Careful with the Text

The other day I was working through my Word study like I always do, when Bill Clinton's campaign phrase, "It's the economy, stupid," seemed to settle like a cloud over my mind.

Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

Holy Land Experience, Orlando, Florida

I usually work through Paul's letters, one at a time, and a few days earlier I had decided to put Philippians on the shelf and tackle Romans. The first few verses of Romans were fine, and then I came to verse 4. Here is Paul's first paragraph to give you the context:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 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, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:1-6 NRSV)

Declared? What does Paul mean by declared? and that by the means of his resurrection from the dead? Wasn't Jesus God's Son when he was born in that filthy manger in Bethlehem? Why would he be formally announced (ordinary definition of declared) as the Son of God later on?

I looked at some other translations and they had declared, too. It still wasn't making any sense to me, so I looked up horisthentos in the Greek. Louw & Nida defined it as to appoint or to designate. The other lexicons defined it the same way. What was missing was declared; none of them had it as their primary definition. I looked up how it had been translated in other scriptures.

again he sets a certain day—"today"—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." (Heb 4:7 NRSV)

this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. (Acts 2:23 NRSV)

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:42)

I looked at all the other verses using the word, and none of them translated it declared. Then I went to my Accordance Bible software to look at some notes and commentary. The NET Bible notes spilled the beans:

Appointed the Son-of-God-in-power. Most translations render the Greek participle όρισθεντος (horisthentos, from όριζω) “declared” or “designated” in order to avoid the possible interpretation that Jesus was appointed the Son of God by the resurrection. However, the Greek term όριζω is used eight times in the NT, and it always has the meaning “to determine, appoint.”

Okay, that's why Clinton's campaign phrase settled on me like a cloud. I guess no one on the translation committees wanted to throw his hat in the heresy ring, saying God appointed or set Jesus as the Son by the means of his resurrection. That, after all, would require them to delve further into he made him sin and what happened during the three days—territory few are willing to traverse.

The fact is horisthentos is the right word and appointed or marked out is the right translation, not declared. How do we know that? Hebrews. In the first chapter, the author of Hebrews writes about Jesus as the Son:

For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today have I begotten you"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire." But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever! And the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." (Heb 1:5-9)

See where he says, "when he brings the firstborn into the world"? He's not writing about Bethlehem; he's writing about the resurrection. God marked Jesus out as the Son when he raised him from out of the dead. This is what Paul was writing about in Romans.

Paul writes that the gospel is the power—the exclusive avenue—of God unto salvation. We need to be careful with the text so that we have a clear understanding of just what that gospel is.