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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Romans 4:17

(as it is written, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU") in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.


Adam Clarke Commentary

As it is written, I have made thee a father - That Abraham's being a father of many nations has relation to the covenant of God made with him, may be seen, Genesis 17:4, Genesis 17:5; : Behold my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations: neither shall thy name any more be called Abram; but thy name shall be Abraham, for a father of many nations have I made thee, i.e. he was constituted the head of many nations, the Gentile world, by virtue of the covenant, which God made then with him.

God, who quickeneth the dead, etc. - God is the most proper object of trust and dependence; for being almighty, eternal, and unchangeable, he can even raise the dead to life, and call those things which be not as though they were. He is the Creator, he gave being when there was none; he can as infallibly assure the existence of those things which are not, as if they were already actually in being. And, on this account, he can never fail of accomplishing whatsoever he has promised.


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Bibliography
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/romans-4.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

As it is written - Genesis 17:5.

I have made thee - The word used here in the Hebrew Genesis 17:5 means literally, to give, to grant; and also, to set, or constitute. This is also the meaning of the Greek word used both by the Septuagint and the apostle. The quotation is taken literally from the Septuagint. The argument of the apostle is founded in part on the fact that the past tense is used - I have made thee - and that God spoke of a thing as already done, which he had promised or purposed to do. The sense is, he had, in his mind or purpose, constituted him the father of many nations; and so certain was the fulfillment of the divine purposes, that he spoke of it as already accomplished.

Of many nations - The apostle evidently understands this promise as referring, not to his natural descendants only, but to the great multitude who should believe as he did.

Before him - In his view, or sight; that is, God regarded him as such a father.

Whom he believed - Whose promise he believed; or in whom he trusted.

Who quickeneth the dead - Who gives life to the dead, Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5. This expresses the power of God to give life. But why it is used here has been a subject of debate. I regard it as having reference to the strong natural improbability of the fulfillment of the prophecy when it was given, arising from the age of Abraham and Sarah, Romans 4:19. Abraham exercised power in the God who gives life, and who gives it as he pleases. It is one of his prerogatives to give life to the dead ( νεκρους nekrous), to raise up those who are in their graves; and a power similar to that, or strongly reminding of that, was manifested in fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The giving of this promise, and its fulfillment, were such as strongly to remind us that God has power to give life to the dead.

And calleth … - That is, those things which he foretels and promises are so certain, that he may speak of them as already in existence. Thus, in relation to Abraham, God, instead of simply promising that he would make him the father of many nations, speaks of it as already done, “I have made thee,” etc. In his own mind, or purpose, he had so constituted him, and it was so certain that it would take place, that he might speak of it as already done.


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Bibliography
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/romans-4.html. 1870.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

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

Upon the occasion of God's making the land covenant, sealed by circumcision, with Abraham, God made mention of another covenant previously made with Abraham, and used the past tense to show that the previous covenant had nothing to do with the covenant of land and circumcision about to be made. Paul's introduction of the quotation from Genesis 17:5, included in parenthesis in this verse, and especially God's use of the past tense, "have I made thee," proves that the previous covenant was distinct from the land covenant about to be made in the immediate future, and also indicated that the previous covenant (the great promise) was fulfilled by ,Christ the Saviour of the world.

The law of Moses, which the Judaizing teachers were so zealously seeking to fasten upon Gentile Christians, has nothing to do with the promise, or covenant, to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations.[14]

The last two clauses of this verse refer to Isaac's being born to Abraham and Sarah, contrary to nature, when both the parents were of advanced age, and "as good as dead" (Hebrews 11:12).

A father of many nations have I made thee ... At the time God said these words to Abraham, the birth of Isaac was still far in the future, and those "many nations" existed only as a promise of God; but God had promised them and, therefore, did not hesitate to speak of them as already born. This is prophetic tense, in which God speaks of the future as though it were past, and in which, also, God's prophets, speaking in his name, foretell future events.

ENDNOTE:

[14] Ibid., p. 106.


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James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/romans-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

As it is written I have made thee a father of many nations,.... The passage referred to, is in Genesis 17:4; which proves him to be a father not of the Jews only, since they cannot be called "many nations", but of the Gentiles also; and which must be understood in a spiritual sense, for Abraham was the father of them,

before him whom he believed, even God; that is, he was so, either in the sight of God, who sees not as man sees; in his account, he was the father of many nations, long before he really in fact was; or "over against" or "like unto him", as the word may signify: as God was the Father of many nations, so was Abraham, though not in such a sense as he is; and as God is the Father of us all that believe, so was Abraham; there is some little likeness and resemblance in this between them, though not sameness. The object of his faith is described as he,

who quickeneth the dead: meaning either the dead body of Abraham and Sarah's womb; or Isaac, who was given up for dead; or the Gentiles, who were dead in trespasses and sins; or rather the dead bodies of men at the last day, a work which none but the almighty God can effect; the consideration of which is sufficient to engage faith in the promises of God, and a dependence on him for the fulfilment or them: and who stands further described as he, who

calleth those things which be not, as though they were; so he called Abraham the father of many nations, when he was not in fact, as if he really was; and the Gentiles his seed and offspring, before they were; and when he comes effectually to call them by his grace, they are represented as "things which are not", whom he called, "to bring to nought things that are", 1 Corinthians 1:28; they were not his people, nor his children, and he called them so, and by his grace made them so, and made them appear to be so; for as in creation so in regeneration, God calls and brings that into being which before was not: and the phrase seems to be an allusion to the creation of all things out of nothing; and it is a Rabbinical one, for so the Jews speaking of the creation sayF19R. Solomon ben Gabirol in Cether Malcuth apud L. Capell. in loc. .

"Nya la arwq, "he calls to that which is not", and it is excluded; (i.e. all things are excluded out of it, as a chicken out of an egg;) and to that which is, and it is established, and to the world, and it is stretched out.'


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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-4.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

(As it is written, I have made thee a 16 father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, [even] m God, who n quickeneth the dead, and o calleth those things which be not as though they were.

(16) This fatherhood is spiritual, depending only upon the power of God, who made the promise.

(m) Before God, that is by membership in his spiritual family, which has a place before God, and makes us acceptable to God.

(n) Who restores to life.

(o) With whom those things are already, which as yet are not indeed, as he can with a word make what he wishes out of nothing.


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Bibliography
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/romans-4.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

As it is written, etc. — (Genesis 17:5). This is quoted to justify his calling Abraham the “father of us all,” and is to be viewed as a parenthesis.

before — that is, “in the reckoning of.”

him whom he believed — that is, “Thus Abraham, in the reckoning of Him whom he believed, is the father of us all, in order that all may be assured, that doing as he did, they shall be treated as he was.”

even God, quickeneth the dead — The nature and greatness of that faith of Abraham which we are to copy is here strikingly described. What he was required to believe being above nature, his faith had to fasten upon God‘s power to surmount physical incapacity, and call into being what did not then exist. But God having made the promise, Abraham believed Him in spite of those obstacles. This is still further illustrated in what follows.


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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/romans-4.html. 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

A father of many nations (πατερα πολλων ετνωνpatera pollōn ethnōn). Quotation from Genesis 17:5. Only true in the sense of spiritual children as already explained, father of believers in God.

Before him whom he believed even God (κατεναντι ου επιστευσεν τεουkatenanti hou episteusen theou). Incorporation of antecedent into the relative clause and attraction of the relative ωιhōi into ουhou See Mark 11:2 for κατεναντιkatenanti “right in front of.”

Calleth the things that are not as though they were (καλουντος τα μη οντα ως ονταkalountos ta mē onta hōs onta). “Summons the non-existing as existing.” Abraham‘s body was old and decrepit. God rejuvenated him and Sarah (Hebrews 11:19).


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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/romans-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

A father of many nations

See Genesis 17:5. Originally his name was Abram, exalted father; afterward Abraham, father of a multitude.

Have I made ( τέθεικα )

Appointed or constituted. For a similar sense see Matthew 24:51; John 15:16, and note; Acts 13:47; 1 Timothy 2:7. The verb shows that the paternity was the result of a special arrangement. It would not be used to denote the mere physical connection between father and son.

Who quickeneth the dead

This attribute of God is selected with special reference to the circumstances of Abraham as described in Romans 4:18, Romans 4:21. As a formal attribute of God it occurs 1 Samuel 2:6; John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:13.

Calleth ( καλοῦντος )

The verb is used in the following senses:

1. To give a name, with ὄνομα name Matthew 1:21, Matthew 1:22, Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:13, Luke 1:31; without ὄνομα Luke 1:59, Luke 1:60. To salute by a name, Matthew 23:9; Matthew 22:43, Matthew 22:45.

2. Passive. To bear a name or title among men, Luke 1:35; Luke 22:25; 1 Corinthians 15:9. To be acknowledged or to pass as, Matthew 5:9, Matthew 5:19; James 2:23.

3. To invite, Matthew 22:3, Matthew 22:9; John 2:2; 1 Corinthians 10:27. To summon, Matthew 4:21; Acts 4:18; Acts 24:2. To call out from, Matthew 2:15; Hebrews 11:8; 1 Peter 2:9.

4. To appoint. Select for an office, Galatians 1:15; Hebrews 5:4; to salvation, Romans 9:11; Romans 8:30.

5. Of God's creative decree. To call forth from nothing, Isaiah 41:4; 2 Kings 8:1.

In this last sense some explain the word here; but it can scarcely be said that God creates things that are not as actually existing. Others explain, God's disposing decree. He disposes of things that are not as though existing. The simplest explanation appears to be to give καλεῖν the sense of nameth, speaketh of. Compare Romans 9:7; Acts 7:5. The seed of Abraham “which were at present in the category of things which were not, and the nations which should spring physically or spiritually from him, God spoke of as having an existence, which word Abraham believed” (Alford). In this case there may properly be added the idea of the summons to the high destiny ordained for Abraham's seed.


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Bibliography
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/romans-4.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

Before God — Though before men nothing of this appeared, those nations being then unborn.

As quickening the dead — The dead are not dead to him and even the things that are not, are before God.

And calling the things that are not — Summoning them to rise into being, and appear before him. The seed of Abraham did not then exist; yet God said, "So shall thy seed be." A man can say to his servant actually existing, Do this; and he doeth it: but God saith to the light, while it does not exist, Go forth; and it goeth. Genesis 17:5.


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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Bibliography
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/romans-4.html. 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Who quickeneth the dead, &c.; who has all power to accomplish his promises.


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Bibliography
Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/romans-4.html. 1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

17.Whom he believed, who quickens the dead, etc. In this circuitous form is expressed the very substance of Abraham’s faith, that by his example an opening might be made for the Gentiles. He had indeed to attain, in a wonderful way, the promise which he had heard from the Lord’s mouth, since there was then no token of it. A seed was promised to him as though he was in vigor and strength; but he was as it were dead. It was hence necessary for him to raise up his thoughts to the power of God, by which the dead are quickened. It was therefore not strange that the Gentiles, who were barren and dead, should be introduced into the same society. He then who denies them to be capable of grace, does wrong to Abraham, whose faith was sustained by this thought, — that it matters not whether he was dead or not who is called by the Lord; to whom it is an easy thing, even by a word, to raise the dead through his own power.

We have here also a type and a pattern of the call of us all, by which our beginning is set before our eyes, not as to our first birth, but as to the hope of future life, — that when we are called by the Lord we emerge from nothing; for whatever we may seem to be we have not, no, not a spark of anything good, which can render us fit for the kingdom of God. That we may indeed on the other hand be in a suitable state to hear the call of God, we must be altogether dead in ourselves. The character of the divine calling is, that they who are dead are raised by the Lord, that they who are nothing begin to be something through his power. The wordcall ought not to be confined to preaching, but it is to be taken, according to the usage of Scripture, for raising up; and it is intended to set forth more fully the power of God, who raises up, as it were by a nod only, whom he wills. (143)


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Bibliography
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/romans-4.html. 1840-57.

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 Romans 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 θεοῦ ᾧ ἐπίστευσε (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 Romans 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.


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Bibliography
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsc/romans-4.html.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

Ver. 17. Who quickeneth the dead] As he doth when he maketh a man a believer, Ephesians 1:19; he fetcheth heart of oak out of a hollow tree, and a spiritual man out of a wild ass colt. See both these metaphors, Job 11:12.


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Bibliography
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/romans-4.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Romans 4:17. As it is written, &c.— That Abraham's being the father of many nations, has relation to the covenant that God made with him, may be seen Genesis 17:4-5. Behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations: neither shall thy name any more be called Abram; but thy name shall be Abraham: for a father of many nations have I made or constituted thee, by virtue of my covenant with thee. Dr. Doddridge, instead of, before him whom he believed, even God, reads, like God whom he believed; for so he thinks the original word κατεναντι, may signify. The meaning of the last clause seems to be, "Who speaketh of things which do not yet exist as if they were actually existing; because he knows theywill exist in due time." See Markland on Arnold's Comment on Wisdom of Solomon 11:25.


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Bibliography
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/romans-4.html. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Our apostle, in this and the following verses, enters upon an high commendation of Abraham's faith, magnifying and extolling the same, for and upon account of sundry excellencies which are found in it.

And here, 1. He takes notice how Abraham's faith was strongly acted and exercised on the Almighty power of God: He believed in God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which are not, as though they were: That is, The Lord having promised to make Abraham the father of many nations, which he had no seed, nor was ever likely to have any; he believed the thing to be both credible and possible, because God had spoken it, how improbable soever. And although with respect to generation, he looked upon Sarah's body, and his own, as good as dead; for she was barren and past bearing, and he was an hundred years old, and past all hopes of having a child; yet he exercised his faith on the promise and power of God, who quickeneth the dead, that is, his own dead body, and Sarah's barren womb; and called those things which be not, that is, the Gentiles which were not then a people, as if they were.

Learn hence, That it is a noble act and exercise of faith, to believe God on his bare word, and to assent to truth, though never so improbable. As whatever God doth is good, because he doth it; so whatever God says is true, because he speaks it: And accordingly, faith, which is an assent of the understanding to what God reveals, depends upon the veracity of God, for making good his own word, and fulfilling his own promise. Faith though never so improbable; it puts men upon duties, though seemingly unreasonable (witness Abraham's offering up of Isaac); and it enable to sufferings, be they never so afflictive. But from believing plain contradictions and impossibilities, as the church of Rome would have us in the point of transubstantiation; Faith desires there to be excused.

Observe here, 2. That as Abraham's faith exceedingly honoured God; so God highly honours Abraham's faith, making him like himself, a father of many nations. As God is an universal Father, not of one, but of all nations, so was Abraham; as God is their spiritual father, not by carnal generation, so was Abraham: God made faithful Abraham like himself, a father, not of this or that nation only, but universally of all believers, among all nations, believing after his example. Thus Abraham's faith honours God, and God honours Abraham's faith, styling him the Father of the Faithful throughout all generations.


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Bibliography
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/romans-4.html. 1700-1703.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

17. καθὼς γέγρ.] The words (ref.) are spoken of the numerous progeny of Abraham according to the flesh: but not without a reference to that covenant, according to the terms of which all nations were to be blessed in him. The Apostle may here cite it as comparing his natural paternity of many nations with his spiritual one of all believers: but it seems more probable that he regards the prophecy as directly announcing a paternity far more extensive than mere physical fact substantiated.

These words are parenthetical, being merely a confirmation by Scripture testimony of ὅς ἐστιν πατ. πάντ. ἡμ., with which (see below) the following words are immediately connected.

κατέναντι οὖ ἐπίστευσεν θεοῦ] The meaning appears to be, ‘Abraham was the father of us all,—though not physically, nor in actuality, seeing that we were not as yet,—yet in the sight and estimation of God,—in his relation with God, with whom no obstacles of nature or time have force.’

The resolution of the attraction must be κατέναντι θεοῦ, κατέναντι οὗ ἐπίστευσεν, as in ref. Luke, before God, in whose sight he believed. (Chrysostom’s interpretation (and similarly Theodoret, al.),— ὥσπερ ὁ θεὸς οὐκ ἔστι μερικὸς θεός, ἀλλὰ πάντων πατήρ, οὕτω καὶ αὐτὸς.… τὸ γὰρκατέναντιὁμοίως ἐστί,—does not fall in with the context, and is certainly a mistake.)

τοῦ ζωοπ. τ. νεκρ] Who quickens the dead,—a general description of God’s almighty creative power (see 1 Timothy 6:13), applied particularly to the matter in hand—the deadness of generative physical power in Abraham himself, which was quickened by God (but νεκρούς is a wider term than νενεκρωμένον, the genus, of which that is a species). The peculiar excellence of Abraham’s faith, that it overleaped the obstacles of physical incapacity, and nonentity, and believed implicitly God’s promise. Compare 2 Corinthians 1:9.

καὶ καλ. τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα] Much difficulty has been found here: and principally owing to an idea that this clause must minutely correspond with the former, and furnish another instance of God’s creative Almightiness. Hence Commentators have given to καλεῖν the sense which it has in reff., ‘to summon into being,’ and have understood ὡς ὄντα as if it were εἰς τὸ εἶναι. Thus, more or less, and with various attempts to escape from the violence done to the construction, Chrys., Grot., Elsn., Wolf, Fritzsche, Tholuck, Stuart, De Wette, al. I see however in this latter clause not a repetition or expansion of the former, but a new attribute of God’s omnipotence and eternity, on which Abraham’s faith was fixed, Who calleth (nameth, speaketh of) the things that are not, as being (as if they were). This He did in the present case with regard to the seed of Abraham, which did not as yet exist:—the two key-texts to this word and clause being, ἐν ἰσαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα ch. Romans 9:7 (see note there),—and Acts 7:5, ἐπηγγείλατο δοῦναι αὐτῷ εἰς κατάσχεσιν αὐτὴν καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ μετʼ αὐτόν, οὐκ ὄντος αὐτῷ τέκνου. These τέκνα, which were at present in the category of τὰ μὴ ὄντα, and the nations which should spring, physically or spiritually, from him, God ἐκάλει ὡς ὄντα, spoke of as having an existence, which word Abraham believed. And here, as in the other clause, the καλεῖν τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα is not confined to the case in point, but is a general attribute of all God’s words concerning things of time, past, present, and future, being to His Omnipotence and Omniscience, all one. His purposes, when formed, are accomplished, save in so far as that evolution of secondary causes and effects intervenes, which is also His purpose. This also Abraham apprehended by his faith, which rested on God’s absolute power to do what He had promised (see below).


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Bibliography
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/romans-4.html. 1863-1878.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Romans 4:17.(47) ὅτιτέθεικά σε) so the LXX., Genesis 17:5. The construction, τέθεικά σε, κατέναντιθεο͂ υ, is like the following, ἵυα εἰδῆτε, ἆρον, Matthew 9:6. Comp. Romans 15:3; Acts 1:4.— κατέναντιθεο͂ υ, before God) since those nations did not yet exist before men.— οὗ), that is, κατέναντι θεο͂ υ, ἐπίστευσε, before God, in whom he believed.— ζωοποιοῦντος, quickening) Hebrews 11:19, notes. The dead are not dead to God, and things which be not, are to God.— καλο͂ υντος, calling) The seed of Abraham did not yet exist, nevertheless God said, So shall thy seed be. The multiplication of the seed presupposes the previous existence of the seed. For example, the centurion says to his servant, who was living and moving in the natural course of the world, Do this; but God says to the light, whilst it is not in existence, just as if it were, Come forth, γενοῦ, come into existence. Think of that often recurring and wonderful יהי, Genesis 1, it expresses the transition from non-existence to existence, which is produced by God calling, Ezekiel 36:29 .


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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/romans-4.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Before him whom he believed; i.e. in the sight or esteem of God. He was not the

father of many nations by carnal generation in the sight of men, but by spiritual cognation in the sight of God. Or, as it may be read, like unto God, after his example; and then the meaning is, that God so honoured Abraham’s faith, that he made him a father, in some respects like himself. As God is a universal Father, not of one, but of all nations, so was Abraham. Again, as God is their spiritual Father, not by carnal generation, so was Abraham also.

Even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were; i.e. Abraham believed in him as omnipotent. His omnipotency is described by two great effects of it. The one in making that to have a being again, which had ceased to be, as in the resurrection. The other, in causing that to be which never was; or to make all things of nothing, as in the creation: he expresseth this by calling things, to intimate the great facility of this work to God: he only spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and all was created. And as Abraham thus generally believed the power of God, so it is likely he made a particular application of it to his own state at present; as he believed that God could raise the dead, so, that he could raise him seed out of his own dead body, and Sarah’s dead womb. And as he believed that God could create things out of nothing, so, that he could give him seed that had none; yea, and make the Gentiles a people that were not a people.


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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Romans 4:17". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/romans-4.html. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

As it is written; Genesis 17:5.

Before him; in his sight, and according to his promise.

Quickeneth; giveth life to.

Things which be not; which have not taken place. Though they may appear to men impossible, he speaks of them as if they were already accomplished, and thus shows their certainty.


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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Family Bible New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/romans-4.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

17. κατέναντι οὗ κ.τ.λ Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 12:19; and esp. Acts 8:21 : = κατέναντι τοῦ θεοῦ ᾦ ἐπίστ.

The clause is to be taken with the main sentence, not with the relative clause: the promise to Abraham is secure for the faith of Abraham, wherever it is found, because the promise comes from and the faith rests on the one and the same GOD who, then as now, now as then, quickens, etc. (Giff., S. H. take it with the relative clause: W. H. and Lft, ad loc[120], as above.)

τοῦ ζ. τ. ν. As Romans 4:19, the type is the birth of Isaac: the antitype is the quickening of man under the action of GOD’S grace; cf. 1 Timothy 6:13; cf. John 5:21; John 5:25 (n. connexion between καλεῖν and ζωο.).

καλουντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα. Cf. Hosea 2:23; qu. Romans 9:25; not = calling into being things that are not (= εἰς τὸ εἶναι), but either ‘naming things that are not as though they were’ with reference to the imputed righteousness, or ‘summoning to His service things that are not as though they were,’ of the call of the descendants of Abraham in the lineage of faith. Then the making the unborn child the vehicle of the promise is typical of this. The context (ζωοπ.) points to the latter and fuller meaning, as also does S. Paul’s use of καλεῖν; cf. S. H.

It was on the creative power of GOD that Abraham rested, as is further emphasised in Romans 4:18.


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"Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/romans-4.html. 1896.

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

17. “As has been written, that I have made thee a father of many nations.” What a wonderful honor is the Abrahamic paternity! Just as God is the spiritual Father of all the saved of all ages and nations, i. e., all the elect who avail themselves of the redemption in Christ, so God renovated the mediatorial covenant with Abraham, which He made with Christ to redeem the world, before the Fall, thus honoring Abraham as His “friend,” making him the human representative in the covenant of redemption, complimenting him with the fatherhood of the faithful, i. e., the elect, the saved of all ages and nations. This transaction with Abraham is of infinite value to us all, because in his case we have an illustrative example, setting forth the human side of the gracious economy. What is it? Oh, how plain and simple! Wayfaring men, though fools, can not err therein.” We are saved by grace through faith alone. What is grace? It is the free gift of God in Christ, saving all who will receive Him. What is faith? It is the hand which you reach out and receive Christ, i. e., you just take God at His word and believe His wonderful promises. Is this all? Certainly it is all. Abraham is our illustrative example. We are to be saved precisely as he was, otherwise we have no interest in Christ (Galatians 3:29). How was he justified? “He believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness, i. e., justification (Genesis 15:6). This took place twenty-five years before he received circumcision, i. e., joined the church; but some one might think baptism, sacrament, or church membership had something to do with his salvation. It is true, long after he was saved by grace through faith alone, he became a paragon church member, which was all right in its place, i. e., the school of Christ, but never did have anything to do with personal salvation, which is the work of God alone, and consequently through faith alone. Grace being the divine and faith the human, they are counter hemispheres of the same globe of salvation! Hence, grace alone means faith alone. The devil rages over faith alone, because it knocks out the pope and the priest and smashes his arrangements generally, giving God all the glory. Whenever you poke in water baptism or anything else to help God save a soul, you offer Him a downright insult and plunge into idolatry, because He turns away with disgust and leaves you and the water god to work the matter out. The very insinuation that God needs any help to save a soul is a blasphemous insult to His majesty. “Before God whom he believed, who createth life in the dead and calleth things which are not as though they are.” When God made the covenant with Abraham, He saw every soul that would ever be saved standing before Him, and conferred on that patriarch the faithful paternity of that mighty host, assuring him, “In thy seed, i. e., Christ, shall the families of the earth be blessed.” That fulfillment is yet future, reserved for the millennium, when Satan will be cast out and Jesus reign in every home on the face of the whole earth, when Abraham’s family will girdle the globe, verifying God’s promise that he shall inherit the world. What a memorable transaction, when God revealed to Abraham his family enveloping the whole earth and possessing it without a rival! The Jews and Mohammedans, uncompromising rivals either to other, have fought, bled and died to appropriate the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, which never were restricted to any race or church, but were always universal as the mercies of God covenanted in Christ, reaching every faithful soul in all ages and nations, regardless of creed, race, or color.


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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/romans-4.html.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘(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).


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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/romans-4.html. 2013.

Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations, — According to the Apostle’s interpretation of this promise, it imports a numerous spiritual offspring, as well as a numerous natural posterity. It is not by way of what is called accommodation that this is said; it is the real interpretation of the promise, whether Abraham himself understood it so or not. This interpretation of the Apostle is a key to all that is said on this subject. It shows that Abraham had a double seed, that the promise had a double meaning, and both are distinctly verified. Thus, each of the three promises made to Abraham had a double fulfillment: — Of a numerous posterity; of God being a God to his seed; and of the earthly and heavenly country.

Before Him. — At that moment, when he stood in the presence of God whom he believed, Genesis 17:4, he was made the father of all his natural and spiritual posterity; and though he was not then actually a father, yet, being so in the purpose of God, it was made as sure to him as if it had already taken place. God now willed it, and the result would follow as surely as creation followed His word.

Quickeneth the dead. — Does this refer to the literal general fact of bringing the dead to life, or to Abraham’s body now dead, and Sarah’s incapacity of having children at her advanced age, or to the raising of Isaac had he been sacrificed? The first appears to be the meaning, and includes the others; and the belief of it is the ground on which the others rest. Faith in God’s power, as raising the dead, is a proper ground of believing any other work of power which God engages to perform, or which is necessary to be performed, in order to fulfill His word. If God raises the dead, why should Abraham look with distrust on his own body, or consider Sarah’s natural incapacity to bear children? Why should he doubt that God will fulfill His promise as to his numerous seed by Isaac, even though Isaac shall be slain? God could raise him from the dead.

Calleth those things which be not as though they were. — This does not say that God calls into existence the things that exist not, as He calls into existence the things that are. But God speaks of the things that exist not, in the same way as He speaks of the things that exist; that is, He speaks of them as existing, though they do not then actually exist. And this is the way He spoke of Abraham as the father of many nations.

I have made thee. — God calls him now a father, though he was not actually a father of many nations, because, before God, or in God’s counsel, he was such a father.


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Haldane, Robert. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hal/romans-4.html. 1835.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

17. WrittenGenesis 17:5.

Quickeneth the dead—The deadness of his own and Sarah’s body, the type and equal of a resurrection power.

As though they were—God’s words, “I have made thee father of many nations,” concentrated the wonderful future into the present. It called things future as if they now were. As quickening the dead designates God’s omnipotence, so gathering things that are yet to be into a now designates God’s foreknowledge. Abraham, then, with a large-minded and high soaring faith, realized that it was a God, an Infinite Eternal, with whom he had to do.

As it is the base quality of unbelief to be earthward, materialistic, and grovelling, so it is the noble quality of faith to be high, large, heavenward, and Godward. By it man aspires and ascends, and the man and the race become susceptible of, and tending to, a heavenly elevation. And when that faith fastens upon the True and the Divine, the soul, individual and collective, mounts up toward all goodness and glory. And this shows how infidelity tends to wickedness, and true faith to excellence and goodness. Faith is a moral and holy ambition.


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/romans-4.html. 1874-1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Paul described God as he did here in harmony with the promise he cited. God gave the ability to father many nations to Abraham when his reproductive powers were dead. God summoned yet uncreated nations as He had summoned the yet uncreated cosmos, namely, with a word, in this case a promise (cf. Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5). [Note: Cranfield, 1:246.] Another view is that God named or addressed these uncreated nations even though they did not yet exist. The interpretation hinges on the meaning of "calls," which is not clear.


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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/romans-4.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

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


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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/romans-4.html. 1879-90.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Romans 4:17 (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, {even} God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were.

"as it is written"- Genesis 17:5, this quotation proves the last line in verse 16, i.e. that Abraham is the father of believing Gentiles also.

"calleth the things that are not, as though they were"-specifically in this verse, calling Abraham a father of many nations, before Isaac and any other descendants were even born. "Have I made thee"-long before the promise was fulfilled God had spoken it in the past tense.

IN PRAISE OF ABRAHAM:

The whole point of this section seems to be, that Abraham is praised for his faith and not his flawless law-keeping. The same case could be made for all those great heros of faith cited in Hebrews chapter 11.


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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/romans-4.html. 1999-2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

written. Genesis 17:5.

made = set, appointed. Greek. tithemi.

believed. App-150.

quickeneth = maketh alive. Greek. zoopoieo. Here, Romans 8:11. John 5:21; John 6:63. 1 Corinthians 15:22, 1 Corinthians 15:36, 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 3:6. Galatians 1:3, Galatians 1:21. 1 Timothy 6:13. 1Ti 6:1 Pet.

the dead. App-139.

calleth, &c. Primarily of Isaac. Compare Gen 15.


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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/romans-4.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

(As it is written (Genesis 17:5), I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , [ katenanti (Greek #2713) hou (Greek #3739) episteusen (Greek #4100) Theou (Greek #2316)]. This difficult construction may be resolved in two ways: either as in our version - "before God, whom he believed" [ hou (Greek #3739) being by attr. for hoo (Greek #3739) episteusen (Greek #4100)], or 'before God, before whom he believed' [ katenanti (Greek #2713) Theou (Greek #2316), katenanti (Greek #2713) hou (Greek #3739) episteusen (Greek #4100), in which case there is no attraction.] This latter construction (which Winer, Meyer, Alford, and Philippi prefer) makes perhaps the best Greek. But though critics are divided between these two views of the grammatical form, the sense is the same in both: 'Abraham is the father of us all, even of those who were not in existence in his day, in the eye of that God whom his faith apprehended.'

[Even] God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. To give life to the dead, and existence to the non-existent, is the glorious prerogative of Him on whom Abraham's faith reposed. What he was required to believe being above nature, his faith had to fasten upon God's power to surmount physical incapacity, and call into being what did not then exist. But God having made the promise, Abraham believed Him in spite of those obstacles. This is still further illustrated in what follows.


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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/romans-4.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(17) Before him.—Rather, in the presence of. These words are to be connected closely with those which precede the parenthesis: “Who stands as the father of us all in the presence of that God in whom he believed.” Abraham is regarded as (so to speak) confronting the Almighty, as he had done when the promise was first given to him.

Who quickeneth.—“Who gives life to that which is dead, and issues His fiat to that which is not as though it were.” The words have reference, in the first instance, to the dealings of God with Abraham, described in the verses that follow—(1) to the overruling of the laws of nature indicated in Romans 4:19; (2) to the declaration, “So shall thy seed be.” There is, however, also an undercurrent of reference to the calling of the Gentiles: “I will call them My people which were not My people, and her beloved which was not beloved.”


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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/romans-4.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
I have
Genesis 17:4,5,16,20; 25:1-34; 28:3; Hebrews 11:12
before him
or, like unto him.
3:29
who quickeneth
2; 8:11; Matthew 3:9; John 5:21,25; 6:63; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Ephesians 2:1-5; 1 Timothy 6:13
calleth
8:29,30; 9:26; Isaiah 43:6; 44:7; 49:12; 55:12; Acts 15:18; 1 Corinthians 1:28; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 3:8

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/romans-4.html.

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians

As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,, Genesis 17:5. This declaration, the apostle informs us, contains a great deal more than the assurance that the natural descendants of Abraham should be very numerous. Taken in connection with the promise, that "in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed," it refers to his spiritual as well as his natural seed, and finds its full accomplishment in the extension of the blessing promised to him, to those of all nations who are his children by faith. This clause is very properly marked as a parenthesis, as the preceding one, "who is the father of us all," must be connected immediately with the following words, before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, etc. The words κατέναντι ου ἐπίστευσεν θεου~, admit of different explanations. They are commonly regarded as an example of the substantive being attracted to the case of the relative, instead of the relative to that of the substantive, Qeou~ being in the genitive, because οὗ is. The clause may therefore be resolved thus: κατέναντι θεοῦ ᾧ ἐπίστευσεν, before God whom he believed. To this, however, it is objected, that this form of attraction with the dative is very unusual, and therefore Winer, §24, 2, b, and others, adopt the simple explanation κατέναντι θεοῦ κατέναντι οὗ ἐπίστευσε, (before God, before whom he believed). The sense in either case is the same. Abraham is the father of us all, ( κατέναντι), before, in the sight of that God in whom he believed. God looked upon him as such. He stood before his omniscient eye, surrounded by many nations of children.

It is not unusual for the apostle to attach to the name of God a descriptive periphrases, bringing into view some divine attribute or characteristic suited to the subject in hand. So here, when speaking of God's promising to Abraham, a childless old man, a posterity as numerous as the stars of heaven, it was most appropriate to refer to the omnipotence of God, to whom nothing is impossible. Abraham believed, what to all human appearance never could happen, because God, who made the, promise, is he who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not, as though they were. To originate life is the prerogative of God. It requires almighty power, and is therefore in Scripture specified as one of God's peculiar works; see Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7; Psalms 68:20. The being who can call the dead to life, must be able to fulfill to one, although as good as dead, the promise of a numerous posterity. The other clause in this passage, ( καὶ καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα) and calling things that be not, as being, is more doubtful. There are three interpretations of these words, founded on three different senses of the word ( καλεῖν) to call.

1. To call, means to command, to control, to muster or dispose of. Thus the psalmist says, "The mighty God, even the Lord hath spoken, and called the earth, from the rising of the sun unto the going down there of" Psalms 50:1. Isaiah, speaking of the stars, says, "Who … bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by name, by the greatness of his might," Isaiah 40:26; also Psalms 147:4; Isaiah 45:3; Isaiah 48:13. This gives a sense perfectly suited to the context. God is described as controlling with equal ease things which are not, and those which are. The actual and the possible are equally subject to his command. All things are present to his view, and all are under his control. This interpretation also is suited to the peculiar form of expression, who calls ( τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα,) things not being, as being. It gives ὡς its appropriate force.

2. To call, however, is often used to express the creating energy of God. See Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 48:13. Compare Psalms 29:3-9. Philo de Creat., τὰ μὴ ὄντα ἐκάλεσεν εἰς τὸ εἶναι. This also gives a good sense, as the omnipotence of God cannot be more forcibly expressed than by saying, ‘He calls things not existing into existence.' But the difficulty is, that ὡς ὄντα is not equivalent with εἰς τὸ εἶναι, nor with ἐσόμενα, nor with εἰς τὸ εἶναι ὡς ὄντα, as Köllner and De Wette explain it. This indeed is not an impossible meaning, inasmuch as ὄντα, as Fritzsche says, may be the accusative of the effect, as in Philippians 3:21, "He shall change our vile body ( σύμμορφον) like unto his glorious body," i.e., so as to be like; see also 1 Thessalonians 3:13. As, however, the former interpretation gives so good a sense, there is no need of resorting to these constrained explanations.

3. To call, is often used to express the effectual calling of men by the Holy Spirit. Hence some understand the apostle as here saying, ‘God calls to be his children those who were not children.'

But this is entirely foreign to the context. Paul is presenting the ground of Abraham's faith in God. He believed, because God was able to accomplish all things. Everything is obedient to his voice.

Doctrine

1. If the greatest and best men of the old dispensation had to renounce entirely dependence upon their works, and to accept of the favor of God as a gratuity, justification by, works must, for all men, be impossible, Romans 4:2, Romans 4:3.

2. No man can glory, that is, complacently rejoice in his own goodness in the sight of God. And this every man of an enlightened conscience feels. The doctrine of justification by works, therefore, is inconsistent with the inward testimony of conscience, and can never give true peace of mind, Romans 4:2.

3. The two methods of justification cannot be united. They are as inconsistent as wages and a free gift. If of works, it is not of grace; and if of grace, it is not of works, Romans 4:4, Romans 4:5.

4. As God justifies the ungodly, it cannot be on the ground of their own merit, but must be by the imputation of a righteousness which does not personally belong to them, and which they received by faith, Romans 4:5, Romans 4:6, Romans 4:11.

5. The blessings of the gospel, and the method of justification which it proposes, are suited to all men; and are not to be confined by sectarian limits, or bound down to ceremonial observances, Romans 4:9-11.

6. The sacraments and ceremonies of the Church, although in the highest degree useful when viewed in their proper light, become ruinous when perverted into grounds of confidence. What answers well as a sign, is a miserable substitute for the thing signified. Circumcision will not serve for righteousness, nor baptism for regeneration, Romans 4:10.

7. As Abraham is the father of all believers, all believers are brethren. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, among them as Christians, Romans 4:11, Romans 4:12.

8. The seed of Abraham, or true believers, with Jesus Christ their head, are the heirs of the world. To them it will ultimately belong; even the uttermost parts of the earth shall be their possession, Romans 4:13.

9. To speak of justification by obedience to a law which we have broken, is a solecism. That which condemns cannot justify, Romans 4:15.

10. Nothing is sure for sinners that is not gratuitous. A promise suspended on obedience, they could never render sure. One entirely gratuitous needs only to be accepted to become ours, ver 16.

11. It is the entire freeness of the gospel, and its requiring faith as the condition of acceptance, which renders it suited to all ages and nations, Romans 4:16.

12. The proper object of faith is the divine promise; or God considered as able and determined to accomplish his word, Romans 4:17.

Remarks

1. The renunciation of a legal self-righteous spirit is the first requisition of the gospel. This must be done, or the gospel cannot be accepted. ‘He who works,' i.e. who trusts in his works, refuses to be saved by grace, Romans 4:1-5.

2. The more intimately we are acquainted with our own hearts and with the character of God, the more ready shall we be to renounce our own righteousness, and to trust in his mercy, Romans 4:2, Romans 4:3.

3. Those only are truly happy and secure, who, under a sense of ill-desert and helplessness, cast themselves upon the grace and promise of God, Romans 4:7, Romans 4:8.

4. Nothing is more natural, and nothing has occurred more extensively in the Christian Church, than the perversion of the means of grace into grounds of dependence. Thus it was with circumcision, and thus it is with baptism and the Lord's supper; thus too with prayer, fasting, etc. This is the rock on which millions have been shipwrecked, Romans 4:9-12.

5. There is no hope for those who, forsaking the grace of God, take refuge in a law which worketh wrath, Romans 4:15.

6. All things are ours if we are Christ's; heirs of the life that now is, and of that which is to come, Romans 4:13.

7. As the God in whom believers trust is he to whom all things are known, and all things are subject, they should be strong in faith, giving glory to God, Romans 4:17.


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

Bibliography
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 4:17". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hdg/romans-4.html.

: (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, (even) God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were.

Paul returned to the Old Testament for a quotation. He has already offered several citations (; 2:24; 3:4; 3:10) and here he took one from Genesis 17:5 (take a moment to read this verse). God promised that Abraham would be a father to "many nations." Even Abraham's name reflects this promise. The beginning of this name (Ab) conveys the meaning of father. The remainder of it (raham) expresses the idea of many nations. After God made the promise in Genesis 17:1-27, Abraham believed. Paul said, "before him whom he believed." Abraham was sure that God would fulfill this promise even though he and Sarah were past their childbearing years (this thought will be developed in verses19-22).

Before examining this material a comment must be made about God's giving "life to the dead." This statement may easily be lifted out of context and applied to many things including the resurrection. Divorcing this statement from its context is mishandling the text. The meaning of the words is carefully explained in verse19. If we wish to properly apply the thought, we may say that only God is capable of certain actions. When Sarah and Abraham could not bring a child into the world on their own, God set aside natural law and allowed Sarah to become pregnant. Sarah had never given birth, and when this promise was made, her body was too old for the natural process to work. Abraham's body was as good as dead. Several obstacles had to be overcome for Sarah to become pregnant. A similar point is found in the spiritual realm. Man has never been able to justify himself. Man cannot save himself. If he is to be saved, there must be divine intervention.

In commenting on Sarah and Abraham Paul also said God knows the future. He "calls the things that are not as though they were." That Isaiah , God is so confident in His knowledge of the future He calls (says) what will happen before the events occur (compare Isaiah 46:10 and Acts 2:23). Today, announcers can watch and describe events as they happen. God can give this same type of "blow by blow" description of any event, person, or circumstance, but He does so before it happens. In this context, Paul reminded readers that God predicted the birth of Sarah and Abraham's son.

A single term (zoopoieo) in the original text is the basis for "gives life." Normally, this term is translated "quickened" in the KJV. For a list of other places in the New Testament that use this term, see John 5:21; John 6:63; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:36; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 3:21; 1 Timothy 6:13; 1 Peter 3:18. Many of these verses use this term in a spiritual sense (salvation). A study of this term shows that the power to make alive belongs exclusively to God.


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

Bibliography
Price, Brad "Commentary on Romans 4:17". "Living By Faith: Commentary on Romans". https:https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bpc/romans-4.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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