corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Romans 4



Other Authors
Verses 21-25


The theme of this second main division of the doctrinal part of the Epistle may be found in Romans 3:21 : (1.) The righteousness of God apart from the law has been made manifest (i.e., a righteousness by faith), and (2.) this is attested by the law and the prophets. Chap. Romans 3:22-31 expands the former idea; chap. 4 the latter, 1. Righteousness from God comes independently of the law, by faith in the atoning Saviour (Romans 3:21-26); hence the universality of its application (Romans 3:27-30), establishing the law; for 2. Abraham was justified by faith, being the father of believers, uncircumcised as well as circumcised (chap. Romans 4:1-25). The whole division is based upon the evangelical idea of justification; and in chap. Romans 3:23-26 we have presented to us the doctrine of justification by free grace through faith in Christ, in its inseparable connection with the atonement as its objective basis. We therefore insert here the following Excursus.

The Word Justify and Kindred Terms.

The word ‘justify,’ in Greek as well as English, is derived from the adjective, meaning just or righteous. In the Bible, however, this is a religious idea, involving conformity to God’s will or law, and not a purely ethical one. The verb, according to its etymology, in both languages, would mean: to make righteous, but it passes over in actual use into the sense: to account righteous, having a forensic or declarative meaning. The question is, which meaning does it have in the New Testament. There ought to be little doubt that the latter sense is that exclusively intended in the New Testament, especially by the Apostle Paul.

1. The verb had this declarative sense in classical Greek, before the Hellenistic usage was formed.

2. It is frequently used in the LXX., and in all but two or three cases the declarative sense is preferable; in many instances (as where God is said to be justified; and where judicial verdicts are spoken of) it is the only possible one.

3. Not only is the Hebrew usage fairly reproduced in the LXX., but the Hebrew notions of ‘righteous,’ pointing to God’s will as the standard, God’s estimate as the decisive one, would lead us to expect the word to take on a technical forensic sense, during the two centuries in which the peculiarities of New Testament Greek were fully developed.

4. In the New Testament the declarative sense is appropriate in every instance. (Revelation 22:11 might have been an exception, but the correct reading gives another form.) On the other hand, while there are passages in which the sense ‘make righteous’ could be appropriate, in the majority of instances such a meaning is impossible. The word occurs thirty-nine times in the New Testament, twenty-seven times in Paul’s Epistles, mostly in close argumentation. To suppose that he used the term indefinitely, is to cast contempt on all his writings. Already in his speech at Antioch, in Pisidia (Acts 13:39), he used it in a strictly declarative sense, as well known to his hearers. All the phenomena, philological and historical, point to a definite, technical sense, and that the sense upheld by Protestants generally. A comparison of the passages will confirm to the English reader this view. See any good Concordance.

To justify, then, denotes an act of jurisdiction, the pronouncing of a verdict, not the infusion of a quality. When God justifies, He accounts as righteous, treats as righteous. That He will make righteous those whom He accounts righteous, follows from His character, not from anything in the character of justification itself. It is ‘an act of God’s free grace,’ bestowed without any merit of ours, on the objective ground of the perfect righteousness of Christ, as apprehended, and thus made subjective by a living faith (see Romans 3:25). The doctrine of justification may be distinguished from the broader and deeper doctrine of a life-union with Christ, but must not be sundered from it. The same grace which justifies does also renew, regenerate, and sanctify; faith and love, justification and sanctification, are as inseparable in the life of the Christian, as light and heat in the rays of the sun. The distinction is necessary, however, for it is expressly made in Scripture, and is of the greatest importance in preaching the gospel.

5. The history of Christian experience confirms the philological result. In this view was found the practical power of the Reformation. It turns the sinner away from his own doing to seek salvation outside of himself; when joined with the atonement of Christ, it gives peace to his conscience; it comforts the believer continually, giving an ever-fresh motive to holy living, which is the consequence, not the came of justification. Notice, too, that everywhere justification is spoken of as an act, not a continuous work. The tenses chosen by Paul indicate this. The only apparent exception is in this verse, where a present participle (implying continuous action) is used; but here the continuity is in the persons who are justified, and not in the act in the case of each. Comp, the full notes, philological and doctrinal, of Dr. Schaff in Lange, Romans, pp. 130 ff., 138 ff., and also the Excursus in this volume, Galatians, chap. 2

Verse 1

Romans 4:1. What shall we say then! ‘Then’ connects with what precedes, but the exact reference is open to discussion. Meyer and others take it as introducing a proof of chap. Romans 3:31, which they consider the proposition of chap. 4. The objection is that Paul is proving, not the agreement of the law and the gospel, but the true method of justification. It seems better to take Romans 3:31 as a transition thought, which is illustrated in this chapter, and taken up again in chap. 6, and to find here a proof of the positions set forth in chap. Romans 3:28-30, to which exception might be taken in view of the Divine origin of the law.

Our forefather. This is the better supported reading.

According to the flesh. This may mean, according to natural descent, or it may have the ethical sense, according to his sinful human nature (see chap. 7). In the former case it must be connected with ‘forefather’ in the latter with ‘hath found.’ The order of the common Greek text favors the latter; while the best authorities sustain a different order, which throws the emphasis upon ‘hath found,’ but separates it from ‘according to the flesh.’ It is possible, however, to join it with the verb, even while accepting this reading. The sense then is: what shall we say then that Abraham our forefather hath found (i.e., attained) according to the flesh (i.e., through his own natural efforts as distinct from the grace of God). The opposite would be ‘according to the Spirit,’ according to the working of the Spirit of God. This evidently suits the context much better than the other view, which merely adds a seemingly unnecessary definition to the word ‘forefather.’

Verses 1-25

2. Proof from the case of Abraham, that Righteousness is by Faith.

The principle of faith, as the universal one, does not make void the law. In the truest sense it is by this principle that ‘we establish the law’ (chap. Romans 3:31). As regards Abraham himself, the ancestor of the Jews (Romans 4:1), the Scripture teaches that he was justified by faith (Romans 4:2-5); this accords with what David says of free forgiveness (Romans 4:6-8) as well as with the fact that Abraham was justified while yet uncircumcised, and thus became the father of believers, uncircumcised and circumcised alike (Romans 4:9-12); furthermore the promise of the inheritance of the world came through the righteousness of faith, not through the law (Romans 4:13-17). This is further set forth by a description of Abraham’s faith in God’s omnipotence (Romans 4:18-22); the whole matter being applied to the case of all believers in Christ (Romans 4:23-25). Comp. throughout the similar argument in Galatians 3.

Verse 2

Romans 4:2. For if Abraham was justified by works. It is assumed that he was justified, but the Jews held the opinion that he was justified by works. Notice that even in their view, justification was a matter where God’s verdict was concerned.

Ground of glorying (not the same word as in chap. Romans 3:27); comp. Galatians 6:4, where the same phrase occurs.

But not toward God. The best paraphrase of this concisely expressed passage is: ‘If Abraham, as the Jews suppose, was justified by works, he has reason to glory toward God (for he could claim justification from God as “of debt”), but he has no ground of glorying toward God (and hence was not justified by works), for the Scripture says he was justified by faith (Romans 4:3).’ Some commentators, however, following the Greek fathers, take the clause: ‘but not toward God,’ as implying that his justification by faith gives him a ground of glorying toward God, but the supposed justification by works would give him only a pound of glorying toward men, God having nothing to do with it except to acknowledge it as justly earned. The objections to this view are that Romans 4:3 would then contain a refutation introduced by ‘but’ not ‘for;’ that it is not like Paul to admit any ground of glorying toward men, much less toward God, in connection with the matter of justification.

Verse 3

Romans 4:3. For what faith the Scripture! This introduces the Scriptural proof of the fact that Abraham has no ground of glorying toward God, and hence of the main position that the Old Testament teaches that justification is by faith. The passage quoted is Genesis 15:6, cited also in Galatians 3:6; James 2:23; but the E. V. varies the form in each case. The New Testament citations all follow the LXX: And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness (Heb: ‘And He reckoned it to him for righteousness’). The saying was with reference to the promise of an heir, as detailed in Romans 4:17-22. This believing was reckoned unto Abraham for righteousness. The word we translate ‘reckon’ occurs eleven times in this chapter, and is represented in the E. V. by ‘count,’ ‘reckon,’ ‘impute;’ elsewhere in this Epistle by ‘account’ (so Galatians 3:6). The idea of putting to one’s account is obvious; and the full expression is a technical one, the equivalent of God’s act of justification. ‘That is transferred to the person and imputed to him, which in and for itself does not belong to him’ (Cremer, Bib. Lexicon). The following explanations attempt to avoid this sense: his faith was taken into account with a view to making him righteous; his faith being a new principle of obedience, was regarded as already a complete righteousness; he was justified on account of the merit of his faith, not through his faith. But all these are opposed to the proper sense of ‘reckon’ as well as to that of the entire phrase. Furthermore, they are opposed not only to the line of Paul’s argument, but to the facts of spiritual experience: the confusion of justification and sanctification has invariably, sooner or later, led to a decrease of holiness. As respects the character of Abraham’s faith, it differs from Christian faith, as the promise differs from the fulfilment of the gospel salvation, and as hope differs from fruition; but the essential element in both is unconditional trust in God’s truth and mercy. How far Abraham, in thus believing, had faith in a Messiah, we cannot tell. In any case, his faith was not a purely subjective matter; it rested upon God, real and revealed, as its object, and the contents of his faith would correspond with the extent of the revelation. It is not for us, who have the personal Lord Jesus Christ as the object of our faith, to use the case of Abraham as a proof that one can have Christian faith and yet reject Him. Meyer goes so far as to say: ‘Abraham’s faith had reference to the divine promise, and indeed to the promise which he, the man trusted by God and enlightened by God, recognized as that which embraced in it the future Messiah (John 8:56).’ In the case of the Christian, the object of faith is the personal Messiah, the contents of faith respect [is person and work. One who believes in Him will not be seeking to diminish the contents of his faith.

Verse 4

Romans 4:4. Now to him that worketh. Romans 4:4-5 illustrate Romans 4:3, by a general contrast of the two ways by which we can be accounted righteous. A workman whose business it is to labor for hire represents the legal method, the plan of making one’s own moral character and doings the basis of acceptance with God.

The reward; his reward, for which he works.

Not reckoned; this takes up the verb from Romans 4:3. but without emphasizing it.

Of grace, but of debt; not according to, as a matter of favor, but of debt. That Abraham’s case was ‘of grace’ is so heavily implied, that it was not necessary to express it, especially as the thought is now quite general.

Verse 5

Romans 4:5. But to him that worketh not; to one who does not work for hire. The statement is general, including Abraham, but not specifically applied to him.

Believeth on him. The idea of trustfully resting on is suggested by the original.

That justifieth. Here any other idea than that of accounting righteous is forbidden by the connection.

The ungodly; the ungodly individual, the original is in the singular. The word is chosen to present a strong contrast of ‘justifying,’ one who is alienated from God is yet accounted righteous by God

His faith, etc. Meyer, while insisting that the merit of Christ always remains the meritorious cause, to which we are indebted for the imputation of our faith, objects to the usual view that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, on the ground that thus the subjective apprehension of Christ is confounded with the apprehended Christ, the objective ground of imputation. But the next verse speaks of God’s reckoning righteousness to a man, and the profound discussion at the close of chap. 5 points more directly to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Comp. the Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 60.

Verse 6

Romans 4:6. Even as David also. The confirmatory illustration now introduced is from Psalms 32:1-2, here attributed to David. There is significance in the fact that David himself was a sinner who had been greatly forgiven.

Pronounceth the blessedness; speaks the congratulation, the pronouncing blessed. The quotation is of forgiveness, of not being reckoned a sinner; but the Apostle takes this as equivalent to the Lord reckoneth righteousness. ‘It is implied by Paul, that the remission of sin is equivalent to the imputation of righteousness, that there is no negative state of innocence, none intermediate between acceptance for righteousness, and rejection for sin’ (Alford).

Apart from works. Since the forgiveness of sins is here indicated as a part of the reckoning of righteousness, this reckoning must be apart from meritorious works, for forgiveness and merit are opposed ideas.

Verse 7

Romans 4:7. Blessed are they, etc. The quotation is made exactly from the LXX.

Whoso sins are covered. The idea of the first clause is repeated under another figure, according to the parallelism of Hebrew poetry. Their sins are hid by God Himself, which is the same as ‘forgiven,’ ‘not reckoned.’

Verse 8

Romans 4:8. Will not reckon sin. The negation is very strong, ‘will in no wise reckon.’ This may refer to the final judgment, but more probably points to the method of entire forgiveness (future to David’s eye) revealed in the gospel.

Verse 9

Romans 4:9. Is this blessedness then, etc. ‘This pronouncing blessed, then, is it upon,’ etc. The reference is to David’s words. The inference, in the form of a question, is, that this declaration of blessedness affects the uncircumcision also, for an affirmative answer to this clause is implied in the form of the original.

For we say (i.e., in accordance with the quotation in Romans 4:3). This begins the proof from the case of Abraham, by restating the Scriptural fact. The further facts and conclusion follow. ‘That’ should be omitted.

To Abraham, etc. The emphasis rests on ‘Abraham,’ as the emended order indicates.

His faith, lit., ‘the faith,’ the faith just spoken of in Romans 4:3.

Verse 10

Romans 4:10. How then was it reckoned? Not, what was the mode in which it was reckoned, but, ‘how was he situated when this took place?’ The rest of the verse makes this clear.

Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. The ‘reckoning’ took place (Genesis 15:6) at least fourteen years before the circumcision of Abraham (Genesis 17:25); consequently the latter was the Divine ratification of grace already received, not the effective cause or condition of the bestowal of grace.

Verse 11

Romans 4:11. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal, etc. The ‘sign’ was ‘circumcision,’ which is described as ‘a seal,’ etc. Meyer explains: a sign which was given him in the fact that he was circumcised, he received as seal, etc. In Genesis 17:11, circumcision is represented as ‘a token (sign) of the covenant’ God made with Abraham. The covenant antedated the sign (Genesis 15). In the Talmud also, circumcision is spoken of as the sign and seal of the covenant.

The righteousness of the faith which he had while in un circumcision. This is historically correct, and doctrinally accurate. Abraham’s faith was in God who had promised him an inheritance, and his faith was then reckoned to him for righteousness, this being a part of the story of the covenant; when afterwards circumcision was instituted it sealed the promise or covenant, and not less the righteousness reckoned to Abraham, which came from his faith. The true idea of a sacrament is here suggested; it is a sign, seal, and means of grace, but not the grace itself. Circumcision is not the covenant; nor is baptism regeneration. The sign and seal is not itself the ground of confidence, but it testifies and openly ratifies a Divine covenant or blessing. If Abraham needed a seal of the righteousness reckoned to him, some such outward sign and seal may be expected in the Christian church.

That he might be the father, etc. This was the end of his receiving a sign of previous faith. The idea of spiritual fatherhood ere set forth is quite Biblical, but the fullest exposition of spiritual sonship of Abraham is found in Galatians 3 ‘They that are of faith, these are sons of Abraham.’ ‘Not Jews and proselytes as such, but the believers as such all uncircumcised who believe, and (Romans 4:12) the believing circumcised’ (Meyer). The former came into view first, because this was the main position to be proved, and the more striking inference from the historical facts.

Though yet in uncircumcision; a correct paraphrase of the original expression, which is literally ‘through uncircumcision.’

That righteousness might be reckoned unto them. The best authorities omit ‘also’; which would suggest, ‘unto them as well as to Abraham,’ but is quite unnecessary. This clause presents the purpose with respect to the individuals who believe though uncircumcised. It is parenthetical, for Romans 4:12 is parallel with the preceding clause.

Verse 12

Romans 4:12. And the father. ‘Father’ is repeated to take up the line of thought slightly interrupted by the final clause of Romans 4:11. The full idea is: that he might be the father, etc.

Of circumcision. Not of the circumcision as such, but of such as are afterward further defined.

Not only are of the circumcision, but who, etc. The Greek is peculiar, but the sense is easily perceived. Abraham is, indeed, the father of circumcision, but with reference to those Jews who are not merely circumcised, but also believe, as he did. The connection of the last idea with the historical facts respecting Abraham’s faith and subsequent circumcision is emphasized in the phrase: walk in the stops of that faith, etc. The sum of the argument is: ‘For Abraham’s righteousness through faith was attained, when as yet there was no distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised; and to this mode of becoming just before God, independently of external conditions, Christianity by its “righteousness by faith” leads back again and continues it’ (Meyer).

While in uncircumcision. The form of the original closely resembles Romans 4:11; but the order is slightly changed. The emphasis there rests upon ‘in uncircumcision’; here on ‘faith.’

Verse 13

Romans 4:13. For not through the law. This order is required by the emphasis indicated in the original. ‘Through law’ is the literal rendering, but this verse (comp. Romans 4:15) overthrows the view that ‘law’ without the article does not mean specifically the Mosaic law. The argument is: The Mosaic law was in no sense the ground or cause of the promise, for the law was not then in existence; and this fact is the ground of the position of Abraham as father of all believers, whether Gentiles or Jews (Romans 4:11-12). The phrase ‘through the law’ must not be narrowed to ‘through the works of the law;’ the agency of the Mosaic law is absolutely denied.

Is the promise. The purport of the promise is afterwards given. The verb is wanting in the Greek, but we supply ‘is,’ because the reference is to a Cruse still valid (‘or to his seed’).

To Abraham or to his seed. ‘Or’ after a negative binds two words closely. The promise is to both, as one. Here ‘his seed’ is not directly referred to Christ, as in Galatians 3:16, but to all believers, as the spiritual descendants of Abraham. In Galatians, the emphasis rests upon the fact that believers form a collective unity in Christ.

That he should be heir of the world. This is Paul’s summing up of various promises made to Abraham for himself and his seed (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14-15; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 22:17). The Rabbins understood these as meaning the ultimate, universal sovereignty of the Messiah. As to the main point Paul accepts this view, though the religious significance to him was different from the Jewish conception. The same idea underlies the gospel phrase ‘kingdom of heaven, kingdom of God.’ The promise will be literally fulfilled when the kingdoms of the world are given to the people of the Most High, and Christ returns to rule. Daniel 7:27; Matthew 5:5; Revelation 11:15, etc.

Through the righteousness of faith. Genesis 15:6, quoted in Romans 4:3, follows the first promise; but this need not occasion difficulty, for the promises covered a long period, and Abraham’s faith began at the first promise. Comp. Genesis 12:1-3 with Hebrews 11:8.

Verse 14

Romans 4:14. For if, etc. The proof of Romans 4:13 is now given (Romans 4:14-17), from the nature of the law, and the consequent necessity of faith as the ground of inheritance.

They that are of the law. Comp. the contrasted idea, chap. Romans 3:26; Galatians 3:7. Those who belong to the law are of that party whose religious life springs from the law, and who are legalists in character.

Faith is made void, is made empty and continues so, there is no use of it.

Of none effect. The promise is made permanently invalid. Why so? The reason is given in Romans 4:15.

Verse 15

Romans 4:15. For. The statement that faith and the promise would be ignored, if the inheritance is through the law, must be true, for this reason.

The law, the Mosaic law, as in the entire discussion.

Worketh wrath. The wrath of God is meant, else the next clause would have little pertinence; moreover, ‘wrath,’ in the New Testament, in the vast majority of cases refers to God’s wrath against sin. The law does, indeed, stir up the wrath of man against God, as is set forth in chap. Romans 7:5, etc., but the train of thought in that chapter is distinct from that found here. Because the law brings about wrath, it cannot be the ground of promise (Romans 4:13).

But where there is no law, neither is there transgression. ‘For’ was substituted by the early transcribers, to bring out the connection of thought. Strictly speaking, this part of the verse is a general negative statement, implying the positive truth, that where there is a law, there is transgression of it, thus producing a more pronounced form of sin, upon which God’s wrath is visited; thus the law ‘works wrath.’ The negative form is probably due to the character of the main thought, the promise was independent of law (Romans 4:13). ‘Transgression,’ the infraction of known law, is one form of sin, but does not include all sin. ‘Sins without positive law (chap. Romans 5:13), are likewise, and, indeed, on account of the natural law (chap. Romans 2:14), objects of the divine wrath (see Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3); but sins against a given law are, in virtue of their thereby definite quality of transgression, so specifically and specially provocative of wrath in God, that Paul could relatively, even, deny the imputation of sin when the law was non-existent. See on chap. Romans 5:13’ (Meyer).

Verse 16

Romans 4:16. On this account. An inference from Romans 4:14-15 (though some refer it to what follows).

It is of faith. What? Not the promise, but the inheritance, in view of the contrast in Romans 4:14. Strictly speaking, we should explain, supply ‘the heirs are of faith.’

That it may be. The present is preferable, as indicating a continuous result which is purposed by God in making men heirs. ‘As the law, bringing the knowledge of guilt, works wrath, so the promise awakening faith, manifests God’s free grace, the end for which it was given’ (Alford).

In order that the promise may be (the present is preferable here also). This is the purpose of God in making men heirs by the way of grace; His free unmerited favor thus makes the promise sure to all the seed, i.e., to all believers (comp. Romans 4:11; Romans 4:13), not only to the believing Jews, that which is of the law, but also to the believing Gentiles, who are described as of the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:10-11), though not descended from him. That the former class includes only believing Jews, appears from the fact that the Apostle is describing the ‘seed’ who become heirs by faith in order to manifest God’s grace. That justification is by faith, not by works of the law, has already been proved, and is here presupposed. As the believing Jew was also ‘of the faith of Abraham,’ ‘of the law,’ the contrast respects their race, not their way of obtaining the promise. This is the same in both cases (‘according to grace’), otherwise it would not be sure.

Who is the father of us all. ‘Reiterated (comp. Romans 4:11-12), solemn setting forth of the fatherhood of Abraham for all believers (us), which was, indeed, the pith and fundamental idea of the entire argument (since Romans 4:9).’ Meyer.

Verse 17

Romans 4:17. As it is written. Genesis 17:5 is here quoted, from the LXX. In view of the connection the parenthesis is to be retained.

A father of many nations. Comp. the significant change of name (Abraham = father of a multitude) for which this phrase gives a reason.

Have I set thee. Appointed or constituted. The word denotes that the paternity spoken of was the result of a special arrangement or economy. It would not be used to denote the merely physical connection between father and son’ (Shedd). Hence the promise was of a spiritual seed from many nations. The pertinence of the quotation thus becomes obvious.

Before him whom he believed. This is to be joined with Romans 4:16 : who is the father of us all, not physically, but spiritually, in the sight and estimation of God, in whose sight Abraham believed. Others prefer to explain: in the sight of God, whom Abraham believed; but this is not so grammatical.

Who quickeneth the dead, etc. Paul thus describes God, because of the peculiar circumstances of Abraham. His omnipotence is set forth in the first phrase, which is suggested by the condition of Abraham and Sarah, mentioned in Romans 4:19.

Calleth those things that are not as though they were. ‘Things which be not,’ relatively non-existent, as the original suggests, non-existent until God calls them into being. These things God treats as existent. The main question is, whether this means that God creates such things, or that in His decrees of Providence He disposes respecting them, just as He does respecting things already in existence. The word ‘call’ is most frequently used in the former sense, but the tense here used points to continuous action, which accords better with the latter view. The phrase thus suggests the numerous seed of Abraham, in regard to which God had decreed and spoken (Genesis 15:5) while they were nonexistent, except in His purpose. Some find here an undercurrent of reference to the calling of the Gentiles, or to the imputing of righteousness without righteousness; but this is far-fetched

Verse 18

Romans 4:18. Who. Abraham; ‘who’ in Romans 4:17 (referring to God) has no equivalent in the Greek, which does not present the ambiguity of our version. Romans 4:18-22, which may constitute a separate paragraph, give a more detailed description of the faith of Abraham; grammatically this verse is parallel with ‘who is the father of us all’ (Romans 4:16).

Against hope believed in hope. Abraham’s belief rested ‘upon hope’ (the literal sense), but it was also contrary to hope, i.e., contrary to external hope, to what might naturally be hoped for. A similar antithesis is continued throughout

That he might become father, etc. This was the end of the faith of Abraham in God’s purpose. It is not merely the result, nor is it the purpose of Abraham, nor what he believed.

According to, etc. This qualifies ‘become,’ not, ‘believed.’

Had been spoken (Genesis 15:5), before the promise that he should become a father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).

So, i.e., as the stars of heaven for multitude.

Verse 19

Romans 4:19. And without being made weak. This clause points to a result which might have been expected, but did not occur.

In faith; the article in the original points to ‘his faith.’

He considered his own body. The best manuscripts omit ‘not’ in connection with ‘considered.’ This gives to the whole passage a different turn. Although he took all these adverse circumstances into the account, yet he wavered not His faith might have been weakened by the long delay, or by the consideration of the physiological circumstances which made it seem impossible that he should have an heir. This negative expression in regard to Abraham’s faith prepares for a description of how strong his faith was. ‘Not’ was probably inserted, because the passage as it stood seemed to cast a reflection upon Abraham.

Already become dead, as regards the hope of a son, in consequence of his age, he being about a hundred years old: ninety-nine in exact numbers. Genesis 17:1, etc.

Deadness; comp. Genesis 18:11. These passages plainly show that Abraham ‘considered’ this state of things.

Verse 20

Romans 4:20. Yet with regard to the promise of God. ‘Yet,’ in contrast with the facts he ‘considered.’ (If ‘not’ is retained in Romans 4:19, this verse is not in contrast with what precedes).

Did not waver in unbelief. The form here is the same as in the phrase rendered ‘in faith.’ The article points to ‘the unbelief’ which might have been expected from the facts which Abraham ‘considered.’ Some prefer the instrumental sense here: ‘through unbelief,’ but ‘in’ sufficiently suggests that unbelief would have led to such doubt or wavering as the result of his consideration.

Was made strong. Instead of being ‘made weak,’ he was ‘made strong.’

In faith. Some prefer here also to render ‘through faith,’ but ‘in faith,’ is a grammatical explanation, and accords better with Romans 4:19, where the same phrase occurs in the original (‘without being made weak in his faith’).

Giving glory to God. While he gave, or since, he gave. This clause is to be closely joined with the next verse, which shows how he gave glory to God. Not words of praise alone, but every action that tends to God’s glory, may be included in the phrase, according to Scriptural usage. Here the recognition of God’s omnipotence is meant.

Verse 21

Romans 4:21. And being fully persuaded, etc. This simple confidence in God’s promise gave glory to God, and is the essence of faith (comp. Genesis 18:14, and Hebrews 11:1). ‘Many find it harder to believe that God can love them, notwithstanding their sinfulness, than the hundred-years-old patriarch did to believe that he should be the father of many nations. Confidence in God’s word, a full persuasion that He can do what seems to us impossible, is as necessary in the one case as in the other. The sinner honors God, in trusting His grace, as much as Abraham did in trusting His power’ (Hodge).

Verse 22

Romans 4:22. Wherefore also, etc. The whole discussion is here summed up, the last clause of Romans 4:3 being repeated. The immediate connection is with Romans 4:18-21; because Abraham had believed God in the way there described.

Verse 23

Romans 4:23. How it was not written for his sake alone. The rest of the chapter states in plain language the application of the case of Abraham to the gospel believers. Thus Paul shows that God is the God of all believers, and that we establish the law through faith (chap. Romans 3:28-31). The phrase ‘it is written,’ which occurs here, is not the usual one: it denotes the past historical act of writing, and emphasizes the design of God’s Spirit in causing it to be written; the usual phrase points to the permanent validity of the Scriptural quotation. Here, as throughout the Epistle, the Apostle insists that the whole Old Testament pointed to the universality of Christianity.

Verse 24

Romans 4:24. But for our sake also. The design was not merely to show how Abraham was justified, but also to show how we should be justified.

It shall be reckoned. ‘Shall be’ is not the simple future, but points the purpose of God with respect to what is continuous; the justification of each believer is a single act, but that of believers as a whole is continuous.

Who believe; ‘since we are such as believe’ fairly presents the sense.

Him that raised up Jesus our Lord, etc. This reference to the resurrection of Christ emphasizes the power of God, just as Romans 4:17 had done. The birth of Isaac was a proof of God’s omnipotence, but Christ’s resurrection is a still higher proof, both of this omnipotence, and, at the same time, of Divine grace, on which the whole argument turns (Romans 4:16). When the fact of Christ’s resurrection is denied or ignored by nominal Christians, their faith is weak in every respect.

Verse 25

Romans 4:25. Who was delivered up. ‘A standing designation for the divine surrender of Christ, surrender unto death (chap. Romans 8:32), perhaps after Isaiah 53:12. It is at the same time self-surrender (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2), since Christ was obedient to His Father’ (Meyer).

For our trespasses, i.e., our sins which were atoned for by His sacrificial death. ‘For,’ that is, ‘on account of,’ but not in exactly the same sense in both clauses, in this one it gives the cause, namely, a past fact: because we had sinned; in the next clause it points to a future result. Christ died to remove our guilt which already existed, but He rose again to accomplish our justification which could not otherwise take place.

Raised for our justification. This clause presents the positive aspect of the same exhibition of grace. The word ‘justification’ points to the act, though the state (of being justified) which results may be implied. By His death our Lord atoned for sin (chap. Romans 3:25), and secured our pardon and peace; this is the meritorious ground of our justification (comp. chaps. Romans 3:24-25; Romans 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7. But unless Christ has risen the atoning work could not have been appropriated by men, and their justification actually taken place. Without the resurrection, Christ’s grave would be the grave of all our hopes (1 Corinthians 15:17). That great fact testified that God accepted the atoning sacrifice. If man had not sinned, Christ would not have died; if Christ had sinned, He would not have been raised. To this may be added, as matters vitally connected with the words of this verse (though not fully expressed), that only the risen Saviour could intercede for us, could send the Holy Spirit to apply redemption to us; that as the death and resurrection of Christ are inseparably connected as the ground of our salvation, so the effects are indivisible, though distinguishable. The sinner cannot be buried with Christ, without rising with Him as a new creature; the death with Christ is inseparable from the new life in Christ. Hence some commentators regard this verse as a brief introduction of ‘the great subject of chaps. 5-8, Death, as connected with Sin, and Life, as connected with Righteousness’ (Alford). See beginning of next section.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 4:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
the First Week of Advent
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology