More often than we may realize, the argument Paul had with others was about how to read the Bible best. Where to start?, was a major question. It sure seems to me that Paul faced many who thought the Bible was to be read through the eyes of Moses, that is, through the eyes of the Torah as the completion and fulfillment of God’s fullness of revelation. So, Genesis 1:1–Exodus 19 was the preliminary background for the major stuff at Sinai. Not so, said Paul.
To read the Bible aright, Paul says, we just have to back up to Abraham. The whole story is told to Abraham: covenant, circumcision, and the proper response. We are looking now at Romans 4:1-3.
In other words, it’s all about hermeneutics.
Paul has been contending that there is no “boasting” for the Jew because the Jewish privilege of the Torah is the privilege of knowing that they are to trust in God. How did Paul know this? By looking first to Abraham.
“What,” Paul says, “did Abraham discover?” Paul says it clearly: Abraham was justified, not by works of the Torah (the Torah was not yet) but by faith. There it is: if you begin with Abraham you learn how to read the Torah and live the Torah in the right way: by faith.
Wright diverges from many right here: he sees “flesh” in Rom 4:1 to be “Abe’s fleshly family, true descendants” rather than “human effort” type of stuff. “Have we found Abe to be our forefather in the flesh?” Wright contends, and we’ll see if he can pull it off convincingly through exegesis, that Paul is arguing that genuine descendants of Abraham, including any Jew or Gentile who follows in his path, are those who trust as Abraham trusted.
The next passage, Rom 4:4-8, will require more patient consideration for here Paul puts on the defensive some ways the NPP interprets Paul. Here Paul posits “faith” over against “works.” We’ll look at it tomorrow.