Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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ROMANS - Chapter 4

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Romans 4

Supplemental Commentary:

1, 18 -- 11, 36 (continued)

2.  Salvation Through Faith in Christ  3, 21 -- 4, 25 (continued)

4, 1-8:  Abraham Justified by Faith.    1.  The question amounts to this: what kind of justice did Abraham acquire, that of works or that of faith?    2.  From the fact that Abraham has no reason to boast it follows that he was not justified by his works.    3.  But there remains the question: how then was he justified?  The answer is provided in the quotation from Gen. 15, 6: it was his faith that led to justification.  The object of Abraham's faith was the divine promises of a numerous posterity, the possession of the land of promise, and that through his offspring all nations should be blessed.  Cf. Gen. 12, 2 f; 15, 5; etc.  St. James in his Epistle (2, 21 ff) uses this same text (and also Gen. 22, 9 f) to establish the need of good works, but he is speaking of a speculative faith and of works which follow from sound Christian life.  St. Paul's argument has to do with works which precede justifying faith.  St. James is dealing with the preservation and increase of grace; St. Paul with the winning of initial justification.    6-8.  In the citation from Ps. 31, 1 f, forgiven, covered, not credit are emphatic of the idea that sin no longer exists in the one whom God has justified.  The text shows that forgiveness is due to God, and not to the sinner himself.

4,  9-12:  Justified before Circumcision.    9.  The citation in 7-8 is from David who lived long after circumcision was prescribed.  Do his words also apply to those who lived before it was prescribed?  The answer is again found in the case of Abraham.    10.  The fact of Abraham's justification is announced in Gen. 15, and therefore prior to the prescription of circumcision, which is told in Gen. 17, 10 f.    11 f.  It was by providential design that Abraham was justified before his circumcision.  He thus became the spiritual father of Gentiles and of Jews who would imitate his faith.

4, 13-17:  Not Justified by the Works of the Law.  But now the question rises: if faith centered in the promise which was to be realized through the Law, is it not in some way dependent on the Law?  Paul shows in answer that the promise was not contingent upon the Law.

13.  Heir of the world: this promise is not expressed in Genesis in these terms; it refers to the Messianic blessing which would bring the whole world into the spiritual Israel.    14.  When this promise was made the Law did not exist.  If the promise is conditioned on the Law, then the faith of Abraham would be rendered useless.  It was faith, not the observance of the Law, that brought about his justification.    15.  Law merely indicates what must be done, what avoided.  It does not of itself supply the inner strength required for its observance.  The inevitable transgressions of law provoke the lawgiver to wrath and call for punishment.  But where there is no law on the observance of which the promise is contingent, there is no transgression to impede the fulfillment of the promise.    16.  Therefore all comes by faith.  A favor: a pure gratuity on the part of God.  That it might be secure: independent of the uncertain observance of the Law, and firmly assured to those who share the faith of Abraham, both Jews and Gentiles.    17.  Two instances of divine omnipotence on which rested Abraham's faith: (a) God's power to give life to the dead; (b) His power to call nonexistent things into being.

4, 18-22:  The Strength of His Faith.    18.  Hoping against hope: when according to human calculations there was no hope, Abraham believed the promise of offspring made him by God.    20-22.  There are three stages to Abraham's faith: (a) the difficulties involved did not weaken his faith; (b) he did not waver; (c) he was strengthened in faith, thus giving glory to God.

4, 23-25:  The Model of Our Faith.    23 f.  A similar unwavering faith on our part will be credited to us unto justification which is conditioned on such a faith.    25.  Who was delivered up: by His death Jesus atoned for sin and merited for us justification.  Rose again, etc.: the meritorious cause of justification is the death of Christ; His resurrection supplied the evidence which leads to faith in Him, and hence to our sharing in His merit.

Confraternity Bible:

Abraham Justified by Faith  1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our father according to the flesh, acquired?  2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has reason to boast, but not before God.  3* For what does the Scripture say?  "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as justice."  4 Now to him who works, the reward is not credited as a favor but as something due.  5* But to him who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the impious, his faith is credited to him as justice.  6 Thus David declares the blessedness of the man to whom God credits justice without works: 
7* "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

8* Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not credit sin."
Justified before Circumcision  9 Does this blessedness hold good, then, only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?  For we say that unto Abraham faith was credited as justice.  10 How then was it credited?  When he was in the state of circumcision or in that of uncircumcision?  11 Not in circumcision but in uncircumcision.  And he received the sign of circumcision as the seal of the justice of faith which he had while uncircumcised, in order that he may be the father of all who, while uncircumcised, believed, that to them also it may be credited as justice; 12 and the father of the circumcised, not of those merely who are circumcised, but also of those who follow in the steps of the faith that was our father Abraham's while yet uncircumcised.

Not Justified by the Works of the Law  13 For not through the Law but through the justice of faith was the promise made to Abraham and to his posterity that he should be heir of the world.  14 For if they who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made empty, the promise is made void.  15* For the Law works wrath; for where there is no law, neither is there transgression.  16 Therefore the promise was the outcome of faith, that it might be a favor, in order that it might be secure for all the offspring, not only for those who are of the Law, but also for those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all; 17* as it is written,
"I have appointed thee the father of many nations." 
He is our father in the sight of God, whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

The Strength of His Faith  18* Abraham hoping against hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was said,
"So shall thy offspring be." 
19 And without weakening in faith, he considered his own deadened body (for he was almost a hundred years old) and the deadened womb of Sara; 20 and yet in view of the promise of God, he did not waver through unbelief but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 being fully aware that whatever God has promised he is able also to perform.  22 Therefore it was credited to him as justice.

The Model of Our Faith  23 Now not for his sake only was it written that "It was credited to him," 24 but for the sake of us also, to whom it will be credited if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification.


3: We should distinguish between justification and salvation.  We cannot be saved without good works, and accordingly St. Paul repeatedly insists on the necessity of avoiding sin and doing good.  But justification, that is, the infusion of sanctifying grace, cannot be merited by us; it is an entirely gratuitous gift of God.

5: Credited to him as justice: when God, who is infinite truth, credits something to man, it is equivalent to saying that He imparts it really to man; for there is no make-believe with God.

7-8: Ps. 31, 1-2. --- 7: Forgiven, covered, not credit: varying expressions, all indicative of the same idea, namely, that the guilt of sins is really removed from the soul by God.

15: The Law works wrath: a  law simply indicates the line of conduct to be followed.  It does not impart the strength of will to fulfill its precepts.  Of itself then it becomes an occasion of wrath, in that if its precepts are violated, the lawgiver is provoked to anger and inflicts punishment on the transgressor.

17: Gen. 17, 5.

18: Gen. 15, 5.