The Agora
Bible Commentary

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Romans 4

Rom 4:1

OUR FOREFATHER: Abraham is not the "father' of faithless Jews: see John 8:33-41. He is, however, the "father" of faithful Gentiles (v 16)!

Rom 4:2

IF ABRAHAM WAS JUSTIFIED BY WORKS...: In other words, if Abraham had been pronounced righteous because of his perfect obedience...

TO BOAST ABOUT: Cp Rom 3:27.

Rom 4:3

ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD...: Cit Gen 15:6. To "believe" is to rely on, intelligently: cp Rom 1:16,17. Abraham was completely dependent upon God to fulfill His promises (vv 16-22); out of his personal weakness, therefore, came faith (cp 2Co 12:10).

The nature of Abraham's faith was essentially the same as that of the NT believer despite the difference in time. (Abraham looked forward to something God would do, whereas the Christian looks back to what God has provided in Christ.) In each case, too, the object of faith is the same, implicit in the promise to Abraham, explicit in the gospel? Abraham trusted in a promise that pointed to Christ (John 8:56; Gal 3:16)!

Rom 4:4

No amount of works, by themselves, can "earn" salvation (cp Rom 6:23). It is quite true to say that Abraham DID something. But what he DID, in its very nature, excluded any works as a basis whereby he might earn righteousness himself. The history of Abraham reveals a man walking by faith rather than sight, showing that he was guided and brought to his desired destination by an external agency (Heb 11:8). He was in no position to provide for himself what he needed!

Rom 4:5

THE WICKED: The word "asebes" is used generally of mankind being universally under the dominion of sin. The condition of Abraham before his calling by God. Where faith is not exercised, man remains ungodly, and therefore exposed to the wrath of God (Rom 5:6).

OT law required the judge to condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (Deu 25:1), but where God is both Judge and Savior the wicked have an opportunity denied to them in human reckoning. The prophetic word anticipated this result through the work of the Servant (Isa 53:5,6,11). In saying that God justifies the ungodly, the text is not singling out Abraham as the sinner par excellence but rather is pointing to the type of man who is desperately in need of justification, which actually embraces all (cf Rom 5:6), including Abraham.

CREDITED: Whatever is "reckoned" (or counted) to a person, cannot have been his originally and naturally. Viewed from the divine viewpoint, Abraham was destitute of a personal righteousness. Because of Abraham's faith, and a recognition of his own helplessness, Abraham received a gift from God: something "credited" to his account!

Rom 4:6

Vv 6-8: Cit Psa 32:1,2 (for background, see also Psa 51 and 2Sa 12:1-6). Blessing involves the forgiveness of sins, and has to do with eternal life and the inheritance of the promises to Abraham.

DAVID: Selected for this example because he was guilty of a crime for which the Law provided no release or sacrifice (Psa 51:16).

In the case of Abraham, righteousness was credited to him, apart from works, on the basis of faith. In the case of David obviously no good work is involved, but on the contrary, sin has been committed. So the far-reaching nature of justification is seen to still greater advantage.
Since David was actually already a justified man, known as the man after God's own heart, thus it may be seen that sin in the life of a believer does not cancel justification. God is able to forgive. His gifts are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). At the same time, God showed his displeasure regarding David's sin, severely chastening him until the sin had been fully confessed. Even afterward, his sins produced havoc in his family. David suffered the humiliation of the revolt led by Absalom. Yet God did not withdraw His favor and support.

THE BLESSEDNESS: Or "happiness". Notice how the Psalms begin with the "blessing" or "happiness" of the man who commits no sin (Psa 1), and then come -- after a bit -- to the "blessing" or "happiness" of the man whose sin is forgiven, or covered.

APART FROM WORKS: AV has "without works": Paul is not counseling man to AVOID doing good works, but rather stating that -- no matter how many good works one might do -- they would never be enough to EARN salvation.

Rom 4:7

Forgiveness is granted after full confession is made, resulting in peace of mind (John 14:27; Acts 10:36; Rom 3:17; 5:1; 8:6; 1Co 7:15; Phi 4:7), but not always free of mental conflict (Rom 16:20). This is not the same as condoning sin (1Co 14:33).

Rom 4:8

WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NEVER COUNT AGAINST HIM: It is treated as the cancellation of a debt.

Rom 4:9

In other words, was circumcision a prerequisite for the receiving of forgiveness of sins?

BLESSEDNESS: In this context, sig forgiveness of sins (vv 6-8).

Rom 4:10

IT WAS NOT AFTER, BUT BEFORE!: At least 13 years before his circumcision (Gen 17:1,2,4,25). "We cannot doubt that circumcision was delayed in order to teach the believing Gentiles of future ages that they may claim Abraham as their father, and the righteousness of faith as their inheritance" (Beet). It could even be said that the Gentile has first claim on the patriarch, who was just like himself when justified.

Rom 4:11

SEAL: "Sphragis" = the impression of a seal, a distinctive mark, a token. The "seal" is an endorsement of something that already exists. An approval of a previous condition.

THE FATHER OF ALL WHO BELIEVE...: Whether circumcised (Jew) or not (Gentile). Abraham's sons are those who are energized by the same principles of life as he was: Luk 19:9; Joh 8:39.

BUT HAVE NOT BEEN CIRCUMCISED: Circumcision is the endorsement of a previously existing faith, which is the more important factor (Gal 6:15). Therefore a mark in the flesh is irrelevant to one who is circumcised in heart and in mind (Rom 2:29), and has no confidence in the flesh (Phi 3:3,11). Ct Deu 10:16; 30:16 with Exo 6:12,30; Lev 26:41; Jer 6:10; 9:26; and cp 1Co 7:18,19.

Rom 4:12

ALSO THE FATHER OF THE CIRCUMCISED...: Abraham means "father of a great multitude", which includes both Jews and Gentiles (Gen 12:3; Gal 3:8,9).

WHO ALSO WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS...: Their deeds indicate the character of faith (Jam 2:14,17). Ritual must be matched by performance (Jam 4:17).

FAITH: Trust and confidence in all that God has promised: vv 20-25.

BEFORE HE WAS CIRCUMCISED: By Jewish reckoning, even their "father" Abraham was a "Gentile" at this time! Abraham lived in the land of promise 25 years before his circumcision (Gen 12:4; 17:1). His promised "fatherhood" (Gen 17:6) preceded his circumcision.

Rom 4:13

NOT THROUGH THE LAW: Abraham was "justified" approx 400 years before the Law was given, through Moses. The Law only condemned man for his failure to obey it perfectly (Rom 3:20). Cp Gal 3:17,18.

HIS OFFSPRING: The seed of Abraham, ie those who have the faith of their "father" Abraham, are also heirs with Christ (Gal 3:25-29).

HEIR: One to whom property has been assigned, but who has not yet actually received it. Cp Heb 1:2; Jam 2:5. Christ is heir: (a) of universal domain (Gen 1:26,28; Psa 8:4-8; Heb 2:6-8); (b) of the Land of promise, as son of Abraham (Gen 22:16-18; Heb 2:16; Rom 4:13; Gal 3:29); (c) heir to the Throne, as son of David (Mat 1:1-6; Luk 1:30-33); and (d) heir of all things, as son of God (Heb 1:1,2; Acts 10:36).

THE WORLD: Gr "kosmos", the order or arrangement of things: in this case, the nations of the earth (Gen 17:4-6). The whole "world", not just Canaan, will be the inheritance of the righteous: Matt 5:5. Cp the "blessing of Abraham": Gal 3:8,9.

BUT THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH: Faith implies trust in another, not in oneself. God accepts us as righteous on the basis of our trust (full persuasion) in Him (see Rom 4:3; 3:21,22). The covenant was one of grace, not like a contract of today where each contractor receives equally as he is given. Cp Gen 15:6; 17:2,3 -- where Abraham is prostrated as an expression of his inability to stand in the presence of God.

Rom 4:14

Vv 14-17: "If life is earned by keeping the law, neither promise nor faith enter in... By law comes knowledge of sin and consciousness of guilt and liability to punishment. Under law, sinning man comes under wrath. And man cannot keep the law; so law works wrath upon all. Therefore the apostle concludes, 'For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace.' Because of the impossibility of it being by law, if the promise and the inheritance are received at all, it must be by grace, operative through faith. And so it is. And so the promise is secure to all the seed; secure alike to the believing Jew, the seed who lived under the law, and the believing Gentile. This is involved in the promise that Abraham was made the father of MANY nations. If inheritance were of law, he could only be the father of those under law. Since law could give no title, the promise then would not be 'sure' to any. But the purpose of God, who made the promise, is sure. Abraham is appointed the father of many nations by God; in the sight of God -- 'before God' -- he was such then. 'I have made thee a father', said God to him, when there was as yet no seed, and Abraham and Sarah were old. But God, who could, and did, quicken 'dead' but believing Abraham and Sarah, so that a child was born of her past age, called those things which then had no existence as though they already had come into being (v 17)" (CRom).

Faith is useless (ie having no value) if the promise can be obtained by works of law, and if so, then the promises to Abraham are void (or powerless). As soon as the inheritance of God's promises is made conditional upon perfect obedience, then the promises have been effectively nullified.

Rom 4:15

LAW BRINGS WRATH: In trying to be justified by obedience to Law, one must keep every detail of that Law. But human beings will always fail, and thus bring upon themselves divine wrath. However, faith calls forth divine love, which mercifully provides a covering for sins (Rom 3:19,20,27).

TRANSGRESSION: Gr "parabasis", lit a stepping over. Always implies a breaking of law, esp the Law of Moses: cp Rom 2:23; Heb 2:2; 9:15. It is used of the prohibition in Eden (Rom 5:14; 1Ti 2:14).

Rom 4:16

BY FAITH... BY GRACE: "Faith" expresses the believer's need, and "grace" expresses God's answer to that need! The fulfillment of the promise is not according to man's merit but according to Yahweh's unmerited favor. Thus promise, faith, and grace are set in contrast to Law, works, and merit.

ALL ABRAHAM'S OFFSPRING: Gentiles, as well as Jews, taken from many nations (Gen 17:5; Mal 3:16,17; Acts 15:14). The multitudinous seed of Christ (Gal 3:29).

Rom 4:17

THE GOD WHO GIVES LIFE TO THE DEAD: Both spiritually dead (Eph 2:5) and physically dead (1Co 15:45). This relates also to the barrenness of Sarah (Gen 17:16,17). The prerogative and power for this belongs to Yahweh alone, for it is an act requiring almighty power (Deu 32:39; 1Sa 2:6; 2Ki 5:7; Psa 68:20).

AND CALLS THINGS THAT RE NOT AS THOUGH THEY WERE: An unconditional promise of God has no doubt as to its fulfillment. It is so sure of being done that future things are spoken of as in the present and past tense (Luke 1:51-55; 20:36-38; 2Ti 1:9,10). There is therefore no doubt that it will come to pass. The primary application of this principle was to Isaac.

"The word 'calls' in this case does not mean to describe or designate, but rather 'summon,' perhaps 'call into being.' It may be used in this sense for his creative activity (see Isa 48:13, NEB). Isaac was real in the thought and purpose of God before he was begotten" (EBC).

Rom 4:18

AGAINST ALL HOPE: Lit, "beyond hope", that is, where the laws or course of nature left no room for hope. After making the original promise (Gen 15:5), God waited until it was physically impossible for this couple to have children. Then he repeated His pledge (Gen 17:5). Abraham's act of faith was essentially the same as on the previous occasion, but meanwhile circumstances had made the fulfillment of the promise impossible apart from supernatural intervention. He was shut up to God and was able to rest his faith there.

IN HOPE BELIEVED: "Hope" is "elpis": (a) the happy anticipation of something good (Tit 1:2; 1Pe 1:21); (b) the ground upon which hope is based (Acts 16:19; Col 1:27); and (c) the object upon which hope is fixed (1Ti 1:1). Cp Paul's use of "hope" in Rom 5:2,4,5; 8:20,24; 12:12; 15:4,13.

JUST AS IT WAS SAID TO HIM: Here the "hope" is defined: it is "what God said"! The "hope" was in God, and there it might safely rest -- no matter how unlikely, humanly speaking, the fulfillment seemed -- for nothing is too difficult for Him to accomplish, if it be according to His will!

SO SHALL YOUR OFFSPRING BE: Cit Gen 15:5: the object of the hope was the provision of a "seed" to Abraham.

Rom 4:19

WITHOUT WEAKENING IN HIS FAITH: Cp Rom 8:3; 2Co 13:3. Man has no strength or power of his own, and strength of faith is really a confession of weakness of physical or mental or moral abilities! In Abraham's case he lacked the ability to produce his own seed.

HE FACED THE FACT: The KJV has "considered NOT", but the better mss omit the "not". Abraham DID consider the evidence, but he was not swayed by it!

SARAH'S WOMB WAS ALSO DEAD: Abraham's impotency was due to his old age (100 years), but Sarah had never been able to bear children, even in her youth.

"Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, 'Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged' " (Deu 31:7,8). No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1Co 10:13).

Rom 4:20

HE DID NOT WAVER: Cp Mat 21:21; Mark 11:23.

THROUGH UNBELIEF: If Abraham had disbelieved, he would have rejected not so much Yahweh's promise, as Yahweh Himself, and His ability to direct history (cp 1Sa 8:1,3-9).

THE PROMISE OF GOD: Which was irrevocable (Rom 11:29). The fact that God had promised it was its own assurance.

WAS STRENGTHENED IN HIS FAITH: Not so much "strong in faith", but strengthened to hold on to his faith -- a faith which he held in his own weakness! "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2Co 12:9,10). "He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you -- unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test" (2Co 13:3-6).

AND GAVE GLORY TO GOD: Cf Rom 1:21,23. The credit for what happened to Abraham belonged only to God, and human boasting was excluded.

Rom 4:21

BEING FULLY PERSUADED: "That spontaneity and liberality of soul which unhindered by obstacles grasps promises of God and His ability to perform them" (Vine).

Rom 4:22

And so Paul returns to his original quotation, Gen 15:6, in v 3.

CREDITED: Or "reckoned": vv 3,6,8,11. To put something to one's account, either in his favor or what he must be answerable for. See 2Co 5:19; Gal 3:6; Jam 2:23.

Rom 4:23

NOT FOR HIM ALONE: The OT scriptures are not merely a record of facts, but they are designed for the guidance of all believers: For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom 15:4). Abraham's life is recorded as an example of the state of mind expected in his spiritual offspring.

Rom 4:24

Righteousness is available to any and all -- on the basis of their faith in God!

HIM WHO RAISED JESUS OUR LORD FROM THE DEAD: Our belief in resurrection is the same as Abraham's faith in Isaac's birth, which was "life from the dead" (the dead body of Abraham, and the dead womb of Sarah). Abraham further demonstrated this same faith in offering that same son Isaac (Gen 22; Jam 2:21), because he believed that God would raise him up from the dead (Heb 11:19). The risen Christ is a confirmation of what Abraham hoped to see (v 17). As we have a partial fulfillment of the promise (Rom 15:8), our faith should be even stronger than his. Christ's resurrection (a) demonstrates Yahweh's almighty power (1Pe 1:21; Eph 1:19,20), and (b) is the cornerstone of gospel truth (1Co 15:4,12-18).

Rom 4:25

DELIVERED OVER TO DEATH: "Deliver" is the Gr "paradidomi", to hand over or deliver up: see Rom 8:32; 1:24,26,28.

FOR OUR SINS: This is the meaning of Rom 3:9-23.

RAISED TO LIFE: "Egeiro" = to excite, arouse, or waken, restore to health. Christ was "rebuilt" on an eternal basis. His resurrection to eternal life is proof of the efficacy of his sacrifice. It is with this resurrected Lord that we must identify ourselves (Rom 6:4,5).

FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION: The basis of our justification has been laid in the death of Christ; all that remained was the necessity on God's part to raise him from the dead to effect our justification. "Beyond question, the statement owes much to Isa 53, where in LXX the Servant is pictured as delivered up on account of the sins of the many. Justification appears in the Hebrew text of that chapter (v 11). Moreover, the resurrection, though not stated in so many words, is implied in vv 10,12" (EBC).

Previous Index Next