Did Paul think Jesus was the long-promised Davidic Messiah?
The first Christian writer seems to say so at the very start of Romans, his most famous letter. His gospel, he writes, is about God’s son, “who was descended from David’s seed according to the flesh, and designated son of God in power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead” (Romans 1:3–4). But most scholars, until recently at least, have denied that Paul himself really wanted to say this. He was, they say, just pacifying his Roman hearers by quoting a creedal formula they would have known, to assure them he was on track with their faith.
When I first met this line of thought, I suspected it was an attempt to de-Judaize Paul. I still think that’s correct. By arguing that Paul didn’t believe Jesus was the Davidic Messiah, some would-be Christian scholars were trying to enlist Paul in support of a non-Jewish type of faith. Alas, some Jewish readers have been eager to agree, hoping to blame Paul for changing Jesus’ Jewish message into something different.