How is Jesus the Son of David? – Romans 1:3

Star of David with Hebrew BiblePaul contrasts Jesus’ physical descent from David and the spiritual declaration he was the Son of God. Although some detect a reference to Jesus’s human and divine nature in this verse, it is more likely Paul has in mind Jesus’s life prior to the resurrection and his life as a result of the resurrection (Kruse, Romans, 42).

As with the claim Jesus is the Son of God, Paul’s claim that Jesus was “descended from David according to the flesh” underscores his messianic claim. If Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, then he must be from the line of David. Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies in their gospels to connect Jesus to the line of David through Joseph. Based on 2 Samuel 7:14, Davidic origin of the messiah is found in several texts in the Hebrew Bible and the literature of the Second Temple period. For example:

Jeremiah 23:5 (ESV)  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Psalm 89:3–4 (ESV) You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: 4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’”

4QFlor 1:10-14 [And] YHWH [de]clares to you that 2 Sam 7:12–14 «he will build you a house. I will raise up your seed after you and establish the throne of his kingdom 11 [for ev]er. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me.» This (refers to the) «branch of David», who will arise with the Interpreter of the law who 12 [will rise up] in Zi[on in] the [l]ast days, as it is written: Amos 9:11 «I will raise up the hut of David which has fallen», This (refers to) «the hut of  13 David which has fall[en», w]hich he will raise up to save Israel. Martı́nez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Translations) (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 353.

4 Ezra 12:31-32 “And as for the lion that you saw rousing up out of the forest and roaring and speaking to the eagle and reproving him for his unrighteousness, and as for all his words that you have heard, 32 this is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the posterity of David, and will come and speak to them; he will denounce them for their ungodliness and for their wickedness, and will cast up before them their contemptuous dealings.

In each of these examples the messiah is related to David (the seed of David, a branch out of David, etc.)  Psalm 89:3-4 and the fragmentary Dead Sea Scroll both allude to 2 Sam 7:14, a text which anticipates a son of David will rule in Jerusalem (Solomon), but also that a son of David will rule forever (Jesus). This future messiah in some way restores the broken line of David.

As Richard Longenecker points out, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, Paul does not usually connect the idea of Jesus as the messiah and his physical descent from David (Romans, 65). So why does he make the connection at the beginning of the book of Romans? Longenecker (and many others) suggest Paul is using an early Christian confessional statement in these verses. In order to connect with congregations he does not know, Paul alludes to a familiar confessional statement used in their worship.

Going a step beyond Longenecker, if this is a confessional statement, I would suggest this tells us something about the congregations in Rome. The language in the introduction is thoroughly Jewish and messianic. The gospel Paul preaches is about Jesus the Messiah, who is the son of God (a messianic title) and the fulfillment of the line of David (a messianic expectation). We know Jewish-Christian congregations in Rome were persecuted because they were rioting over Chrestus, likely an indication of intense debate within the synagogues over Jesus as the Christ.

Since Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles and has a well-deserved reputation for preaching a Law-free gospel to the Gentiles, it is important for Paul to begin his letter to messianic Jewish congregations with a clear affirmation that he believes Jesus is the Messiah and fulfills Jewish expectations about the Messiah.

7 thoughts on “How is Jesus the Son of David? – Romans 1:3

  1. Amid a world that is torn apart my controversy and disagreements, it is usually core beliefs and goals that bring people together. During this time, there was bound to be division in the newly-formed church, primarily between the Gentiles and the Jews. However, there were also many Jews that were skeptical of Paul, mainly because they only knew of him by his reputation – and it wasn’t a great one (Longenecker & Still, 2014). This could also have caused division if there was a church that included a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, exemplified in the Roman Church. Because Paul had never met the members of this congregation, his letter included a multitude of subjects, much of it being theology, to clarify anything that may have been communicated improperly to the members of the church originally (as discussed in class). Paul used something that both groups (both Jews and Gentiles) could agree on, to make sure the Jews knew that though he was preaching a life apart from “the Law”, he was still preaching truth that aligned with what had been prophesied. Though what he said was short and included the simple idea that though Jesus proclaimed to be the son of God, he was also descended from David “according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3, ESV). It seems to me almost as if it was an “icebreaker”, considering it was what he begins with, in order to calm those who may have been reading the letter with preconceived notions of what it would contain. In a similar way, we as Christians do not typically go out on the streets proclaiming what we believe without first establishing at least a commonality or relationship with those we are speaking to. Finding middle ground with others can be vital in helping better present the gospel and allows it to be better received by others.

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  2. Luke’s genealogy traces Mary’s line. This was the actual humanity of Jesus through David’s son Nathan. Comprehensive biblical theology supports this notion by recognizing the major thematic elements given in a judicial sentence upon the serpent in Gen. 3.15. Instead of always translating “seed” as “offspring” a student of the word is able to grasp how the promised One is connected to the Seed of Abraham and then the Seed of David. The Advent was the great mystery though that confirmed the precis formula of the riddle of Gen. 3.15.

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  3. I agree that being fully human and fully God, Jesus was related to David biologically through Mary’s side (Matthew 1:2-16, Luke 3:23-38). For the reason why Paul would mentioned Jesus Christ being the son of David and God was to acknowledge that Jesus was a son of man and God to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Not knowing the people and the church, it was his way of introducing himself as well as confirming that Jesus was the coming Messiah that was often referenced in the old testament (Moo, pg 46).
    I also agree with Lydia Peters, you must build some kind of relationship to break that ‘ice’, especially if there’s two different ways of living with the law-abiding Jews and law-free Gentiles.

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  4. this is a valid and tough discussion but Jesus is clearly from the line of David for it all to be put together properly i think God played it out how he wanted to, but people do have free will and could of took a lot longer to happen then God would intend. now is that saying that God is not in control? by no means he always is and it goes by his perfect timing but he also doesn’t want his people to be robots he wants us to choose for our self. and also things to happen how they should. God is completely n control but he wants us to make decisions that would please him just like making the decision for us to chose him as our savoir. it would be so easy for him to take us and have us just be like robots and follow everything exactly. people can question the existence of God all they want be he clearly gave us free will to choose to love him not just be programed to. we study his line of birth to know him better and finding things out like this help so much.

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  5. “Regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David (Romans 1:3).” Paul is referring to the covenant that God made with David (2 Sam. 7:12-16). This is something that Jews would recognize the point that he is claiming. “Christology apparently was not an issue in the church of Rome, so Paul felt no need to address it (Moo pg. 23).” It was easier for the Gentile Christians to believe that Christ was the Messiah. Then it was for the Jews. And so, Paul was probably trying to get the Jewish people to understand what he was saying. And to do that he was making connections to different verses and passages that pointed to Christ as the Son of God. One of those passages was the promise that God made to David. God told David that he would have an offspring from David’s line. And from him God will build his kingdom and it will last forever.

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  6. I think the way that he approached the situation was very smart. Knowing that the Jews had different beliefs he connected with them by using an old verse that they could believe in themselves. And by reminding them of the promise God made to David about his descendant being the ruler for eternity helps them to believe in what he is saying, and that is that Jesus is this descendant that God promised. I think this is something we can all learn from, sometimes you have to find common ground before you can teach someone something that they don’t believe in.

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