Monday, November 23, 2009

N.T. Wright on Romans 3:27-29

There has been an exegetical point that Wright has often made that has been on my mind lately. It concerns Romans 3:27-29, which says:

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 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.
No one would deny that v. 28 is in some sense a culmination of Paul’s preceding argument concerning justification by faith. On the verses that flank it on either side, Wright writes:

The meaning of the all-important verse Romans 3:28 is held firmly in place by the verses on either side. Romans 3:27 indicates that “the Torah of faith” excludes the “boasting” of Romans 2:17-20.... How then must we read Romans 3:28? [We must read it as] the decisive statement which explains (as the gar, “for,” indicates) the dramatic claim of Romans 3:27, and as the statement whose immediate implication is that God has one family, not two, and that this family consists of faithful Gentiles as well as faithful Jews.
In other words, the boasting that justification by faith eliminates is not a boasting in one’s moral accomplishments, but a boasting on the part of the Jew who takes solace in his status as being from the nation through whom God would save the world. And further, the little word “or” at the beginning of 3:29 serves to show that if the status of “righteous” were manifested by ethnic boundary markers rather than by faith, then the Jews’ boast would be true, and God is, in the end, the father of Abraham’s physical offspring only.