by Richard Holst
I. Abraham’s faith and propositional revelation
The choice of Gen 15.6 shows that, for Paul, faith is neither a work nor an intuition, but persuasion of the promises as they are summed up in Christ . By drawing attention to the covenantal orientation of Abraham’s faith, Paul shows that he understood the difference between believing in God and believing God, between subjective faith and its objective content. It also implies that he understood the relation of each to the other.
To argue, in contrast, that Abraham believed in God rather than in the promise itself and that he clung to the God who had promised rather than what had been promised  is to introduce a false and misleading dichotomy…Commenting on Paul’s treatment of Abraham’s faith, N.T. Wright says:
The nature of that faith (not in the sense of an analysis of the act of believing but in the sense of an analysis of what is believed) is of vital importance for his work.
The distinction is important—the knowledge of God is mediated through his word.
Rom 4 makes clear that God’s self-disclosure through the word of promise is the reason for Abraham’s subjective faith, and that apart from it an analysis of his faith is impossible. The position has been put like this:
According to the apostle, there were two facets to Abraham’s faith. One was personal and the other propositional, the latter being essential to the intelligibility of the former. 
The propositional facet of Abraham’s faith is the word of the covenantal promise (Gen 12.1ff; 15.1ff, and 17.1ff.), specifically, here, the promise of Gen 15.5 to which the citation [Rom 4.3; Gen 15.6] refers. This is the promise that Abraham would be the father of numerous descendants, which, according to Paul, was the ground of his justification. The implied logic is that, without the divine word, Abraham could not have been justified because he could not have become a believer. From the moment he spoke, God was no longer [the unknown God] and Abraham was no longer [ungodly, pagan].
II. The dynamic faith
What does this mean for the propositional aspect of Abraham’s faith? It means that not only did his faith require its appropriate propositional content but that the propositional content was the dynamic of his faith. He could say, on the one hand, that the promise came by faith (4.13) and, on the other, that faith comes by hearing the promise, identified as the word of Christ (10.17).
This word of Christ is referred to in Rom 1.16 as the power of God and, in 1.2, as the gospel promised beforehand. This gospel accounts for the existential fact and qualitative difference of Abraham’s faith from other kinds of faith, distinguishing it from a religious intuition, a sense of the numinous and an existential experience. It is faith by hearing the promises.
III. The object of faith
The general proposition that Abraham believed the promises demands closer analysis—which promises, in fact? Certainly, Paul is not thinking of promises in general but those of the Abrahamic covenant. We have already noted that his first port of call in attempting to understand Abraham’s faith is the promise if a numerous posterity. Other promises of the covenant are also alluded to. Virtually explicit is his reference to the land-inheritance promise in 4.13. In addition, beneath the surface and integral to his argument, is the promise of universal blessing through Abraham’s seed .
1. Abraham’s faith apprehended the historical and eschatological dimension of the posterity-promise (Rom. 4.3, 9, 17, 18, 22)
Paul viewed Abraham’s faith as the divinely appointed mechanism for appropriating the promise in its historical and eschatological dimension. He laid hold of God’s purpose, to bless Israel and the Gentiles in the fullness of time, through faith. By this means he is father of Jew and Gentile according to promise. He believed in order that the intention articulated in the promise might be realized—historically in the short and eschatologically in the long term. Paul conveys this understanding by means of a number of infinitive clauses in vv. 11, 16 and 18 , depicting Abraham as embracing a universal, undifferentiated, posterity consisting of all who follow the pattern of his faith.
2. Abraham’s faith apprehended the historical and eschatological dimension of the land inheritance-promise (4.13)
As Kasemann observes, the earthly promise is applied eschatologically to the future world.  The expression heir refers to a fundamental element in the Jewish consciousness of covenant relationship with God and is used “almost exclusively in connection with the land…”  [This points] to its importance for what Paul says about universal justification. He understood, perhaps better than most, in light of his calling to be apostle to the Gentiles, the universal implication of the land-inheritance promise. God’s people were a universal people therefore his parish the world. The significant point, however, is that he also ascribes this understand to Abraham.
The “for” at the beginning of v.13 refers back to v.12, showing that he is still explaining the meaning of justification by faith. The land-inheritance promise somehow figures in the content of justifying faith because it also came to Abraham “through the righteousness of faith” (4.13b). It is, for Paul, an element in the objective content of Abraham’s faith—does he also imply that it is an element in Christian faith too?
Why he included this particular promise in the content of Abraham’s faith can be explained by reference to the link between Jewish identity and possession of the land. Perhaps he wanted to refuse the idea that Abraham received the land-inheritance promise as a reward for faith understood as a work . This, not withstanding, he was at one with the Rabbis in accepting eschatological interpretation of the promise which, as we have seen, he attributes to Abraham. In a manner comparable to the author of Hebrews, he appears to say that Abraham lived in Canaan as in “a foreign land…” desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” 
3. Abraham’s faith apprehended the promise of universal blessing through his seed
In the parallel passage in Gal 3.6-9 the promise of universal blessing through the seed is clearly present and just as essential to the argument of Rom 4 because it enables Paul to extend the scope of the posterity-promise to include the Gentiles. The Gentile mission , which compelled him to accept the idea of one, undifferentiated people of God, and the doctrine of universal justification by faith, have their scriptural basis in the promise that God would bless the nations through Abraham’s seed …Nowhere is this made clearer than in Rom 4.11-12. From this it can be seen that Paul wants his readers to understand that this is not merely inference which they are expected to draw but the promise that Abraham himself believed in order that God’s full purpose might come to pass.
God revealed his plan to reconcile humanity to himself by means of a covenantal statement of intent. The three promises form part of this statement of intent but clearly as means to the grand end. The restoration of the broken relationship between God and man as promised in the words “and I will be their God” (Gen 17.8) is served by the posterity, land-inheritance and universal blessing promises as the divine modus operandi for its accomplishment.
As if by instinct, Christmas continue to read Rom 4 christologically, not theologically , even though Christ is hardly mentioned and Paul concentrates on the covenant as God’s modus operandi…Is Abraham’s faith, then, the paradigm of Christian faith? Is he actually saying that faith in Jesus is the same as faith in the promises? According to D.J. Hooper:
What becomes progressively clearer in what might be termed Pauls’ underlying argument, is that not only must Abraham be viewed as the prototype and pattern, in continuity, for all who would be right with God, but also the objects of his faith, both personal propositional, are the same for New Testament believers present and future. 
This takes us a step beyond where most are prepared to go. He is saying not only that Abraham is a paradigm of believers but that his faith is a paradigm of Christian faith.
The conclusion seems to be justified by the evidence…In fact, Paul puts the matter beyond doubt in Rom 15.8-9…Abraham’s faith in the promises and faith in Christ are essentially the same…The former is prospective, the latter retrospective but not fully realized. Christ is God’s “Yes” to the promises.  Retrospective Christian faith is fuller than the prospective faith of Abraham because it embraces the confirmation and partial fulfillment of the covenant. But Christian faith is itself also prospective, since the climax of the covenant consists not in Christ’s first advent but his second. 
_ _ _
 Compare Ernts Kasemann’s observation that “faith is neither a virtue, a religious attitude, nor an experience. It is faith by hearing. It enters into the promise of salvation and becomes obedient to it.” Commentary on Romans, p 107.
 Franz J. Leenhardt, The Epistle to the Romans, p 126.
 D.J. Hooper, “The Continuity of the Abrahamic Covenant from the Old Testament to the New Testament” p 289. Hooper has produced a considerable amount of unpublished material on the importance of the Abrahamic covenant, especially in relation to Biblical hermeneutics. A more recent work on a related subject is “Covenant and Promise in the Epistle to the Hebrews” (1992). In addition, to his contributions others in his circle have produced academic theses on such themes as “The Language of Covenant” (1980), P.J. Naylor; “The Theology of the Abrahamic Covenant: A Study and Interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant and Deliverance as the means of Covenant Implementation” (1993), P. Davies; “From Glory to Glory: Continuity in the Relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant with Reference to 2 Corinthians 3” (1994), A.J. Bentley-Taylor; “Christology and Covenant: The Relation of Covenant Theology to Aspects of Paul’s Christology” (1995), C.R.H. Holst.
 Fully articulated in Gal 3.16 but necessary here in order to justify the argument that Abraham is the father of us all in Rom 4.16.
 Verse 11: The first infinitive clause is final and states the purpose for which Abraham received circumcision. The second is better taken as consecutive, “so that righteousness might be reckoned to them [Christian believers]” indicating the result of Abraham’s faith as well as their own: with Ernst Kasemann, Perspectives on Paul (1969) 116; C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans—A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (1980) 237; Wilckens, Romer (1979) 265.
Verse 16: The infinitive clause is co-ordinate with “that according to grace” and should probably be taken as final; stating that the land-inheritance promise is based on faith and grace in order to “guarantee that the promise comprises all the seed, that is to say, all who believe, whether they be Jews or Gentile.” See John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (1965) 144.
Verse 18: This can be understood in several ways: (i) as referring to the content of Abraham’s faith—he believed that he would become the father of many: so Bultmann, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament VI (1968), 206; (ii) as referring to the purpose of Abraham’s faith—he believed in order that…: so J. Murray, Romans 148; J.D.G. Dunn, Romans, vol. 1 (1991) 219; (iii) as referring to the result of Abraham’s faith—he believed so that he might become…; (Kasemann, Perspectives on Paul, 124; Cranfield, Romans, 246. The choice is difficult, though possibly the accent should fall mostly on result.
 Kasemann, Romans, 120.
 Dunn, Romans, 213.
 “Therefore he assured him by an oath…that he would…cause them to inherit from sea to sea.” (Sir 44.21); “So you find that our father Abraham became heir of this and the coming world simply by merit of the faith with which he believed the LORD, as it is written: ‘He believed the LORD, and he counted it to him for righteousness’” Mekilta 40b (Ex 14.31).
 Heb 11.8-16.
 Not to speak of his own call on the Damascus road.
 The words, the father of many nations, cannot be restricted in meaning to the nations outside Israel who were originally descended from Abraham (Moab & Edom). Paul is a covenantal universalist. The many nations of the posterity-promise are the nations blessed in Abraham, specifically in his “seed”, Jesus, through the preaching of the gospel.
 The same point could be made about the epistle as a whole. Paul is discussing “a righteousness of God” in the context of which he must necessarily expound Christ’s person and work. But there is never any doubt that faith is in the God of Abraham and that the ensuing status is equated with membership of Israel. In other words, the Abrahamic motif extends well beyond the chapter 4.
 N.T. Wright, Climax, 289.
 2Cor 1.20…the New Covenant serves the interests of the Abrahamic by means of its provision for a single offering for sin (the accomplishment of redemption) and the writing of God’s law on the heart (the application of redemption) consistent with the primary aim of the Abrahamic Covenant.
 Against N.T. Wright, who argues that “Christ and the law in Paul’s theology form two closely related segments of the story of the covenant, and of how, in Paul’s view it reached its climax.” (my italics) Climax, 258.