‘…is the family into which we have been adopted, the ethnic, physical family of Abraham? Or are we related to him in some other way? This introduces the theme of the whole chapter, which is not about Abraham as an example of justification, or as a proof from scripture, or anything so trivial. It is an exposition of God’s intention in establishing the covenant with Abraham in the first place, and hence of the nature of Abraham’s family.’
The above quote is from NT Wright’s little commentary on Romans in his Paul for Everyone series. He is commenting on Romans 4:1, for which he has a slightly unusual translation. Putting translation issues to one side, I appreciate his observation that Paul moves to talk about Abraham in Romans 4, not arbitrarily, but because Abraham stands at the start of God’s plans for the salvation of the world.
Surely, however, it is a false dichotomy to say that Romans 4 is either ‘an exposition of God’s intention in establishing a covenant with Abraham in the first place’ or ‘an example of justification’. Can’t it be both?
And furthermore what is with the characterisation of Abraham as an example of faith as ‘trivial’. That is a nasty bit of rhetorical sleight of hand if ever I saw one. Surely an example of faith could be incredibly significant, especially if the example is the person with whom God first made promises regarding the salvation of the world!