The Apostle Paul, in the first sentence of his epistle to Christians in Rome, introduces us to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It’s clear from Paul’s letters to the ancient churches that he believed and taught the Doctrine of the Trinity – God in Three Persons. It’s a doctrine that Paul had already developed and taught extensively by the time he wrote his letter to the Romans.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Ephesians 4:4-6
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7
Paul wrote most, if not all, of his letters before the Gospel writers wrote their accounts. What they quoted Jesus saying supported what Paul had been teaching for years.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” Matthew 28:19
“Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:34-35
“It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” John 16:12-15
Other apostles also wrote about the Trinity.
“… elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ …” 1 Peter 1:2
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Jude 20-21
It’s important to see that what Paul is telling the Roman Christians is that he believed in the Holy Trinity. The Trinity was not the teaching of the Jews nor the Gentiles. The Jews believed in the “One God” of Israel and gentiles believed in the “many gods” of the pagan religions. Paul’s teaching stood as the most unique of its kind and time – One God in Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In his first sentence to the Romans, Paul demonstrated clearly that the Gospel of God had been “promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” and concerned “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” who had been “born of the seed of David according to the flesh,” and declared to be the Son of God with power “according to the Spirit of holiness.”
The words “with power according to the Spirit of holiness” in the Greek are – εν δυναμει κατα πνευμα αγιωσυνης. Jesus Christ was “declared” (horizo – marked out, appointed, decreed, determined) to be the Son of God “with power” (en dunamei – strength, ability, capability), which is the idea of “in the sphere of power.” That power is “according to the Spirit of holiness.”
Everything Jesus did while He ministered on earth was done in concert with the Holy Spirit. The Virgin Mary was “found with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). When Jesus came up from the baptismal waters, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Lord “like a dove” (Matthew 3:16). The Holy Spirit then led Jesus into the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Jesus quoted Isaiah to His disciples – “I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles” (Matthew 12:18) and “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). After His resurrection, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus promised His disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and that they would be witnesses to Him “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Paul wrote later in Romans that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11) and I believe that’s the same context here in Romans 1:4. However, there are some good commentators who believe the “Spirit of holiness” addressed in 1:4 is really the spiritual “essence” of Christ. Denney writes, “Not the Holy Spirit, but a description of Christ ethically as kata sarka describes him physically.” (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Dr. James Denney, The Expositor’s Greek New Testament, Edited by W.R. Nicoll, 1900). Vincent writes, “The reference is not to the Holy Spirit, who is nowhere designated by this phrase, but to the spirit of Christ as the seat of the divine nature belonging to His person. As God is spirit, the divine nature of Christ is spirit, and its characteristic quality is holiness.” (Word Studies In The New Testament, Volume III, The Epistles of Paul, p. 4, Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887)
One of the primary reasons I believe the Greek word pneuma (spirit) refers to the Holy Spirit in Romans 1:4 is because of the context – “… concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness …” The human nature of Christ came to us through His human mother, Mary – “born of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The Divine Nature of Christ came to us through His Holy Spirit – “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)
God the Son had always existed and had walked on the earth in His Eternal Form (e.g. Angel of the Lord) often in the past, but the Holy Spirit “conceived” (gennethen – begotten, born) God’s Son in Mary’s womb. The root word gennao is generally used of men begetting children. In this miraculous, one-time occurrence the Holy Spirit of God performed the masculine role of “begetting” the Son of God in the virgin’s womb. Amazing! Paul presents in powerful and unmistakable language the fact that Jesus Christ is both man and God.
Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness “by the resurrection from the dead.” Why did Paul say that and what did he mean by it? We’ll look into this core truth of Christianity next time as we continue our study of Romans – The Gospel of God.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”