Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα;

I have seen this phrase from Romans 4.1 translated three ways:

(1) What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? (NASB)

(2) What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather has found according to the flesh? (NASB, fn)

(3) What shall we say then? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh? (N.T. Wright, Richard Hays)

Father Abraham (click for source)

Each translation impacts the rest of the passage quite differently.

If we translate it as (1) or (2) the question is about Abraham and what he found. If we translate it was (3) it is about what “we” (Paul and his readers) have found.

If we translate it as (1) Abraham, our forefather, has found that if he was justified by works he would have something about which he could boast, but he was justified by faith.

If we translate it as (2) the meaning is similar but Abraham is not said to be “our” forefather according to the flesh. Rather, what he found was “according to the flesh.” How should we interpret κατὰ σάρκα in this situation? Did he find through his flesh that if he was justified by works he would have something about which he could boast, but that he was justified by faith instead? If he did this “through the flesh” what does this mean?

If we translate it as (3)–something I have seen proposed by N.T. Wright and Richard Hays–then the question for Paul and his readers is whether or not Abraham was their forefather “according to the flesh.” The rhetorical answer seems to be “no” because Abraham was not justified by his works, but by faith, and this informs Paul’s discussion on circumcision and uncircumcision in vv. 9-15.

Do you have an opinion on what translation makes sense? If so, I’d like to hear your reasons.

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