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.

7 comments… read them below or add one

Ellen K. October 15, 2012 at 11:23 am

I’m puzzled. You say the word can mean “determined”, which is very different from “appointed” in the verse under question, yet you don’t address this as a possible translation.


Dan October 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I’m not sure that “determined” is very different from “appointed.” Both involve making some sort of decision — a demarcation — between two states.

Merriam Webster’s first definition for each are virtually synonymous:
determine: 1a: to fix conclusively or authoritatively
appoint: 1a: a : to fix or set officially

Both “determine” and “appoint” are certainly within the semantic range of ὁρίζω, but to my mind there isn’t a significant difference between the two in the context of this verse. Using “determined” makes for an awkward-sounding English construction: “and who through the Spirit of holiness was determined the Son of God…” and still leaves the same theological issue as “appoint” does: God didn’t “determine” Jesus was the Son of God because of the resurrection.


Ellen K. October 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Determined means to me “figured out”. Recognizing that something is how it already is. Whereas “appoint” is actually doing something. And if that dictionary puts definitions chronologically, as many do, then which is first is irrelevant. Really, the question is, does the ordinary meaning of “determine”, which does not mean making something true, but simply recognizing it is true, match a meaning of the Greek word. Maybe it doesn’t. But, in that case, you should have addressed that.


Dan October 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Do you think God “figured out” that Jesus was the Son of God?


Ellen K. October 15, 2012 at 4:12 pm

The quote doesn’t say anything about God doing it. It doesn’t say who did the appointing, or determining, or deciding.


Dan October 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Actually, it does. It says he was appointed/determined/decided/declared “by his resurrection.”


Tim Wilcox July 31, 2013 at 10:48 am

The terms “Jesus” and “Christ” can be thought of as separate concepts, united in one Person (Son of Man vs. Son of God). Jesus of Nazareth was a man. Christ is the Son of God – it is the specific force/power/function through which all was made (John 1:1-5) and is God’s personal expression of Love Itself. It was God’s first movement – His Only Begotten Son – and the part of the Trinity that is the active participant in Creation. When God said “Let there be Light” this is metaphorically when the Christ was “begotten”. However, Christ as the Son of God existed eternally before Jesus of Nazareth was born on earth. The Trinity is an Eternal concept (it has no beginning or end) but no particular person was associated with the identity of The Son until after Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth obtained the title “The Christ” because of the perfection in which he lived his life and demonstrated the attributes of God through his human actions. He was the Chosen One to fulfill this mission. Thus he was appointed the title “The Christ and Son of God”. Jesus, Son of Man, was fully unified with the Christ aspect of God and would have fully inherited the identity of Son of God after he was resurrected. This is why we call him Jesus (the) Christ “….who through the Spirit of holi­ness was appointed the Son of God in power by his res­ur­rec­tion from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”


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