Monday

22 April 2019

Romans 1:1-7

... the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, (vs. 3-4)

Psalm: Psalm 16

Background

In typical Pauline fashion this first chapter of the letter to the Romans begins with an introductory greeting. Paul introduces himself and the nature of the message he seeks to proclaim. Paul describes himself in three ways: as a servant, an apostle and one set apart. The first reference to ‘servant’, may be more accurately translated from the Greek word doulos as ‘slave’. We cannot avoid the challenge of this concept, being enslaved and beholden to another human being is abusive. Care needs to be taken whenever we use this word, even when we are suggesting the virtue of being a servant or disciple of Christ. Some have sadly used this concept to pursue toxic theologies of uncritical obedience and submission to others.

In being "called to be an apostle", Paul is declaring his response to the creative action of God, rather than seeing his new role as something he has chosen for himself. An apostle describes someone who is sent on behalf of another and forms part of Paul’s regular greeting in many of his letters. Finally, Paul introduces his purpose as being "set apart for the gospel of God" in continuous succession with the message of the prophets who have gone before, as recorded in the Scriptures. This may suggest the presence of Jewish Christians within the Roman church, alongside Gentile Christians.

In verses 3-4 Paul makes two important statements about Jesus. Firstly, Jesus is described as "descended from David according to the flesh". We are to understand very clearly that Jesus was a Jewish man. Jesus is located securely within the people of Israel and the royal Davidic line. This statement also emphasises the humanity of Christ, born of flesh.

The second statement in verse 4 is regarded by many scholars as more complex. Is there a suggestion here that Jesus was somehow declared the Son of God only at the point of resurrection? This would contradict the testimony of the Gospels and the hymn Paul quotes in Philippians 2:5-11. This is resolved by some scholars, such as Anthony Thisleton in his book Discovering Romans, by interpreting Paul to mean that as long as it is God doing the declaring or by an understanding that for Paul through Christ the resurrection age has burst upon us.

The complex interweaving of the humanity and divinity of the resurrected Christ says something profound about the richness and fullness of God, revealed to us in Christ. It is a messy story of the Christ who became human, lived an earthly vulnerable existence, suffered the indignity of a brutal death, and whose resurrection body retained in its scars the reality of death. Yet it is this story that invites us to receive the generous wonder of God’s grace. It is this story that is the good news of the Gospel, calling each one of us by name, to participate in Christ’s resurrected life.

 

To Ponder:

  • What does it mean to participate in the "resurrected life of Christ"?
  • When were you last aware of receiving God’s grace?
  • What do you feel "called to"?

Bible notes author

Deacon Eunice Attwood

Eunice is a Methodist deacon. She is a tutor in Pastoral Theology at the Queen's Foundation in Birmingham, and a member of the Centre for Ministerial Formation since 2012.

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