Why does Paul use Abraham as part of his logic in Romans 3-4? Bruce says that Paul is showing how the “righteousness of God apart from law” is attested by the law and prophets — Abraham’s story is Paul’s first example. In Rom 4, says Bruce, “Paul undertakes to show” how the gospel is in the OT “principally from the story of Abraham, with a side-glance at the experience of David.” Elsewhere Bruce also notes that the by the “principle of faith…the Old Testament Scriptures are fulfilled.”
“The statement that Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness does not apply to Abraham alone; the principle which it enshrines holds good for all believers…in God as He is revealed in the gospel — the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus had been delivered up to death because of his people’s sins; but God raised Him up to procure their justification” (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963], 102, 110, 114).
Tom Wright flatly disagrees. “Many have read chapter 3 as though it were simply about how individual sinners are justified by grace through faith, without references to God’s promises to Israel, to the covenant, and to ‘justification’ as God’s declaration that the believer is now part of the covenant family…” In other words, Wright is pushing us towards ecclesiology and away from soteriology. For Wright, it is not about justification and eternal salvation, as Bruce sets forth, but justification and covenant membership.
Why then would Paul talk about Abraham in chapter 4? Some suggest, says Wright, “that Paul simply wants to back up what he’s said with a scriptural text, to show that this new doctrine really does ‘fulfill the law’ in the sense of being prophesied in scripture. Others again suggest that Paul is simply giving an example from the Bible of someone who was justified by faith. All of these are ways of not taking seriously Paul’s larger world of thought” (Tom Wright, Paul For Everyone [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], 65).
Note how these things that Wright completely opposes and dismisses are at the center of what Bruce is arguing for. In Wright’s own terms, Bruce is “not taking seriously Paul’s larger world of thought.”
F.F. Bruce and N.T. Wright are “large worlds” apart when it comes to interpreting Paul.