Sunday, 24 March 2013
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? Romans 4:1
Paul begins chapter 4 in a manner similar to chapter 3 (the original letter contained no chapter or verse divisions, but these are logical points of demarcation which were later added) by introducing a pertinent question. He has built an argument and defended it in a precise and exacting manner, introducing legal terms and processes in order to validate his points. Each step has been introduced to confirm the concept of justification by faith.
During the progression, he has shown the nature of sin and the nature of fallen man, both under natural law and the Mosaic law. All are bound under sin and none have an innate righteousness. Because of this, none can attain to it by their own works; something external is needed.
And so now he introduces Abraham as a living example of his argument. As Abraham is the father of the Hebrew nation and because he lived hundreds of years before the introduction of the law, he will demonstrate that what occurred between God and Abraham was apart from the law or any deeds of the law. This will confirm his statements at the end of chapter 3 which concerned boasting before God.
He now asks “What shall we say that Abraham our father has found…?” Paul is clearly indicating that Abraham is the father of the faith, a point not missed by those under the law when speaking to Jesus such as during this exchange in John 8 –
“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” (vs. 38, 39)
Even the Lord acknowledged this to the people of Israel when He spoke to them through Isaiah –
“Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, You who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarahwho bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him.” Isaiah 51:1, 2
Because this is testified to the nation, even from their own Scriptures which established them as a people, then what is deduced concerning Abraham will be all the more sure and binding if it is a demonstrable truth. Paul’s next words will begin to establish what Abraham “has found according to the flesh.”
The introduction of this phrase “according to the flesh” has been debated and two options are most disputed –
1)That Abraham is the physical father of the people; he is their ancestor and they are his descendants.
2) That “according to the flesh” is tied to the words “has found.” In other words, “What thing in the person of Abraham is found to be true concerning our previous argument?”
The second is the obvious and correct option. Paul has been speaking about how righteousness is found and how one stands justified before God. He will continue with this thought by giving the practical example of Abraham. The fact that he is the father of the faithful is true, but how he became that way is what is of importance to Paul and his argument. The first is dependent on the second, but the reciprocal is not the case.
Life application: Use caution when reading commentaries, particularly in biblical matters. Don’t bind yourself to one interpretation until you have researched other possibilities. The Bible is a unified whole and it will always internally validate itself. Logical arguments must rest on ultimate truths and the conclusions must be in line with the overall objectives presented in Scripture.
Oh heavenly Father, Your word is a delight to my mind and the highest point of joy in my daily thoughts. From Your word I see light and truth and in Your word I see the glorious plan of the ages – all of it pointing to what You alone have accomplished for us, your wayward creatures. And so to You alone be the glory. May I only boast in what You have done for us. Amen.