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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 4

 

 

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Verse 1

‘What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh?’

Paul now relates what he has demonstrated, to the Scriptures concerning the life of Abraham. The unbelieving Jews (as opposed to the believing Jews who were Christians) saw Abraham’s life as the perfect example of the man who was acceptable to God because of his works, and this especially because of his willingness to offer up his son Isaac. In so far as they made any effort at all they thus strove to be like him. Paul now intends to dispute their position, and he begins with a question, as he does so often in Romans (Romans 2:3-5; Romans 3:1-9; Romans 3:27-31; Romans 4:9-10; Romans 6:1; Romans 6:15; Romans 7:1; Romans 7:7; Romans 7:13; Romans 8:31; Romans 8:33-35; Romans 10:18-19; Romans 11:1; Romans 11:11; often accompanied by ‘let it not be so’). His question is, ‘What then has Abraham our forefather found?’

Our first problem here is as to whether ‘according to the flesh’ should be attached to ‘our forefather’, or to ‘has found’, or should be omitted altogether. Different manuscripts suggest differing alternatives. The first alternative, ‘Has found according to the flesh’ (that is, ‘what has Abraham found as a human being in accordance with his natural powers without the grace of God being active?’) is the reading of K, L, P, Theodoret etc. The second alternative, ‘Abraham our forefather according to the flesh’, (contrasting Abraham’s fatherhood with that of God’s), is the reading of Aleph, A, C, D, E, F, G etc. The third alternative is to omit it altogether. That is the reading of B, 47*, 1739 and possibly Chrysostom. Fortunately, whichever way we take it, it does not greatly affect the argument in Romans 4:2.

Accepting the text as we have it above the question is, ‘what has Abraham found if we just consider him according to his natural abilities without the grace of God being active?’ And he concedes that, looking from a human point of view, Abraham could in fact have been recognised as ‘in the right’ by men, as they saw the tenor of his life. They might well, as the Jews had done, have concluded that he was blessed because of his works. That indeed is always man’s tendency, for man, especially in religious matters, almost always thinks of doing service and getting rewarded. He sees God as he sees himself.


Verses 1-8

The Way Of Justification Through Faith Illustrated In Abraham And Announced By David (4:1-8).

Paul now demonstrates that Abraham’s acceptability with God was by faith, not works, something which is then further confirmed by David. This thus confirms that Abraham was not justified by his works. This went totally contrary to contemporary Jewish teaching which was that Abraham was justified by his works which were pleasing to God. And Paul stresses that it is on the basis of Scripture.


Verses 1-25

What Paul Has Just Described Is Now Seen To Be In Accordance With Ideas Related To Abraham And David (4:1-25).

No one was of more importance to the Jews than Abraham. It was to him that God had given promises concerning both the land and the people (Genesis 12:1-3). It was because they were ‘sons of Abraham’ that they saw themselves as special. Indeed, many considered that because they were sons of Abraham God must look on them with favour and could never therefore reject them. That was why John the Baptiser had had to remind them that God could ‘from these stones raise up sons of Abraham’ (Matthew 3:9).

Their high view of Abraham comes out in Jewish literature. ‘Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life’ (Jubilees 23:10). ‘No one has been like him in glory’ (Sirach 44:19). That these citations should not be taken too literally comes out in the fact that we do know of times when God would not have been pleased with Abraham. For example, when he deceived Pharaoh about his wife (Genesis 12:10-20). Or with regard to his treatment of Hagar (Genesis 16:6). Or when he deceived Abimelech about his wife (Genesis 20:2). But their general aim is in order to bring out the high level of Abraham’s conformity to the will of God. That would, however, have been Paul’s point. That even Abraham did come short of the glory of God.

We must remember that the large majority of Jews were not literally sons of Abraham, and that very few could trace their descent back very far. For, as the Old Testament makes clear, ‘Israel’ included people descended from Abraham’s multiplicity of ‘servants’ (of which 318 were fighting men); from a mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel who were united with Israel at Sinai and would have been circumcised on entering the land (Exodus 12:38; Joshua 5); and from many who joined with Israel and became Israelites on the basis of Exodus 12:48. Thus Israel were not on the whole physical ‘sons of Abraham’. Those were very much a minority of Israel from the start, even though all Israel no doubt claimed to be. Sonship of Abraham in a natural sense was a myth. But from their own point of view the Jews were confident of their situation. To them therefore the example of Abraham was crucial.

Nor must we overlook the fact that in the following argument Paul is not trying to argue that certain things can be transferred from Israel to the church. The argument is between faith and works of the Law, not Israel and non-Israel. To Paul the church was Israel. It was founded on the Jewish Messiah, established on Jewish Apostles, and initially composed only of Jews. The church was the true remnant of Israel, ‘the true vine (John 15:1-6), the Messiah’s ‘congregation’ (Matthew 16:18). The inclusion of Gentiles who responded to the Messiah was simply a matter of incorporating proselytes into the true Israel, something which had always happened. That was why the question of whether they should be circumcised was seen as so important. All saw these Gentiles as being incorporated into Israel when they became Christians, the only question was whether they all needed to be circumcised. Paul’s reply was that they were already circumcised because they had been circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands in ‘the circumcision of Christ’ (the Messiah - Colossians 2:11). But he himself continually confirmed that the church was the true Israel and that it was unbelieving Israel that had ceased to be Israel (Romans 2:28-29; Romans 11:17-28; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; see also 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1). Thus that was not a problem to be dealt with here.

It will be noted that this chapter takes up many of the points previously stated in Romans 3:27-30. Abraham has no right to boast (Romans 4:1-2, compare Romans 3:27 a). Abraham was justified by faith and not works (Romans 4:3-8; compare Romans 3:27 b). God accepts both circumcised and uncircumcised (Romans 4:9-12; compare Romans 3:29-30). Both Jew and Gentile are involved together (Romans 4:16-18; compare Romans 3:29). It thus sets out to demonstrate that these principles have been recognised in Israel from the beginning.

It is also important to note that what is stated in this chapter would not have the same force had it not been preceded by the arguments in chapters 1-3. For Paul and the Jews were looking at things very differently. Paul was seeing righteousness from God’s point of view, as something equatable with ‘the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). To be truly righteous was to have lived fully according to the Law of God in every detail. It was to have not come short of the glory of God. To the Jews, however, righteousness involved obedience to the Law in so far as man was seen as capable. That is why the Jews could see Abraham as accepted by God as righteous. It was because Abraham’s life came so far above the norm. But even they would have hesitated to say that Abraham had never sinned. If Paul was right, and he has demonstrated it quite clearly in chapters 1-3, then Abraham’s righteousness could not in itself be sufficient to make him acceptable to the Judge of all men, for Abraham came short on a number of occasions. If, however, the Jews were right then Abraham might well have been seen by God as acceptable because of his godly life. Thus the question of how Abraham was justified before God was a crucial one.

The chapter can be divided into three parts, although having said that it must be recognised that the theme of Romans 4:3 continues throughout the chapter binding the parts together, and it is again underlined in the concluding verses. The divisions can be seen as follows:

1) The Way Of Justification Through Faith Illustrated In Abraham And Announced By David (Romans 4:1-8).

2) How Circumcision Affects The Issue As Illustrated In The Life Of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12).

3) Abraham’s Life Illustrates The Fact That God’s Greatest Gifts Do Not Come To Us Because We ‘Obey The Law’, But Because We ‘Believe In The Lord’ (Romans 4:13-25).


Verse 2

‘For if Abraham was reckoned as in the right by works, he has that in which to glory, but not towards God.’

But Paul reacts strongly against the suggestion that Abraham was reckoned as righteous by God because of his works. He declares that if Abraham really was reckoned as in the right by works, as the unbelieving Jews claimed, (he is making a concession, notice the ‘if’) it could only be in the eyes of men. He would then have a cause of boasting before men. But, Paul stresses, he would not have a grounds of boasting before God. For God requires, not partial, but total obedience. He will agree that in the eyes of men Abraham might well be highly esteemed and be seen as better than most men, so that he could glory/boast before men. But he will not for one moment concede that he had any grounds for boasting before God. This is a position which he now demonstrates from Scripture, which must be the final arbiter (as both Jew and Christian would agree).

Note how this argument reflects Romans 3:27 ‘Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.’


Verse 3

‘For what does the scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.” ’

Having in Romans 4:2 introduced the idea of God ‘reckoning’ something (counting it as so even if it is not) Paul will now refer to two Scriptures in which the word is used. The first relates to Abraham, who is the subject of his whole present argument. It is demonstrating that what he has been declaring is ‘in the Law’ (i.e. in the Scriptures), as he had claimed in Romans 3:21.

He claims, the Scripture is quite clear on how Abraham was reckoned as righteous before God. It declares that, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6), and this before any of the events which would later be interpreted as being the cause of Abraham being acceptable before God (e.g. his being willing to offer him as a sacrifice in Genesis 22) took place. Here then was a clear statement in ‘the Law’ that Abraham was ‘justified (reckoned as righteous before God) by faith’. It makes clear that Abraham was reckoned as righteous solely on the basis of his believing God and His word.

We should note that faith and God’s sovereignty are the foundations of Abraham’s life. He had come to Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees and Haran in response to God’s call, a call that totally resulted from God’s initiative, and was responded to by faith (Genesis 12:1-3). He experienced theophanies at times of God’s choosing, and entered into covenants which were brought to him on God’s initiative, and constantly believed and responded to His promises. In his life he revealed a constant trust in God. That indeed is what is revealed in Genesis 15. He also trusted and obeyed God when he was called on to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). There is nothing in the Genesis account, apart from his religious response to God through sacrifices, (which themselves were an act of faith), which suggests that Abraham acted as he did because he was seeking salvation. The initiative in his life is seen to be all of God. And it was that basic faith, as a response to the initiative of God, which we are now told was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness’.

The verb ‘to reckon’ is an accounting term. It means to ‘set down’ in a course of dealing. The idea of such records is found regularly in Scripture. See for example, Malachi 3:16; Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12. It is the recording of what are seen as the actual facts (even though they might not be). Once recorded they were ‘written in stone’. It was regularly used in LXX with reference to the imputation of guilt (e.g. Leviticus 7:18; Leviticus 17:4).


Verse 4-5

‘Now to him who works, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt, but to him that who does not work, but believe on him who reckons as in the right the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.’

Paul now brings out the significance of that Scripture in respect of the matter they are dealing with. When it comes to man being rewarded for his works, the reward is not looked on as ‘of grace’ (freely given as an undeserved favour), but as of debt (it has been duly earned and the worker is thus receiving only what is due to him). In contrast we have the case of the man whose ‘reward’ is ‘of grace. He believes on Him who ‘justifies the ungodly while they are still in an ungodly state’, and his faith is reckoned for righteousness. The principle here is very important. The moment works enters into the equation to any extent then it puts God under an obligation. Thus ALL works have to be excluded. God does not owe us anything. He does not justify us because our faith makes up for what is lacking in our works. He justifies us when we truly believe in Him regardless of any works. It is all ‘of grace’ (God’s unmerited favour). And Paul underlines this by stressing that the one who is justified is so even though he is yet ungodly.

Note how boldly he declares that God justifies the ungodly while he is still ungodly. In that case there can be no question of the man being justified by his works. He is ungodly. He deserves nothing. Thus his being ‘justified, reckoned as righteous’, in other words his ‘justification’, could only spring from his response of faith towards a justifying God (Who is ‘just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus’ - Romans 3:28). Note how this ‘ungodliness’ reflects Romans 1:18. There has been great emphasis on how God has dealt with man’s unrighteousness. Here now is God’s answer to man’s proven ungodliness. It confirms his argument in Romans 3:28 that, ‘We reckon therefore that a man is justified (reckoned as in the right) by faith apart from the works of the law.’

We may, of course, react against the suggestion that Abraham had been ungodly, but in that case we need to remember that initially he had no doubt been involved in the worship of idols, for we are told that ‘your fathers dwelt in the past beyond the River (Euphrates), even Terah the father of Abraham --- and they served other gods’ (Joshua 24:2). Thus Abraham had been brought up to worship false gods, until God called him and he believed and responded. It was when he was yet ungodly that God had initially called him. And it was then that God’s righteousness came to him and he was ‘accounted as righteous’.

‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.’ We must not see this as signifying that God saw Abraham’s faith and approved of it and thus recognised him as righteous on the basis of his ‘righteous faith’, as though his faith was a work of which God approved, shining out above his other works. Rather the thought is that Abraham was reckoned as righteous by God because he responded in faith to God, disregarding all works that he had done. The verb chashab followed by the preposition ‘l’ always refers to something being reckoned to someone regardless of their right state. Thus Shimei asks David not to reckon his guilt against him but to treat him as though he were innocent (2 Samuel 19:20). Compare also Leviticus 7:18; Numbers 18:27; Numbers 18:30.


Verse 6

‘Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God reckons 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 in any way (ou me) reckon sin.’

He then proceeds to amplify his argument with reference to David’s words in Psalms 32:1-2. David speaks on behalf of those who had come to God, calling on Him to ‘reckon them as righteous apart from works’, purely on the basis of His compassion and mercy. And what did God do in response their plea? He blessed them, and all who similarly called upon him. The word for ‘blessed’ indicates the highest state of felicity. He declared that their iniquities were forgiven and their sins covered, and that He would not therefore ‘reckon their sin against them’, which ultimately indicated that God would look on them as innocent, as reckoned as righteous, as reckoned as having not sinned. Here then, says Paul, we have another example of God’s methods which ties in with Romans 3:28.

Note here that there can be no question of any works entering in. It is their sins that are not reckoned to them. They are forgiven and covered. And the implication is that this makes them acceptable to God. Note also what these words tell us about the character of God. They tell us that He is not only just and holy but is also merciful and longsuffering, and that He reaches out to the ungodly. They tell us that He is ever ready to receive those who come to Him through faith. No matter what their state may be at the time, if they come to Him in faith He will receive them and ‘reckon them as righteous’ (that is, will not reckon their sin against them) through faith in Jesus Christ.

The same was true of David. He was an adulterer and murderer. And yet he could say, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom, the Lord will not reckon sin.” In other words, he was conscious that he had been forgiven, and that he was accounted as righteous in God’s sight. And how was it so? By believing the words of the prophet who came to him with God’s offer of mercy. He believed God and was accounted as righteous.

Thus Scripture clearly demonstrates that for a man to be accounted righteous he must believe God when God speaks to him. ‘The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). He must be accounted as righteous ‘by faith’, by believing. And if neither Abraham nor David could claim the ground of works, how can we possibly do so?


Verse 9-10

‘Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcision, or on 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 now uses the life of Abraham to support his contention that the uncircumcised can receive the blessing of ‘being reckoned as in the right’ equally with the circumcised. For, he says, when Abraham was reckoned as in the right in Romans 15:6 it was long before he was circumcised. Circumcision could not have been further from his mind. It was as an uncircumcised man that he was reckoned as in the right before God. Thus it is clear that God saw being reckoned as in the right before Him as having nothing to do with circumcision.


Verses 9-12

2). How Then Does Circumcision Affect The Issue As Illustrated In The Life Of Abraham? (4:9-12).

Paul now brings up with respect to Abraham the point that he had made in Romans 3:30, where he had claimed that God ‘will justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.’ Here he asks, ‘Is this blessing (the blessing of not having sin reckoned to them, and of having righteousness reckoned to them) then pronounced on the circumcision, or on the uncircumcision also?’ And his reply is that when Abraham believed God and was reckoned as righteous by faith he was not circumcised. Nor, he could have argued, was he circumcised until a good while after. Circumcision was nowhere related to his being accounted as righteous.

And we could add that that circumcision was not related to his being reckoned as righteous at any stage. It had rather to do with God’s promises to Abraham, not only about Isaac and his descendants, but also about Ishmael and his descendants. In other words circumcision was much broader than Israel. Paul does not bring that out (to him the church was Israel), but he does stress that Abraham be seen as the father of us all, both circumcised and uncircumcised. He would no doubt in support of this have pointed back to other promises that Abraham had believed, after he had responded in faith to God, namely that he would be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3). All that being so, circumcision cannot be seen as necessary in order for a man to be reckoned as righteous by God. Only faith is necessary.


Verse 11

‘And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned to them,’

What then was the purpose of circumcision? It was a ‘sign’ of the covenant between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:11). It was thus a sign that he was already reckoned as in the right, and it was a seal of the righteousness which had been reckoned to him while he was still in uncircumcision. And this was so that he might be the father of all who believe and are therefore reckoned by God as in the right, even though they be in uncircumcision. The argument here is against the Jewish claim that without circumcision it was not possible to be a son of Abraham. Against their view he is now arguing that Abraham is the father of all believers because God’s promise of future blessing for the whole world was to come through him and his descendants (Genesis 12:3). This in fact went contrary to the Jewish belief that no Gentile could call God their father, even when they became proselytes. They no doubt took this position because they argued that such Gentiles were not literal descendants of Abraham. But this only served to demonstrate the folly of their thinking because an examination of Scripture itself makes quite clear that comparatively few Jews are actually literal descendants of Abraham as we have seen above.

But Paul himself had no problem with seeing Abraham as the father of all believers, because in his eyes all believers were already a part of Israel. It was his opponents who argued otherwise, and whom he is trying to convince here. It should be noted that the fact that circumcision was thesealof the righteousness that Abraham had through faith clearly demonstrated that circumcision was not the grounds of it.


Verse 12

‘And the father of circumcision to those 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.’

Nor is Abraham to be seen as the father of all who are circumcised. (As Jesus would point out to the Pharisees who claimed to be sons of Abraham, ‘you are of your father the Devil’ - John 8:39-44). He is rather to be seen as the father of those of the circumcised who walk in the same steps of faith as did Abraham, and whose faith therefore is of a kind that results in them being reckoned as in the right before God. It would be wrong therefore to see circumcision as putting a man in the right in the eyes of God.

This, of course, ties in with his previous argument in Romans 2:25-29 where he pointed out that the true circumcision were those whose hears had been circumcised, in other words those in whose hearts God had worked by His Spirit.


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 ‘for’ may refer back to walking in the steps of the faith of Abraham while he was uncircumcised (Romans 4:12), or to the whole previous narrative. Or it may simply be introductory. But the gist of the verse is clear, and that is that the promise given to Abraham that he would be heir of the world was not connected with obedience to the Law but was through the righteousness of faith (Genesis 15:6). Any connection with the Law has to be read in, because there is not even a hint of it, whilst the connection with the righteousness of faith is immediately apparent from the narrative.

‘Should be heir of the world.’ From the beginning the promise to Abraham was that in him and his descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed (or would bless themselves - Genesis 12:3). In terms of those days that indicated that they would rule over them in some way. Their inheritance was to be the world. Thus Abraham was seen as ‘heir of the world’. The thought of an heir arises from the context in Genesis 15 which is all about the promise of Abraham’s heir who would, of course inherit the promises. As Isaac was Abraham’s heir, so Abraham was God’s heir. This promise of being heir of the world is further amplified in later promises where Abraham is to be the father of many nations, and the producer of kings (Genesis 17:5-6). But the promises were not made because of his own righteous living, they were made because God had chosen him and he was obedient to voice of the Lord. It was God’s choice of Abraham that was constantly seen as the basis for his behaviour, something which indicated that his blessing came through God’s sovereign grace (Genesis 15:7; Genesis 18:19). That that shouldresultin godly living can then be accepted without question.


Verses 13-25

3). Abraham Illustrates The Fact That God’s Greatest Gifts Do Not Come To Us Because We ‘Obey The Law’, But Because We ‘Believe In The Lord’ (4:13-25).

The importance of faith in the life of Abraham is now brought out. For Paul here stresses that he lived a life of faith from the moment he began to believe, and continued to do so throughout his life, and he stresses that the promise to Abraham that he would be the heir of the world was made on that basis. Note that God’s promises are mentioned five times in the passage. It is clearly part of Paul’s thesis that Abraham was blessed because he believed God’s promises.

This is in contrast with the Jewish tradition which saw Abraham as being blessed because he had kept the whole Law even before it was given, and considered that in order to be a child of Abraham a Jew must take on himself the yoke of the Torah. "At that time, the unwritten law was named among them, and the works of the commandment were then fulfilled," (Apocalypse of Baruch 57:2), "He kept the law of the Most High, and was taken into covenant with God.... Therefore God assured him by an oath that the nations should be blessed in his seed," (Sirach 44:20-21). Thus to the Jew the keeping of the Law was basic to Abraham’s life, and basic to salvation, and to entry into eternal life. But, as Paul is bringing out, it was not so in God’s eyes, nor was it true to the Scriptures.


Verse 14-15

‘For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect. For the law works wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression.’

The promises were offered to Abraham for his ready acceptance through faith. Thus faith was the basis of his heirdom. That being so, if that heirdom goes to those who rely on observing the Law for salvation, faith is basically cancelled out. It is no longer required. It is rendered ineffectual, being replaced by law-keeping. And the consequence of that is that the promise which was offered to faith would also have been made of none effect. This would be so because those attempting to keep the Law would inevitably fail to fully keep the Law (as described in chapters 1-3). Thus they will be under wrath. For the Law works wrath, that is, it makes men’s sins specific and thus multiplies them. And a holy God will not fulfil His promises to those who are under His wrath. Compare Galatians 3:10, ‘cursed are all those who do not continue in the book of the Law to do them’ (cited from Deuteronomy 27:26). On the other hand because there was no Mosaic Law in the time of Abraham, those who lived then would not come under the constant wrath that resulted from the continual breaking of ‘the Law’, as it did not then exist. They would be ‘without transgression’, that is, not guilty of breaking the Law of Moses. The idea is not that they were sinless. It is that their approach to God was not based on Law but on faith.


Verse 16

‘For this reason 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.’

It is because the Law can only bring down on men the wrath of God that God’s promise had to be based on faith, so that the promise could depend on the unfailing grace of God. This alone made the promise sure of fulfilment. And it was a fulfilment that would be available to ‘all the seed’, that is all whom God had promised to bless through Abraham (the whole world - Genesis 12:3). But that being so, this sureness of fulfilment was now not just to be seen as available to those who were ‘of the Law’, if they believed, but was also to be seen as available towards all who believed God as Abraham believed God. And this was because the Scriptures say that Abraham is ‘the father of us all’, not just of those who called themselves the sons of Abraham.


Verse 17

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

The Scriptural evidence is now given. ‘A father of many nations have I made you’. These words are found in Genesis 17:5. They would be literally true of the descendants of his many sons as they mingled with other peoples to form tribes, and they would be spiritually true of all who experienced the worldwide blessing that would come from Abraham through his seed (Genesis 12:3), a worldwide blessing which was a theme of the prophets (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; and often).

And all this would be ‘before God’, Who ‘gives life to the dead, and calls the things that are not as though they were’. This last especially has in mind the son who would be born to Sarah who was little short of a miracle. Out of what appeared to be a hopeless situation God produced life from a dead womb, a son who at the time appeared to be an impossibility, that is, was a ‘was not’ who became a ‘was’ because that is what God can do.

But in the context it is also true of the birth and growth of the church, the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). That too is a miracle birth, brought about by the grace and power of God. For the reference to His ‘giving life to the dead’ must surely be seen as connecting with Romans 4:24 where it was most literally fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the result that His people are ‘accounted as righteous’ (Romans 4:25). Whilst the things which ‘are not’, which became the things that ‘are’, surely has in mind the new people of God, who were brought into being through Him (Romans 4:25). ‘I will call them my people who were not my people’ (Romans 9:25).


Verse 18

‘Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to what had been spoken, “So shall your seed be.” ’

Paul now makes the application to what followed in the life of Abraham, something which also resulted from his faith. For as a consequence of God’s promise he believed that he would be the father of many nations, even though it was ‘a hope believed against hope’, that is, a hope in what appeared to be impossible. He believed God’s promise that ‘so will your seed be’. Note that the citation is from Genesis 15:5 which was, of course, immediately followed by the statement that God reckoned Abraham as ‘in the right’ because of his faith.


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,’

For even though he had to recognise that he was a hundred years old, and that Sarah’s womb was dead (incapable of giving birth), he still resolutely believed what God promised him. His faith did not weaken.


Verse 20-21

‘Yet, looking to 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.’

He looked to God’s promise, not wavering through unbelief, and grew strong in faith, giving glory to God and confident that what He had promised He was able to perform. And all this because of his personal faith and trust in God. Thus all the way through his life faith is what is seen to be the basis of Abraham’s life.


Verse 22

‘Wherefore also it was reckoned to him for righteousness.’

And this faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. God saw him as right in His sight because he believed God (Genesis 15:6). This is the theme of the whole chapter up to this point (see especially Romans 4:3; Romans 4:9 which both cite Genesis 15:6).


Verse 23-24

‘Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, unto whom it will be reckoned, who believe on him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,’

And this is now true also for all his spiritual sons. That faith was reckoned for righteousness was not just written for Abraham’s sake, it was written also for ‘our sakes’ (for the sake of true believing Christians). For in the same way as faith was reckoned for righteousness in Abraham’s case, faith will also be reckoned for righteousness in the case of all those who believe on Him Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. It would appear here that Paul is seeing the birth of Isaac by a miracle, as being like a foretaste of the miracle of the resurrection. Both would result in a multitude of progeny.


Verse 25

‘Who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our being accounted as in the right (justification).’

For this was why Christ died. He was delivered up for our trespasses, for all the ways in which we come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and He was raised again so that we might be ‘accounted as in the right’ before Him. The referring of our ‘justification’ to the resurrection is unusual. It is normally connected with His death (Romans 3:24-25). But there is no difficulty in this, for the raising of Jesus from the dead was unquestionably seen as the moment when He was vindicated, and therefore as the moment when His righteousness became available so as to be reckoned to us. The resurrection was the seal on what He had accomplished. It was then that He was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). It was thus the moment at which our being ‘accounted as in the right’ was made possible. Now He could visit us with righteousness and salvation (Romans 1:16-17). The association of His death and resurrection as being two aspects of our salvation will come out strongly in Romans 5:10; Romans 6:1-11.

The ‘literal’ Greek is:

Who was delivered up because of our trespasses,

And was raised because of our justification.

The fact that He was ‘delivered up (handed over) for our trespasses’ is probably a reflection of Isaiah 53:12 LXX, where it says, ‘because of their sins He was handed over’. The second line is indicating the success of what He had done. His resurrection was the proof that His death had accomplished its purpose, and that His righteousness was available to be set to our account once we believed in Him. The promises to Isaiah were being fulfilled, ‘It pleased the LORD to bruise Him, He has put Him to grief, when You will make His soul an offering for sin (delivered up for our trespasses) He will see His seed. He will prolong His days (resurrection), and the pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand (the triumph of the Gospel and the redeeming of His people). From the travail of His soul He will see light (resurrection) and will be satisfied. By His humiliation will My righteous Servant make many to be to be accounted as in the right, and He will bear their iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:10-11).

Thus our justification, our being accounted as ‘in the right’, rests on both His death and resurrection. In that sense His resurrection was ‘because of our justification’, it was evidence that our justification had been accomplished. But that is probably not Paul’s prime meaning here. Here the second ‘because’ should probably be rendered ‘because of our need for’ or ‘because the means had been provided for’. He had made the righteousness of God which is from faith unto faith (Romans 1:17) available to all who believe.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/romans-4.html. 2013.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 18th, 2018
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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