Romans 1:3-4, Jesus Becomes God’s Son

[C]oncerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.  

//Here’s a question that baffled early Christians. At what point did Jesus become God’s son?

We all know the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, and their claim that God impregnated Mary and conceived a son. Surely that is the moment Jesus became the Son of God?

Another, probably earlier, tradition comes from the book of John. John mentions nothing at all about a virgin birth, and instead tells how Jesus was anointed as the Son of God at his baptism. (Technically, John doesn’t mention the baptism itself, but we may infer the event.) So could this be the day? Many early Christians accepted this “adoptionist” explanation and saw nothing heretical in it.

An even earlier tradition is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In today’s verse, Paul states his understanding that Jesus was born of the flesh (of the lineage of King David) and became the Son of God only after the resurrection! Surprisingly, the book of Acts, which was authored by the same person as the Gospel of Luke and its virgin birth story, appears to side with Paul! 

“God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ And that He raised Him from the dead …” - Acts 13:32-33

Scholars generally consider this passage in Acts to be a primitive tradition that long predated the day it was copied by Luke. So we have three traditions that show a bit of a progression:

[1] The earliest: Jesus became God’s son when resurrected (probably adopted by God and taken home immediately to heaven).
[2] A bit later: Jesus became God’s son when anointed by the Spirit at his baptism.
[3] Later still: Jesus is the literal offspring of God and a human woman, and becomes God’s son at that point.
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8 Comments

  1. Who do you say that I am Peter? To question the virgin birth is to misunderstand why He became flesh to dwell among us and why He could not be born through the sin seed of Adam. Peter answered.. “You are the son of the living God.” Jesus said to Peter, “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you Peter, but it was revealed to you by my Father in heaven. Sometimes the scholars need revelation, by-passing their Greek mindsets. Unless you are like a child Jesus said, you will never see the Kingdom of heaven. Smoke a spiritual joint my friend and get some revelation!!!

  2. Glad to have you reading, Logan! I’ve been thinking about doing a series on why liberal Christians as a rule have trouble with taking the virgin birth story literally. Shall I?

  3. Following is a clarification to hopefully help us to understand what Paul was talking about in Romans 1:3-4.

    “According to the flesh” and “became flesh” seem to be indications the Jesus was a Jew, the seed of Abraham through the line of David. “Flesh” in Biblical terms has nothing to do with being a biological body or the skin that covers a persons bones. “Flesh” is the same as “under the law,” specifically the Biblical Old Covenant Law.

    Jesus was born a Jew and was therefore “in the flesh.” His resurrection indicated a change in mode from “flesh” to Spirit. This is how Jesus was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection.

    It is also interesting to note that Jesus most often referred to himself as the “son of man.”

    I’m not sure there is a way to point to a particular event in linear time and say, “This is when Jesus became the Son of God.” It’s possible that these three ideas are indeed all correct because in God’s “time,” Jesus was never – not – the Son of God.

  4. …and, of course, step four brings us to “Jesus was never – not – the Son of God!” Thanks, Bob! That idea seems to be a consolidation of many scriptural themes, not least of which John’s insistence that Jesus pre-existed his birth.

    Not quite sure I’m where you’re at on the meaning of “flesh”, which CAN mean skin but does not in this context. Yet it still reads as if Paul is saying Jesus’ natural side descended from David. Here is the NIV, which is an interesting twist, maybe sharing your view?

    [R]egarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David

    • Lee, I’m definitely not a Greek scholar or translator. I can however see that in the ‘Old Testiment,’ flesh seems to indicate things like skin and fat, animal skins, etc. Everything that was literal and historic during the time of the law and the prophets seems to point directly to a spiritual fulfillment or spiritual reality. There are countless examples of this. It seems that literal ‘flesh’ in the OT points to a more aligorical meaning in the teachings of the apostles. In the new testiment, flesh or fleshly seems to take on the meaning of being under law. Often times ‘the flesh’ is compared with ‘the Spirit.’

  5. When I say “compared with the Spirit,” indeed it seem to be opposed or opposite by comparison. “Natural” is another word that seems to be synonymous with ‘flesh.’ (First the natural, then the Spiritual.) Paul even exclaimed, (paraphrasing) ‘Why, when you have been given the Spirit in full – would you want to go back to the flesh?’

  6. Does it really matter “when” or “how” Jesus became God’s son? The very fact that it took the Church over 300 years to wrestle with the question that He was God’s son in the first place, points to the reality that such things are revealed through faith. Faith is not a doctrine or a dogma or a set of beliefs; faith is a living, breathing relationship with the “God of the believer’s understanding.”

  7. Brian, one should never confuse theological study with Christian worship or practice, ha. ;)

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