bible blog 1996

ROMANS 4: 13-25

It was not through the Jewish Law that the promise was made to Abraham or his offspring of  inheriting the world, but through the justice of trust, for if inheritance comes through the Law, trust is empty and the promise is void. (The Law produces God’s anger, but if there’s no Law, there’s no deviation.) That’s why the promise depends on trust, so that it might issue from kindness and be assured to all his offspring, not only to those from within the Jewish Law, but also to the offspring of his trust, for Abraham is the father of us all -as Scripture says, “I have made you a father of many nations”. He is the father of us all in God’s judgement, the God in whom he trusted, who enlivens the dead and calls non-existences into being.

Hoping against hope, he trusted that he would become the father of many nations, as he had been told,”That’s what your offspring will be.” His trust was not weakened although he considered his own body as more or less dead -he was a hundred years old after all- and Sarah’s womb as lifeless.He did not wobble into doubt but grew strong in trust as he honoured God. For he was wholly persuaded that God was able to do what he had promised. That’s why his trust was credited to his account as justice. 

Now the words “credited to his account” were written not just for his sake, but also for us, whose accounts will also be credited, as we trust in the One who awakened from death our Lord Jesus, who was given over to death for our faults and awakened to make us just.

Paul is carefully re-interpreting the Jewish bible to support his version of trust in God through Jesus. We should read chapters 15-20 of Genesis then return to Romans noting how Paul picks up key phrases from the Abraham saga and adapts them to his purpose.The main points are these:

  1. God made a promise to Abraham that his children would inheit the land, meaning the land of Canaan.
  2. He also that Abraham would be the father of many nations.
  3. In spite of all obstacles, Abraham trusted God and was faithful to the promise.
  4. God counted his trust as equivalent to his being a just person.

We can see how 1 and 2 together allow Paul to say the Abraham will inherit the “world”, that is, the multi-ethnic Roman world Paul knew through his journeys and in the Christian assemblies. The Genesis author introduces the trust of Abraham as arising out of God’s new initiative to perfect his creation through his trust in human beings, beginning with one family. God has tried limits, commands, threats, and even annihilation, but they have not worked. Mutual trust is God’s strange solution to his problem. Paul understands the Genesis author as affirming that Abraham’s calling is not for the sake of Israel but of the world.

Paul in turn affirms that through the faithfulness of Messiah Jesus this promise is already being fulfilled in the trusting communities of Christian people, comprising people of many nations.

We should notice the srong emphasis on the creator God in this passage with metion of creation from nothingness and the parallel mention of God’s awakening of the dead Jesus. Paul has tuned into the Genesis message of the creator who refuses to give up his creation. Also noteable is the picture of Abraham’s trust encountering powerful obstacles, of his “hope against hope”. For Paul trust is an active virtue, capable of dealing with reality.

We should not think that Paul sees God’s crediting of justice to Abraham as a way of “declaring just” an unjust person. Abraham will become a just person, but he is credited with “an advance of trust” as he journeys with God. God treats him as a true partner in his enterprise. Paul means that this very same advance of trust is made by God to those who put their trust in Jesus, the faithful messiah.

Paul may be using a formula of faith when he speaks of Jesus given over to death for our faults and awakened to make us just, but his own story might also be summed up in those words. Paul, by his faults, handed over Jesus to death in the persons of the believers he persecuted; and was made into a just person by the awakened Jesus appearing to him and offering him an advance of trust.



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