Thursday, August 11, 2005

The flesh/Spirit contrast in Jesus

One of my favorite passages in Scripture came up today in my devotional reading. The first four verses of that chapter are a real window into Paul's way of thinking about what we've now come to call "inaugurated eschatology," that whole notion that God's "eschatological" (end-time) purposes have already begun (been "inaugurated") in Christ in a way that spills over into our lives...

I'll begin with a quote from Sinclair Ferguson (via Russell Moore's book, The Kingdom of Christ, p. 48) that summarizes how Romans 1 should be understood in the light of the "already" and the "not yet" (inaugurated eschatology) that I've been discussing on this blog.

Older interpreters read Romans 1:3-4 within the matrix of classical patristic Christology as a statement of the two natures of Christ. But the contrast in view is not between the two natures but the two states of Christ, and more precisely between the two aeons of his existence: "according to the flesh" and "according to the Spirit"; his humiliation and his exaltation. His resurrection thus constitutes him messianic son of God with power; in it he is adopted as the Man of the new age.
Let me unpack that a bit. Romans 1:3-4 speaks of Paul's apostolic call to preach the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 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" (ESV).

Note the contrast there. On the one hand, Jesus was born the "Son who was descended from David according to the flesh." On the other hand, Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit..." One could understand this as a contrast between Jesus' human kingship ("descended from David") and his divine kingship ("Son of God in power"). Being descended from David according the flesh would refer to his humanity and being declared the Son of God according the Spirit would refer to his divinity. Understood thus, the passage would set up a contrast between the two natures of Jesus, his humanity and his divinity.

But many evangelical scholars (like Sinclair Ferguson and Russell Moore, hearkening back to works by Gerhaardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin and many others) now believe that a contrast between the two natures of Christ is not the fundamental contrast in this passage. It is not a contrast between his humanity (Son of David according to the flesh) and his divinity (Son of God according the Spirit), but between an earlier "fleshly" state (his pre-resurrection human existence) and a later "Spiritual" state (his post-resurrection human existence). What's more, it's precisely in his passage from one human state or stage to the next that Jesus shows us what it means to be really human. We too were intended to move from the "fleshly" stage to the "Spiritual" stage.

Such an understanding transforms not only our understanding of Romans 1:3-4. It also transforms our understanding of what it meant and means for Christ to be human, what it means for us to be human, and how God has already--in Christ--begun his intended restoration of all creation. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I need to tell you why we should understand Rom 1:3-4 as a statement of the fulfillment of Jesus' humanity--and an anticipation of the completion of our humanity as well. I'll do that tomorrow.

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At 8:38 PM, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...'s past "tomorrow" Bill...and I'm looking forward to your further thoughts on Romans 1.

Intriguing implications here for our humanity, as you say.


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