The New Perspective on Paul Schools the FV

I was quite pleasantly surprised to find this in none other than James Dunn’s commentary on Romans. Given the recent discussions on faith versus faithfulness, I thought people might enjoy mulling over this quotation. Dunn is commenting on Romans 4:21 (which describes Abraham’s confidence that God fulfills His promises):

It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God’s power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition. Here from another aspect is the same reason why Abraham’s faith should not be though of in terms of covenant loyalty or as incomplete apart from works, for faith is confidence in God’s loyalty as alone necessary, as alone able, as alone sufficient to bring God’s promise to full effect (p. 239 of volume 1).

It should be noted here that in the context of Romans, Paul goes on immediately to apply Abraham’s faith as a template or example for us (see 4:23). I should note that this quotation does not alleviate the other problems in Dunn’s theology. However, on this point, Dunn seems to agree with the critics of the FV.


  1. March 18, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Nice find, Lane!

  2. Brad B said,

    March 18, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Yeah, somewhere covenant loyalty sounded like this:

    “Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”

    And we know how faithful man can be out of his own commitment to faithfulness from that example.

  3. Stephen said,

    March 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    For what it’s worth, you should not be “surprised to find this in none other than James Dunn’s commentary on Romans.” Dunn vociferously opposes the subjective-genitive position in the pistis christou debate, a key battleground of which is Paul’s representation of Abraham in Rom 4. I do not bring this up to marginalize Dunn’s comments, just to situate his views and, I guess, express “surprise” that you are surprised. Dunn’s views on this and position within broader Paul scholarship are very well known.

    On a related note, I know us Protestants typically view Abraham in Rom 4 as an example for us of Justification by faith. A mismatch obtains between this approach and Rom 4. Following much recent scholarship on Romans, it seems more likely that Paul sketches Abraham in Rom 4 primarily as a prefiguration or type of Christ, whose pistis affects God’s righteousing of others. This does not necessarily militate against him being a paradigm for us, but the model is as an ancestral founder of a lineage based upon and defined by his (Abraham’s) pistis. Within various ancient ethnic sensitivities, descendants embody the characteristics of their ancestors not simply because they should imitate them but because they are descended from them (Gathercole, to reference a book perhaps known to some here, gets this precisely wrong; c.f., Where is Boasting?, 233). This is what Paul means by talking about, for example, how the promise may be guaranteed “not only to the one out-of/from the Law, but also to the one out-of/from the ‘faith’ of Abraham (e.g., kai tw ek pistews Abraam; c.f., just for fun, the similar language at the end of Rom 3.26: ton ek pistews Ihsou). As others have pointed out, it is tempting to translate the “ek” here as “descended from” (e.g., descended from or sprung-from or born-from Abraham’s pistis) in keeping with how ek is thus used in numerous Classical and Hellenistic Greek writing discussing ethnic descent. I am digressing here in talking about how Paul actually operates within ancient ethnic sensitivities. My point is that Paul’s construction of Abraham in Rom 4 is primarily as the ethnic founder of the God of Israel’s people. From him, as the patriarchic head, springs lineage specifically based upon and defined by his Law-dissociated faithfulness. Abraham appears in Romans 4 as an ancestral representative figure who obtained and inherited God’s promises and thus brought about the inclusion of others, his descendants, in these ethnic-promises…all on the basis of his pistis. To the extent the passage implies or broaches our pistis after the pattern of Abraham’s, that remains simply implied in the model Paul uses here. Put another way (Gaffinism, anyone?), Rom 4 is not about Abraham the proto-Christian example of Justification by faith alone.

    Romans 4.22-25 continue the same focus of the passage thus far: Abraham’s pistis and Abrahamic-paternity concerns. The pistis counted as righteousness discussed in Rom 4.23-24 remains Abraham’s, not ours. The citation that Paul talks about as being written for our sake also (Rom 4.23-24) is written for “our” sake in that Paul has sketched how Abraham’s pistis results in the righteousing of others (e.g., his descendants) and how Abrahamic-descent is (or includes) a law-dissociated thing. It thus can include Gentiles who, for example, “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (as an aside, interesting here that Paul does not specify “believing upon” Christ but, rather, upon the one who raised Jesus our Lord out of death: tois pisteuousin epi ton egeiranta Ihsoun ton kurion hhmwn ek nekrwn). Romans 4:24 does not emphasize that the “us” to whom righteousness will be counted have it counted to them on the basis of them believing in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord. It indicates that “us” (e.g., who believe…) as the recipients of the counting of righteousness on the basis of Abraham’s pistis.

    Romans 4 explicates how Paul can claim to uphold the Law (Rom 3.31) because Abraham and his pistis prefigure, anticipate, and provide precedent for the significance Paul attributes to Christ and his pistis.

    I realize this comment goes into textual matters outside the scope of the FV debate. Thought folks may be interested in (A) a situating of Dunn’s comments on pistis and (B) a different take on Rom 4 than the usual reading among many of us Protestants (not that Catholics have a different reading; I have no idea; the scholars pioneering the kind of approach to Rom 4 I lay out above are, to my knowledge, all Protestants).

  4. louis said,

    March 22, 2011 at 8:57 am

    “the scholars pioneering this kind of approach to Rom 4.” Citations, please?

  5. Stephen said,

    March 22, 2011 at 10:51 am


    You want me to do your homework for you? ;)

    More seriously, how extensive or exhaustive a list do you want? Richard Hays’ 1985 article remains seminal: “Have We Found Abraham to be Our Forefather According to the Flesh?: A Reconsideration of Rom 4:1,” NovT 27 (1985): 76-98. It’s like many initial formulations of new hypotheses: it has many strengths and plenty of places where it needs refining.

    Plenty of others are working out similar approaches and/or refining Hays’ suggestions (who himself wasn’t the first to take this approach): e.g., Douglas Campbell, Michael Cranford, Pamela Eisenbaum, Lloyd Gaston, John Gager, Desta Heliso, Caroline Johnson Hodge, Joshua Jipp, J.R. Daniel Kirk (somewhat), Stan Stowers, Ross Wagner, etc. Not all of them are Protestants. I should have been more precise: most are Protestants, at least one (that I know of) is a Jew, I have no idea about the religious convictions of several; but none, to my knowledge, pursue this approach in connection with any pro-Catholic agenda. Even if they did, their work on the textual details of Paul interests me more.

    Any thoughts about this way of reading Rom 4?

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