Monthly Archives: April 2011

Abraham is “our” Father according to the flesh?

I’ve been listening to Romans 4 in audio and it suddenly occurred to me that the common translation of Romans 4.1 must be wrong. I’m not going to be stubborn if someone can prove otherwise, but as much as one can tell from listening or reading Romans 4, the first statement in the first verse makes no sense at all.

What does Paul say in Romans 4? He refers to “our father Abraham” (v. 12) and to “Abraham, who is the father of us all” (v. 16).

Is Paul writing exclusively to Jews? No. The Church in Rome is predominately though not exclusively Gentile. But Abraham is, by faith, the covenant ancestor of both Jews and Gentiles:

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised…

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the one of the law but also to the one [who is not of the law but] who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations

I’ve been selective because I thought it would be awkward to simply post all of Romans 4, but read it at your leisure and you will see it is all about how Abraham is our forefather because we share his faith so that we are in one covenant with him and we inherit his promises just as we are his promised inheritance.

What Paul emphatically denies is that only Jews are the heirs of Abraham and exclusively the members of the covenant: “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?” And later:

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the ones of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

The promise would have to be void if only Jews were included because the promise was explicitly that Abraham would be the father of many nations, not only one.

So how on earth could this argument begin with a casual reference to Abraham as “our father according to the flesh”?

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? (NASB)

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? (ESV)

That makes no kind of sense at all! It contradicts the whole point. How could Paul say that Abraham is “our father”–both of Jews and Gentiles–according to the flesh?

There is another translation that has been offered by Richard Hays.

What then shall we say? Do we find that Abraham is our forefather according to the flesh?

I haven’t found the paper so I can’t give any opinion on the Greek. But unless someone can show me that his translation is impossible, it has to be right. It works. The other does the opposite of work–it works against everything Paul says. Not only does it lead into Romans 4 but it leads out of the previous paragraph:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

What then shall we say? Do we find that Abraham is our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

I’d love to know if anyone has seen an argument against Hays’ proposal.

Here are a couple of related posts I have found on the translation of Romans 4.1:

The great exchange means you are dealing with Jesus in that Christian who sinned against you

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.

So writes Paul to Philemon about his runaway slave, Onesimus.

Notice the exchange that takes place.

First, Paul says that Onesimus is being sent back to Philemon as Paul’s representative. Philemon must regard this slave who has sinned against him as Paul.

Second, Paul says that Onesimus’ sin against Philemon must be held against Paul.

Get that? Paul became Onesimus’ sin so that Onesimus could become Paul’s righteousness–his standing before Philemon.

Is that not the Great Exchange? According to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we get Christ’s mission as the personification of the righteousness and faithfulness of God because Christ took our sin (Paul is speaking of Apostles here but I’m sure he would agree that the principle applies more widely):

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Onesimus the slave who sinned is, to Philemon, now an ambassador from Paul.

And this brings us to the sticking point.

Every Christian you know is sent to you by Jesus. Each one was commissioned in baptism to be Christ’s representative. And this calling is not destroyed by the ways they have sinned against you, much less annoy you.

You are supposed to receive them as you would receive Jesus. And any wrong they have done you, you are to charge to Christ’s account. He will repay it–to say nothing of your owing Him your very self.

Murray Rothbard’s testimony about Ludwig Von Mises as an exile teacher in the US

…So in this state, Mises comes to the United States, he’s penniless, he’s about 60 years old or so. He starts writing in a new language, and he can’t get an academic post. This is the eternal blot on academia. This is a situation where every Marxist and semi-Marxist and three-quarter Marxist was getting cushy top chairs at Harvard and Princeton and whatever, and Mises couldn’t find an academic post, and he finally got one at NYU as a visiting professor with a salary paid for by outside businessmen and foundations. Same thing happened to Hayek. Hayek’s salary at the University of Chicago was never paid for by Chicago; it was paid for by outside business groups.

As a result, Mises was scorned, the dean was against him, the dean advised people not to take his courses and things like that. He was in a fantastically miserable situation, and yet–and here’s where I come into the picture; I get to know him at this point–when he started a seminar at NYU.

…How did he act? It was magnificent, I couldn’t believe it. He was cheerful, was never bitter, never said an unkind word about anything, any person, and very sweet, and it was just a magnificent experience…

Channeling my inner Tim LaHaye: Timing the next age

When Jesus rose from the grave, it took time for the implications to be recognized. The growth of the Church made people nervous. The destruction of Jerusalem was recognized too late by some. Another couple of centuries passed before it really became understood, as a public fact, that a new world had come.

It just occurred to me last Sunday that we are nineteen years away from Easter 2000 (at least that is my current understanding of when Jesus was crucified and raised). That has got to mean something, though it may be too subtle for everyone to recognize at once. God is shrewd like that.

But it does give me some comfort as I watch our present order fall apart.

Peter Leithart 2007 on justification by faith & assurance

We are right before God because Jesus has obeyed perfectly, offered Himself on the cross, and received the verdict of righteousness in the resurrection, a verdict in which we are included by union with the Risen Christ. We come to share in this verdict by faith.

But a question arises: Where do we ever hear this verdict? How is it communicated to us? We need to hear the verdict. What good is a verdict that’s never declared to us?

We could say: I hear it in my heart. But how do I know that what I hear in my heart is God’s verdict or my own self-justification?

We could say: In the preaching of the Word. Correct. But how do I know the promise delivered in the preaching of the Word is addressed to me, individually and personally?

We could say: I hear God declare me righteous when I hear His minister pronounce my sins forgiven in worship. Correct. But again that is a general declaration of forgiveness. I hear it, so to that extent, it is personally directed at me. But it doesn’t have my name attached.

Here’s one of the points where baptism links up with justification. Baptism is not the “ground” of justification; the ground is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the results of which we share in our union with Him. Baptism is the declaration of the verdict, to me personally, with my name attached.

In baptism, God promises to forgive me my sins for Jesus’ sake. In baptism, He communicates His verdict to me, just as truly as He communicates it in preaching, but in baptism he more obviously communicates it to me. In baptism, He says that I am included in Christ, and in the verdict that He passed on Jesus. This is what it means for baptism to join us to Christ’s death and resurrection, since the resurrection is the Father’s verdict over the Son through the Spirit (Rom 4:25; 6:1-7).

I receive what my baptism declares only by faith. If I don’t believe what God says about me in baptism, then I don’t receive the verdict, for I make Him a liar.

Read the rest: | Justification by faith.

Channeling Leithart before time: justification by faith v. by sight

Peter writes:

When Paul talks about justification by faith, he normally contrasts it with justification by works.  But elsewhere in Paul, “by faith” is contrasted with “by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is speaking of two different “walks,” but can the same contrast apply to justification?  Does it make sense to say that we are justified by faith rather than by sight?

It would seem so.  Justification by sight would be something like this: God makes it publicly evident that some individual stands in the right before Him.  That public justification will occur at the last day, and so the future justification is a justification “by sight” – just as we will see face to face in the eschaton.

For now, though, our standing with God is not public and obvious.  When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was not obvious that He stood righteous before the Father.  When Jesus hung on a Roman cross, it was not evident that He was in the right with the Creator.  So too, when we share in His sufferings, there is no indisputable proof that we have been declared right in God’s court.  The world might be excused for thinking the opposite, that, if there is a God, He cannot be the Father and Savior of a people so beleaguered.  And we ourselves are tempted to doubt our right standing.

Justification by faith means knowing that God favors us, counts us as righteous covenant partners, even when all the empirical symptoms indicate the opposite.

Reminded me of something I preached on justification by in 2000 or 1999:

First of all, we all have been taught that justification is a legal declaration. But it is hard to understand how our belief corresponds to a declaration on God’s part that we can’t hear or experience. Perhaps understanding how Jesus was justified will help. When we are marked out by God by the gift of faith we are joined to Christ by that faith. At that point, the verdict God declared about Jesus applies to us because we belong to Jesus. The declared verdict was almost two thousand years ago. We share that status when we share in Christ by faith.

God tells us in many ways that we belong to Jesus: By arranging providence so that we are baptized into his Kingdom; by showing us we are his family in feeding us at his table in the Lord’s Supper as a Father feeds his children; by enabling us through the power of the Holy Spirit to declare that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead; by summoning us to corporate worship as his army under his command and care; and by many other means.

Let all those things give you confidence in knowing that Christ’s status as acceptable to the Father—as a friend of God’s much more than Abraham was—is yours as well. Your sins are already dealt with so God now forgives them freely for the sake of Christ. He took your curse and condemnation and God receives you as having the status of his own beloved son.

Secondly, this might help us understand that, even though we have, in substance, our entire salvation in Jesus Christ, we really are still waiting for it to be revealed. Right now, we look and feel like the wicked around us. We too get cancer and deal with old age, and have our children get sick, and struggle with finances, just like all the unbelievers around us. We too are under the general curse that was imposed on the sinful human race.

But one day, we will experience for ourselves the declaration that we are righteous in God’s sight through Jesus our Lord in a new way. Just as Jesus was declared righteous—justified—in his resurrection, so in our resurrection we too will be personally justified. That’s why now justification is by faith. We must believe that we have status with God as his friends even though we don’t see much difference between how we are treated and how God treats his enemies. But then we will see with our own eyes as we are reborn from the grave in the image and glory of the resurrected Jesus Christ our Lord!

Thirdly, if we understand that we have this status and yet God has not seen fit to yet reveal it as he will at the Final Judgment–that last courtroom scene which will end human history–then we might be able to understand some of the frustration we feel. Living by faith means living by hope for what we do not yet see. And, as Paul writes in Romans 8.25, “if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” If you are dissatisfied with your present life, maybe you should not be discouraged by that fact, but realize that the reason you are dissatisfied is that God has promised to bring you into something better–something you will not just hope in or trust him for, but that you will actually experience for yourself. Your resurrection in glory, when you see Jesus face to face and reflect his image as a mirror, will be God’s public declaration that he accepts you. You have status with him and you will see it then with your own transfigured eyes.

One reason it is better to make a habit of not talking (or blogging, ironically)

So while I was trying to memorize Proverbs 10 (done, by the way, but I think telling you means I just lost my reward in heaven), I had my son help me. And he stopped me at this one:

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander is a fool.

Does this means we’re supposed to be open about our hatred?

I suggested not, that we shouldn’t hate at all.

But what if one is in the presence of someone that one justly despises? If it is wrong to have lying lips, what does one say?

I came up with a second option: get into the habit of not saying anything. If you don’t normally speak then you won’t be put in situations that tempt you to have lying lips.

It wasn’t until a week later, or more that I noticed how this proverb works with the next one. In fact, they may really count as one proverb:

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander is a fool.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

So there you go.