Thursday, August 21, 2008

Romans/Witherington/ 4

Romans 4.1-25
First paragraph.
"Abraham becomes a linchpin in Paul's argument concerning how righteousness and a right relationship with God have come to human beings quite apart from the law. This is very different from the sort of argument one finds in 2 Baruch 57.2, where Abraham is said to be able to be righteous and keep the law because God has already written the Law on his heart."

That is an interesting observation. Then comes what may be the thesis statement for this chapter or even the book.

"Put another way, the deliberative nature of Paul's argument here is clear because, as Guerra says, 'Romans 4 is an outstanding instance of the creative reinterpretation of Scripture, for the purpose of promoting a new community and its value system, evidencing its protreptic (What is protreptic? "serving to instruct, didactic") orientation.' Abraham turns out to be not only the example to follow but also the forefather of both Jews and Gentiles and so the proof that Jews and Gentiles were meant to be united in Christ as Abraham's heirs."

That's kind of nice.

Later: "In Romans Paul is trying to get the audience to place more value on their Jewish inheritance and on the fact that Abraham is the father of all who believe, and he is trying to undercut the boasting and ethnic and cultural arrogance of Roman Gentiles. The great leveler is of course that all have sinned and are equally saved by grace through faith. And now we discover that all, both Jews and Gentiles, are in the debt of Abraham the Jew, the paradigmatic man of faith."

That's nice, too. Though I am wondering if he is cutting the "boasting" problem back a little too much from works-righteousness to a cultural issue, though it may be both.

Then he comes to v.3.
"V3 is a crucial quotation of Gen. 15.6 LXX (which has the passive 'was counted' unlike the Hebrew, which has the active 'he counted'). It needs to be stressed that Paul is not speaking here of Christ's righteousness counting in place of Abraham's righteousness or, for that matter, in place of later Christian believers' righteousness. The text is quite explicit--the exchange is between Abraham's faith and Abraham's righteousness. The former is credited or reckoned in lieu of or as the latter. Where then does the idea of imputed righteousness come from? It comes ultimately from Erasmus, and the Lutheran adoption of his reading of this material, as we shall now see"

I really don't know/understand what distinctions he is making.

Witherington tries to elucidate in a section inserted here: "A closer look: imputed righteousness versus reckoned righteous". Again,I am not sure what he is getting at exactly. Erasmus chose to translate from the Vulgate (which has "reputatum" not "imputatum") (my question: since when are we dealing with the Vulgate and the Latin?) Here was supposedly born a "rather strictly forensic understanding of diakaisosyne". About Luther he says: "Luther himself (as compared to whom? Erasmus? Calvin?) does not always go quite this far. He is prepared to say that only by the accrediting of a merciful God and by faith in his word do we become just. (as opposed to what?) He also is prepared to say that all of our good is in fact outside ourselves and located in Christ. But, as scholars have pointed out, Luther does not usually use the language of imputation."

(does this make sense to anyone?)

"The crediting language ("it was reckoned") is not forensic language but commercial or bookkeeping language... In early Judaism there was the belief in the good and evil deeds of a person being recorded in ledgers... It is a mistake to simply read Paul's righteousness language through a forensic filter, not least because Paul believes that God requires of his people that, once saved, they actually lead righteous lives. Paul would likely be appalled by the notion that he is talking about some sort of legal fiction, including the idea that Christ is righteous in the believer's place in such a way that believers are not required to be righteous. Even worse would be the notion that when God looks at believers, he simply sees Christ's righteousness and reckons it to their accounts, instead of believers having to live holy lives."

Ok, I don't really care if it is imputed or reputed, if it is legal or commercial metaphor. Or am I missing something. Witherington is again worried about people thinking they can go on sinning so that grace may increase. We know he does not agree with simul justus et peccator. So he is hedging against justification without a decent life to go with it. OK. I think he is writing more against a Calvinistic understanding of once saved/always saved. He also thinks Luther advocates bold sinning.

He finishes up this section with:

"It is my guess that Paul would have concluded that either of these notions would amount to God being less than totally righteous. It would certainly involve God requiring more of his people under the law than he does under the new covenant, and this hardly comports with the intensification of demands we find in both Pauline parenesis and the Jesus tradition, including portions of the Sermon of the Mount, that Paul draws on in Romans and elsewhere."

Here, I think, W. shows his colors again about the role of the law in the believer's life. Jesus said: "my yoke is light". In the New Testament we have a different attitude. And the "law of Christ" is not like the OT law. Quote I found last night.

"But when a person is born anew by the Spirit of God and is liberated from the law (that is, when he is free from this driver and is driven by the Spirit of Christ), he lives according to the immutable will of God as it is comprehended in the law and, in so far as he is born anew, he does everything from a free and merry spirit. These works are, strictly speaking, not works of the law but works and fruits of the Spirit, or, as St. Paul calls them, the law of the mind and the law of Christ. According to St. Paul, such people are no longer under law but under grace."
(BOC, Solid Declaration).

That's all I can manage right now. I had thought that Abraham's faith is like my faith, like all believer's of all times faith, that the blood of the sacrifice takes away the guilt. The OT sacrifices were a foreshadowing of what was to come. "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered." He believed God's promise. We believe God's promise. "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."

Witherington stresses that there is a difference here: "Romans 4 is about Abraham's nodal trust in God, which God reckoned as righteousness. It is not about Christ's righteousness being imputed to Abraham or to those who follow his example. The discussion is about faith vs. works, not Christology vs. anthropology".

I still don't really know what he is talking about.

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