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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 4

Verses 1-11

Romans 4:1-11 a . The Example of Abraham.

Romans 4:1 . The Jewish objector once more: “ What about Abraham then?” ( mg.) ; if the circumcised Israelite is justified on no more favourable terms than the Gentile outsider, how was it with “ our” great “ forefather” ? Abraham’ s case was the instantia probans for Jewish theology.

Romans 4:2 f. “ If Abraham had been justified by works,” Paul replies, “ he has ground of glorying; but” however great his glory amongst men, “ he has none Godwards, Nay, Scripture says, But Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness” ( cf. Galatians 3:6 f.).

Romans 4:4 f. Arguing on this text in the sense of Romans 3:27 f., Paul contrasts “ the worker” claiming “ his pay of debt” with “ the believer” to whom, “ ungodly” as he doubtless had been, “ righteousness is credited on terms of faith, by way of grace.”

Romans 4:6-8 . The patriarch’ s experience resembled that stated in Psalms 32, “ the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord will no longer impute sin.”

Romans 4:9-11 a . Now, the sentence of justification was pronounced on Abraham before his circumcision. This ceremony was not the basis of a righteousness acquired by works, but the “ seal set upon the righteousness conferred through faith.” Faith antedates Circumcision, as it underlies the Law ( cf. Galatians 3:17). Circumcision was properly a sacrament of faith.

Verses 11-17

Romans 4:11 b – Romans 4:17 a. Abraham’ s Relation to Mankind.— With Abraham’ s faith a great prospect opened for humanity.

Romans 4:11 b , Romans 4:12 . According to Genesis 17 the patriarch “ received” the Covenant-sign “ to the end he might be father of all that believe while in uncircumcision” like himself, . . . “ and father,” to be sure, “ of circumcision— in the case of those who do not rely upon the fleshly token ( cf. Romans 2:26-29), but who keep in the track of our father Abraham’ s pre-circumcision faith.”

Romans 4:13. The antithesis of Law and Grace becomes that of Law and Promise; God’ s grace toward Abraham was charged with blessing for future ages. “ The men of faith,” circumcised or not, “ are Abraham’ s sons” ( Romans 4:11 f.; cf. Galatians 3:7). Such filiation implies that “ the world-embracing promise,” whether considered as made “ to Abraham or to his seed,” was given simply on terms of the “ faith-righteousness” common to Abraham with believing Gentiles.

Romans 4:14 f. Had “ law” conditioned the inheritance, it must have lapsed for want of qualified heirs, “ faith being thus reduced to an empty word and the promise being nullified; for the law breeds transgression (see Romans 5:20, Romans 7:7-23), which entails God’ s anger” ( Romans 1:18 ff., Romans 2:8 f.). The negative form of Romans 4:15 b suits Abraham’ s case, in which the fatal sequence of commandment, transgression, wrath, was obviated.

Romans 4:16 . Two purposes are answered by conditioning the promise upon faith: it devolves “ by way of grace,” which is God’ s delight ( cf. Romans 5:20, Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 2:7, etc.); and the fulfilment “ is secured to all the seed”— to Gentiles along with Jews.

Romans 4:17 a supports Abraham’ s title to ecumenical fatherhood, by quoting the oracle attached to the Covenant of Circumcision (p. 151 ).

Verses 17-25

Romans 4:17 b Romans 4:25 . Faith in God the Life-Giver.

Romans 4:17 associates with the scope the quality of Abraham’ s faith. The patriarch’ s world-fatherhood was his “ in the sight of God whom he believed” : God acknowledged and made good that paternity—“ He who makes alive the dead and summons things non-existent as though in being!”

Romans 4:18-23 . Abraham’ s trust in the power yoked to God’ s promise made his belief efficacious: “ against hope, he believed in hope” ; spiritual hope conquered natural despair. He accepted the assurance respecting Isaac’ s birth, though perfectly aware of its physical impossibility ( Romans 4:19). His “ unhesitating faith honoured God” ( Romans 4:20), and “ brought righteousness to himself” ( Romans 4:22).— In James 2:21-23 and Hebrews 11:17-19, the climax of Abraham’ s faith is his consent to Isaac’ s death; here his anticipation of Isaac’ s birth.

Romans 4:24 . In this phase of it the patriarch’ s faith specifically resembles that of Christian believers. Isaac was, in effect, “ be gotten out of the dead” ( Romans 4:19, Hebrews 11:12; cf. Colossians 1:18); and the faith which now brings justification is trust in the life-giving power revealed on Easter Day.

Romans 4:25 a , alluding to Isaiah 53:4 f., presents our Lord’ s death in its vicarious character manwards ( cf. Romans 8:3 ; Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 5:21); Romans 3:24 f., in its propitiatory character Godwards. Read prospectively, the “ for (because of)” of Romans 4:25 b signifies “ to effect our (individual) justification” ; retrospectively, “ because our (collective) justification had been effected,” potentially, in Christ’ s death ( cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19): the former construction is preferable as in keeping with Romans 4:24, “ to whom it is to be reckoned.”

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Romans 4". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.