I just finished reading N.T. Wright’s commentary on Romans in The New Interpreter’s Bible. Wow! I’ve studied through Romans in depth a couple of times in my Christian journey. And each time was enriching. Romans is such a exquisite literary and theological masterpiece. But this time through, with Wright as a guide, the book seems much clearer and cohesive.
I used to view Romans as Paul’s systematic theology, discussing sin, then justification, then sanctification, then practical ethics. But this always left large strands of Romans as parenthetical, lengthy rabbit-trails by an author who wanted to say too much. This approach also forced Paul to say things he wasn’t trying to say at all, redefining ideas like sin, justification, and pre-destination in ways foreign to Paul’s original intent.
But Wright’s approach to Romans brings better cohesion and integrity to all of its parts. Romans is about God’s covenantal faithfulness revealed through the royal announcement that Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, is the true Lord of the world. God’s people, in line with God’s eschatological promises, has finally been open to the nations as God’s New World has broken into this one. So in this light, Paul’s use of Old Testament narratives, especially Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah, are not proof-texts of “salvation by faith” as opposed to “salvation by works” as normally assumed in the old and irrelevant debate. Rather, Paul is retelling the Jewish story of God’s faithfulness to creation, humanity and Israel around King Jesus.
Through Jesus, God has proven his faithfulness to Abraham — giving him a Jew plus Gentile family who would work with God for the full renovation and transformation of the world into God’s New Creation!