Biblical Theology

Incarnational Theology in Romans 1

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

— Romans 1:1-7 —


Scripture is astounding.

In almost every text we ignorantly deem as mundane, there is a treasure trove of God’s truth hiding behind every letter. I cannot count how many times I have read Romans 1, and in a hurry to get to vv. 18-20, I left behind vv. 1-17. The text cited above is only one example of an area I have neglected in my studies, and I’m sure many more will arise as I grow in biblical knowledge.

The purpose of this brief, far from exhaustive article is to encourage you, the reader, to dig deep into the unsuspected texts. What I mean is that we, as Christians, must dig deep in all of God’s Word, doing the work to mine it for revealed truth. But we must not spend our efforts exclusively on the obvious grandeur of texts like Matthew 21:18-20 or John 3:16, we must mine even the most simple, seemingly mundane, texts within the pages of God’s Word because, despite our perception, no word in the Word of God is truly mundane.

The glory of Christ in Paul’s greeting

Greetings are typically routine. Everyone, even us modern people, have greetings we give one another upon the event of encountering fellow human beings. We may give a quick, “What’s up?” or, “Hey! How’s it goin’?” but first century communication lacked our contemporary superficiality. Paul was a man of God, who thought in terms of God-breathed words all of the time. This is a state all Christians ought to long to be in. We have the mind of Christ and thus, it would be ideal to think like Him no matter our various, sometimes distracting, contexts.

More often than not, Paul greeted a diverse spectrum of local churches with a simple greeting. Yet, despite the simplicity of his greetings, weighty theological truths were woven in and out of Paul’s initial epistolary words to God’s people. One example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 1 where Paul writes to “those who have been sanctified,” and, “called.” The words, of course, remind us of the popular theological terms we hold dear as particular Baptists. Words like sanctification and called (or calling) have extensive biblical backgrounds and intricate systematic expositions.

Romans 1 is no exception. The only way in which Romans 1 differs from other areas within Paul’s corpus is in terms of content. Paul invokes deep doctrine in so little time while addressing the people he loves. Those who separate the love of Christ from His deep theological truths conveyed to us through His revelation are fooling themselves in light of normative apostolic practice. Historically, there has been no sharp separation between theoretical and the practical. One moves to the other by the power of God’s Spirit.

In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we read a relatively long greeting which climaxes in Paul’s distinction between the Son’s two natures, divine and human. He first writes, “born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,” which means that Jesus, according to His fleshly existence (i.e. humanity) is a descendant of an historically significant man, king David. Paul then writes, “who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness.” So, according to the flesh, Christ is the descendant of king David, but according to the Spirit Jesus is the Son of God.

Paul, in as few words as possible, has stated one of the most glorious doctrines contained in the gospel of God: the incarnation of the divine Son.

How do we know Paul is referring to the incarnation?

There are several rather large sects in existence who accept Jesus as a man, a teacher of great truths. In the case of many Messianic Jews, for example, Jesus may even be seen as the Messiah, but not divine. Jesus, to many, is an important historical person who accomplished many things, but is not divine. Do places like Romans 1 allow room for such theories?

Consider Paul’s two-fold reference to the person of Christ. According to the flesh, Jesus is a descendant, which entails humanity. However, according to the Spirit, He is the Son of God, which entails a divine nature in a familial relationship with the Father. The significance of this distinction must not be missed. The “Spirit of holiness” in v. 4 is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is responsible for revealing Christ as the Son of God, with power, in the resurrection. But more than this, Christ is the Son of God, not according to the flesh (humanity), but according to the Spirit (divinity).

The declaration of Christ as the Son of God comes by way of His resurrection. The Son has always been the Son of God, properly speaking, but He was declared such to His people by a particular event: His resurrection from the dead. This resurrection did not declare Him to be the descendant of David. A simple genealogy like those found in Matthew and Luke could indicate that fact in first century Israel. Rather, the resurrection revealed His Lordship—His status as the Son of the Most High. Dr. R. C. Sproul writes:

Now Paul draws a strange contrast here. Although Jesus was the son of David, there is obviously a certain sense in which he is not the son of David. According to his human nature, Jesus was a descendant of David. But not only does he come from David, he also comes from God. He is the Son of God. At this point the apostle is declaring something about Jesus that is expounded throughout the New Testament: Jesus is not a mere man. In addition to his humanity which comes from David, Jesus is also declared to be uniquely the Son of God. (1)

Strangely, Jesus is declared a Son of two generators. To most people, this may sound patently absurd and logically inconsistent. However, begotteness is a property of nature.  David, according to the Son’s human nature, begot Jesus bar Joseph. Jesus, therefore, has a human nature. Yet, He is also the Son of God––eternally begotten of the Father (1 Jn. 4:9). The Son has a divine nature. Now, another article could be written about how these two types of begetting differ in terms of sense (they certainly do), but for our purposes here, it is important to note that Jesus has two genealogies and, therefore, two natures. Sproul goes on to write:

Verse 4 says that Jesus is declared to be the Son of God, with power, a declaration that God himself makes. Notice, it is not that Christ is declared to be the Son of God with power, but that the declaration of his sonship is made in a powerful way. When God declares the unique sonship of Jesus, he does not drop subtle hints here and there or offer esoteric suggestions that only the most brilliant of theologians can figure out. The evidence that God gave to confirm the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God is the resurrection. (2)

The Person of Christ, therefore, is a divine Person (coming from God) who took into union with Himself the fullness of a human nature (coming from David). God Himself declared Jesus to be the Son of God by way of bodily resurrection.

Concluding thoughts

The apostle was very intentional in establishing this contrast between the two natures of Christ. On one hand, those who would like to strip Christ of His divinity are silenced. On the other hand, those who would like to strip Him of His humanity are stopped. One cannot escape the reality that Jesus has two distinct natures––one human and one divine.

Now, there have been efforts to degrade the significance of the title “Son of God” by claiming that Jesus was only the highest order of angelic being created by Jehovah (cf. Watchtower Society). In the final analysis, however, this cannot be the case. We could talk about how John 12:41 identifies Jesus with Yahweh when referencing Isaiah 6, or how the author of Hebrews identifies the Son with Yahweh in their reference to Psalm 102:25 (Heb. 1:10). We do not have time to dig into these passages. Romans 6 is clear enough to meet the goal of this article.


(1) Sproul, R. C. (1994). The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (p. 21). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

(2) Ibid, 21.

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