Romans 4, pt.1

This week we will be discussing Romans 4.  Within this chapter, Paul begins to unpack the gospel message as summarized in Romans 3:21-31 through the use of the story of Abraham.  For Tuesday, please read the story of Abraham as contained within Genesis 12-24.  Paul assumes that his audience is familiar with the story.  Particularly, read those verses concerning God’s covenant with Abraham found in Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-6, 17:1-22, and 22:17-19.  It is these covenant verses that Paul will rely upon in making his argument. Paul makes a similar use of Abraham in his letter to the Galatians when he writes against Judaizing influence in that congregation. Therefore, please also read Galatians 3:6-29, 4:21-31 to gain a deeper understanding of Paul’s argument in Romans 4.

There are two primary ways to read Romans 4.  The more normative interpretation is that Paul is using Abraham as an example or a precedent to his argument that we come into a right relationship with God through our faith in God not through obedience to the Law.  Paul is using the example of Abraham to buttress his argument.  However, if Abraham did not exist or if the story was told differently, Paul’s argument would still remain albeit without this example.  I have attached the excerpt from Witherington’s Socio-rhetorical Commentary (pp.115-130) which explores this perspective in-depth.

An alternative way of viewing Romans 4, is that Paul’s entire argument is based upon God’s promise to Abraham.  God promises Abraham that “I will bless you and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” Gen. 12:2-3, 22:17-18.  In other words, as Paul will continue with his argument in Romans 5:12-21, this blessing promised to Abraham is nothing less than the reversal of the curse visited upon Adam.  And through Jesus, God faithfully fulfills his promise to Abraham and his descendants to reverse the curse through his blessing.  Therefore, without the promises to Abraham, Paul’s entire argument in Romans could not be made.  Another aspect of this perspective is that our faith is not the means by which we come into a right relationship with God (that has already been accomplished for us), rather our faith serves the same role as circumcision did as the sign of that relationship. I have attached the excerpt from N. T. Wright’s Justification (pp.216-24) which explores this perspective.

As an aside, compare the promised geography of Genesis 15:18 with Romans 4:13.  God only promises Abraham the land of Palestine, whereas Paul says that God promised Abraham the whole world.  As Wright points out in the excerpt, other rabbis also read Genesis 15:18 expansively.  As can be seen in Paul’s discussion of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31, Paul takes the Scriptures out of a narrow parochial reading and applies them more broadly to all humanity.  As Paul will continually remind us, we are bound by the Spirit of the Scriptures, not the Letter. 2 Cor. 3:6, Rom. 2:29.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is shrimp boil. Please let Amy know your attendance status.  Discussion at 6:45.  Amy is in charge. 

Search for the Lord and his strength; *
   continually seek his face.
Remember the marvels he has done, *
   his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
   O children of Jacob his chosen.
He is the Lord our God; *
   his judgments prevail in all the world.
He has always been mindful of his covenant, *
   the promise he made for a thousand generations:
The covenant he made with Abraham, *
   the oath that he swore to Isaac,
Which he established as a statute for Jacob, *
   an everlasting covenant for Israel,
Saying, “To you will I give the land of Canaan *
   to be your allotted inheritance.”
For God remembered his holy word *
   and Abraham his servant.
So he led forth his people with gladness, *
   his chosen with shouts of joy.

Psalm 105:4-11, 42-43

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