N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 31 (the promise given to Abraham is for all with faith)

dayrevolutionbegan

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 4:23-25

(Rom. 4:23-25 ESV)  23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,  24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in[/trust/are faithful to] him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,  25 who was delivered up [sacrificed on the cross] for our trespasses [sins] and raised for our justification [so that we would be declared members of the covenant community].

Wright explains,

Christian faith is thus, for Paul, irrevocably resurrection-shaped. Like Abraham’s faith, it is by no means simply a general religious awareness or trust in a remote or distant supernatural being, but gains its form, as well as its content, from the revelation of God’s covenant faithfulness in the events concerning Jesus … . “Faith,” for Paul, is never a thing in itself, but is always defined, as Rom 4:16–22 makes clear, in relation to the God in whom trust is placed. The purpose of a window is not to cover one wall of the house with glass, but to let light in and to let the inhabitants see out.

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 502.

In the popular mind and among some academics, salvation is found in having “faith” in something — but not necessarily in the resurrected Jesus. It’s the act of believing in something bigger than yourself that “saves,” they argue. Paul disagrees. You have to believe in YHWH, the God of the Jews, and not God in the abstract, but the God who raised Jesus from the dead. “Faith” under the new covenant includes faith in the resurrected Jesus or else it is not adequate — because if you don’t recognize God in Jesus, you’re not worshiping the true God.

Paul is careful, therefore, to speak of Christian faith as “believing in the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” God, not Jesus, is the primary object of Christian faith (one of many reasons why πίστις Χριστοῦ [pistis Christou], “the faith of Christ,” is more likely to mean the faithfulness of Jesus himself than the faith people put in Jesus).

This description of God is important for Romans, being echoed at another memorable point, 8:11; for Paul it is axiomatic that the resurrection took place by God’s initiative and power (see, e.g., 10:9; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:15; 2 Cor 4:14; 13:4; Gal 1:1. 2 Cor 4:14 is very close to the present phrase and to 8:11), so that the meaning of the event is the meaning God intends (1:4), namely, that Jesus is thereby marked out as God’s Son, the Messiah, Israel’s representative, the one in whom God’s promises of redemption have finally come true.

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 502.

Many commentators avoid the obvious question: if Abraham’s faith saved him, and Abraham never heard of Jesus, then why doesn’t faith in God without faith in Jesus save today? Why aren’t the Jews who deny Jesus just as saved as Abraham?

But it’s only through Jesus that the Exile of the Jews ends, the new covenant of Jer 31:31 ff is initiated, the Kingdom comes, the Messiah is enthroned, and the Spirit is outpoured. Deny Jesus and the Exile continues and the opportunity for repentance unto “forgiveness of sins” has not yet been provided to the Jews.

I would add that if Jesus doesn’t look like YHWH to the “believer,” then he’s so badly misunderstood God that he’s really worshiping an idol.

Wright further responds —

Confessing that Jesus is Lord, therefore, and that God raised him from the dead (10:9), means sharing the faith of Abraham; and that faith, as Paul has now argued, is the one and only badge of membership in Abraham’s family. Paul does not in this passage spell out the implication, but the rest of the chapter, along with 3:27–30, should still be echoing in the mind. Because there is only one badge of membership, all those who share this faith are members of God’s redeemed and forgiven people, no matter what their ancestry. 

Paul is not making a substantially new point at this stage in the chapter. Rather, he is for the first time putting himself and his readers on the map he has drawn. It is the map of the Abrahamic family, created by the revelation of God’s righteousness in Jesus the Messiah, the family in which the distinction between Jew and Gentile, maintained by Torah in particular, is set aside once for all, the family whose sole identifying badge is Christian faith.

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 502.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in N. T. Wright's The Day the Revolution Began, N. T. Wright's The Day the Revolution Began, Romans, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 31 (the promise given to Abraham is for all with faith)

  1. Eric Thomas says:

    “I would add that if Jesus doesn’t look like YHWH to the “believer,” then he’s so badly misunderstood God that he’s really worshiping an idol.”

    Great point. We should all be careful to study for ourselves and judge what we hear by scripture as a whole. I’ve learned many things in church and adopted many attitudes that quite frankly were completely wrong when I studied the Bible for myself. Those teaching were well meaning and were teaching what they heard and learned from others but they were wrong. It’s far better for someone to come to Christ with a true understanding of the God they will serve and the kingdom they will serve in.

    I know this is a little off point. It just really caught my attention.

  2. Dwight says:

    Sometimes I think we are guilty of Jesus worship, which is not horribly bad, but is bad if we miss who Jesus worshipped…YHWH (God the Father).
    The point of Jesus was to take us to God.
    We pray through Jesus to get to God.
    Jesus came down as God and was a representation of His Father to us and lived like us.
    So only through Him can we come to the Father.

  3. Alabama John says:

    Jay,
    Enjoying this study.
    I like what reading what one of the best writers of Romans of our day has said: “Every time we read Romans we see something new.” Karl Barth

Leave a Reply