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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

Romans 4

Verses 1-2

Vv. 1, 2. “ What shall we say then that Abraham our first father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not in relation to God.

The question with which this exposition opens is connected with the preceding by then, because the negative answer anticipated is a logically necessary consequence of the demonstration given Romans 3:27-31. The particular case of Abraham is subordinate to the general principle which has just been established.

It is not proper to divide this verse, as some have done, into two questions: “What shall we say? That Abraham has found [something] according to the flesh?” For then it would be necessary to understand an object to the verb has found, righteousness, for example, which is extremely forced. Or it would be necessary to translate, with Hofmann: “What shall we say? That we have found Abraham as our father according to the flesh?” by understanding ἡμᾶς , we, as the subject of the infinitive verb to have found. But this ellipsis of the subject is more forced still than that of the object; and what Christian of Gentile origin for the expression have found could not be applied to the Jewish-Christians would have asked if he had become a child of Abraham in the way of the flesh? Rom 4:1 therefore contains only one question (see the translation). The apostle asks whether Abraham by his own action found some advantage in the matter of salvation. In the Received reading, which rests on the Byzs., the verb has found separates the words our father from the others: according to the flesh, so that this latter clause cannot apply to the substantive father, but necessarily qualifies the verb has found. It is otherwise in the Alex. and Greco-Latin readings, where the verb has found immediately follows the words: What shall we say? whereby the words our father and according to the flesh are found in juxtaposition, which might easily lead the reader to take the two terms as forming a single description: our father according to the flesh. But this meaning cannot be the true one; for the matter in question here is not yet the nature of Abraham's paternity, which is reserved to a later point, but the manner in which Abraham became righteous ( Rom 4:2-3 ). The reading was probably falsified by the recollection of the frequent phrases: father or child according to the flesh.

The flesh denotes here human activity in its state of isolation from the influence of God, and consequently in its natural helplessness so far as justification and salvation are concerned. The meaning is therefore: “What has Abraham found by his own labor? ” The word flesh is probably chosen in reference to circumcision, which became the distinctive seal of the elect family.

The term προπάτωρ first father, which occurs here in the Alex. instead of the simple πατήρ (in the two other families), is strange to the language of the New Testament and of the LXX.; but this very circumstance speaks in favor of its authenticity. For the copyists would not have substituted so exceptional a term for the usual word. Paul probably used it to bring out the proto-typical character of everything which transpired in Abraham's person.

Does the pronoun our imply, as is alleged by Baur, Volkmar, etc., the Jewish origin of the Christians of Rome? Yes, if the translation were: our father according to the flesh. But we have seen that this interpretation is false. It is not even right to say, with Meyer) who holds the Gentile origin of the church of Rome), that the pronoun our refers to the Judeo-Christian minority of that church. For the meaning of this pronoun is determined by the we, which is the subject of all the preceding verbs ( make void, establish, shall say); now this refers to Christians in general. Is not the whole immediately following chapter intended to prove that Abraham is the father of believing Gentiles as well as of believing Jews (comp. the categorical declarations of Romans 4:12; Rom 4:16 )? How, then, should the word our in this verse, which is as it were the theme of the whole chapter, be used in a sense directly opposed to the essential idea of the entire piece? Comp., besides, the use of the expression our fathers in 1 Corinthians 10:1. What is the understood reply which Paul expected to his question? Is it, as is often assumed: nothing at all? Perhaps he did not go so far. He meant rather to say (comp. Rom 4:2 ): nothing, so far as justification before God is concerned; which did not exclude the idea of the patriarch having from a human point of view found certain advantages, such as riches, reputation, etc.

Verses 1-12

1. Romans 4:1-12; Romans 4:1-12 .

Abraham was justified by faith, Romans 4:1-8, and by faith alone, Romans 4:9-12.

Verses 1-25

Second section. 3:21-5:11. Justification by Faith Acquired for the Whole World.

In this section, which forms the counterpart of the preceding, three principal ideas are developed.

1. The historical fact by which justification by faith is acquired for the world, Romans 3:21-26.

2. The harmony of this mode of justification with the revelation of the Old Testament, Rom 3:27 to Romans 4:25.

3. The certainty of justification, not for the present only, but for all the future, embracing the last judgment, Romans 5:1-11.

Thus the sentence of condemnation is effaced by that of absolution.

Verses 1-25

Second section. 3:21-5:11. Justification by Faith Acquired for the Whole World.

In this section, which forms the counterpart of the preceding, three principal ideas are developed.

1. The historical fact by which justification by faith is acquired for the world, Romans 3:21-26.

2. The harmony of this mode of justification with the revelation of the Old Testament, Rom 3:27 to Romans 4:25.

3. The certainty of justification, not for the present only, but for all the future, embracing the last judgment, Romans 5:1-11.

Thus the sentence of condemnation is effaced by that of absolution.

Verse 2

Vv. 2. Some commentators take this verse as the logical proof ( for) of the negative answer which must be understood between Romans 4:1-2: “ Nothing; for, if he had been justified by his works, he would have whereof to glory, which is inadmissible.” But why would it be inadmissible? This is exactly the matter to be examined. The reasoning would then be only a vicious circle. The verse must be regarded, not as a proof of the negative answer anticipated, but as the explanation why Paul required to put the question of Romans 4:1: “I ask this, because if Abraham had been justified by his works, he would really have something of which to glory; and consequently the boasting which I declared to be excluded ( Rom 3:27 ) would reappear once more as right and good.” Did not Abraham's example form the rule?

The expression by works is substituted for that of Romans 4:1: according to the flesh, as the term being justified replaces the having found. In both cases, the term appearing in Rom 4:2 indicates the concrete result ( works, being justified), as that in Rom 4:1 expressed the abstract principle ( the flesh, finding). The word καύχημα signifies a matter for glorying in, which is quite a different thing from καύχησις , the act of glorying. Paul does not say that Abraham would really glory, but only that he would have matter for doing so. But how can the apostle express himself at the end of the verse in the words: but not before God, so as to make us suppose that Abraham was really justified by his works, though not before God? Some commentators (Beza, Grot., de Wette, Rück., Philip.) think themselves obliged to weaken the sense of the word justified, as if it denoted here justification in the eyes of men: “If Abraham was justified by his works (in the judgment of men), he has a right to boast (relatively to them and himself), but not as before God.” But would such an attenuated sense of the word justify be possible in this passage, which may be called Paul's classical teaching on the subject of justification? Calvin, Fritzsche, Baur, Hodge, assert that we have here an incomplete syllogism; the major: “If Abraham was justified by works, he has whereof to glory;” the minor: “Now he could not have whereof to glory before God;” the conclusion (understood): “Therefore he was not justified by works.” But the minor is exactly what it would have been necessary to prove; for what had been said, Romans 3:27, of the exclusion of boasting or of justification by works, was again made a question by the discussion on the case of Abraham. Besides, the conclusion was the important part, and could not have been left to be understood. The apostle has not accustomed us to such a mode of arguing. Meyer, after some variations in his first editions, has ended by siding with the explanation of Chrysostom and Theodoret, which is to the following effect: “If Abraham was justified by his works, he has undoubtedly something whereof to glory in his own eyes; but in this case he has received no favor from God, nothing which honors him as the object of divine grace; and his justification not coming from God, he has no cause to glory in relation to God.” This meaning is very ingenious; nevertheless it is untenable; for

1. The term glorying would require to be taken in a good sense: glorying in a real favor received from God, while throughout the whole piece it is applied to an impure boasting, the ground of which man finds in himself and in his own work.

2. Paul must have said in this sense: ἐν Θεῷ , in God, rather than πρὸς τὸν Θεόν , in relation to God, comp. Romans 2:17.

3. Rom 4:3 does not naturally connect itself with Rom 4:2 when thus understood, for this verse proves not what it should ( for), to wit, that Abraham has no cause for boasting in the case supposed, but the simple truth that he was justified by his faith. Semler and Glöckler have had recourse to a desperate expedient, that of taking πρὸς τὸν Θεόν as the exclamation of an oath: “But no, by God, it is not so.” But this sense would have required πρὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ ; and what could have led Paul to use such a form here? The turn of expression employed by the apostle is certainly singular, we shall say even a little perplexed. He feels he is approaching a delicate subject, about which Jewish national feeling could not but show itself very sensitive. To understand his meaning, we must, after the words: “If he was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory,” add the following: “and he has really great reason for glorying; it is something to have been made an Abraham; one may be proud of having borne such a name, but ”...Here the apostle resumes in such a way as to return to his theme: “but all this glorying has nothing to do with the account which he had to render to God.” The words: in relation to God, πρὸς τὸν Θεόν , are evidently opposed to a corresponding: in relation to man, understood. In comparing himself with men less holy than he, Abraham might have some cause for glorying; but the instant he put himself before God, his righteousness vanished. This is exactly the point proved by the following verses.

Verses 3-5

Vv. 3-5. “ For what saith the Scripture? Now Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh his reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness;

By the words of Romans 4:2: “ But it is not so in relation to God,” the apostle gave it to be understood that he knew the judgment of God Himself on Abraham's works. Rom 4:3 explains how he can pronounce regarding a fact which seems to lie beyond the reach of human knowledge. Scripture contains a declaration in which there is revealed the judgment of God respecting the way in which Abraham was justified. This saying is to be found in Genesis 15:6. Called by God out of his tent by night, he is invited to contemplate the heavens, and to count, if he can, the myriads of stars; then he hears the promise: “so numerous shall thy seed be.” He is a centenarian, and has never had children. But it is God who speaks; that is enough for him: he believed God. Faith consists in holding the divine promise for the reality itself; and then it happens that what the believer has done in regard to the promise of God, God in turn does in regard to his faith: He holds it for righteousness itself.

The particle δέ , now, takes the place of the καί , and, which is found in the LXX., though their reading is not quite certain, as the Sinaït. and the Vatic. have a blank here. It is possible, therefore, that, as Tischendorf thinks, the generally received reading in Paul's time was δέ , now, and not καί . For it is evident that if the apostle preserves this particle, which is not demanded by the meaning of his own text, it is to establish the literal character of the quotation. It is not said: he believed the promise of God, but: God. The object of his faith, when he embraced the promise, was God Himself

His truth, His faithfulness, His holiness, His goodness, His wisdom, His power, His eternity. For God was wholly in the promise proceeding from Him. It little matters, indeed, what the particular object is to which the divine revelation refers at a given moment. All the parts of this revelation form but one whole. In laying hold of one promise, Abraham laid hold of all by anticipation; for he laid hold of the God of the promises, and henceforth he was in possession even of those which could only be revealed and realized in the most distant future.

The Hebrew says: “ and God counted it to him for righteousness.” The LXX. have translated by the passive: and it was counted to him; Paul follows them in quoting. The verb λογίζειν , λογίζεσθαι , signifies: to put to account; comp. 2 Samuel 19:19; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 2 Timothy 4:16; and Philemon 1:18 (where Paul uses the analogous term ἐλλογεῖν , because he is speaking of an account properly so called: “If he has done thee any wrong, put it to my account”). It is possible to put to one's account what he possesses or what he does not possess. In the first case it is a simple act of justice; in the second, it is a matter of grace. The latter is Abraham's case, since God reckons his faith to him for what it is not: for righteousness. This word righteousness here denotes perfect obedience to the will of God, in virtue of which Abraham would necessarily have been declared righteous by God as being so, if he had possessed it. As he did not possess it, God put his faith to his account as an equivalent. Why so? On what did this incomparable value which God attached to his faith rest? We need not answer: on the moral power of this faith itself. For faith is a simple receptivity, and it would be strange to fall back on the sphere of meritorious work when explaining the very word which ought to exclude all merit. The infinite worth of faith lies in its object, God and His manifestation. This object is moral perfection itself. To believe is therefore to lay hold of perfection at a stroke. It is not surprising that laying hold of perfection, it should be reckoned by God as righteousness. It has been happily said: Faith is at once the most moral and the most fortunate of strokes ( coups de main). In Romans 4:4-5, the apostle analyzes the saying quoted. This analysis proves that Abraham was justified not in the way of a man who had done works ( Rom 4:4 ), but in the way of a man who has not done them ( Rom 4:5 ); which demonstrates the truth of the affirmation of Romans 4:2: “but it is not so in relation to God.”

The two expressions: ὁ ἐργαζόμενος , he that worketh, and ὁ μὴ ἐργαζόμενος , he that worketh not, are general and abstract, with this difference, that the first refers to any workman whatever in the domain of ordinary life, while the second applies only to a workman in the moral sense. To the hired workman who performs his task, his reward is reckoned not as a favor, but as a debt. Now, according to the declaration of Moses, Abraham was not treated on this footing; therefore he is not one of those who have fulfilled their task. On the other hand, to the workman (in the moral sense) who does not labor satisfactorily, and who nevertheless places his confidence in God who pardons, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. Now, according to Moses, it is on this footing that Abraham was treated; therefore he belongs to those who have not fulfilled their task. These two harmonious conclusions the one understood after Romans 4:4, the other after Rom 4:5 set forth the contents of the declaration of Moses: Abraham was treated on the footing not of a good, but of a bad workman.

The subjective negation μή before ἐργαζόμενος is the expression of the logical relation: because, between the participle and the principal verb: “ because he does not do his work, his faith is reckoned to him as work.”

Paul says: He who justifieth the ungodly. He might have said the sinner; but he chooses the more forcible term to designate the evil of sin, that no category of sinners, even the most criminal, may think itself excluded from the privilege of being justified by their faith. It has sometimes been supposed that by the word ungodly Paul meant to characterize Abraham himself, in the sense in which it is said ( Jos 24:2 ) that “Terah, the father of Abraham, while he dwelt beyond the flood, had served other gods. ” But idolatry is not exactly equivalent to ungodliness (impiety), and Paul would certainly never have called Abraham ungodly (impious).

To impute to the believer righteousness which he does not possess, is at the same time not to impute to him sins of which he is guilty. Paul feels the need of completing on this negative side his exposition of the subject of justification. And hence, no doubt, the reason why, to the saying of Moses regarding Abraham, he adds one of David's, in which justification is specially celebrated in the form of the non-imputation of sin.

Verses 6-8

Vv. 6-8. “ As David also exactly celebrateth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works: Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin.

It need not be supposed that David here plays the part of a second example, side by side with Abraham. The position of the patriarch is unique, and Paul will return to it after this short interruption. He merely adduces a saying of David, the inspired singer, which seems to him to complete the testimony of Moses about Abraham.

The conjunction of comparison καθάπερ is more forcible than καθώς : it indicates an intrinsic and striking agreement: exactly as.

The word μακαρισμός , which we have translated by blessedness, strictly signifies: the celebration of blessedness. The verb λέγει , says, of which this word is the object, signifies here: he utters (this beatification). The following words are, as it were, the joyful hymn of the justified sinner. This passage is the beginning of Psalms 32:0, which David probably composed after having obtained pardon from God for the odious crimes into which passion had dragged him. Hence the expressions: transgressions pardoned, sins covered, sin not imputed. Here, then, is the negative side of justification, the evil which it removes; while in regard to Abraham it was only the positive side which was under treatment, the blessing it confers. Thus it is that the two passages complete one another.

This observation made, the apostle returns to his subject. It was not enough to prove that Abraham owed his justification to his faith. For the defenders of works might say: True; but it was as one circumcised that Abraham obtained this privilege of being justified by his faith. And so we have works driven out by the door, and returning by the window. The answer to the question of Romans 4:1: “What hath Abraham found by the way of the flesh?” would no more be: nothing, but: everything. For if it was to his circumcision Abraham owed the favor whereby God had reckoned his faith to him for righteousness, everything depended in the end on this material rite; and those who were destitute of it were ipso facto excluded from justification by faith. The nullity of this whole point of view is what Paul shows in the following passage, where he proves that the patriarch was not only justified by faith, but by faith only.

Verses 9-10

Vv. 9, 10. “ Is this beatification then for the circumcision, or for the uncircumcision also? for we say:Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in a state of circumcision, or of uncircumcision? Not in a state of circumcision, but of uncircumcision.

The then serves merely to resume the discussion: “I ask then if this celebration of the blessedness of the justified applies only to the circumcised, or also to the uncircumcised.” On this everything really depended. For, on the first alternative, the Gentiles had no way left of admission to the privilege of justification by faith except that of becoming Jews; and there was an end of Paul's gospel. M. Reuss regards all this as an example “of the scholasticism of the Jewish schools of the day,” and of a “theological science” which could supply the apostle only with “extremely doubtful modes of argument.” We shall see if it is really so.

The second part of the verse: for we say...is intended to bring back the mind of the reader from David to Abraham: “For, in fine, we were affirming that Abraham was justified by faith. How is it then with this personage, whose example forms the rule? How was he justified by faith? as uncircumcised or as circumcised?” Such is the very simple meaning of Romans 4:10. The then which connects it with Rom 4:9 is thus explained: “To answer the question which I have just put (9a), let us then examine how the justification of Abraham took place.”

The answer was not difficult; it was furnished by Genesis, and it was peremptory. It is in chap. 15 that we find Abraham justified by faith; and it is in chap. 17, about fourteen years after, that he receives the ordinance of circumcision. The apostle can therefore answer with assurance: “not as circumcised, but as uncircumcised.” There was a time in Abraham's life when by his uncircumcision he represented the Gentiles, as later after his circumcision he became the representative of Israel. Now, it was in the first of these two periods of his life, that is to say, in his Gentilehood, that he was justified by faith...the conclusion was obvious at a glance. Paul makes full use of it against his adversaries. He expounds it with decisive consequences in the sequel.

Verses 11-12

Vv. 11, 12. “ And he received the sign of circumcision, as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be at once the father of all them that believe while in a state of uncircumcision, in order that righteousness may be imputed unto them also; and the father of the circumcised, of them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had in uncircumcision.

Καί , and, signifies here: “and in consequence of the justification thus found.” Περιτομῆς , of circumcision, may be made a genitive of apposition: “the sign which is circumcision,” or a genitive of quality: “a sign in the form of circumcision.” The former is the simpler sense. In any case, the reading περιτομήν in two Mjj. is a correction. Circumcision appears even in Gen 17:11 as the sign of the covenant between God and His people. The Rabbins express themselves thus: “God put the sign of love in the flesh.” The term σημεῖον , sign, relates to the material thing; the term σφραγίς , seal, to its religious import. Far, then, from circumcision having been the antecedent condition of Abraham's justification, it was the mark, and consequently the effect of it.

The article τῆς (after the words righteousness of faith), which we have translated by: which he had, may relate to the entire phrase righteousness of faith, or to the word faith taken by itself. If we consider the following expression: “father of all believers ” (not of all the justified), and especially the end of Romans 4:12, we cannot doubt that the article applies to the word faith taken alone: “the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.” The in order that which follows should not be taken in the weakened sense of so that. No doubt Abraham in believing did not set before himself the end of becoming the spiritual father of Gentile believers. But the matter in question here is the intention of God who directed things with this view which was His from the beginning of the history. The real purpose of God extended to the Gentiles; the theocracy was only a means in His mind. Had He not said to Abraham, when calling him, that “in him should all the families of the earth be blessed”? Genesis 12:3.

On the meaning of διά , in the state of, see on Romans 2:27.

The last words: that righteousness might be imputed unto them, should not be regarded as a new end of the: he received the sign, to be added to the first already mentioned (that he might be the father...). The verb is too remote; we must therefore make the that...depend on the participle πιστευόντων . them that believe (though they be not circumcised); not certainly in Hofmann's sense: “who have faith in the fact that it will be imputed to them,” but in the only grammatically admissible sense: “them who believe in order that righteousness may be imputed to them.” There is a desire in faith. It seeks reconciliation with God, and consequently justification.

The pronoun αὐτόν , he (“that he might be, even he ”), is intended to bring the person of Abraham strongly into relief, as called to fill, he, this one solitary man, the double place of father of believing Gentiles ( Rom 4:11 ) and of believing Jews ( Rom 4:12 ). It is very remarkable that the apostle here puts the believers of Gentile origin first among the members of Abraham's posterity. But was it not they in fact who were in the condition most similar to that of the patriarch at the time when he obtained his justification by faith? If, then, a preference was to be given to the one over the other, it was certainly due to them rather than to circumcised Christians. What a complete reversal of Jewish notions!

Verse 12

Vv. 12. There can be no doubt that this verse refers to believers of Jewish origin, who formed the other half of Abraham's spiritual family. But it presents a great grammatical difficulty. The Greek expression is such that it seems as if Paul meant to speak in this same verse of two different classes of individuals. It appears as if the literal translation should run thus: “father of circumcision, in respect of those who are not only of the circumcision, but also in respect of those who walk in the steps of”...Proceeding on this translation, Theodoret, Luther, and others have applied the first words: “in respect of those who are not only of the circumcision,” to Jewish believers, and the following words: “in respect of those who walk in the footsteps of Abraham's faith,” to Gentile believers. But why then return to the latter, who had already been sufficiently designated and characterized in Rom 4:11 ? And how, in speaking of Jewish believers, could Paul content himself with saying that they are not of circumcision only, without expressly mentioning faith as the condition of their being children of Abraham? Finally, the construction would still be incorrect in this sense, which would have demanded οὐ τοῖς ... μόνον ( not only for those who belong to the circumcision) instead of τοῖς οὐ ... μόνον ( for those who not only belong to...). This ancient explanation must therefore certainly be abandoned. There can be here only one class of persons designated by two distinct attributes. The first is circumcision, and the second, a faith like Abraham's. But in this case the Greek construction seems again faulty in the second member. This is acknowledged by Tholuck, Meyer, etc. Philippi is fain to satisfy himself with the reflection that negligences of style are found in the best writers; which is true, but does not help us here; for the faultiness would be a real want of logic. On the other hand, the expedients recently devised by Hofmann and Wieseler are so farfetched that they do not deserve even to be discussed. And yet the apostle has not accustomed us to inexactness unworthy even of an intelligent pupil; and we may still seek to solve the difficulty. This is not impossible, as it appears to us; we need only take the first τοῖς to be a pronoun ( those who), as it incontestably is, but regard the second not as a second parallel pronoun (which would, besides, require it to be placed before the καί ), but a simple definite article: “ the (individuals) walking in the steps of”...The meaning thus reached is to this effect: “those who are not only of the circumcision, but who are also, that is to say, at the same time, the (individuals) walking in the steps of”...This article, τοῖς , the, is partitive. It serves to mark off clearly within the mass of the Jewish people who possess the sign of circumcision, a much narrower circle: those walking in the faith, that is to say, the Jews, who to circumcision add the characteristic of faith. These latter do not form a second class alongside of the first; they form within this latter a group apart, possessing beside the common distinction, an attribute (faith) which is wanting to the others; and it is to draw this line of demarkation accurately within the circumcised Israel that the article is used. The τοῖς is here simply an article analogous to the τοῖς before πιστεύουσιν .

Paul is not satisfied with saying: “who also walk in the footsteps of Abraham's faith;” he expressly reminds us for this is the point of his argument that Abraham had this faith in the state of uncircumcision. What does this mean, if not that Abraham was still ranked as a Gentile when “he believed and his faith was counted to him for righteousness?” Hence it follows that it is not, properly speaking, for Gentile believers to enter by the gate of the Jews, but for Jewish believers to enter by the gate of the Gentiles. It will be allowed that it was impossible for one to overwhelm his adversary more completely. But such is Paul's logic; it does not stop short with refuting its opponent, it does not leave him till it has made it plain to a demonstration that the truth is the very antipodes of what he affirmed.

We find in these two verses the great and sublime idea of Abraham's spiritual family, that people which is the product, not of the flesh, but of faith, and which comprises the believers of the whole world, whether Jews or Gentiles. This place of father to all the believing race of man assigned to Abraham, is a fundamental fact in the kingdom of God; it is the act in which this kingdom takes its rise, it is the aim of the patriarch's call: “ that he might be the father of...( Rom 4:11 ), and of ”...( Rom 4:12 ). Hofmann says rightly: “Abraham is not only the first example of faith, for there had been other believers before him (Hebrews 11:0); but in him therewas founded forever the community of faith.” From this point the continuous history of salvation begins. Abraham is the stem of that tree, which thenceforth strikes root and develops. For he has not believed simply in the God of creation; he has laid hold by faith of the God of the promise, the author of that redeeming work which appears on the earth in his very faith. The notion of this spiritual paternity once rightly understood, the filiation of Abraham in the physical sense lost all importance in the matter of salvation. The prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus (John 8:0), were already at one in laying down the truth which the apostle here demonstrates: faith as constituting the principle of life, as it were the life-blood of Abraham's family, which is that of God on the earth. Because, indeed, this principle is the only one in harmony with the moral essence of things, with the true relation between the Creator who gives of free grace, and the creature who accepts freely.

And this whole admirable deduction made by the apostle is to be regarded as a piece of Rabbinical scholasticism!

The apostle has succeeded in discovering the basis of Christian universalism in the very life of him in whose person theocratic particularism was founded. He has demonstrated the existence of a time when he represented Gentilism, or, to speak more properly, mankind in general; and it was during this period, when he was not yet a Jew, but simply a man, that he received salvation! The whole gospel of Paul was involved in this fact. But a question arose: after receiving justification, Abraham had obtained another privilege: he had been declared, with all his posterity, to be the future possessor of the world. Now this posterity could be none else than his issue by Isaac, and which had been put in possession of circumcision and of Canaan. Through this opening there returned, with banners displayed, that particularism which had been overthrown in the domain of justification. Thus there was lost the whole gain of the preceding demonstration. Paul does not fail to anticipate and remove the difficulty. To this question he devotes the following passage, Romans 4:13-16.

Verses 13-14

Vv. 13, 14. “ For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not made to Abraham, or to his seed, by the law, but by the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise annulled.

The for bears on the understood objection which we have just explained: “For it need not be imagined that the promised inheritance is to be obtained by means of the law, and that the people of the law are consequently assured of it.” Paul knew that this thought lay deep in the heart of every Jew. He attacks it unsparingly, demonstrating that the very opposite is the truth; for the law, far from procuring the promised inheritance for the Jews, would infallibly deprive them of it.

The possession of the world, of which the apostle speaks, had been promised to Abraham and his posterity in three forms. 1. In the promise made to the patriarch of the land of Canaan. For, from the prophetic and Messianic point of view, which dominated the history of the patriarchal family from the beginning, the land of Canaan was the emblem of the sanctified earth; it was the point of departure for the glorious realization of the latter. In this sense it is said in the Tanchuma: “God gave our father Abraham possession of the heavens and earth. ” 2. Several promises of another kind naturally led to the extension of the possession of the promised land to that of the whole world; for example, the three following, Genesis 12:3: “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed;” Genesis 22:17: “Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;” Genesis 22:18: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The two expressions: in thee, and in thy seed, alternate in these promises. But they are combined, as in our passage, in the verses, Genesis 26:3-4, where we also again find the two ideas of the possession of Canaan, and the blessing of the whole world through Israel. 3. Above all these particular promises there ever rested the general promise of the Messianic kingdom, the announcement of that descendant of David to whom God had said: “I have given thee the uttermost parts of the earth for an inheritance” ( Psa 2:8 ). Now Israel was inseparable from its Messiah, and such an explanation led men to give to the preceding promises the widest and most elevated sense possible. Israel had not been slow to follow this direction; but its carnal spirit had given to the universal supremacy which it expected, a yet more political than religious complexion. Jesus, on the contrary, in His Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, had translated this idea of dominion over the world into that of the humble love which rules by serving: “Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.” The apostle does not here enter on the question of how the promise is to be fulfilled; he deals only with the condition on which it is to be enjoyed. Is the law or faith the way of entering into the possession of this divine inheritance, and consequently are the people of law or of faith the heirs?

The word inheritance, to express ownership, reproduces the Hebrew name Nachala, which was used to designate the land of Canaan. This country was regarded as a heritage which Israel, Jehovah's first-born son, had received from his heavenly Father.

To prove that the inheriting seed is not Israel, but the nation of believers, Jews or Gentiles, Paul does not use, as Meyer, Hodge, and others suppose, the same argument as he follows in Gal 3:15 et seq. He does not argue here from the fact that the law was given subsequently to the patriarchal covenant, and could make no change in that older contract, which was founded solely on the promise on the one hand, and faith on the other. The demonstration in our passage has not this historical character; it is, if one may so speak, dogmatic in its nature. Its meaning is to this effect: If the possession of the world were to be the reward of observing the law, the promise would thereby be reduced to a nullity. This declaration is enunciated Romans 4:14, and proved Romans 4:15. The inference is drawn Romans 4:16.

Verse 14

Vv. 14. If, in order to be heir of the world, it is absolutely necessary to come under the jurisdiction of the law, and consequently to be its faithful observer otherwise what purpose would it serve? it is all over at a stroke both with faith and with the promise: with faith, that is to say, with the hope of that final heritage, since the realization of that expectation would be bound to a condition which sinful man could not execute, the fulfilment of the law, and since faith would thus be deprived of its object (literally, emptied, κεκένωται , from κενός , empty); and next, with the promise itself: for, an impossible condition being attached to it, it would thereby be paralyzed in its effects ( κατήργηται ). Proof and conclusion, Romans 4:15-16.

Verses 15-16

Vv. 15, 16. “ For the law worketh wrath: and, indeed, where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but also to that which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all;

Faith deprived of its object, the promise made void for those who are under the law, why all this? Simply because the law, when not fulfilled, brings on man God's disapprobation, wrath, which renders it impossible on His part to fulfil the promise. This passage, like so many others already quoted, is incompatible with the idea which Ritschl forms of divine wrath. This critic, as we know (see on Rom 1:18 ), applies the term wrath, in the Old Testament only, to the sudden punishment with death of exceptional malefactors, who by their crime compromised the existence of the covenant itself. But in these words the apostle evidently starts from the idea that whatever is under the law is ipso facto the object of wrath, which applies to the entire people, and not to a few individuals only. Melanchthon applied the term wrath in this verse to the irritation felt by condemned man against the judgment of God. He forgot that the loss of the divine inheritance results to the sinner, not from his own wrath, but from that of the judge.

The article ὁ , the, before the word law, proves that the subject here is the law properly so called, the Mosaic law.

It would be improper to translate: “for it is the law which produces wrath,” as if wrath could not exist beyond the jurisdiction of the law. Chap. 1 proves the contrary. But the law produces it inevitably where it has been given. The preponderance of egoism in the human heart once granted, the barrier of the law is certain to be overpassed, and transgression is sure to make wrath burst forth.

T. R., with the Byzs., the Greco-Latins, and the oldest versions, connects the second part of this verse with the first by γάρ , for. This reading appears at the first glance easier than that of the Alex.: δέ ( now, or but). But this very circumstance is not in its favor. The three γάρ , which have preceded, may have also led the copyists to write the same particle again. The context, carefully consulted, demands a δέ rather than a γάρ . For what says the second member? That without a law transgression is not possible. Now this idea does not logically prove that the law necessarily produces wrath. This second proposition of Rom 4:15 is not therefore a proof, but a simple observation in support of the first; and this connection is exactly marked by the δέ , which is the particle here not of opposition ( but), but of gradation ( now), and which may be rendered by and indeed. This second proposition is therefore a sort of parenthesis intended to strengthen the bearing of the fact indicated in the first (15a): “In general, a law cannot be the means fitted to gain for us the favor of God; on the contrary, the manifestations of sin, of the evil nature, acquire a much graver character through the law, that of transgression, of positive, deliberate violation of the divine will, and so increase wrath.” Παράβασις , transgression, from παραβαίνειν , to overpass. A barrier cannot be crossed except in so far as it exists. So without law there is no sin in the form of transgression.

The article ὁ is wanting here before νόμος , law. And rightly so; for this saying is a general maxim which does not apply specially to the Jews and the Jewish law (as 15a). The Gentiles have also a law ( Rom 2:14-15 ), which they can observe or violate. In the latter case, they become objects of wrath (chap. 1) as well as the Jews, though in a less degree.

Verse 16

Vv. 16. If, then, the promise of the inheritance was serious, there was only one way to its fulfilment that the inheritance should be given by the way of faith and not of law. This consequence is expounded in Romans 4:16, which develops the last words of Romans 4:13: by the righteousness of faith, as Rom 4:15 had developed the first: not by the law.

Therefore: because of that condemning effect which attaches to the law. The verb and subject to be understood in this elliptical proposition might be: the promise was made. But the words following: that it might be by grace, do not allow this; the subject in question is evidently the fulfilment. What we must supply, therefore, is: the promise will be fulfilled, or: the heritage will be given. The inheritance, from the moment of its being granted to faith only, remains a gift of pure grace; and while remaining a gift of grace, it is possible for it not to be withdrawn, as it must have been if its acquisition had been attached to the fulfilment of the law. It is very important not to efface the notion of aim contained in the words εἰς τὸ εἶναι ( that the promise might be), by translating, as Oltramare does, so that. There was positive intention on God's part, when He made the gift of inheritance depend solely on faith. For He knew well that this was the only way to render the promise sure (the opposite of being made void, Rom 4:14 ). And sure for whom? For all the seed of Abraham, in the true and full sense of the word; it was the fulfilment of those terms of the promise: “to thee and to thy seed. ” After what precedes, this term can only designate the patriarch's spiritual family all believers, Jew or Gentile. Faith being the sole condition of promise, ought also to be the sole characteristic of those in whom it will be realized. These words: sure for all the seed, are developed in what follows. The apostle embraces each of the two classes of believers contained in this general term: “sure,” says he, “ not only to that which is of the law,” believers of Jewish origin who would lose the inheritance if it was attached to the law, “ but also to that which is of faith,” Christians of Gentile origin to whom the promise would cease to be accessible the instant it was made to depend on any other character than that of faith. It is plain that the expression used here has a wholly different meaning from the apparently similar form employed in Romans 4:12. There are two classes of persons here, and not two attributes of the same persons. The second τῷ is a pronoun as well as the first. It may be objected, indeed, that in designating the first of these two classes Paul does not mention the characteristic of faith, and that consequently he is still speaking of Jews simply, not believing Jews. But after all that had gone before, the notion of faith was naturally implied in that of Abraham's seed. And to understand the apostle's words, we must beware of connecting the μόνον , only, exclusively with the words ἐκ τοῦ νόμοῦ , of the law: “those who are of the law only,” that is to say, who are simply Jews, and not believers. The μόνον refers to the whole phrase: τῷ ἐκ τοῦ νόμου , only that which is of the law, as is shown in the following context by the position of the καί , also, before the second τῷ : “ not only that which is of the law, but also that which ”...that is to say: not only believers who were formerly under the law, but also Gentile believers. The attribute of faith is expressly mentioned in the case of the last, because it appears in them free from all legal environment, and as their sole title to form part of Abraham's descendants.

The last words: who is the father of us all, sum up all that has been developed in the previous context. Believing Jews and Gentiles, we all participate by faith not only in justification, but also in the future possession of the world; for the true seed to whom this promise was made was that of faith, not that according to the law. Abraham is therefore the sole stem from which proceed those two branches which form in him one and the same spiritual organism.

But after all a Jew might still present himself, saying: “Very true; but that this divine plan might be realized, it was necessary that there should be an Israel; and that there might be an Israel, there must needs come into the world an Isaac. Now this son is born to Abraham in the way of natural, physical generation; and what has this mode of filiation in common with the way of faith?” Here in an instant is the domain of the flesh reconquered by the adversary; and to the question of Romans 4:1: “What has Abraham found by the flesh?” it only remains to answer: His son Isaac, consequently the chosen people, and consequently everything. A mind so familiarized as Paul's was with the secret thoughts of the Israelitish heart, could not neglect this important side of the question. He enters into this new subject as boldly as into the two preceding, and sapping the last root of Jewish prejudice by Scripture, he demonstrates that the birth of Isaac, no less than the promise of the inheritance and the grace of justification, was the effect of faith. Thus it is thoroughly proved that Abraham found nothing by the flesh; quod erat demonstrandum ( Rom 4:1 ). This is the subject of the third passage, Romans 4:17-21.

Verse 17

Vv. 17. “ According as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations, before God whom he believed, as him, that quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

This verse is directly connected with the end of Romans 4:12; for the last words of Romans 4:16: who is the father of us all, are the reproduction of the last words of Romans 4:12: the faith of our father Abraham. The development, Romans 4:13-16, had only been the answer to an anticipated objection. First of all, the general paternity of Abraham in relation to all believers, Jew or Gentile, so solemnly affirmed at the end of Romans 4:16, is proved by a positive text, the words of Genesis 16:5. The expression: father of many nations, is applied by several commentators only to the Israelitish tribes. But why in this case not use the term Ammim rather than Gojim, which is the word chosen to denote the Gentiles in opposition to Israel? The promise: “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven for multitude,” can hardly be explained without holding that when God spoke thus His view extended beyond the limits of Israel. And how could it be otherwise, after His saying to the patriarch: “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed (or shall bless themselves)”? The full light of the Messianic day shone beforehand in all these promises.

But there was in this divine saying an expression which seemed to be positively contradicted by the reality: I have made thee. How can God speak of that which shall not be realized till so distant a future as if it were an already accomplished fact? The apostle uses this expression to penetrate to the very essence of Abraham's faith. In the eyes of God, the patriarch is already what he shall become. Abraham plants himself at the instant on the viewpoint of the divine thought: he regards himself as being already in fact what God declares he will become. Such, if we mistake not, is the idea expressed in the following words which have been so differently explained: before God whom he believed. This before is frequently connected with the words preceding the biblical quotation: who is the father of us all. But this verb in the present: who is, was evidently meant in the context of Rom 4:16 to apply to the time when Paul was writing, which does not harmonize with the expression before, which transports us to the very moment when God conversed with Abraham. It seems to me, therefore, better to connect this preposition with the verb: I have made thee, understanding the words: “ which was already true before the God whom”...; that is to say, in the eyes of the God who was speaking with Abraham, the latter was already made the father of those many nations. There are two ways of resolving the construction κατέναντι οὖ ... Θεοῦ ; either: κατέναντι τοῦ Θεοῦ κατέναντι οὖ ἐπίστευσε (before the God before whom he believed); or: κατέναντι τοῦ Θεοῦἐπίστευσε (before the God whom he believed). Perhaps the first explanation of the attraction is most in keeping with usage (anyhow there is no need to cite in its favor, as Meyer does, Luke 1:4, which is better explained otherwise). But it does not give a very appropriate meaning. The more natural it is to state the fact that Abraham was there before God, the more superfluous it is to mention further that it was in God's presence he believed. The second explanation, though less usual when the dative is in question, is not at variance with grammar; and the idea it expresses is much more simple and in keeping with the context; for the two following participles indicate precisely the two attributes which the faith of Abraham lays hold of: “before the God whom he believed as quickening...and calling.

Two Mjj., F G, and the Peshito read ἐπίστευσας , thou didst believe. Erasmus had adopted this meaning in his first editions, and it passed into Luther's translation. These words were thus meant to be a continuation of the quotation. It would be best in this case to explain the κατέναντι οὗ in the sense of ἀνθ᾿ οὗ : “ in respect of the fact that thou didst believe.” But this meaning is without example, and the reading has not the shadow of probability.

The two divine attributes on which the faith of Abraham fastened at this decisive moment, were the power to quicken and the power to create. It was, indeed, in this twofold character that God presented Himself when He addressed to him the words quoted: I have made thee here is the assurance of a resurrection father of many nations here is the promise of a creation. Faith imagines nothing arbitrarily; it limits itself to taking God as He offers Himself, but wholly.

The first attribute, the power to quicken (or raise again), has sometimes been explained in relation to facts which have no direct connection with the context, such as the resurrection of the dead, spiritually speaking (Orig. Olsh.), or the conversion of the Gentiles (Ewald), or even the sacrifice of Isaac (Er. Mangold)! But Rom 4:19 shows plainly enough what is the apostle's meaning. It is in the patriarch's own person, already a centenarian, and his wife almost as old as he, that a resurrection must take place if the divine promise is to be fulfilled.

In the explanation of the second predicate, the farfetched has also been sought for the obvious; there has been given to the word call a spiritual signification (calling to salvation), or it has even been applied to the primordial act of creation ( καλεῖν , to call, and by this call to bring out of nothing). But how with this meaning are we to explain the words ὡς ὄντα , as being? Commentators have thus been led to give them the force of ὡς ἐσόμενα or εἰς τὸ εἶναι , as about to be, or in order to their being; which is of course impossible. The simple meaning of the word call: to invite one to appear, is fully sufficient. Man in this way calls beings which are; on the summons of the master the servant presents himself. But it belongs to God to call beings to appear which are not, as if they already were. And it is thus God speaks to Abraham of that multitude of future nations which are to form his posterity. He calls them up before his view as a multitude already present, as really existing as the starry heaven to which he compares them, and says: “ I have made thee the father of this multitude.” The subjective negative μή before ὄντα expresses this idea: “He calls as being what he knows himself to be non-existent.” The two present participles, quickening and calling, express a permanent attribute, belonging to the essence of the subject. The passage thus understood admirably teaches wherein faith consists. God shows us by his promise not only what he wills to exist for us, but what he wills us to become and what we already are in his sight; and we abstracting from our real state, and by a sublime effort taking the position which the promise assigns us, answer: Yea, I will be so; I am so. Thus it is that Abraham's faith corresponded to the promise of the God who was speaking to him face to face. It is this true notion of faith which the apostle seeks to make plain, by analyzing more profoundly what passed in the heart of the patriarch at the time when he performed that act on which there rested the foundation of the kingdom of God on the earth.

Verses 17-21

3. Romans 4:17-21; Romans 4:17-21 .

The birth of Isaac was the work of faith; the apostle proves it by the Scripture narrative, the memory of which was present to the mind of all his readers, and which was intended to be recalled to them by the declaration of Rom 4:3 relative to Abraham's justification.

Verse 18

Vv. 18. “ Who against hope believed in hope, in order to become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

The word hope is used here in two different senses, the one subjective: hope as a feeling (in the phrase: in hope), the other objective: hope to denote the motive for hoping (in the phrase: against hope). It is nearly the same in Romans 8:24, with this difference, that hope in the latter passage, taken objectively, does not denote the ground of hoping, but the object of hope (as in Col 1:5 ). The apostle therefore means: without finding in the domain of sense or reason the least ground for hoping, he nevertheless believed, and that by an effort of hope proceeding from a fact which the eye did not see nor the reason comprehend, God and His promise. This is the realization of the notion of faith expressed Hebrews 11:1, a notion which is so often wrongly contrasted with the conception of Paul. Instead of: he believed in hope, it seems as if it should have been: he hoped on (the foundation of) his faith. But the ἐπί is taken here nearly in the same sense as in the frequent phrases: ἐπ᾿ εὐνοίᾳ , ἐπ᾿ ἔχθρᾳ , in goodwill, in hatred; ἐπὶ ξενίᾳ , in hospitality. His faith burst forth in the form of hope, and that in a situation which presented no ground for hope.

Translators generally weaken the expression εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι , in order to become, by suppressing the idea of intention: “and thus it is that he became” (Oltram.), or: “and he believed that he would become” (Osterv.). This substitution of the result for the intention is grammatically inadmissible. He really believed with the intention of becoming. If he grasped the promise with such energy, it certainly was in order that it might be realized. It is therefore unnecessary to ascribe this notion of aim to God, as Meyer does.

The following verses develop the two notions: against hope ( Rom 4:19 ), and in hope ( Rom 4:20-21 ).

Verses 19-20

Vv. 19, 20. “ And being not weak in faith, he considered his own body now dead he was about an hundred years old and the old age of Sarah's body; but having regard to the promise, he doubted not through unbelief; but grew in strength by faith, giving glory to God.

Abraham is represented in this passage as placed between two opposite forces, that of sight, which turns to the external circumstances ( Rom 4:19 ), and that of faith, which holds firmly to the promise ( Rom 4:20 ). The δέ , but, of Romans 4:20, expresses the triumph of faith over sight.

We find in Rom 4:19 one of the most interesting various readings in the text of our Epistle. Two of the three families of MSS., the Greco-Latin and the Byz., read the negative οὐ before κατενόησε : he considered not. The effect of the subjective negative μή before ἀσθενήσας , being weak, on the principal verb would then be rendered thus, because: “because he was not weak in faith, he considered not”...The meaning is good: the look of faith fixed on the promise prevented every look cast on the external circumstances which might have made him stagger, as was the case with Peter, who, as long as he looked to Jesus, regarded neither the winds nor the waves. But the Alex. family, with the Peshito this time on its side, rejects the οὐ . The meaning is then wholly different: “not being weak in faith, he looked at (or considered) his deadened body...but for all that ( δέ , Rom 4:20 ) he staggered not”...This reading seems to be preferable to the preceding, for it better explains the contrast indicated by the δέ , but, of Romans 4:20. The meaning is also more forcible. He considered...but he did not let himself be shaken by the view, discouraging as it was. The μή before ἀσθενήσας may be explained either as a reflection of the author intended to bring out a circumstance which accompanied this view (he considered without being weak), or, what is better, as indicating the negative cause, which controls all that follows ( Rom 4:19-20 ): “ because he was not weak in faith, he regarded...but did not stagger.” In favor of the Received reading: “he considered not,”...the passage has been alleged: “Abraham laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” ( Gen 17:17 ); a passage which, according to this view, gave occasion to the rejection of the negative οὖ . This is not wholly impossible. But the time to which this passage (Genesis 17:0) applies is not the same as that of which the apostle here speaks (Genesis 15:0).

Verse 20

Vv. 20. The δέ , but, denotes the contrast to the possible and natural result of this consideration. Strictly speaking, the antithesis would have been the ἐνεδυναυώθη , he strengthened himself; but the apostle feels the need of reminding us first, in a negative form, of what might have been so easily produced under such conditions.

The εἰς τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν , in regard to the promise, stands foremost. It was the object in contrast to that which was presented to his view by the effeteness of his own body and Sarah's. For the force of εἰς , comp. Romans 16:19.

The verb here: διακρίνεσθαι , to doubt, properly signifies to be parted, or to be divided into two men, one affirming, the other denying; one hoping and giving himself up, the other waiting to see: “but in regard to the promise, there was no division in him.” The complement: of God, brings out that which gave the promise this full power over his heart.

In the clause: through unbelief, the Greek substantive is preceded by the article: through the unbelief common among men, the well-known unbelief.

The ἀλλά , but, is more strongly adversative than the δέ : “But quite the contrary.” This word forcibly contrasts the idea of the strength drawn from the promise with the weakness arising from doubt. The verb ἐνεδυναμώθη may be translated as a passive: he was strengthened; comp. Hebrews 11:34; but it may also be taken in the middle and reflective sense: he strengthened himself, reinvigorated himself, Acts 9:22; Ephesians 6:10. The antithesis of the διακριθῆναι , to doubt, speaks rather in favor of the middle sense, unless we recur to the simply intransitive meaning: he grew in strength; this shade would perhaps be preferable; it harmonizes with the preposition ἐν , which enters into the composition of the verb, and denotes a growth of inward strength. In proportion as he contemplated the promise with a fixed regard, in which he put, so to speak, his whole soul, his entire being, body and spirit, was penetrated with a new force, the principle of the complete resurrection in which he had made bold to believe ( Rom 4:17 ).

The clause by faith is usually connected with the verb he was strengthened; but so understood, these words do little more than repeat what has already been sufficiently expressed. It is better, therefore, to join them with the following participle: “by faith (by this faith) giving glory to God.” The position of this word, heading the clause to which it is thus joined, corresponds with the importance of the idea of faith in the whole piece. Man was created to glorify God. He did not do so by his obedience. It is by faith, at least, that in his state of sin he can return to the fulfilment of this glorious destination.

To give glory to God means in Scripture, to render homage either by word or deed, to one or other of God's attributes, or to His perfection in general. Wherein, in this case, did the homage consist? The apostle tells us in Romans 4:21: in the firm conviction which he cherished of God's faithfulness to His word and of His power to fulfil it.

Verses 21-22

Vv. 21, 22. “ Being fully convinced that, what He has promised, he is able also to perform. Wherefore also righteousness was imputed to him.Πληροφορεῖν , to fill a vessel to the brim; this word used in the passive applies to a man filled with a conviction which leaves no place in his heart for the least doubt. It is the opposite of the διακρίνεσθαι , to be inwardly divided, of Romans 4:20. If the relation between the two participles: giving glory and being convinced, is as we have said, we should probably omit the καί , and, which begins this verse in the Alex. and Byz., and prefer the Greco-Latin reading which rejects it.

As to the καί , also, before ποιῆσαι , to do, it well expresses the inseparable relation which the moral perfection of God establishes between His saying and His doing. If His power were not equal to the height of His promise, He would not promise.

Verse 22

Vv. 22 sums up the whole development relating to Abraham's faith, Romans 4:1-21, to clear the way for the final application which Paul had in view. Διό , wherefore, refers to what has just been said of the confidence with which Abraham laid hold of God's promise, Romans 4:21. God ascribed to that confidence which glorified Him the worth of perfect righteousness. The καί , also (“wherefore also”), found in the Alex. and Byz. Mjj., points to the moral relation which exists between faith and the imputation made of that faith. The subject of ἐλογίσθη , was counted, might be the πιστεῦσαι , believing, understood; but it is simpler to regard the verb as impersonal: “there was in relation to him an imputation of righteousness.” This saying is more expressly connected with the first of the three subjects treated in this chapter, Abraham's justification, Romans 4:1-12; but it sums up at the same time the two others, the inheritance of the world and the birth of Isaac, which are, so to speak, its complements. Thus is introduced the fourth part, which contains the application to existing believers, Romans 4:23-25.

Verses 23-24

Vv. 23, 24. “ Now it was not written for him only, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, when we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.

The apostle extracts the permanent principle contained in Abraham's case to apply it to us. The δέ , now, marks this advance. Δἰ αὐτόν , for him (strictly: on account of him), does not signify to his honor (Beza, Thol.). The idea is that the narrative was written not merely to relate a fact belonging to Abraham's history, but also to preserve the knowledge of an event which should take place in ours. So it will be on the condition expressed by the following participle τοῖς πιστεύουσιν , for us who believe, the meaning of which we have rendered freely in the translation ( when we believe). Every time this condition shall be fulfilled, the same imputation will certainly take place; such is the meaning of the word μέλλει , is to.

But what in our position now will be the object of faith? Faith in the biblical sense can only have one object. Whether Abraham or we be the parties in question, this object, always the same, is God and His manifestation. But in consequence of the unceasing progress, which takes place in the divine work, the mode of this manifestation cannot but change. In the case of Abraham God revealed Himself by the promise of an event to be accomplished; the patriarch required therefore to believe in the form of hope, by cleaving to the divine attribute which could realize it. In our position now we are in presence of an accomplished fact, the display of the almighty grace of God in the resurrection of Jesus. The object of faith is therefore different in form and yet the same in substance: God and His manifestation, then in word, now in act. What closely binds the two historical facts brought into connection, though so distant, the birth of Isaac and the resurrection of Jesus, is that they are the two extreme links of one and the same chain, the one the point of departure, the other the consummation of the history of salvation. But it must not be imagined that, because it falls to us to believe in an accomplished fact, faith is now nothing more than historical credence given to the reality of this fact. The apostle at once sets aside this thought when he says, not: “when we believe in the resurrection of Jesus,” but: “when we believe in God who raised Jesus; ” comp. Colossians 2:12. He excludes it likewise when he designates this Jesus raised from the dead as our Lord, one who has been raised by this divine act to the position of representative of the divine sovereignty, and especially to the Headship of the body of the church. He gives it to be understood, finally, by unfolding in the following verse the essential contents of this supreme object of faith.

Verse 25

Vv. 25. “ Who was delivered on account of our offences, and was raised again on account of our justification.

In the title our Lord there was involved the idea of a very intimate relation between Jesus and us. This mysterious and gracious solidarity is summed up in two symmetrical clauses, which in a few clear and definite terms present its two main aspects. He was delivered on account of our offences. Perhaps Paul means by the phrase: being delivered, to remind us of the description of the servant of Jehovah, Isaiah 53:0: “His soul was delivered ( παρεδόθη ) to death” ( Rom 4:12 ). He who delivers Him, according to Romans 8:32, is God Himself: “who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” Paul has told us, Romans 3:25, for what end this act was necessary. It was required to manifest conspicuously the righteousness of God. Every sinner needed to be brought to say: See what I deserve! Thus justice was satisfied and pardon possible. And He was raised again on account of our justification. Commentators are unanimous, if I mistake not, in translating: for our justification, as if it were πρός or εἰς , and not διά ( on account of). This for is explained in the sense that the resurrection of Christ was needed in order that faith might be able to appropriate the expiation which was accomplished, and that so justification, of which faith is the condition, might take place. But what a roundabout way of arriving at the explanation of this for! And if the apostle really meant for ( with a view to), why repeat this same preposition διά which he had just used in the parallel proposition, in its natural sense of on account of, while the language supplied him with prepositions appropriate to the exact expression of his thought ( πρός , εἰς , Rom 3:25-26 )? I am not surprised that in this way several commentators have found in this symmetry established between the facts of salvation nothing more than an artificial distribution, belonging to the domain of rhetoric rather than to that of dogmatics, and that one has even gone the length of reproaching the apostle “for sacrificing to the mania of parallelism.” If we were shut up to the explanation referred to, we could only join regretfully in this judgment. But it is not so. Let us take the διά in its natural sense, as we are bound to do by its use in the first proposition. In the same way as Jesus died because of our offences, that is, our (merited) condemnation, He was raised because of our (accomplished) justification. Our sin had killed Him; our justification raised Him again. How so? The expiation of our trespasses once accomplished by His death, and the right of God's justice proved in earnest, God could pronounce the collective acquittal of future believers, and He did so. Over the blood of the sacrifice a sentence of justification was pronounced in favor of guilty man; his condemnation was annulled. Now, in view of this divine fact, a corresponding change must necessarily be wrought in the person of Christ Himself. By the same law of solidarity whereby our condemnation had brought Him to the cross, our justification must transform His death into life. When the debtor is proved insolvent, his security is thrown into prison; but as soon as the latter succeeds in clearing the debt, the debtor is legally set free, and his security is liberated with him. For he has no debt of his own. Such is the bond of solidarity formed by the plan of God between Christ and us. Our lot is as it were interwoven with His: we sin, He dies; we are justified, He lives again. This is the key to the declaration, 1 Corinthians 15:17: “If Jesus be not risen, ye are yet in your sins.” So long as the security is in prison, the debt is not paid; the immediate effect of payment would be his liberation. Similarly, if Jesus were not raised, we should be more than ignorant whether our debt were paid; we might be certain that it was not. His resurrection is the proof of our justification only because it is the necessary effect of it. What Paul required to say, therefore, was διά , on account of, and not εἰς , with a view to. If in Christ dead humanity disappeared condemned, in Christ raised again it appears acquitted. And now what is the part of faith in relation to the resurrection thus understood? Exactly that of Abraham in regard to the divine promise. On hearing the promise, he no longer saw himself as he was, but he considered himself as the promise made him. So, the resurrection of Christ once completed, we have no longer to see ourselves as we are in ourselves, but as this fact reveals us to our view: justified. For this resurrection is the incarnation of my justification. If death is the payment of my debt, resurrection is, as it were, the acknowledgment of it.

We must beware, therefore, if we would not efface from the Scriptures their most magnificent revelation, of giving to the word δικαίωσις , justification, as several commentators, Döllinger for example, the entirely arbitrary sense of sanctification: Jesus was raised with a view to our moral amelioration! or of bringing in here, as some Protestant commentators do (Calv., Thol., Philip.) with the notion of the resurrection, those of the heavenly dominion and the intercession of Christ. The resurrection is here presented by Paul in express terms in its relation to what preceded, namely, His death, not the glorified existence which followed.

Thus is finished the demonstration of the harmony between the revelation of the Old Testament and the justification by faith revealed in the gospel. The grand truth of the righteousness of faith, summarily enunciated 3.21, 22, was first placed on its historical foundation, the work of God in Christ, Romans 3:23-26; then it was confirmed by its harmony with the Old Testament; first with the spirit of the law, Romans 3:27-31, then with the example of Abraham, Romans 4:1-24. One question might yet be raised: Will this justification by faith, which saves us at present, hold good in the future? Can it assure us of salvation even before the judgment-seat? It is to the solution of this so grave question that the following piece is devoted. Thus will be closed the didactic exposition of justification by faith.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Romans 4". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/romans-4.html.