corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.12.06
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Romans 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

This chapter is a development of the thought expressed in Romans 4:28-29 near the close of Romans 3, that is, the vindication of God's righteousness in calling Jews and Gentiles in one body, that of Christ, with no distinctions between them. Paul followed throughout this chapter the terminology introduced in those verses, calling the Jews "the circumcision" and the Gentiles "the uncircumcision." That such is indeed the subject of this chapter appears in the use of those two words a dozen times in four verses. Of course, reference is also made to the rite of circumcision.

In this chapter, Paul was not discussing the question of how either Jews or Gentiles are justified; and therein is the explanation of why James in his epistle is thought by some to have contradicted Paul. Their arguments touched each other but were concerned with different objectives. James was dealing with justification and Paul with the righteousness of God. Abraham, the example Paul cited to show God's justice in calling the Gentiles, was the possessor of Gentile status himself at the time God called him, in the sense of his having been called prior to the giving of the covenant of circumcision and prior to the giving of the law of Moses. What a beautiful argument. In effect, Abraham, the father of all the Jews (specifically pointed out in the first verse), was himself without those very things (the law, circumcision, etc.) which the Christians of Jewish background were attempting to bind upon Gentile converts to Christianity; that is, Abraham was without all those things "when he was called." The word "when" in Romans 4:10 is the pivot upon which the whole argument was based.

One of the tragic mistakes people have made in the interpretation of this chapter is that of making Abraham to be a type of the alien sinner's conversion. He is no such thing, as will be shown in the notes below.

Regarding the so-called contradiction between the inspired authors, James and Paul, it simply does not exist. Paul wrote of justification "by faith," and James of justification "by works." So what? Justification is obviously by both! It would require a statement by one of them to the effect that salvation is by one or the other "only," in order for there to be a contradiction (this is merely basic English); but of course, neither writer said any such thing; and James went so far as to guard against anyone's ever saying such a thing when he wrote: "Ye see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). The alleged contradiction is thus between human error and the word of God, not between the apostolic authors.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found according to the flesh? (Romans 4:1)

Both the KJV and the English Revised Version (1885) are ambiguous in the translation of this verse; and, despite the fact that various shades of meaning are ably advocated by scholars, one can hardly go wrong, as regards the English meaning of this disputed verse, in accepting the concurrent testimony of reputable versions and translations. This verse, according to Phillips, the New English Bible, and the RSV, means essentially what the RSV has given, namely, "What shall we say then about Abraham our forefather according to the flesh?" The words "hath found according to the flesh" (as in the English Revised Version (1885) version which is used in this commentary) have no clear meaning in English. Therefore, we construe this first verse as a simple introduction of Abraham, father of all the Jews, who was called before either the law or circumcision was given. Paul was arguing that to require Gentile converts to accept the law and circumcision would require what was not even required of Abraham. The Gentiles, at the time Paul wrote, were being called to accept Christianity; and, as far as the law of Moses and the rite of circumcision were concerned, the Gentiles had an equivalent status to that of the Jews themselves in the person of their great ancestor, who had neither the law nor circumcision "at the time God called him." Therefore, it was perfectly right for God to call all the Gentiles without respect to the law or circumcision, the lack of such being no impediment to their call. Also, by the choice of such an example, Paul was making it obviously ridiculous to require Gentile converts to the faith to submit to a system that was not even a prerequisite for the call of Abraham.


Verse 2

For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not toward God.

By works ... is an unfortunate rendition, because the expression seems to take sides in an old controversy, appearing to be antithetical to salvation "by faith only" as advocated by the commentators; and the implicit denial of it here is construed as support of their theory. Nothing like that is here. "Works" simply means the law of Moses, "works of law," the alternate reading (English Revised Version (1885) margin), having no other possible meaning here. James of course said that Abraham was justified by works; but he did not say that he was justified by the works of the law of Moses. James, in making Abraham's justification "by works" (James 2:21), clearly excluded the works of the law of Moses and identified the class of works he had in mind by naming the offering up of Isaac, which was anterior to the law of Moses. Paul was here emphasizing the fact that Abraham was not justified by the law of Moses, a truth that should have been obvious, because the law had not even been given at that time.

Despite Paul's intention in this verse, it has been made the vehicle for some of the wildest theories ever advocated in the history of Christianity, among them being the proposition that Abraham was justified by faith alone without any works whatever. That no inspired writer contradicts another inspired writer is axiomatic. Therefore, Paul's denial in this place that Abraham was justified by works must not be construed as meaning that Abraham was saved without any works whatever, because the holy scriptures affirm that such indeed was not the case. James has this:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar (James 2:21)?

This declaration of James could not possibly be contradictory of Romans 4:2, unless it stated that Abraham was justified by the works of the law of Moses, which, of course, it does not do. Further, James identified the class of works involved in the justification of Abraham as works of faith, not works of Moses' law. For a discussion of various scriptural classification of works, see under Romans 2:6 the article, FAITH AND WORKS.

By works ... in Romans 4:2 means "by works of Moses' law," and so understood is a reasonable, even obvious, declaration that Abraham was not saved by the works of a system not even then in existence. This simple meaning has been distorted by reading "works" in the sense of the stereotyped opposite of "faith only," neither of those concepts being in the Bible, and then by the outlandish, illogical deduction to the effect that in denying one thing, Paul affirmed another! This is the equivalent of saying, "Saturday is NOT Sunday, therefore Friday IS Sunday."

Paul's suggestion here that "if" Abraham had been justified by works of law, he would have had a ground of boasting toward people is a tribute to the majesty and accuracy of Moses' law. By that, Paul had no reference at all to any boasting toward God, for even a perfect fulfillment of Moses' law would have been no grounds for any such boasting as that.

One cannot fail to be astounded at the millions of words people have poured forth on these verses, alleging and affirming in the most positive and extravagant language that people are "saved by faith alone." From whole libraries of teaching to this effect, here is presented a concise statement by Greathouse, for the purpose of showing the logic (?) of such writings. He said:

We have already seen that a "man is justified without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28). It is by faith alone ("sola fide") because it is by grace alone ("sola gratia").[1]

It apparently never entered that author's mind that if justification is by faith "alone," it is not simultaneously by grace also; and if it is by grace "alone" it cannot be by faith also. Faith and grace are not identical; and if one is saved by either of them "alone," the other is excluded. Such is the denotation of the word "alone." What mysterious affliction has seized the minds of so many learned men that they cannot understand the simple answers, that they are blinded to the consequences of adding to God's word such a delimitative as "only" or "alone"; and why is this great Protestant heresy so dear to its advocates as to leave them powerless to grapple with the question objectively and unable to distinguish dream from reality? The theory of salvation by faith alone throws the entire corpus of revelation into a jumble of uncertainty and communicates its devastating implications to every major doctrine of the word of God, as witnessed by these further words of Martin Luther:

Everything is outside us and in Christ ... for God does not want to save us by our own but by an extraneous righteousness which does not originate in ourselves but comes to us from beyond ourselves, which does not arise on our earth but comes from heaven.[2]

Martin Luther's words are profoundly true except for the final words which imply that salvation comes to us, and even that is true, in a sense, but untrue in another. This wonderful righteousness from without and beyond us is indeed from heaven; but it is nevertheless on earth in the sense that the spiritual body of Christ is on earth. All of that righteousness which justifies is "in Christ," being from heaven in the sense that Christ was sent from heaven, but being of earth also, because here, on this very planet, is where Jesus Christ wrought that righteousness, and the mortal beings who make up his spiritual body are of this earth. That spiritual body was planned in heaven; and the great righteousness "in Christ" indeed came from heaven in the sense of its origin and may be said to come to people in the sense of being available to them; but, in the last analysis, the salvation from above does not come to us, we go to it. Christ said, "Come unto me," and not "Just believe, and I will bring it to you"!

[1] William M. Greathouse, Beacon's Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), p. 100.

[2] Ibid.


Verse 3

For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.

This is a quotation from Genesis 15:6, introduced to show that Abraham could not possibly have been justified by the law, because in that reference, such a long while before the law, and even before the covenant of circumcision, Abraham appears in scriptures as already a believer in God, in fact, God's faithful servant, being already reckoned as righteous in God's sight on the basis of obedient faith. The justification of Abraham (God's reckoning him as righteous) was upon exactly the same basis of the justification of Christians, namely, obedient faith. The type of justification he received upon that basis is exactly the kind received by Christians, which is the status of having a covenant relationship with God. The preliminary state of justification, by which one is admitted to the community of God's people on earth and receives remission of past sins, follows the exhibition of an obedient faith; but the actual ground of forgiveness for any sin is in the sacrifice of Christ.

It was reckoned unto him for righteousness ... The faith which God reckoned as righteousness unto Abraham is spelled out at length in scripture; and a little patience will show what it was. For many years previous to God's reckoning righteousness to Abraham and entering into a covenant that in Abraham all the families of the earth should be blessed, Abraham had exhibited an obedient faith in all that God said: (1) God called Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 12:1-3); Abram believed and obeyed, not even knowing whither he went (Hebrews 11:8). (2) When Abram reached Shechem in the land of Canaan, he built an altar and worshipped God (Genesis 12-6,7). (3) Abraham built an altar unto Jehovah and called upon God's name on a mountain between Bethel and Ai (Genesis 12:8). (4) After his journey to Egypt, he returned to that same altar and worshipped God (Genesis 13:3,4). (5) In the encounter with Melchizedek, Abraham appears as a devout and faithful worshiper of God (Genesis 14:14-24). All of these events, and others, show that Abraham's faith was an obedient faith, which is the only kind of faith that can lead to any kind of justification.

In the light of the above, the observation of R. L. Whiteside is fully in harmony with the truth. He said,

One of the strangest things in all the field of Bible exegesis is the contention so generally made that this language (Romans 4:3) refers to the justification of Abraham "as an alien sinner" (italics mine). It seems to be taken for granted that up to the time spoken of in this verse, Abraham was an unforgiven, condemned sinner. ... The facts are all against such a supposition. But what are the facts? For a number of years previous to the promise of Abraham of a son and numerous posterity, Abraham had been a faithful servant of God.[3]SIZE>

That Abraham was already an obedient believer in God when the reckoning of righteousness to him took place is seen in the very verse cited by Paul here (Genesis 15:16). That passage is introduced by God's words to Abraham, "Fear not Abram, I am thy shield and exceeding great reward." This removes all possibility that the justification of that patriarch has anything whatever to do with the justification of an alien sinner. Why? God would not have told an alien sinner that he need not fear and that God was his exceeding great reward. The justification of Abraham in Genesis 15:6 has to be retrospective; and the faith which God counted to Abraham for righteousness was not faith apart from obedience, but faith demonstrated by Abram's prompt and unqualified obedience in all that God commanded, covering a period of many years prior to Genesis 15:6.

ENDNOTE:

[3] R. L. Whiteside, A New Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Saints at Rome (Fort Worth, Texas: The Manney Company, 1945), pp. 89-90.


Verse 4

Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt.

This verse is a simple statement of the truth that if one's hope of salvation is based upon his having kept the law of Moses perfectly, then such a person could claim that God owed him salvation; and it would not be by virtue of God's grace at all in such an event. To be sure, no person could possibly achieve such a thing as perfect fulfillment of the law. No objection can be raised to what Paul here stated. It is what people declare that Paul meant which outrages every careful student of God's word. Some of the false deductions that people have thought they derived from this verse are:

That salvation does not depend upon any human effort.

That there is nothing anyone can do to be saved.

That faith and works are opposites.

That obeying the gospel makes man his own Saviour. Etc.SIZE>

We shall note each of these.

That salvation does not depend upon any human effort. If this were true, all people would be saved; and, if human effort as a precondition of salvation is not involved, why did Jesus teach that many people will be lost (Matthew 7:13,14)? It is a fact that no amount of human effort can earn salvation; but no person with even a casual knowledge of the Bible could possibly have the impression that salvation is unconditionally bestowed upon the entire human race. If so bestowed, it would be universal; but Christ spoke of the narrow gate and the broad way leading to the destruction of many.

That there is nothing anyone can do to be saved. If such is true, what did Peter mean by "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). A multitude of people heard Peter preach the first sermon of the gospel age; and at the end of it, having believed all that Peter preached, and thus having believed in Christ, they cried out, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Wouldn't it have been a wonderful opportunity for Peter to have said, "There is nothing you can do to be saved"? But he said no such thing, but this: "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you" (Acts 2:38).

That faith and works are opposites. On the other hand, they are intimates; and James declared that faith cannot even exist apart from works, except in a barren and dead condition, insufficient to save (James 2:14-26). Faith without works is dead, useless for anything, much less for salvation.

Upon the basis of such considerations, people ought not therefore to impute any teaching to Paul in this place that would make his words say that God will impute righteousness to any person who will not obey him, to the persons who simply do nothing except believe.

That obeying the gospel makes man his own Saviour. This confuses two truths: (1) that when one has done everything that he can, it does not merit salvation, and he is still an unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10); and (2) that obeying the gospel is a condition div4nely imposed and made prerequisite to salvation; all who do not fulfill this condition will be lost (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9); therefore, in a sense, but only in a sense, people will save themselves when they obey the gospel. It is scriptural to speak thus, for Peter did it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:40). In the more exalted sense of actually procuring the discharge of man's sins, Christ alone saves.

We have already seen that Abraham's justification is in no way parallel to the alien sinner's justification; therefore, to the degree that this verse applies in any way to Christians, the thing in view is their continuing justification as members of Christ's body, all Christians standing in continual need of forgiveness, due to the universal inability to live the perfect life. If there is any application of these words to children of God, it must pertain to their status as Christians in covenant relationship .with God (as Abraham the prototype was), their "faith in Christ" being the basis of their continual justification, and not their success, or, as more likely, their failure in keeping all the holy commandments. In no sense whatever can these words of Paul refer to the alien sinner's becoming a Christian; but, of course, that is precisely the application so often made.


Verse 5

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.

Worketh not ... is a reference to one who rests from any thought that he could merit salvation by keeping the law of Moses. It is not a reference to one who will not obey the gospel of Christ.

Believeth on him that justifieth ... is a reference to obedient faith, the kind exemplified by Abraham and discussed at length under Romans 4:3; the fact of obedience not being mentioned is not significant, "believeth" being another example of the synecdoche, in which one of a related group of actions stands for all of them. What is significant is the omission of "only" or "alone" as a qualifier.

Worketh ... worketh not ... in this verse and Romans 4:4, are terms Paul used to describe "keeping the law perfectly," and "resting from the notion that any such thing is possible." Neither of these terms has any reference to obeying the gospel, and the primary steps of obedience such as repentance and baptism. To understand Paul's teaching, a comparison with James 2 is necessary. Paul was affirming that works cannot justify apart from faith in Jesus Christ; and James was stressing that faith in Jesus Christ cannot save without works. To fail to believe, to exclude either faith, or the work of faith, is to fail of justification. Both James and Paul referred to the example of Abraham to corroborate their teaching. Paul pointed out that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law but by faith. James pointed out that Abraham was not justified by faith only but by the work of faith, a far different thing from works of the law; and the teachings of those two inspired writers harmonize perfectly, as a careful attention to what they REALLY wrote easily shows.

A study of the kinds of works mentioned in the scriptures was made under Romans 2:6; but the two different classes of works mentioned by Paul and James, to the effect that Abraham was "not justified by works" and "was justified by works" are more plainly separated thus: the forms and ceremonies of the law of Moses are the works of which Paul said a man is not justified by doing them; and the conditions of salvation given through Jesus Christ and the apostles constitute "the work of faith" (2 Thessalonians 1:3), concerning which James said a man is justified by them and not by faith only.

To him that worketh not ... is thus a reference to that person who knows that he is not capable of living a life of sufficient holiness to merit eternal life, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ; but who believes in Christ, obeys the gospel, his faith "in Christ" (faith manifested as a member of Christ's body) thereupon being accounted to him as righteousness.

A great deal of the exegesis on this chapter is devoted to a single end, that of removing Christian baptism as a valid precondition of redemption in Christ. The sacred ordinance is belittled and set at naught on the grounds that it is a work of human righteousness, in no way related to salvation. Of course, baptism is, in one sense, a work of faith, a thing commanded by the Head of our holy religion; but in another sense, it is a work of Christ himself. Jesus "made and baptized more disciples than John" (John 4:1); and yet the same passage reveals that it was not Jesus, but his disciples, who were physically baptizing people. The same is true today; Christ baptizes those persons who faithfully submit to the ordinance, even though the physical administration of the ordinance is accomplished by other disciples of the Lord. Thus, any notion that baptism is purely a work of human righteousness is false.

Strangely, some who would make a sinner's baptism to be "works," and thus exclude it as a precondition of salvation, are strong to insist that faith is not "works" and the sole condition of salvation; but faith itself is a work of faith, in exactly the same sense as baptism. No less a scholar than Charles Hodge pointed that out. He wrote:

But faith considered as an act, is as much a work as prayer, repentance, almsgiving, or anything of the kind. And it is as much an act of obedience to the law, as the performance of any other duty.[4]

Therefore, if obeying the gospel and being baptized should be classed as "works" in any derogatory sense, then the same thing applies to faith, Christ himself making it a "work." He said, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29). Thus, of both baptism and faith, the scriptures teach that they are "works" in the sense of being things people must do in order to be saved; and both are, in a higher sense, "the work of God," having originated with God and being commanded of him. Faith and baptism are, therefore, absolute coordinates, a fact that made it possible for Jesus to say, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). All of the apostles so recognized them, as in Hebrews, where faith and baptism are named together as coordinates, each of them being a part of the foundation doctrine of Christianity (Hebrews 6:1-3). In the light of truth, it seems incredible that people should seriously advocate the possibility of being saved by faith only.

Of all the preconditions of entering a covenant relationship with God, these being faith, repentance, confession, baptism (obedience to these conditions bringing the believer into Christ), baptism is less of a work than any of the others. Lipscomb discoursed on that, as follows:

Baptism has fewer of the qualities of a work than either faith or repentance. Faith is an act of the heart, the soul, the inner man - something the man does. It is a work. ... So of repentance. "Believe" and "repent" are both active - both done by the subject. The person baptized gives himself up into the hands of the administrator, and is buried out of self, to be raised up in Christ, and, as a servant of God, to "walk in the light as he is in the light" (1 John 1:7). When a man dies, and his friends take his body and bury it, no one would call it a work of the man buried. This is the true type of him who is baptized. Baptism is a work of God performed upon the man baptized through God's servant to bring him dead in trespasses and sins into the state of life with God. The life is imparted through faith, turns from sin in repentance, and puts off the body of sin in baptism.[5]

Further attention to the position of this sacred ordinance in God's scheme of redemption will be given in Romans 6; but here it may be noted that one of the best examples shedding light on this question is that of the man born blind, who was commanded by Jesus to "Go wash in the pool of Siloam" (John 9:7). The blind man obeyed, receiving his eyesight in his act of obedience; and it may be viewed as certain that if he had refused or neglected to obey Jesus' command, he would have died as blind as he was born. The blind man received his eyesight in the pool, but there was no efficacy in the water; and in exactly the same manner, the believer receives forgiveness of sins in his act of being baptized, with no efficacy whatever attributed to the water. Salvation from alien sins is promised upon the word of Jesus thirst in the New Testament thus: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), instructions that are as simple as "Go wash in the pool of Siloam"; why should people have any trouble understanding either? Why all the allegations of people who should know better that if one accepts the Lord's proposition, he is thereby nullifying salvation by faith? Why all the arrogant assertions that "water cannot save anyone"? There has positively not been anyone born in the current century so stupid as to believe that water washes away sins, or that water saves anybody. If it can be understood that the blind man was given his sight in the pool, with the water having nothing to do with it, it should also be as easily understood that the sinner is saved in the baptismal font, not by the water, but by Jesus Christ our Lord. Such a view as this is the only interpretation that harmonizes with what the scriptures say of Paul's own baptism. The inspired preacher, Ananias, spoke to Paul thus:

"Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

Also, the blind man did not "earn" his eyesight, any more than the baptized believer "earns" salvation by being baptized.

[4] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 109.

[5] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1969), p. 82.


Verse 6

Even as David also pronounce the blessing upon the man, unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.

Having already shown that Abraham was justified by an obedient faith in God, rather than by perfect fulfillment of a law not even then in existence, Paul next introduced David's remarkable pronouncement, with apparent emphasis on the fact that David spoke of justification as something imputed or reckoned, rather than as something earned or merited. The terms translated "iniquities," "sins" and "sin" are said by Lenski to regard three characteristics of sin, namely, "rebellion," "missing the mark" and "turning deliberately aside."[6] Nothing in David's statement (Psalms 32:1) suggests any basis of justification; and, therefore, the point of Paul's bringing this scripture forward lies in the fact that it refutes, by implication, the thought that anyone ever earned salvation. David's thoughts on justification show that not even the Jews had earned redemption, and this carried the implication that the Gentiles were as entitled to be saved as the Jews. But the Jew might have replied, "Oh yes, but we are circumcised." Paul then proceeded to deal with that. It will be noted that the classical diatribe method of discourse was used by Paul throughout.

ENDNOTE:

[6] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), p. 296.


Verse 9

Is this blessing then pronounced upon the circumcision, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say, To Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness. How then was it reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

Paul here dealt with the last stronghold of Jewish objection to Gentile admission to Christianity, an objection not offered by unbelieving Jews, for they did not care, but by the Jews who had accepted the faith of Christ but were insisting on a continuation of the rite of circumcision, not only for themselves but also for Gentile converts. It has already been noted that the Jews attributed near-miraculous powers to that rite, their learned teachers declaring unequivocally that no circumcised person would ever be in hell. But Paul here showed that Abraham was justified a full thirteen years before that rite was given. The evident deduction intended by Paul was that, since Abraham was justified so long before circumcision was ever commanded, it is not illogical to expect that the uncircumcised (Gentiles) should also partake of God's salvation in Christ. Thus, Abraham was truly the father of the faithful, Jews and Gentiles alike, circumcised or uncircumcised.

When ... is the big word in these verses, the time of Abraham's justification being the entire basis of Paul's reasoning to the effect that Gentile converts should not be subjected either to Moses' law or the rite of circumcision, the logic of thus relaxing such requirements being in the fact of Abraham's justification before either was in existence. This thought is the overriding consideration throughout this chapter. Such an extraneous thing as how an alien sinner is converted does not enter the consideration here in any manner.


Verse 11

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness which he had while he was in uncircumcision: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them.

Abraham's prior justification before either the law or circumcision is the logical reason advanced by Paul to prove that Gentiles could be admitted to the faith of Jesus Christ without regard to circumcision or Moses' law. The great promise of salvation was made to Abraham. The blessing to "all the families of the earth" was promised in his seed, that is, "in Christ" (Galatians 3:16). But the Jew had so glorified Moses' law and the rite of circumcision that they unconsciously, but erroneously, identified both with Abraham. Paul was at great pains to explain that law and circumcision had absolutely nothing to do with the great promise of salvation to all the seed of Abraham, which the Jews had mistakenly supposed to be themselves only. Paul wrote:

Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many (reference to the Jewish nation); but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

The great error of the Jews was therefore in misunderstanding the number of the noun "seed" in the great promise to Abraham; it was singular, and they thought it was plural! It pays to find out exactly what God said.

What about the law of Moses, and its alleged connection with the promises to Abraham's seed "in Christ"? Paul continued:

A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect (Galatians 3:17).

Of what value, then, was the law; and why did God give it? Paul answered thus:

It was added because of transgression, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made (Galatians 3:19).

Thus the law of Moses expired by limitation when Christ came. The law was given only "till the seed should come"; and, therefore, salvation "in Christ" bypasses the law of Moses completely.

The very identification of Abraham's seed (in the plural sense) also bypasses the law of Moses, Abraham's children being, not those of fleshly descent, but those redeemed "in Christ," as Paul explained in another place:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:27-29).

The father of all them that believe ... shows that all of the saved are children of Abraham, both Jews and Gentiles called here circumcision and uncircumcision. We have now dwelt at length upon the great deduction which Paul himself made from what he wrote; and, as shown above, it harmonizes perfectly with what he also wrote to the Galatians. Another alleged deduction made from Paul's writings in this chapter is in no wise apostolic, but human and diabolical, being this: that since Abraham was justified by faith only, so are the Gentiles. It has already been outlined here that Paul was not teaching that Abraham was justified by faith only, but by faith without the law of Moses and the rite of circumcision. The faith that saved Abraham, the great patriarch, was an obedient faith. See under Romans 4:3. Therefore, it is only by a disregard of what the word of the Lord says that one might receive such a proposition as this:

All Paul had to say about circumcision he would say equally about baptism.[7]

There are, of course, certain resemblances between baptism and circumcision; but the differences are extensive: (1) Circumcision did not bring the Jew into covenant relationship with Christ. A person born in the fleshly line was per se, of the children of Abraham; but Christians are of the seed of Abraham only if they have been baptized. See quotations from Galatians, above. R. L. Whiteside has this:

Every child of Jewish parentage was a member of that covenant by virtue of descent from Abraham. "And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:14). It could not be said that a person broke the covenant by not being circumcised, if he were not in the covenant.[8]

(2) Baptism is "unto the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), but circumcision was never anything like that. (3) At the time Abraham was justified without circumcision, the rite did not even exist, but came thirteen years later. Therefore: Abraham's justification without performing a rite he had never heard of, is a false parallel to a Christian's alleged justification without baptism, a rite which he HAS heard of, and to which he is commanded to submit by none other than Christ himself. Therefore, any suggestion that Paul here laid down a doctrine of justification without baptism must be rejected as utterly beyond the perimeter of anything in Romans, or in the whole New Testament.

What, then, did Paul mean? Macknight explained it thus:

To this example, the apostle appealed with great propriety ... because Abraham, being the father of believers, his justification is the pattern of theirs. Wherefore, if circumcision contributed nothing to Abraham's justification, the Jews could not hope to be justified thereby, nor by the other rites of the law; and were much to blame in pressing those rites on the Gentiles as necessary to their salvation, and in consigning all to damnation who were out of the pale of the Jewish church.[9]

It is absolutely clear that Paul was dealing with a perplexing problem that persisted in the apostolic age, and that was the efforts of Christians of Jewish background to graft circumcision and law-keeping onto the coat-tails of Christianity. It was with that problem that Paul dealt in this chapter; and justification by faith ONLY is nowhere in it. For such to be in it, there would have had to be a statement that Abraham was justified by faith ONLY. Where is it?

(4) A fourth distinctive difference between baptism and circumcision is in the initiative performing the rites. Circumcision was performed upon babies of eight days in age, without either their knowledge or consent; whereas baptism is never scripturally administered except upon one who is of accountable age, believes with all of his heart in Christ, confesses his faith, repents of his sins, and presents himself as a candidate for the administration of the ordinance of God, the initiative for his baptism thus coming from the believer himself, and not from the administrator, or anyone else. This is especially clear in Peter's wording of the first commandment on this subject ever announced in the current dispensation. He said,

Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins (Acts 2:38).

A reference to Vine's Greek Dictionary will show that the words rendered "be baptized every one of you" stand thus in the Greek: "have yourselves baptized." The scriptural teaching on baptism thus refutes the misconception, as advocated by Hodge, to the effect that:

This (circumcision) is the broad and enduring base of infant church membership.[10]

Circumcision was both the sign and the seal of the ancient covenant, as here stated by Paul; but the revelation of a completely new system of redemption in Christ made circumcision obsolete, a fact that Paul did not state dogmatically in this place, out of deference to the feelings of his Jewish countrymen; but he implied it here, and did not hesitate to state his position dogmatically upon any occasion when the Judaizers sought to bind it upon Gentiles, as in any way pertinent to their salvation (Galatians 5:2).

[7] Wm. M. Greathouse, op. cit., p. 103.

[8] R. L. Whiteside, op. cit., p. 100.

[9] James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 73.

[10] Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 117.


Verse 12

And the father of circumcision to them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision.

Who also walk after the steps of that faith of our father Abraham ... These words mean "who have an obedient faith like Abraham." Abrahamic faith was not any such thing as faith ONLY, but it was a faith that walked after God's commandments, as pointed out under Romans 4:3; and Gentiles (or others) who would participate in the promise of salvation God gave through Abraham are here identified as those who "walk" in the steps of that faith, which is a way of saying they must have an obedient faith as did Abraham. Some of the so-called translations and modern speech renditions of the New Testament have butchered this verse by eliminating all reference to obedience.

For Abraham found favor with God by faith alone, before he was circumcised (The Living Word New Testament, paraphrased).

For those who have the faith of Abraham (NEB).

Because they live the same life of faith (The New Testament in Today's English). Etc.SIZE>

The word "walk" or "tread" is in the Greek New Testament, and it should be in all valid translations of the word of God; but that expression is so obviously a reference to obedience that it cannot fit into the theories of salvation by faith alone; and the conviction persists that this fact influenced some of the so-called translations. It is admitted by all that Christians are saved by the same kind of faith Abraham had, before circumcision and the law; and a further study of the steps of Abraham's faith will reveal that obedience was coupled with it, and that it was by obedient faith that Abraham was justified.

THE STEPS OF ABRAHAM'S FAITH

Now the Lord said unto Abram, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing (Genesis 12:1,2).

There are discernible three things in the steps of Abraham's faith, these being: (1) leave something, (2) enter something, and (3) become something. The same essential steps of that faith must be followed today by those who would be saved.

1. Leave something. What a sorrow must have swept over Abraham's heart as he turned his back for the last time upon the battlements of Ur! Walter Scott caught something of the mystic charm which lies for every man in the scenes of his nativity.

Breathes there the man with soul so dead Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land, Whose heart has never in him burned As home his footsteps he has turned From wandering on a foreign strand?[11]

How fond and tender must have been the farewells of Abraham as he kissed his loved ones goodbye forever, placed his life in the care of God, and set his face toward an unknown destination!

Abraham did not shrink from leaving all behind. He obeyed God. If he had not done so, God would have chosen another for the office to which he called Abraham. It is the same with all who would walk in the steps of that faith now. Those who would follow the Lord are commanded to "leave all" that they have (Luke 14:33), and to subordinate the love of father, mother, brother, sister, son, or daughter (Matthew 10:37), and to follow Christ even unto death (Revelation 2:10). James and John left their nets and Zebedee their father; Paul left the honor of the Sanhedrin; they "left all and followed" Christ (Mark 10:28). Likewise, people today must forsake the dead past, leave all their yesterdays, and follow the Lord. For people who have never left anything, who never intend to leave anything, not even their sins, and who stubbornly remain in the world, accepting utterly the world's value judgments, wallowing in its excesses, and being fully identified with the world for such people to think that they have the faith of Abraham is blindness.

2. Enter something. God spoke to Abram of a "land that I will show thee," and God's plan called for him to enter that land. Did Abraham obey? Let the word of the Lord reply:

By faith Abraham when he was called to go out into a place which he would afterwards receive as an inheritance, OBEYED, and he went out not knowing whither he went (Hebrews 11:8).

And did Abraham actually enter that land? Let God's word answer:

And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came (Genesis 12:5).

And what if Abraham had demurred, had decided that he could believe ONLY, without obeying, and returned home? The obvious deduction thunders in the mind that contemplates such questions as these.

For those who will walk in the steps of Abraham's faith, there is something for every man to enter, no less than there was for Abraham. All who aspire to walk after the steps of Abraham's faith must enter into the rest which is in Christ.

For we who have believed do enter into that rest (Hebrews 4:3).

They must enter into the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of the Son of his love. Failure to enter the kingdom is forfeiture of eternal life. The verse cited above from Hebrews shows who may enter, "we who have believed"; and Christ himself explained how the entering is accomplished:

Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).

Entering the kingdom is equivalent to entering Christ, in whom is "every spiritual blessing" (Ephesians 1:3); and the scriptures repeatedly affirm that one is baptized "into Christ" (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27).

But, what of him who fancies that he is walking in the steps of Abraham's faith while neglecting or refusing baptism, thus refusing to enter the kingdom? Abraham ENTERED! Have we?

3. Become something. Implicit in all God's plans for people is the heavenly intention that they shall not merely do certain things, but that they may become a blessing. God said to Abraham, "Thou shalt become a blessing." Likewise, the person walking in the steps of that faith of Abraham will have a lot of "becoming" to do. He is to become the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). He is to become heir of all things, "joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). He is to become a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20,21). He is to become a messenger, bearing the good news to all people: "Go preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15,16). He is to become an example of the believers, "in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). Abraham became a blessing; those who walk in the steps of his faith will do likewise.

By way of summary, to walk in the steps of Abraham's faith is to believe in the Lord Jesus with all the heart, repent of transgressions, obey his everlasting gospel by being baptized "into Christ" for the remission of sins, thus entering the kingdom of light and leaving the kingdom of darkness, receiving also, at last, the crown of life that fadeth not away. Anything less than this is not walking in the steps of Abraham's faith.

ENDNOTE:

[11] Sir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel.


Verse 13

For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith.

The law ... is here a reference to Moses' law; but, since that was the best ever given, it includes, by extension, every other kind of legal system.

The promise ... is the new element under consideration in this verse. Previously, in this chapter, Paul had shown that Abraham's righteousness had been reckoned unto him upon the basis of an obedient faith, prior to the giving of the law, and that even circumcision was only a seal of the righteousness that he already had; and here Paul showed that the great promise to Abraham, defined as "the promise ... that he should be the heir of the world," was given by God to Abraham long before the law of Moses (Genesis 12:1-5), thus being "not through the law." There being no Old Testament report of God's promise to Abraham in words like these, "the promise," as here stated, means all of the spiritual blessings that were to come eventually through the Messiah and his heavenly kingdom. Murray's perceptive words regarding this are:

We cannot exclude from the scope of this promise, as defined by the apostle, the most inclusive messianic purport. It is defined as the promise to Abraham that HE should he the heir of the world, but it is also a promise to his seed and, therefore, can hardly involve anything less than the worldwide dominion promised to Christ and to the spiritual seed of Abraham in him. It is a promise that receives its ultimate fulfillment in the consummated order of the new heavens and the new earth.[12]

The word "seed," as it is used of Abraham, has four distinct meanings. In the singular, it means Christ (Galatians 3:16); in the literal plural it means all the fleshly descendants of Abraham, those through Keturah and Hagar, as well as through Sarah; in the legal plural, it refers to the Jews, those who possessed the law of Moses; in the spiritual plural, it refers to baptized believers in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:27-29); and, in the extended spiritual plural, it refers to all of the redeemed under both the old and new covenants.

ENDNOTE:

[12] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), 1p. 142.


Verse 14

For if they that are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect: for the law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression.

This is a continuation of the reasoning of the previous verse. The worldwide inheritance promised to Abraham was destined to be fulfilled in the singular seed, Jesus Christ, as indicated in Psalms 2:7,8 and Hebrews 1:2. Whiteside noted:

This promise of worldwide inheritance was not made to Abraham through the righteousness of the law, but through the righteousness of faith. Paul had shown the Judaizing teachers that Abraham was not righteous by law, but by faith. Now he shows briefly that the promise of the Messiah was through the righteousness of faith, and not through the righteousness of law.[13]

They that are of the law ... refers to persons who desired to be justified by keeping the Mosaic covenant, and more, wanted to bind it on the Gentiles as well. If keeping the law of Moses was the means of becoming heirs of God's promise, faith as a basis for it was voided. If the promise was merely to those who kept the law, the promise was ineffective, because no one ever did or ever could keep the law.

The law worketh wrath ... is but another way of saying that all anyone ever got out of keeping the law of Moses was condemnation, due to violation of it. The statement that there is no transgression where there is no law is an inverted way of saying that the only way to avoid human transgression (with its consequent condemnation) would be through having no law at all. Of course, this does not imply that there ever was a people who had no law. Also, Paul had already concluded Jews and Gentiles alike under sin.

ENDNOTE:

[13] R. L. Whiteside, op. cit., p. 104.


Verse 16

For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

For four definitions of "seed," see under Romans 4:13. If only the literal seed of Abraham were to be heirs, and only the legal portion of that, called the legal seed, the spiritual seed would be disinherited.

According to grace ... The most basic thing of all, regarding the salvation which Almighty God has provided for his erring human children, is the fact of its derivation, in the last analysis, from the unmerited favor bestowed upon them by the heavenly Father. Look: when the angels sinned, no salvation was provided for them; and God certainly did not owe salvation to people; and it was contrary to all precedent that any was provided. The fact that people, as such, cannot merit this generous treatment at the hands of God is absolutely axiomatic. Of course, they cannot. Therefore, what an incongruous thing it would have been if the blessed Messiah himself should have been through such a device as the law of Moses, especially since that law was only a temporary device anyway, and applied to a tiny fraction of earth's populations, and not even they kept it! Therefore the promise was made to Abraham upon the premise of his obedient faith, a faith which God repeatedly tested and proved, even to the extent of requiring the offering up of Isaac. Abraham obeyed! Abraham's obedience is not emphasized in this chapter, although stated clearly enough; but it is most certainly a part of the total picture. The reason that Paul did not stress obedience here lies in the fact that even Abraham's obedience was not perfect, as, for example, in the matter of taking Terah with him; therefore, his obedience in any perfect sense could not have been made the ground of God's promise; but his obedience was indeed sufficient to exhibit and prove his faith. Despite that, Paul was correct in leaving obedience in the background in this chapter. That obedience was not excluded from the definition of Abraham's faith as the ground of his justification is implicit in two things: (1) Paul did not say that it was Abraham's faith alone. The commentators certainly have no trouble finding that word, their exegesis being filled with it from one end to the other, which only points up the significance of the fact that never, not even once, did Paul use such an expression as "faith only" or "faith alone." We are absolutely safe, therefore, in the conviction that Paul designedly avoided such, and it is equally certain that the quality of Abraham's obedience entered into and formed a part of the consideration on God's part when Abraham was selected to be the "father of the faithful." (2) The second consideration is this: The obedient nature of Abraham's faith appears in the twelfth verse where those who shall inherit are described as those who will "walk in the steps of" Abraham's faith, the same being an inspired statement that would have been impossible to make without considering the "faith" so frequently mentioned in this chapter to have been an "obedient faith."

(The seed) ... which is the law ... is a reference to those faithful Jews who believed God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, such as Zacharias, and countless others of the old institution, who also are part of the extended spiritual seed which includes many nations, peoples, and tongues. Paul was careful to make it plain that no Israelite was excluded from the promise; for they also would inherit through obedient faith.


Verse 17

(As it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, even God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were.

Upon the occasion of God's making the land covenant, sealed by circumcision, with Abraham, God made mention of another covenant previously made with Abraham, and used the past tense to show that the previous covenant had nothing to do with the covenant of land and circumcision about to be made. Paul's introduction of the quotation from Genesis 17:5, included in parenthesis in this verse, and especially God's use of the past tense, "have I made thee," proves that the previous covenant was distinct from the land covenant about to be made in the immediate future, and also indicated that the previous covenant (the great promise) was fulfilled by ,Christ the Saviour of the world.

The law of Moses, which the Judaizing teachers were so zealously seeking to fasten upon Gentile Christians, has nothing to do with the promise, or covenant, to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations.[14]

The last two clauses of this verse refer to Isaac's being born to Abraham and Sarah, contrary to nature, when both the parents were of advanced age, and "as good as dead" (Hebrews 11:12).

A father of many nations have I made thee ... At the time God said these words to Abraham, the birth of Isaac was still far in the future, and those "many nations" existed only as a promise of God; but God had promised them and, therefore, did not hesitate to speak of them as already born. This is prophetic tense, in which God speaks of the future as though it were past, and in which, also, God's prophets, speaking in his name, foretell future events.

ENDNOTE:

[14] Ibid., p. 106.


Verse 18

Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken.

Paul in these words was showing the quality of Abraham's faith, which consisted in this, that he truly believed God, even though God's words were contrary to all natural and human expectations. Abraham was old, and Sarah's womb was dead, but he believed God, believing that, indeed, he would become the father of many nations. This quality of believing in "things not seen as yet" was made the theme of the entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews; from which it is to be concluded that genuine faith accepts what God has said, no matter what considerations of human wisdom and experience seem to nullify it. Such is Abrahamic faith.

So shall thy seed be ... is a quotation from Genesis 15:5, where is recorded God's commandment for Abraham to number the stars, saying, "So shall thy seed be." Brunner's definition of true faith is thus:

The existence of faith in God's promise is completely clear only where God's promise runs counter to human expectation and calculation. Whether one really relies on God's word alone becomes manifest only where God's word is not supported by any rational basis, but where, on the contrary, it is opposed to what one must consider probable on the basis of reason.[15]

Of course, Abraham truly had such faith.

ENDNOTE:

[15] Emil Brunner, The Letter to the Romans (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1959), p. 37.


Verse 19

And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

These three verses are a restatement in depth of what Paul had already written in Romans 4:18, and are a further elaboration of Abraham's remarkable faith, wherein he believed God, contrary to every earthly consideration against it, and did surely receive the fulfillment of all that God had promised.

Giving glory to God ... is further enlightenment upon the spiritual attitude of the great patriarch. Since the thesis of Paul's discourse in this chapter dealt with the fact that God accepted Abraham's faith for righteousness, it was absolutely imperative that the nature of that faith should be made perfectly clear. It was a faith that staggered at absolutely nothing that God either promised or commanded. It has been noted repeatedly that it was an obedient faith, an obedience that went even as far as offering his son Isaac upon the altar, the very son through whom the promise of many nations had been prophesied; and that was only the culmination of a long series of tests and demonstrations of Abraham's faith, beginning with his obedient response to God's call to leave Ur, his kindred, and his father's house. Theologians who speak of the great patriarch's faith as "faith only" have apparently not taken into account the biblical record of just what that faith actually was. It has already been noted, but attention is again directed to the fact that Paul's lack of emphasis on obedience in this chapter stemmed from the imperfect nature of Abraham's obedience. Abraham, in the response to God's call, took, Terah and Lot with him; and those loved ones should have been left behind. Despite certain lapses, however, the faith of Abraham could never be called disobedient, or non-obedient. The so-called "faith" of people who refuse baptism and spurn membership in the church, and then claim that they are being saved according to the "faith of Abraham," is actually without anything that even remotely resembles the faith of Abraham.


Verse 22

Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.

Wherefore also ... gives the reason why Abraham's faith was reckoned unto him for righteousness, the reason being that Abraham truly believed, despite all human considerations to the contrary, the reality of which was not merely assumed upon Abraham's assertion that he believed, but which was proved by a long and exhaustive series of tests, beginning with the call to leave Ur and reaching the climax in the offering of Isaac. Though Abraham's obedience was not perfect, it was quite good enough to prove his faith. His obedience of every command, though not perfect, was practically sufficient. That obedience was the only ground upon which even God evaluated the faith of Abraham is implicit in the following:

And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven, and said ... Lay not thine hand upon the lad; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (Genesis 22:11,12).

The inspired author James categorically stated that the justification of Abraham occurred "WHEN he brought up Isaac his son to the altar" (James 2:21).[16] Paul revealed that Abraham's faith justified him, without saying when; but James pinpointed the time. His faith justified him at that point in time when it was proved to be genuine, and that was in the instance of offering up Isaac. God said, "Now I know"; and this is fully equivalent to saying, "Before this, I did not know"!

ENDNOTE:

[16] From the Emphatic Diaglot.


Verse 23

Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned unto him; but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.

Who believe on him that raised Jesus ... These words focus upon a point of similarity in the faith of Abraham, and that of Christians. One great mark of identity between his faith and ours is in the fact that only an obedient faith avails, or availed, either for Abraham or Christians; but, in these verses, attention centers upon what he believed, and the similarity of it to what Christians believe. Abraham believed in God's power to raise the dead, a faith which was manifested in the offering of Isaac; Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead: (1) that God raised Christ from the dead; (2) that all shall at last be raised from the dead by Christ (John 5:28,29), and, in the spiritual sense; (3) that all who hear Christ's voice and obey him shall be raised from the deadness of trespasses and sins (John 5:25). In Romans 4:17 Paul specifically mentioned, "God, who giveth life to the dead," as a conspicuous aspect of Abraham's faith. Another similarity between Abrahamic and Christian faith lies in the manner of regarding the "seed," Christ, Abraham truly believing that he would in time appear ("Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad (John 8:56)), and Christians truly believing that he indeed did appear in his first advent, and also that the Christ shall appear the second time to judge the world.

Who delivered us from our trespasses ... It is not mere faith on the part of Christians that Jesus Christ lived, but also that he is the sin-bearer, that he is the propitiation for sin, that in him alone is the righteous ground for the plenary discharge of all human transgression - it is faith in Christ as "my Redeemer" that marks the genuine faith. Inherent in this is the conviction that Christ died for us, while we were yet in our sins.

And was raised for our justification ... The final two verses of this chapter bring the reader's mind to rest upon Christ as man's only Saviour, with special emphasis upon his death and resurrection. Moreover, the oneness of all the faithful of all ages, as they shall at last be summed up in Christ, appears here. As Brunner noted:

Only in Christ Jesus does that inheritance in which Abraham believed become a reality; for only through him, by his atoning death and victory over death and the grave, are all nations included in the history of redemption that began with Abraham and the setting apart of Israel. And only the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which is the center of the message about Christ, makes manifest the meaning of God creating life out of death. What Abraham experienced was indeed a beginning, but yet only a beginning, of what Christ's Community experiences in the realization of the divine promise of inheritance.[17]

Paul's mention of both the death and resurrection of Christ in these verses shows how intimately the two are joined to form the solid ground of human forgiveness and justification. The introduction of such essential elements of the Christian gospel into this resume of Abrahamic faith shows the intimate connection between them, and that the New Testament answers to the Old Testament as antitype to type. All that is in the Old Testament points beyond itself and contains the seed that comes to flower in the New Testament. All that happened to the Jewish fathers happened unto them "for our example" (1 Corinthians 10:11); and all the shadows and prefigurations of the old covenant are now fulfilled in the new institution, which is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this great chapter, the relationship between the faith of Abraham and that of Christians was brought forward by the apostle Paul, the great design of his doing so being that he might prove that Gentiles were just as entitled to salvation as Jews, and that God's eternal, intrinsic righteousness was in no way compromised by the calling of the Gentiles. Abraham was definitely not presented in this chapter as an example of how alien sinners accept the gospel of Christ. True, Abraham's faith was exactly like that of Christians in the matter of its being an obedient faith; but the tests God required of Abraham were utterly different from the tests required of sinners who would become Christians, therefore, what Abraham did to prove his faith before God cannot stand in any manner as an indication of what people must do now to prove their faith in God's sight. The very thought that God would have required proof of Abraham's faith, and that now a sinner's mere assertion of it is enough, is illogical. The force of Paul's stressing the fact that Abraham was justified "apart from works" of the law of Moses (Romans 4:6), and apart from "circumcision" (Romans 4:10), was not for the purpose of showing that Abraham's justifying faith was accepted by God, without any tests at all, but that the law and circumcision were not the tests, the logic of Paul's argument appearing from the fact that certain Christians of Jewish origin were intent upon making God's testing of faith to include both law and circumcision.

ENDNOTE:

[17] Emil Brunner, op. cit., p. 39.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/romans-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology