bible blog 1995

ROMANS 4

So how will I speak about what my genetic forefather Abraham has found? For if Abraham became a just man by his own work he has reasons for self- promotion (although not in God’s court!).

What does Scripture say?

Abraham put his trust in God and it was added to his account as justice.

Now in the case of a worker, his wages are seen as his due, not as a gift. But in case of the one who, although he is not a worker, puts his trust in the One who makes the wrongdoer just, his trust is added to his account as justice.

Similarly, in the Psalms, David mentions the good fortune of the person whom God credits with justice apart from work:

How fortunate are those whose lawless actions are forgiven and whose sins are covered over. How fortunate is the man whose sin the Lord will not tally up.

Is this blessing then only for the snipped, or also for the unsnipped? For we say that trust was added to Abraham’s account as justice.But when was it added? Was it when he was snipped or when he still had a foreskin? It was not when he was snipped but when he was unsnipped! He took on the sign 0f snipping as a mark of the justice that he got by trust while he was still unsnippped, so that he might become the father of all the unsnipped who place their trust in God; and that justice might be added to their accounts as well – indeed it was so that he might also become the father of the snipped -who- are-not-merely-snippped, but walk in the steps of the trust that Abraham showed, before he was snipped.

abraham2

God promises Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars

Paul along with all the writers of the New Testament, interpets the Jewish Bible from the perspective of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Here he wants to show that the partriarch Abraham is the forefather of those whose allegiance to God is by trust and faithfulness rather than obedience to the Jewish Law. In a way he is making the obvious point that the founder of a faith is never fully part of the faith that his followers hold. Abraham was not a Torah Jew in the same way as Jesus was not a Christian. But Paul highlights the witness of the scripture that God saw Abraham’s trust as a commitment to a justice more profound than legal obedience, an option to be on God’s side, and therefore accepted him as a just man and partner in his plans. Although Paul admits that “snipping” is the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, he insists it is only and precisely a sign of the partnership between them. As the one who first accepted this trustful relationship with God, Abraham can be claimed as the forefather of the Gentiles who have placed trust in God through Jesus Messiah and become part of the Messianic Assembly.

Sometimes I think that Paul’s interpretation of Scripture is forced. Here and in all his reflections on Abraham, I think he has detected the way in which the main thrust of Genesis is already a critique of a the narrow Torah-Judaism, of which he had been a leading light. His own encounter with Jesus has unlocked for him the meaning of his own scriptures.

abraham-and-sarah

Abraham and Sarah

There is still an issue in this passage whether the Greek “pistis” and its derivatives should be translated as trust or faithfulness. I think the word means both in Paul’s vocabulary: clearly a realtionship is founded on trust and expressed in faithfulness. For Paul, both partners, God and the human being, are givers and receivers of these personal commitments.

 

 

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