The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 2/3: Resurrection and Pauline Christology

What was Paul’s new perception of the resurrected Christ after his conversion through an encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus? We shall consider Rom 1:3-4, 2 Cor. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 15:45 as the pivotal points in our discussion of this question.

A. Romans 1:3, 4
We can trace a clear development of what Paul has to say about Christ in this long introduction to the epistle. In verse 1, Jesus is the Messiah. In verse 3, the Messiah is God’s Son. In verse 4a, this Messiah Jesus, whose sonship was veiled in the days of his flesh, is suddenly (by the resurrection) revealed as ‘Son of God in power’. Finally, the climactic stage in the progressive revelation of Jesus is Paul’s confession that “Jesus is Lord”.

A pattern of parallels and contrasts is also evident in verses 3 and 4:

Verse 3 Verse 4
1. born (γενομένου, genomenou) – declared (ὁρισθέντος, horisthentos)
2. according to the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα, kata sarka) – according to the spirit of holiness, ie., the Holy Spirit (κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης, kata pneuma hagiōsynēs) /1/
3. of the seed of David (ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ, ek spermatos Dauid) – by the resurrection of the dead (ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, ex anastaseōs nekrōn)

The traditional view holds that the contrast is between two natures of Christ. /2/ It is maintained that the“Son of God” (v.4) refers to Christ’s deity while “flesh” (v. 2) refers to Jesus’ humanity, “since the “according to the flesh” includes the whole of His humanity, the “according to the Spirit of holiness” which is set in contrast with it,… must be sought outside His humanity…the Spirit of holiness is a designation of His divine nature.” /3/

The traditional interpretation is, however, open to three serious objections:

1. Richard Gaffin has pointed how πνεῦμα (pneuma) when contrasted with σάρξ (sarx) is invariably associated with the Holy Spirit rather than to Christ’s divine nature (cf. Rom. 8:4-9; Gal. 5:16-26, 6:8; Phil. 3:3f). /4/

2. The traditional view reduces the significance of the resurrection to a mere noetic function, making evident Christ’s divinity. As such, it overlooks the primary thrust of the resurrection of Christ as the resurrection of the first fruits, the Firstborn, the second Adam. Indeed, John Murray has rightly stressed that the resurrection is concerned more with Christ’s human nature than his divine nature. The resurrection, “it must not be forgotten, concerns Christ’s human nature – only in respect of his human nature was he raised from the dead.” /5/

3. The emphasis on the resurrection in this passage is not so much the two-nature of Christ as the fruit of salvation arising from the solidarity between Christ and his followers. As such, others, while not denying an underlying ontological element, maintain that a redemptive-historical outlook is dominant and that the contrast is between two successive stages or modes of existence. /6/ According to this view, Christ entered into a new mode of existence on the basis of the resurrection. The eternal Son of God once lived κατὰ σάρκα (kata sarka), but is now raised to a new plane of existence, κατὰ πνεῦμα (kata pneuma). He has become the Son of God in power. In Neill Hamilton’s words, “The flesh was the vehicle of Christ’s existence before the resurrection. The Holy Spirit is now the vehicle, the mode, the manner of His status as Lord.” /7/ Indeed, “the Holy Spirit, who as given by the exalted Christ, is the manifestation of his power and majesty, and so the guarantee of his having been appointed Son of God in might. /8/ The resurrection was the historical event in which Christ was invested with a sovereignty and power that surpassed all that could be previously ascribed to him in his incarnate state.

The πνεῦμα-σάρξ (pneuma-sarx) antithesis also brings into view nothing less than the contrast between the two ages which underlies the eschatological structure of Pauline theology. The before and after resurrection of Christ represent the contrast between the two successive phases of history, implying two successive, antithetic and progressive modes of incarnate existence. /9/ In Murray’s words, “Everything antecedent to the incarnate life of our Lord moves toward the resurrection and everything subsequent rests upon it and is conditioned by it.” /10/ Soteriologically speaking, Christ’s resurrection because of its epochal significance is the first fruits of the resurrection of the believers to come. /11/

B. 2 Corinthians 3:17

The verse is set in a passage where Paul expounds the superiority of the new covenant of the Spirit which gives life, over against the old covenant of the written code which kills. “The Lord who is Spirit” is the source of those new benefits. Several questions arise out of this identification:

1. What is the πνεῦμα (pneuma)?
Philip Hughes identifies the πνεῦμα (pneuma) with the spirit of the New Covenant. /12/ Since the verse is a continuation of verse 6, “the written code kills but the spirit gives life,” and it also describes the new covenant, therefore the spirit in verse 17 is the spirit of the new covenant. However, it fails to reckon with the usage of πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the New Testament, i.e. when it is used with the genitive of κύριος, υἱός, θεός, χριστός (kyrios, huios, theos, christos), the Holy Spirit is indicated by the context (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; 2 Cor. 3:18). Furthermore, we have verses 3 and 8 referring to the Holy Spirit. The reference should therefore be to the Holy Spirit, /13/ who is also the one who imparts the new life (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 3:3, 8; 1 Cor. 12:13).

2. Who is the κύριος (kyrios)?
Max Turner /14/ argues that the definite article with κύριος (kyrios) is anaphoric, taking up a reference that is immediately before ὁ κύριος (ho kyrios). Furthermore, the preceding verse refers to Yahweh and is taken from Exod. 34:34. Therefore, ὁ κύριος (ho kyrios) refers to Yahweh. This view is also supported by James Dunn, /15/ who argues that the passage is a midrash [A form of creative ethical or spiritual interpretation to draw out the ‘deeper’ meaning of the text which can be creatively applied to new social-religious realities] on an Old Testament passage where κύριος (kyrios) = Yahweh should be the determinative factor.

However, the interpretation fails to take seriously the context. Verse 14 argues that the veil causing blindness in Israel is taken away only through Christ. Even if we grant that the passage refers to Exod. 34:34, it is only to provide Paul with a parallel. Just as Israel turned to Yahweh, it should now turn to Christ who is ὁ κύριος (ho kyrios). This interpretation is consistent with verses 15 and 16 where the turning of Israel to κύριος (kyrios) is still considered to be in the future. The identification of ὁ κύριος (ho kyrios) = Christ /16/ with the Spirit is also used elsewhere in the New Testament (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 15:45) while on the other hand, Paul never makes this kind of association between God and the Spirit. The identification of Christ with the Spirit is functional or experientially equivalent rather than ontological. Murray Harris elaborates, “The two are functionally or dynamically or experientially equivalent in that the Spirit mediates to believers the presence and power of the absent and exalted Lord, applying the benefits of Christ’s redemption.” /17/

3. How is πνεῦμα (pneuma) identified with κύριος (kyrios = Christ)?
Because the passage is pervasive with historical orientation we should be cautious towards any tout simple ontological identification, as argued by Charles Hodge and Johannes Weiss. /18/ We would rather insist that such an identification violates the distinction between Christ and the Spirit which Paul assumes elsewhere. The identity here is not an identity of being; it is rather a dynamic identity which occurs in redemptive action. As Hamilton puts it, “the Spirit so effectively performs His office of communicating to men the benefits of the risen Christ that for all intents and purposes of faith the Lord Himself is present bestowing grace on His own…The Spirit portrays the Lord so well that we lose sight of the Spirit and are conscious of the Lord only. This suggests the following pattern of redemptive action: from the Lord – through the Spirit – to the believer.” /19/ In other words, in the Christian experience there is no evident distinction between the presence of Christ and the presence of the Spirit. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to conclude that Paul identified the Spirit with the exalted Christ.

C. 1 Corinthians 15:45
It is with the same presupposition that we approach 1 Cor. 15:45. In explaining the transformation of the risen body (1 Cor. 15:42-44a), Paul argues that just as there is body endowed with natural life (ψυχὴ, psychē) as in the case of the first Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), so shall the resurrected body be endowed with the Spirit (πνεῦμα, pneuma) as it had been with the last Adam. /20/ However, the last Adam is more than a mere living being; he became the life-giving Spirit. Paul writes elsewhere that “giving life” is synonymous with raising the dead (Rom. 4:17; 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:6; 1 Thess. 4:14). The risen Lord is made the bearer of the Spirit, the source of the supernatural life of the Christian. Again, Gaffin has summarized the thrust of this verse with characteristic succinctness: “At his resurrection the personal mode of Jesus’ existence as the last Adam was so decisively transformed by the Holy Spirit that Paul says he has become life-giving Spirit. The Spirit, who raised him up as a firstfruits, indwells him so completely and in such a fashion that in their functioning he is the Spirit who will be instrumental in the resurrection of the full harvest.” /21/ We would, however, still maintain for the same reasons given above that the identity is functional, not ontological. /22/ As Gordon Fee emphasizes that Paul’s concern “is not christological, as though Christ and the Spirit were somehow now interchangeable terms for Paul. The concern is soteriological-eschatological; the language has been dictated both by the Genesis text and the concern to demonstrate that Christ is the foundation of believers’ receiving a “spiritual body.” To make any further theological deductions from such analogies is to do the apostle a grave injustice.” /23/

To summarize, what the Spirit has always been, Christ now assumes at his resurrection. For example, the power to give life is ascribed to the Spirit elsewhere in Scripture (Gen. 1:2; Psa. 104:29; Eze. 37; John 6:63). But this Spirit is now the personal, creative and life-giving power of Christ. The Spirit is in fact indispensable to Christ’s effective lordship. For the Christian, this closeness between Lord and Spirit means that to live in the Spirit and to live in Christ is one and the same (Rom. 8:9-10). Paul therefore makes no distinction between having the Spirit in us and having Christ in us. Indeed, the Spirit is both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God.

/1/ An exact rendering of the Old Testament usage of  (הַקֹדֶשׁ רוּחַ (hǎ qōḏěš rûa) cf. Procksch, TDNT, vol. 1, pp. 114-115. Contra Sanday and Headlam, Romans, p. 9, who reject πνεῦμα ἅγιον (pneuma hagion) as referring to the Holy Spirit, citing Heb. 2:17, 4:15 and paraphrasing it “in virtue of the Holiness inherent in His Spirit” i.e. Christ’s “human πνεῦμα, like the human σάρξ (sarx) distinguished from that of ordinary humanity by an exceptional transcendent Holiness.”
/2/ Charles Hodge, Romans, p. 20 and B.B. Warfield, “The Christ That Paul Preached” in Biblical Doctrines.
/3/ Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, p. 247
/4/ Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, p. 103.
/5/ John Murray, Romans, p. 11.
/6/ Vos, Pauline Eschatology, pp. 155f; Ridderbos, Paul, pp. 66-67; Murray, Romans, pp. 5-12
/7/ Neill Hamilton, The Holy Spirit and Eschatology in Paul, p.13. He adds that to connect ἐν δυνάμει (en dynamei) not with υἱοῦ θεοῦ (huiou theou) but with ὁρισθέντος (horisthentos) would miss the whole point of Paul’s progressive development of Christ’s status. To connect “in power” with “designate” would be redundant. ὁρισθέντος (horisthentos)  is forceful enough in itself to complete its meaning without adverbs. It means “effectual appointment”. Also Cranfield, Romans, p. 62.
/8/ Cranfield, Romans, p. 64.
/9/ Douglas Moo writes, “What Paul is claiming, then, is that the preexistent Son, who entered into human experience as the promised Messiah, was appointed on the basis of the resurrection to a new and more powerful position in relation to the world…The transition from v. 3 to v. 4, then, is not a transition from a human messiah to a divine Son of God (adoptionism) but from the Son as Messiah to the Son as both Messiah and powerful, reigning Lord” in Douglas Moo, Romans 2e. (Eerdmans, 2018), pp. 46-47.
/10/ John Murray, Romans, p. 12. We reject Dunn’s suggestion that κατὰ σάρκα (kata sarka) and κατὰ πνεῦμα (kata pneuma) “denote not successive and mutually exclusive spheres of power, but modes of existence and relationships which overlap and coincide in the earthly Jesus” (“Jesus – Flesh and Spirit,” p. 54), because it fails to give due emphasis to the historical progression and the epochal significance of the resurrection event so clearly emphasized in the passage.
/11/ Cf. Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, p. 112.
/12/ Hughes, 2 Cor., pp. 115-116.
/13/ N.B. Turner, Grammatical Insights, p. 19; “As a general rule, and subject to conditions, whenever the Holy Spirit has the definite article the reference is to the third person of the Trinity.
/14/ Turner, Grammatical Insights, p. 127
/15/ Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p. 320; also in his article,“2 Cor. 3:17 – The Lord is the Spirit.” p. 317. Murray Harris notes that the still dominant view identifies the κύριος (kyrios) of vv. 16 and 17a as the risen Lord Jesus. As such, “are functionally or dynamically or experientially equivalent in that the Spirit mediates to believers the presence and power of the absent and exalted Lord, applying the benefits of Christ’s redemption.” However, Harris argues contrariwise. “The expression πνεῦμα (τοῦ) κυρίου (pneuma (tou) kyriou) is so common in the LXX, in reference to the Spirit of Yahweh, and is never used by Paul, it is probable that κύριος here refers not to the Lord Jesus but to Yahweh.” See Harris, 2 Cor., pp. 311-312. Harris concedes that this interpretation entails an irregularity pertaining to the Greek grammatical rule, the Apollonius Canon.
/16/ Hodge who take this position: Plummer, 2 Cor., p. 102; Barrett, 2 Cor., p. 2; Kim, Origin of Paul’s Gospel, p. 12.
/17/ Harris, 2 Cor., p. 311.
/18/ Hodge, 2 Cor., p. 74, “It is an identity of essence and power.” Weiss’ identification, however, reflects crude conceptions. He takes the Spirit “as a fluid which surrounds us and also penetrates us.” Christ is likewise likened as a “fluctuating power, almost as a penetrating divine fluid entering into men…whose waves of energy flow through the universe.” How he can maintain the personality for the exalted Christ is puzzling. History of Primitive Christianity. Vol. 2, pp. 464, 484.
/19/ Hamilton, Holy Spirit, pp. 6-7
/20/ David Stanley, “Christ’s Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology”, writes, “He is called the last Adam because, in his glorified humanity, human nature has attained the apogee of its perfection: he belongs to the eschatological stage of existence. After him, there can be no other Adam.” (p. 125).
/21/ Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, p. 89. Also Schep, The Nature of the Resurrection Body. pp. 176ff
/22/ We disagree with Hamilton here when he writes, “Here we see the Spirit and Christ identified in a remarkably intimate way which goes beyond all dynamic explanations” in Holy Spirit, p. 15.
/23/ Gordon Fee, 1 Cor., p. 874.
/24/ Compare the following for the identity of the operation of Christ and the Spirit in the believer: 1) Sealing – Eph. 1:13 // Eph. 4:30; 2) Consecration – 1 Cor. 1:12 // Rom 15:16; 3) Righteousness – Phil. 3:8-9// Rom. 14:17; 4) Life – Eph. 2:1; Col 3:4;// Rom. 8:11; 5) Hope – 1 Cor. 15:19// Rom. 5:5; Gal. 6:8; 6. Alternative to the law of sin and death – Rom. 10:4// Rom. 8:2.

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