Who is the "Spirit of Holiness" in Romans 1:4?
January 18, 2024, 5:52 PM

Question: In Romans 1:4, we read, “Declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” What (or who) is the “spirit of holiness?”

Answer: This is a great question. Thank you for submitting it. If you compare Romans 1:4 in various English translations (e.g., NKJV, KJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, CSB, NLT) all but the KJV capitalize the “S” in “Spirit of holiness,” indicating that the translators of these various translations believed this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. In fact, the NLT says this explicitly: “He was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Now, in saying this, we need to be careful because when translators capitalize references to deity, they are often making interpretive decisions. To be sure, in some cases, it’s obvious. For example, in John 3:16, we capitalize “Son” in the phrase “only begotten Son” because this is an obvious reference to the eternal Son, Jesus Christ. In other cases, it’s not obvious at all. An example of this is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:7: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The “He” in the phrase “only He who now restrains” is capitalized in only the NKJV and the 2020 update of the NASB. All other English translations read “only he who now restrains.” Clearly, whether it’s “He” or “he” will determine the interpretation of the passage, so great care is needed. In Romans 1:4, while it’s somewhat ambiguous (the NASB even contains a translational footnote indicating that it could be translated as “spirit of holiness.”), most scholars seem to agree that it should be capitalized.

Let’s take a closer look at the context of Romans 1:4. The verse comes at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. In the opening seven verses, we find Paul’s greeting, but it’s not like the greetings in his other letters. Romans is all about expounding and explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ (many see Romans 1:16-17 as the purpose statement of the entire letter). This bears out when you look at Romans 1:1. Paul says he’s “called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” Then in Romans 1:2, Paul says this gospel was “promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” So, we learn that the gospel was foretold in the OT (the only Scriptures available at the time). Then in Romans 1:3-4, we see the content of the gospel:

[3] Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, [4] and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:3-4 NKJV)

There is a lot of deep theology in these two verses (verses that many who read Romans just skim through because it’s found in the greeting). We see that Jesus is both the Son of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness. Jesus Christ is the God-Man who possesses both a human nature and a divine nature. According to His human nature, Jesus is the Son of David, thus making Him King and Messiah (according to the Scriptures). According to His divine nature, Jesus is the Son of God (the Second Person of the Trinity). How do we know that? By His resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness.

Given all of this, it seems best to conclude, along with all our English translations, that the “Spirit of holiness” is none other than the Holy Spirit. This would stand to reason considering that it was the Holy Spirit that anointed Jesus for His ministry at His baptism (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). We’re told that Jesus had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Finally, this is explicitly taught in two other places in Scripture (and we should always interpret Scripture with Scripture). The first instance is found in Romans 8:11, where Paul says, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Considering this verse comes from the same author (Paul) later in the same letter, this makes a strong case for interpreting the “Spirit of holiness” to be the Holy Spirit. The second passage comes from Peter’s first letter, where he says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

You can also look at other verses such as: Acts 2:24, 32; Ephesians 1:19-20; and Hebrews 13:20. These all speak of God raising Jesus from the dead, and since the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity and co-equal with the Father and the Son, these verses aren’t saying anything different than Romans 1:4.

I hope this helps.

~Pastor Carl