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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 4

 

 

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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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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/romans-4.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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