Jesus: Appointed the Son of God?

October 13, 2012 in Theology · 7 comments

Romans 1:4 in the NIV 2011 reads: “and who through the Spirit of holi­ness was appointed the Son of God in power by his res­ur­rec­tion from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Does this mean that because of his res­ur­rec­tion God appointed Jesus as his Son? Prior to the res­ur­rec­tion Jesus was just some guy, but post-resurrection God decided Jesus was good enough so he let him into the family?

Maybe some other trans­la­tions can offer some insight:

The NIV 1984 reads “and who through the Spirit of holi­ness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his res­ur­rec­tion from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The NRSV reads “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.”

Here Jesus is declared to be God’s Son. The KJV, NAS and ESV all say he was “declared” as well. So then was the res­ur­rec­tion God’s pub­lic announce­ment of Jesus’ son­ship? The NLT goes so far as to say that Jesus “was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead.”

But here’s the prob­lem: the Greek text doesn’t really say “declared,” it says he was “appointed.” Paul uses the word ὁρισθέντος, which is the par­tici­ple of the verb ὁρίζω. And ὁρίζω, accord­ing to BDAG, means “to make a deter­mi­na­tion about an entity, deter­mine, appoint, fix, set.” Every occur­rence of ὁρίζω in the New Tes­ta­ment car­ries the clear mean­ing of appoint, decide or determine:

Luk 22:22 For the Son of Man is to go just as it has been deter­mined
Act 2:23 who was handed over by the pre­de­ter­mined plan
Act 10:42 he is the one appointed by God as judge
Act 11:29 So the dis­ci­ples … decided to send relief
Act 17:26 deter­min­ing their set times
Act 17:31 by a man whom he des­ig­nated
Heb 4:7 So God again appoints a cer­tain day

If one accepts that “appoint” is in fact the best trans­la­tion of the text (so that the NIV 2011 is really a more accu­rate ren­der­ing than the NIV 1984), does that leave us at a the­o­log­i­cal dead-end?

But there is another option: “in power” is describ­ing the Son of God, not the appoint­ment, so that Paul is not say­ing that “the Son of God was pow­er­fully appointed”” but rather that the “pow­er­ful Son of God was appointed” or, as in the NET: “who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power.” Jesus was the Son of God pre-resurrection, but it was because of the res­ur­rec­tion that God chose to appoint him as the Pow­er­ful Son of God. Anders Nygren sum­ma­rizes this impor­tant point: “So the res­ur­rec­tion is the turn­ing point in the exis­tence of the Son of God. Before that he was the Son of God in weak­ness and low­li­ness. Through the res­ur­rec­tion he becomes the Son of God in power.”

This issue not only sheds light on the way the­ol­ogy can influ­ence our Eng­lish trans­la­tions, it also makes a cru­cial point about the impor­tance of the res­ur­rec­tion. Chris­tian­ity is not pri­mar­ily about the Jesus’ pub­lic min­istry or his death on the cross. Ours is, above all else, a res­ur­rec­tion faith — if Christ has not been raised, then our preach­ing is futile and your faith is empty (1 Cor 15:14). It is only through the res­ur­rec­tion that God’s plan for human­ity and Jesus’ role in that plan, as the appointed Son of God in Power, can be fully realized.

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