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1. Introduction

The aim of this article is to provide new biblical arguments in support of the presence of both the early tradition’s material anterior to Paul and Paul’s redaction in Rom 1:3-4. It will argue that the evidence to support Paul’s redaction in this pericope, especially with regard to the expression ἐν δυνάμει (“in power”) and the substantive ἁγιωσύνη (“holiness”), is not limited to only two Pauline passages (2 Cor 7:1 and 1 Thess 3:13); rather they are common to other Pauline passages even before Romans and in the letter to the Romans itself. It will further argue that, with the redaction by Paul, verse 4 does not incorporate moral implication of the believers but refers to Christ’s spiritual condition, a passage that is fundamentally Christological. It will then conclude that, with the rapprochement of the usage of the substantive and the language of holiness with the Holy Spirit in other Pauline letters, κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης (“spirit of holiness” Rom 1:4) could be understood as the Spirit who sanctifies as suggested by Paul’s modification.

For centuries, scholars have been engaging with the introductory part of the letter to the Romans. Rom 1:1-4 contains rich information that not only expresses Paul’s experiences of faith in Christ, but also incorporates faith expressions he inherited.[1] Many scholars argue for the presence of pre-Pauline material in the exordium of Romans, but not all of them agree on the same level. They differ in what it is that is traditional and what is Pauline.[2] Some scholars doubt the presence of pre-Pauline material in verses 3-4,[3] while others do not see any redaction by Paul.[4]

2. Brief Literary Observations on Rom 1:1-4

In line with the normal way of writing a letter in the Greco-Roman world of Paul, the letter to the Romans begins with the name of the sender, Paul.[5] He is not just Paul that could easily be confused with other personalities who bore the same name during his time and perhaps in the same Christian congregation, but he is Paul a servant/slave of Jesus Christ, an apostle.[6] He is concerned with the gospel of God[7] which is traceable to the Holy Scriptures and promised long ago through the prophets. Here, Paul employs both the prophetic and scriptural evidence to back up the authenticity of his gospel.[8] The centre of the gospel is “his Son” who descended from the Davidic line. One notices the gradual presentation of history in a very concise form. In the flesh, “his Son” came from the genealogy of David reflecting the messianic expectations after the reign of King David.[9] The author describes this Son as the Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness given access to by the resurrection.[10] Verse 4 concludes with the clear identity of the subject of the gospel who is the Son of God, Jesus Christ with his exalted title, Lord.

The sequence of what follows after the writer’s identification of himself is as follows:

  1. The gospel of God

  2. Which is not very new but contained in the Holy Scriptures preached or spoken about by the prophets

  3. This gospel is about “his Son”

  4. Who is described from the lineage of David, testifying to the prophets’ testimonies of “his Son” being the son of David

  5. By complement, “his Son” is also the Son of God. This identity is clearly revealed by his resurrection. In other words, his resurrection enlightens his followers of his special relationship with God

  6. This Son is Jesus Christ

  7. Who is now Lord following his resurrection and exaltation.

Verses 3-4 could be distinguished from verses 1-2 structurally. Verse 1 contains the normal author’s introduction of his identity; he talks about himself so that the recipients could know from whom they are receiving the letter. Verse 2 continues the claim of the author of what he is called to do. From 3a he mentions the content of the gospel “his Son.”[11]

Verses 3b to 4d, though continuing the description of who the content of the gospel is, touch on the deeper issue of the messianic promise to David. They show some striking elements such as flesh-spirit antithesis, Son of God (again after “his Son” of v. 3a), and resurrection. Grammatically, one discovers other terminologies, the two verbs: to descend and to appoint.[12] The tone changes from 3b-4.[13] These verses briefly describe Christ’s mystery of entrances into the earthly realm and into the spiritual realm beautifully expressed with the antithesis of flesh-spirit. The idea that the Son descended from David is not Pauline. Paul is here quoting (or rather referencing) the tradition before him.[14] The resurrection of Jesus which forms the backbone of verse 4 is also not originated from Paul. The belief in and the expressions about Jesus’ resurrection began earlier before Paul came into the picture.

Based on these two reasons above, verses 3b-4d could be set aside for further examination. These two verses contain elements that are not originally Pauline’s expressions. Based on this too, one would not agree with the scholars who feel that every element in Rom 1:3-4 is typically Pauline.[15] Rather one will go with those who find pre-Pauline elements, but to what extent are those elements pre-Pauline? Can one suspect Paul’s redaction as well? If yes (as some scholars have shown), to what extent and what evidence to show for it?

3. Division of Rom 1:3b-4d

The division will help to easily refer to each part of the pericope in the course of this discussion and to identify different characteristic features.

3a περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ (concerning his Son)[16]

3a περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ (concerning his Son)16

4e Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν (Jesus Christ our Lord)

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Based on the parallel structure, the uncommon vocabularies and the style of the verbs, 3a and 4e could be taken as what Paul uses to introduce and conclude the pericope respectively.[17] The structure of verses 3b-4d is unique within the context of the introductory section of the letter. It displays antitheses which play between the entrances into two opposing realms. In fact, this portion of the introduction shows Jesus’ entrance into human existence and spiritual existence. These antithetical expressions are shown with: son/seed of David – Son of God; flesh – spirit; descent from the seed of David – resurrection from the dead. “Son of David” portrays Jesus’ human identity traceable to King David; while “Son of God” portrays his spiritual identity. The descent from the seed of David is antithetical to the resurrection from the dead in that, the former is the means through which Jesus enters earthly condition while the latter is the means through which he enters the spiritual condition. The flesh in verse 3 opposes the spirit in verse 4. The former portrays the earthly condition while the latter the spiritual condition which was given access to by the resurrection.[18]

Again, to what extent does this pericope contain pre-Pauline material? Scholars have debated on this topic to decipher what is pre-Pauline and what is Pauline. Robert Jewett has offered an interesting hypothesis with three stages of development and modifications.[19] First, he recognizes that verses 3-4 are not completely Paul’s original composition. The three stages are: 1) Jewish Christian composition which expresses the mystery of Christ in their early development and reflections. 2) With the interpenetration with the Hellenistic community, the first composition was modified by the Hellenistic Christian community. 3) This was finally modified by Paul as further reflections grew on Christian thoughts. The Jewish Christian’s composition only contains 3b (was descended), 3c (from the seed of David), 4a (was appointed Son of God), and 4d (by the resurrection from the dead). The second stage includes ‘according to (the) flesh’ (3d) and ‘according to (the) spirit’ (4c) influenced by the Hellenistic cultural attachment to πνεῦμα. Then Paul added the substantive and the expression “in power.”[20]

The primary reason for these modifications is that Christianity was getting to understand the person of Jesus. The process was gradual based on the experiences of the early Christians. It appears that at first, the early Christians did not fully understand Jesus as transcendent in the way Paul later comes to understand and express it in his theology and Christology. This early understanding is reflected in the composition of the original pre-Pauline creed. Gradually as more insights and reflections opened up on Christ Event and the promises of God to Israel, modifications were made to complement the original both from the Hellenistic Christian community and Paul. Jewett would talk about the aim of Paul’s mission to Spain as one of the reasons for the incorporation of the traditional material and his redaction so that it would serve as a binding belief for the two communities (Jewish and Hellenistic).

4. “According to flesh” (v. 3d) and “according to spirit” (of holiness) (v. 4c)

This expression would not have been originally Pauline. The “spirit of holiness” is not found elsewhere in both the Old Testament and the New Testament but in the Testament of Levi (18:11). Some scholars propose a literal translation of the Semitic-like Hebrew expression רוּחַ קֹדֶשָׁ֖ה (ruah qedosha).[21] But it is difficult to justify the Greek rendition as the Holy Spirit. There is no evidence to correlate the Greek with the Hebrew here.[22]

The meaning that the antithesis carries within the context of verses 3-4 is not evident in the Pauline corpus. Paul is fond of using the binomial terms flesh-spirit within anthropological and moral perspectives, and in some cases as human components.[23] In another sense, Paul employs the same opposing expressions to distinguish the status of birth between the free-born and the slave (Gal 4:29). Its usage in Rom 1:3-4 within a different context (referring to Jesus’ human existence and spiritual condition respectively) is alien in the Pauline corpus.[24] A close passage is 1 Cor 15:45, but the antithesis plays between ψυχή and πνεῦμα within the context of the believers.[25] This further suggests that Paul is using another source. In addition, early investigation of the manner of expression of faith by the early Christian communities, both Jewish and Greek backgrounds, shows the usages of antitheses in conveying and explaining their beliefs.[26]

Jewett’s proposition seems tenable that after the Hellenistic Christian community’s modification with the addition of κατὰ σάρκα and κατὰ πνεῦμα, Paul while incorporating this traditional formula in his letter added the phrase ἐν δυνάμει “in power” and the substantive ἁγιωσύνη “holiness.” However, it seems that Jewett’s argument is not enough to buttress this assertion. His argument could be summarized as follows: 1) for the phrase “in power,” Paul added it in order to discourage the idea of adoptionism perceived in the original material. To further this point of Jewett, one could also claim that Paul has further reflected on the mystery of Christ and has come to understand the Son of God as not just from the messianic point of view but also from the transcendent perspective, hence his caption of “his Son” in verse 3a and the addition of “in power” to the creedal formula. Paul’s interest in the pre-existent lordship of Christ also favours this redaction.[27] 2) For the substantive: a) Paul added “holiness” in order to avoid the tendency of libertinism perceived in the addition by the Hellenistic Christian community. By this addition, he calls them to be responsible even in their charismatic freedom; b) Jewett cites two major Pauline passages where, according to him, the substantive is used within moral contexts: 1 Thess 3:13 and 2 Cor 7:1.

Where it seems that Jewett’s supportive pieces of evidence are not sufficient lie on the following: 1) the passages and their contexts he cites for the substantive. 2) There are few (or no specific) passages to support the claim that Paul was conversant with the phrase “in power.” 3) There is no clear cut between Jewett’s connection of the traditional formula with the moral obligations of the believers and the action of the Holy Spirit. Efforts will now be made to supply these insufficiencies.

5. The Phrase ἐν δυνάμει: Its Usages in the Pauline Corpus

This expression is found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus even before the letter to the Romans. This is not the case, for example, with the verb ὁρίζω found also in the same creedal formula which does not appear again in the Pauline corpus. The expression “in power” is already common to Paul before writing the letter to the Romans. He uses ἐν δυνάμει 5 times in the letters anterior to Romans that are considered undisputed[28] and 5 times in other letters including Romans (excluding Rom 1:4).[29] It is appropriate to lay more emphasis on those letters that are anterior to Romans where the phrase appears: 1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:5; 4:20; 15:43; 2 Cor 6:7 and 2 Thess 1:11 (if it is considered originally Pauline).

In 1 Thess 1:5, Paul was talking about the message of the gospel that is being communicated to the believers as something that does not only come to them in word but in power and in the Holy Spirit. This means that the reception of the gospel is not just through the preaching of the word but that there is a force behind it which turns the believers into accepting it. One notices that as early as in this letter, this phrase is already being used by Paul. The context of its usage in 2 Thess 1:11 is the coming judgment of Christ where Paul prays for the believers for God to make them worthy of his call, and in the power of God, fulfil their good resolve and work of faith. It is the power (of God) that helps the faithful hold firmly to the work of faith performed in good intentions. Paul is not exhorting them to do good or to avoid evil, but praying specifically for the fulfilment of every good resolve aided by (the) power (ἐν δυνάμει). 1 Cor 2:4-5 is similar to 1 Thess 1:5 in context. Paul is convinced that his proclamation of Christ crucified, who is the content and subject of his gospel (1 Thess 1:5), is not just with the use of plausible words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and power. What confirms and makes effective his efforts is the power behind the gospel and the Holy Spirit; and so, the emphasis is for the believers to put their faith not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

The expression ἐν δυνάμει is employed in 1 Cor 4:20 within the context of moral behaviour and admonition. Paul expresses his desire to come to Corinth and deal with what is behind the arrogant talk which had been reported to him. His immediate audience understood what he meant by this “talk of these arrogant people.” His main concern is not on the talk but on the power of the Kingdom, “for the Kingdom of God depends not on talk but ἐν δυνάμει.” The chapter that follows immediately this verse reveals what is at stake: the problem of sexual immorality. Its usage in 1 Cor 15:43 is found within the context of the resurrection body which distinguishes between two modes of existence, earthly and spiritual. The earthly existence is characterized by σῶμα ψυχικόν (natural/physical body) which is sown in weakness (ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ) because of the reality of death. But death is not the end, for if there is a σῶμα ψυχικόν there is also σῶμα πνευματικόν because the former will be raised in power (ἐν δυνάμει). In 2 Cor 6:7, ἐν δυνάμει appears among the list of the good qualities and graces (ἐν δυνάμει Θεοῦ) enjoyed despite the many difficulties and persecutions that Paul and his fellow Christians faced.

In Romans, apart from 1:4, ἐν δυνάμει appears 3 other times (15:13,19 [2x]). Within the benediction section of 15:13, Paul employs the phrase with direct connection with the Holy Spirit (ἐν δυνάμει πνεύματος ἁγίου). It is also used in a similar way in the second part of 15:19 (ἐν δυνάμει πνεύματος). Paul’s accomplishments, especially the obedience won from the Gentiles, are attributed to Christ in the power of signs and wonders (ἐν δυνάμει σημείων καὶ τεράτων), in the power of the Spirit of God (ἐν δυνάμει πνεύματος ἁγίου/θεοῦ). Most of the passages above are not directly linked to moral obligation and some are directly linked to the Holy Spirit: 1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:5 (from v. 4); 15:43; Rom 15:13,19.

6. The Substantive ἁγιωσύνη: Its Language in Some Pauline Letters

Robert Jewett is one of the scholars who proposes that ἁγιωσύνη is Pauline redaction because this term is found in two other Pauline passages: 1 Thess 3:13 and 2 Cor 7:1. However, further reflection on this reveals that the idea of the language of the substantive “holiness” is not limited to these two passages.[30] When one investigates the Pauline letters anterior to Romans and in Romans itself, it is obvious that Paul employs the language of holiness up to 63 times: as a verb ἁγιάζω (6 times), as nouns ἁγιασμός (7 times), ἅγιος (46 times), ἁγιότης (once) and substantive ἁγιωσύνη (3 times). It is without a doubt that the language and idea of holiness are common to Paul even before the letter to the Romans. This gives more possibility to the proposition that ἁγιωσύνη is an addition of Paul to the κατὰ πνεῦμα of Rom 1:4. There are two other passages in the New Testament with the similar presentation within the same resurrection context of Jesus. These two passages, 1 Tim 3:16 and 1 Pet 3:18, contrast flesh with spirit without the substantive. Since the two passages have also been regarded as testifying to the early tradition anterior to Paul,[31] it, therefore, suggests strongly that the early tradition simply employs σάρξ-πνεῦμα in their expressions of faith in describing the mystery of Christ in this sense. Paul, having the idea of holiness and the terminologies already, redacted Rom 1:4 without wanting to alter the traditional representation simply added the substantive to κατὰ πνεῦμα.

The reason given by Jewett for this addition, that is, to discourage libertinism tendencies of the Hellenistic Christian community may be tenable, but not his application of the moral contexts of the two passages (1 Thess 3:13 and 2 Cor 7:1) to the creedal formula in Rom 1:3-4. If the wide usages of the language of holiness in the Pauline corpus could have influenced the redaction in Rom 1:4, then it is appropriate not to restrict the influence to only two passages. The contexts of many of these passages anterior to Romans and in Romans exposed above where the language of holiness appears do not carry moral obligations or implications. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul employs the verb ἁγιάζω in the final exhortation and benediction section (5:23). The noun ἁγιασμός is first used with God as “your sanctification” and second, within the moral exhortation (4:3-7). He uses ἅγιος 5 times,[32] first in connection with the Holy Spirit and the gospel (1:5,6), second, directly within prayer context referring to the saints of God (3:13), third, in connection with God as the one who gives the Holy Spirit (4:8), and fourth within the admonition of brotherly greetings with a holy kiss (5:26).

In 1 Corinthians, the verb ἁγιάζω is used 4 times[33] and the noun ἁγιασμός once (1:3). In all these occurrences, some are used in connection with Christ Jesus and the believers being sanctified in him (1:2; 6:11; 1:30) while the other occurrences appear within the context of marriage whereby the believing spouse makes the unbelieving spouse holy (7:14). The form ἅγιος appears 12 times[34] and 8 times in 2 Corinthians;[35] and ἁγιότης appears once in 2 Cor (1:12). With these occurrences of the language of holiness, the substantive in Rom 1:4 is Paul’s redaction, bearing in mind also the two other New Testament passages with the similar representation of the early tradition, 1 Tim 3:16 and 1 Pet 3:18, lack the substantive.

7. Moral Implications of the Believers in Rom 1:4?

There is another concern. Does Paul’s redaction in Rom 1:4 imply moral implication in the creedal formula? Robert Jewett suggests that it gives a clue to moral obligations requested of the believers. It is obvious that the context and the content of the early tradition formula in Rom 1:3-4 have no moral link. It is strictly Christological, concerning Jesus’ two modes of existence and the resurrection without any moral exhortation of the believers. Jewett has probably been influenced by the way he reads the two passages 2 Cor 7:1 and 1 Thess 3:13.[36] He reads the two from the moral point of view, defilement of the body and spirit and sexual fidelity respectively. The first passage (2 Cor 7:1) is found within the moral context but not the second one. The mention of ἁγιωσύνη in 1 Thess 3:13 is found directly within the prayer and benediction context. What comes before this verse has to do with Paul recounting their persecution and the boldness they have in coping with it, and also the encouraging report presented by Timothy (1 Thess 3:6-12). There are prayerful wishes that come from both Paul and the Thessalonians. In this verse, “holiness” refers to the action of God wished for the Thessalonians. It is not addressed to them to be holy but that God should make them holy, in this sense, it is used with the understanding that God (and the Lord Jesus) is the one who makes holy (who sanctifies). And so, Paul prays “And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness…”

The addition of ἁγιωσύνη to the traditional formula in Rom 1:3-4 does not evoke moral obligation of the believers (contra Robert Jewett).[37] In Paul’s theological reflections, there is no doubt about the use of the language of holiness in connection with moral obligations of the believers, but not in Rom 1:3-4. As already stated, there are many occasions where the language of holiness is used without moral implication before the letter to the Romans.[38] Its addition would rather portray the evolution of the Spirit as an agent of sanctification already expressed in the Pauline corpus, as the Spirit who sanctifies.[39] In this sense, one sees the link in the usages of “holiness” (ἁγιωσύνη) with the Holy Spirit in the Pauline letters.[40]

In the traditional formula of Rom 1:3b-4, one may point out “in power,” “holiness” and the expression “Jesus Christ our Lord” as typically Pauline.[41] Κύριος is common in the Pauline corpus, it appears about 274 times; while the expression “Jesus Christ our Lord” with slight variations could be found 26 times in the undisputed letters of Paul. One notices Christological titles merged in these two verses: Seed of David, Son of God, Christ, and Lord.


Rom 1:3b-4d is a product of two principal materials: early tradition anterior to Paul and Pauline reflections. The material from the pre-Pauline tradition must have experienced a gradual development as Christianity burgeons. It is the tradition well known to Paul and in fact central to his call and mission so much so that he employs it, modifies and includes his own experience from his encounter with his newfound faith in Jesus Christ. The elements that this article mentions as Pauline terminologies (“in power,” “holiness” and the lordship of Jesus Christ) are frequently used in Pauline corpus in different contexts. In a special way, the substantive (ἁγιωσύνη) in Rom 1:4 does not imply moral obligation of the believers but rather points to Paul’s idea of the Holy Spirit as the sanctifier present already in other Pauline passages.