy Spirit, but then they go on to say it is a reference to the Holy Spirit without giving strong arguments for it. The best case seems to be parallels in the OT Septuagint for Holy Spirit (Ps 51:11, Isa 63:10-11) which seem best translated that way, but it’s not exactly the same in the Greek (πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον vs. πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης) and that also seems to be an anachronistic translation or understanding of the OT.

It seems best not to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think I understand the nuances enough to be rationally justified in disagreeing with the majority of NT (and OT) scholars on this. For this reason, I hesitantly accept this as a reference to the Holy Spirit rather than a reference to Jesus’ spirit, but either way, the translation stays the same except for the capitalization.

If this were a more theologically important verse, I would spend more time studying it, but since it’s not, I think it’s best to hold this one loosely and move on to the next passage.

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