At the beginning of Romans Paul describes the Gospel as concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4). Although part of Paul’s address of the book to Christians in Rome, this is a rich theological description of Jesus which is based on Paul’s reading of the Hebrew Bible.
The phrase “Son of God” is a messianic title used in Psalm 2. Other Second Temple period texts use a similar title for the coming messiah. In Psalm 2, the king of Israel is called the Lord’s anointed one (2:2) and “God’s son” (2:7) as he is enthroned in Zion. This anointed son of God will receive the nations as his inheritance (2:8) and all the kings of the earth (the nations) are to serve the Lord in fear (2:11). 2 Samuel 7:14 may be the source for Psalm 2, since David is promise that his son would rule after him forever.
Paul’s is not far from the language used by the Qumran community to describe a coming king who will rule on behalf of God:
4Q246 He will be called son of God, and they will call him son of the Most High. Like the sparks that you saw, so will their kingdom be; they will rule several year[s] over the earth and crush everything; a people will crush another people, and a province another provi[n]ce. Until the people of God arises and makes everyone rest from the sword. His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and all his paths in truth. He will jud[ge] the earth in truth and all will make peace. The sword will cease from the earth, and all the provinces will pay him homage. The great God is his strength, he will wage war for him; he will place the peoples in his hand and cast them all away before him. Martınez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Translations) (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 493-95.
The writer of this document describes a coming king as a “son of God” and a “son of the Most High” (ובר עליון) who will crush the enemies of God’s kingdom and establish an eternal kingdom. The scroll alludes to Psalm 2:9 (“crushing enemies”) and Isaiah 1 (the sword being removed, nations paying homage, but also Ps 2:11). The scroll also resonates with Luke 1:35, Gabriel’s words to Mary announcing she will be overshadowed by “the Most High” so that the child she bears will be called “holy, the son of God.” Not everyone agrees the scroll refers to a messianic figure (see Collins for a survey of the options). The title “son of God” has clear messianic overtones in the New Testament, and as Collins shows, sometimes the phrase was messianic at Qumran (184).
Paul begins Romans by announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God. To a Jewish ear, this is a clear statement that Paul believes Jesus is the Messiah and in some ways fulfills the messianic expectations of the Hebrew Bible. But he does not burst into history and destroy Israel’s enemies, crushing them with a rod of iron and ruling over a kingdom of peace. The Gospel is “God’s intervention in Christ” (Moo, Romans, 43), but the action of God in Christ destroys the power of the real enemy, the power of sin and death.
How does this apocalyptic reading of the first line of Romans playout over the rest of the book? How is Jesus “God’s intervention”?
García Martínez F. “The Eschatological Figure of 4Q246,” in Qumran and Apocalyptic. Studies on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran (STDJ 9; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992) 162–179.
Collins, John J. “The Messiah as the Son of God,” in The Scepter and the Star (Second Edition; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010) 171–190.
Cross, Frank Moore. “Notes on the Doctrine of the Two Messiahs at Qumran and the Extracanonical Daniel Apocalypse (4Q246),” in D.W. Parry, S.D. Ricks (eds.), Current Research and Technological Developments on the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 20; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996): 1–13.