1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
1901 ASV Translation:
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found according to the flesh?
I. Romans 4 is Paul's Attempt to Establish His Claim That Justification is By Faith [see 5:1].
II. Romans 4:1-8 is Paul's Argument that Works and Faith are Distinctly Different Principles.
A. Romans 4:1-3 is Paul's argument that Abraham was justified by faith.
1. Romans 4:1 raises the question of Abraham's discovery.
a. Therefore, what shall we say...
1) The question "What shall we say" is found in Romans in 3:5; 4:1; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14; and 9:30. In each case it is asking about what kind of conclusion ought we to draw from the facts as we have found them to be.
2) The "therefore" is a bit odd in that it normally puts the material to come on the back of the preceeding material in a kind of "cause/effect" way, but in this case Paul has given his "argument" for justification by faith apart from works and now is about to "justify" his argument by appealing to Abraham and David. Thus, the "therefore" carries the idea that "Ok, we have made this our argument, so is it in conformity with the facts as Abraham and David found them?".
3) The verb "say" is used variously in the New Testament, but in Paul's "What shall we say..." terminology, he is invariably asking for a doctrinal conclusion that will be then used to establish "the faith". In this kind of context, "say" means "to conclude from the facts and, then, to express those facts to another". It does not mean to "speak" (as opposed to "write") in the sense of uttering a sound. It does mean to establish a basis in rational thought for speech. In other words, the verb as Paul uses it in this question does not mean to speak, but to express (by whatever means) a conclusion that is drawn from the facts given.
4) Thus, Paul's question seeks a rational conclusion that will be used to bothform the content of belief and to express that content.
a) The issue here is not mere theological debate: theology is absolutely foundational to Life and the issues are Life and Death matters.
b) No one goes through the experiences of life in this world as a human being as a vain process that has no "outcome".
c) No one has "no theology", though many twist it so that they may feel free to indulged the lusts of body, soul, and spirit.
d) The God Who is has appointed a Day in which He will bring the entire world of all human kind of all of history to account before Jesus the Christ and all will be established in eternity on the basis of the accuracy of their real theology. The experiences of Eternity rest upon the "faith" developed in Time.
b. ...Abraham, our forefather according to the standard of flesh, to have found...
1) The appeal to Abraham is enormously prejudicial.
a) He calls him "forefather" by using a word that means "the original founder of a family" (Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon; Greek-English Lexicon; p. 1494). This is, in no sense, actually true in that Abraham was, himself, the offspring of Terah who was, in turn, the son of another. Thus, he cannot be the "original founder of a family". Adam is the only "original" founder of a family. Therefore, we must look for a reason to call him "forefather" as a special case individual. That reason is not in his "originality", but in God's selection of him to be a "point of beginning" in a sense that does not include "physical beginning". That selection was the "beginning" of the AbrahamicCovenantalCommitment by God to humanity. In Galatians 3:17 Paul makes Abraham the "forefather" in respect to the "promise" as it was revealed in Genesis 12:1-3.
b) He refers to him as "forefather according to the standard of flesh". This means he is still dealing with the "Jewish" mindset.
c) Abraham, as forefather, in both the Scripture and the minds of the Jews, is an absolutely determinative personality. God revealed him in Scripture to be the man to whom the covenant of the promise was made. The Jews derived their sense of identity and security from their connection to Abraham to the extent that he was, for them, a veritable final authority.
d) Paul knew that if he could establish a doctrinal point that was indisputably Abraham's point of view on a matter, the debate was over. No Jew who wished to be considered "right" in a doctrinal dispute would ignore what the Scriptures said of Abraham's thinking on the matter. God's promise to make Abraham's name "great" is revealed here to include the fact that God had made Abraham the major authority figure in the minds of men. It is not, therefore, a surprise that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all claim Abraham as "father".
2) The use of "to have found" signals the fact that doctrinal understanding is the result of on-going experience that causes one's thinking to develop to the point of establishing a "faith" for the individual involved. No one starts out "thinking correctly" because we all start off in the "Sin" condition and have to be led out of it bit by bit, piecemeal. It is not where we begin that is crucial, but where we end up. Abraham "discovered" truth as he lived and experienced and responded. Paul is asking what his discoveries were in regard to the method of justification and in regard to the meaning of faith.
2. Romans 4:2 raises the spectre of Abraham as a Boaster.
3. Romans 4:3 declares that Scripture presents Abraham as justified by faith.
B. Romans 4:4-5 is Paul's reasoning that works and faith are different as to the character of the result.
1. Romans 4:4 gives the options...grace or debt.
2. Romans 4:5 explains the "grace" option.
C. Romans 4:6-8 is Paul's use of David as a further proof that he believed as Abraham.
1. Romans 4:6 is the claim that David believed in righteousness apart from works.