Romans 1:3-4 reads as follows:
“… concerning his Son,
born of the seed of David
according to the flesh;
marked out Son of God with power
according to the Spirit of holiness
by the resurrection of the dead,
Jesus Christ our Lord” (translation mine).
This has always been a fascinating passage for me. I was fascinated by it because it seemed to be a proof text for the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. The fact that Jesus is fully divine and fully human is easy to demonstrate from a large number of passages throughout the NT. But it was great to have one text where both natures are affirmed together.
The Chalcedonian interpretation of this text has a strong backing in the Reformed tradition. It is the view articulated by Calvin and Charles Hodge in their commentaries on Romans. And in an essay defending the deity of Christ, B. B. Warfield said that Paul in this text is using
“language so pregnant, so packed with implications, as to carry us into the heart of the great problem of the two-natured person of Christ” (TCTPP, 78).
He added that
“Paul is not here distinguishing times and contrasting two successive modes of our Lord’s being. He is distinguishing elements in the constitution of our Lord’s person, by virtue of which He is at one and the same time both the Messiah and the Son of God” (TCTPP, 84).
But when I was exposed to Geerhardus Vos’s interpretation, as mediated by Richard Gaffin in his book Resurrection and Redemption (R&R), I became convinced away from this view to the view that the text is really talking about the two stages in the life of Christ. My youthful desire to use this text to buttress my systematic beliefs about Christology gave way to the growing awareness of Paul’s eschatological and redemptive-historical concerns.
It just seemed more likely (in Vos’s words) that
“the reference is not to two coexisting sides in the constitution of the Savior, but to two successive stages in his life” (EAPCS, 229  = 104 ).
And after Vos and Gaffin pointed out that Hodge and Warfield took “the Spirit of Holiness” as the divine nature of Christ (rather than as the Holy Spirit), their folly was evident. Hodge and Warfield had committed the sin so typical of systematic theologians – they had taken a verse out of context and used it as a proof-text to support a theological position that may be true enough but just not what this verse is talking about. Obviously we should never expect Paul to make a timeless, systematic-theological statement explicitly affirming the human and divine natures of Christ. The prepositional phrases, kata sarka and kata pneuma, denote not Christ’s two ontological natures but the two historical stages of his incarnate state: his sarkic existence, which he entered at the incarnation, and his pneumatic existence, which he entered at his resurrection.
But recently I have begun to develop doubts about the Vos-Gaffin view. I'm not saying that I totally reject the view, and I think it contains a very important truth that can be redeemed, but I wonder about parts of it. I’ll explain my doubts in future posts, but before I do that, the next two posts will be quotes from Hodge and Warfield, and then from Vos and Gaffin.
EAPCS = Geerhardus Vos, “The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.; Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 91-125. Originally published in Biblical and Theological Studies by the Members of the Faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 209-259.
R&R = Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (2nd ed.; Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987).
TCTPP = B. B. Warfield, “The Christ That Paul Preached,” in The Person and Work of Christ (ed. Samuel G. Craig; Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), 73-90.