An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 16 May 2010; Revised 27 April 2019
Scripture Text: The Scripture text of Romans is taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are also taken from the NASB. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found here. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Links to other ancient Jewish literature may be found at EarlyJewishWritings.com.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). The meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB," found online at BibleHub.com. Explanation of Greek grammatical forms and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance reference numbers are identified with "SH" for Hebrew and "SG" for Greek.
Methodology: For an explanation of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology, spelling conventions, and other information on organization of the commentary see my Commentary Writing Philosophy. Click here for a Study Questions for small group learning or self-study.
Soteriology: God’s Plan for Deliverance and Righteousness, 3:21–5:21 (cont.)
The Model of Abraham, 4:1-8
· There were no legalistic works for Abraham to perform.
· Abraham trusted in God's word and served him faithfully.
· The testimony of David affirms justification apart from legalistic works.
The Blessing of Abraham, 4:9-12
· Abraham was righteous before circumcision.
· Abraham was a man of faith(fulness) while uncircumcised.
· Abraham is a father to those who follow in his steps.
· Justification is based on the faithfulness of Yeshua.
The Promise of Abraham, 4:13-25
· The promise given to Abraham extends to his descendants.
· Abraham did not believe once, but maintained his faithfulness.
· What God did for Abraham, He has done for all through Yeshua.
The Model of Abraham, 4:1-8
Having offered reassurance to his fictive questioner that the focus of the Good News on trusting faithfulness does not destroy Torah but confirms it (3:31), Paul now addresses a second objection he might raise: What about the z'khut-avot, "the merits of the fathers?" There can be no doubt that in the 1st century the doctrine was widespread that Jewish descendants could benefit and even can claim salvation on the ground of their ancestors’ righteousness (Stern). Yeshua’s opponents made exactly such a claim at John 8:33 and Yochanan the Immerser rebuked his critics before they had a chance to say, “Abraham is our father” (Matt 3:9)."
1― What then shall we say: Paul is fond of this rhetorical question (4:1; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14, 30). He then launches into a midrash, a distinct type of Jewish commentary on Scripture, in order to illuminate the deeper meaning of righteousness (Young 76). that Abraham: Grk. Abraam, which transliterates the Heb. Avraham. The first Hebrew patriarch became the prime example of faithfulness. Abraham was the son of Terah, a descendant of Noah's son, Shem (Gen 11:27). Abraham is identified initially as a Hebrew (Gen 14:13), a name derived from Eber, a son of Shem (Gen 10:21:11:14, 16) and Abraham's ancestor (Gen 11:26). "Hebrew" became the name by which the covenant people would be distinguished from the Egyptians and Philistines (Gen 39—Ex 10; 1Sam 4-29) (TWOT 2:643). Thus, Abraham is designated as the one who would perpetuate the worship of the one true God and bring spiritual blessing to all mankind (cf. Gen 9:26-27).
Four times God declared a covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:2-3; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-22). God made important promises to him: (1) God would make Abraham into a great nation; (2) God would bless those who blessed Abraham and curse those who cursed him; (3) in Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed; (4) all the land that Abraham could see in all four directions and that he could walk through would belong to him and his seed forever, i.e., the land of Canaan; (5) Abram's "seed" (descendants) would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars in the sky; (6) all the land between the Nile and the Euphrates, including the land of Canaan, for his descendants; and (7) he and Sarah would together produce an heir. God declared his covenant with Abraham to be everlasting.
Abraham married his half-sister, Sarah (Gen 11:29; 20:12). He later took Sarah's servant Hagar as a wife (Gen 16:1-3), but then divorced and sent her away after the birth of Isaac (Gen 21:14). After the death of Sarah Abraham apparently had at least two concubine wives, one named Keturah who bore him six sons (Gen 25:1-6). Abraham died at the age of 175 and was buried with his wife Sarah in the cave of Machpelah in Ephron by his sons Isaac and Ishmael (Gen 25:7-10). For more information on the great patriarch see my web article The Story of Abraham.
our forefather, Grk. propatōr, ancestor or forefather, used only here in the Besekh. according to the flesh: Grk. sarx, flesh, has both literal and figurative uses in Scripture: (1) the tissue that covers the skeleton of a human or animal; (2) the whole body viewed as a substance; (3) man of flesh and blood in contrast to God and supernatural beings; (4) human or mortal nature, with its limitations; (5) corporeality, physical limitations, life here on earth; (6) the external or outward side of life; (7) theologically the willing instrument of sin that stands in opposition to the Spirit; and (8) the genitals without any suggestion of sinfulness connected with it. Sarx is a key word in Paul's writings, occurring over 75 times.
In the LXX sarx stands for Heb. basar, which denotes flesh as (1) the food of men, Gen 41:2; (2) tissues or parts of the human body, Gen 2:21; (3) the human body in its entirety, specifying the part for the whole, Ps 63:2; and also figurative of close relations, Gen 29:14, and even all mankind, Job 34:15 (DNTT 1:672). Frequently basar emphasizes man's essential nature in contrast with God, e.g., man's transitoriness, frailty, dependence or incapacity (2 Chron 32:8; Ps 78:39; 119:120; Prov 5:11; Isa 31:3; 40:6, 8; Jer 17:5).
Abraham is acknowledged in Scripture as both the biological father of the Israelites and Jews (Gen 25:19; 26:3) and a spiritual father to many of all nations (Gen 17:5). The collective emphasis by Jews of Abraham as "our father" occurs several times in Scripture (1 Chron 29:18; Matt 3:9; Luke 1:55, 73; 3:8; John 8:39, 53; Acts 3:13; 7:2; Rom 4:12). found: Grk. heuriskō, perf. inf., to find, discover or come upon after seeking, whether of things or persons. The verb may figuratively refer to intellectual discovery based upon reflection, observation, examination or investigation. In the LXX heuriskō chiefly serves to translate the Heb. matsa (to attain or find, BDB 592), with the same uses. In theological contexts its objects are God, grace, and mercy (Gen 18:3; 19:19; Isa 55:6) (DNTT 3:528).
2― For if: Paul presents a conditional statement, assumed as true for the sake of argument, though untrue in fact (Robertson). Abraham was justified: Grk. dikaioō, aor. pass., can mean (1) to verify to be in the right or (2) to put into a condition or state of uprightness. Mounce defines as to make right or render right or just. BAG adds to make free or pure. The verb occurs 39 times in the Besekh, 29 of which are in the works of Paul. In the LXX dikaioō renders Heb. tsadaq (SH-6663), to be just or righteous, to declare right, to vindicate, prove right, to acquit or be acquitted, or to be cleared of wrongdoing (e.g., Gen 38:26; 44:16; 2Sam 15:4; Ps 143:2; Isa 43:26) (DNTT 3:355). The context of this important word is a righteous standard against which people are measured. The verb has two basic uses in Scripture, an apologetic use and a redemptive use.
The verb occurs throughout the Tanakh in an apologetic sense to express doing justice for someone wrongly accused or vindicating someone's character. The same usage may also be found in the Besekh (Matt 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:29; 10:29; 18:14; 1Cor 4:4; 1Tim 3:16). However, in most instances in the Besekh we see dikaioō as a term of redemption, not found in the Tanakh. The defendant before the bar of God is not wrongly accused or innocent, but guilty of sin. In response to confession and repentance and on the basis of Yeshua's shed blood God grants pardon from the penalty of sin. Therefore, the redemptive use of dikaioō is not acquittal, because we are not innocent.
In Paul's narrative approach to theology the story of Abraham is very important. Yet, the introduction of Abraham into the subject of justification seems strange. The redemptive use of dikaioō, as it occurs in the following chapters of this letter, clearly does not apply to Abraham. Scripture does not reveal any sins or transgressions for which he needed to be pardoned, but in fact describes him as a righteous man who lived by God's commandments (Gen 26:5). Santala suggests that Paul employs Hillel's second hermeneutic rule, gezerah shavah ("similar laws, similar verdicts), an argument from analogy, to lay the foundation for his argument in the next chapter (140). In other words the redemptive justification of chapter five begins by first establishing the apologetic justification of Abraham.
by works: pl. of Grk. ergon generally means a deed, action or accomplishment with these applications: (a) in contrast to rest; (b) as a practical proof of something; (c) of the deeds of God and Yeshua, specifically miracles; or (d) the deeds of men, exhibiting a consistent moral character. Paul uses the term here to refer to legalistic observances of Torah as advocated by the Pharisees. See comment on 3:20. Abraham was not justified by legalistic works as understood by the Pharisees.
he has something to boast about: Paul draws an apt contrast between boasting before men and before God. P.T. Barnum is credited with the saying, "it ain't braggin' if you can do it." but not before God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). In the LXX theos renders primarily Elohim (over 2300 times), but also the tetragrammaton YHVH (over 300 times). As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT 2:67-70).
None of the Biblical saints had the temerity to boast before God of their righteousness, notwithstanding David's claim in Psalm 18:20 (Heb. tsedekh there may be understood as "acting justly." It is not a claim to moral superiority). Paul may have been alluding to the statement in Jeremiah:
"Thus says ADONAI: 'Let not the wise boast in his wisdom nor the mighty boast in his might nor the rich glory in his riches. 23 But let one who boasts boast in this: that he understands and knows Me. For I am ADONAI who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth. For in these things I delight.' It is a declaration of ADONAI." (Jer 9:22-23 TLV)
3― What does the Scripture: Grk. graphē, writing, and in the Jewish context meaning the sacred Hebrew Bible (24 books) referred to by the acronym Tanakh, corresponding to the Protestant Old Testament (39 books) and its translation into Greek, the Septuagint. The term "Scripture," which occurs over 50 times in the Besekh, summarizes the body of literature containing God's inspired, infallible, inerrant words penned by over 25 writers, from Moses to Malachi. The Tanakh reveals God's nature, His plan for a Messianic Savior and salvation, and His plan for holy and righteous living. This is the only Bible Yeshua and the apostles knew and as Scripture they upheld its authority over the traditions of men.
say: Grk. legō, to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or in written form. The verb "say" functions as quotation marks for the text since ancient writings did not contain punctuation. Paul quotes from the text of the Torah containing the narrative of Abraham's life, specifically Genesis 15:6. Abraham: Grk. Abraam. See the note on verse 1 above. believed: Grk. pisteuō, aor., in general Greek usage, means to have confidence or faith in the reliability or trustworthiness of some thing or someone. In the LXX pisteuō renders the Heb. 'aman, which essentially means to confirm or support (BDB 52). The Hebrew word contains the elements of believing, trusting and being faithful.
In the Genesis verse the verb aman is Hiphil Perfect. In the Hiphil form aman means to stand firm or trust. The Perfect of aman indicates a complete condition, one that began in past time with continuing results to the present. Abraham did not believe in the sense of an intellectual assent to a philosophical idea. Abraham had trusted God ever since he left Haran in obedience to God's direction. As a result of this trust he was faithful to God. In my view "trusted" would be a better translation of the verb here (as in AMP, MSG, VOICE). An alternative translation is "had faith in" (CEB, CEV, OJB). The NEB has "put his faith in." God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See the note on the previous verse. Paul quotes the LXX, but the Hebrew text has YHVH, the tetragrammaton with which Yeshua identified himself (John 8:58).
and it was credited: Grk. logizomai, aor. pass., to count or calculate in a numerical sense, but also to infer, conclude, presume or to think upon, ponder (Mounce). In the LXX logizomai chiefly translates Heb. chashav (SH-2308, BDB 362), to think, to account, which is used in the sense of to think in a certain way, to estimate value or to calculate or compute something. Logizomai receives a new and personal slant in the LXX not present in Classical Greek. Jewish translators used logizomai with the sense of what God thinks about a person, whether regarding as righteous or guilty (cf. Gen 15:6; 2Sam 19:19; Ps 32:2) (DNTT 3:823). In Genesis 15:6 the verb chasav is a Qal Imperfect. The Qal is a simple action and the Imperfect points to action that has been going on but is not yet complete. As a word picture of arithmetic the counting had been going on coincidental with the trusting so that each time Abraham trusted it was added to the sum total representing his righteous character. In my view "considered" would be a better translation.
to him as righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē, a state that is in accord with standards for acceptable or anticipated behavior, uprightness, righteousness, justice. The Hebrew concept of tzedakah, "righteousness" refers to right or ethical character and behavior. It is based on the character of God and His revealed standards. In the Tanakh tzedakah also carries the sense of salvation (deliverance) and judgment (justice). Righteousness primarily has human relationships as its focus and therefore righteousness strengthens the community. Paul's quotation of Genesis 15:6, is used to argue that Abraham's righteousness was not based on legalistic observance of Torah, which hadn't even been given yet.
Such an evaluation from God is based on actions and character of the person. In other words, in those ancient settings God did not give the label of "righteous" to an unrighteous person. Yet, some Christian commentators have concluded that Abraham had no righteousness, but that it was imputed to him in exchange for his belief. Shulam critiques Christian misinterpretation of Paul's meaning:
"The standard Christian interpretation of this verse understands the root chashav to refer to God's "favor," according to which He gives His gift of righteousness to someone (Abraham) who does not deserve it. God thus "imputes" righteousness to Abraham without Abraham having "earned" righteousness by "works" of his own doing. The theological "imputations" given to the verse, however, have often gone far beyond proper textual and linguistic bounds, and established a dichotomous relationship between "faith" and "works" which most of the contemporary Jewish sources do not support."
Christian misinterpretation flies in the face of how God regarded the saints of the Bible. On what basis was Noah considered a righteous and blameless man (Gen 6:9)? Job was regarded as blameless, upright and righteous (Job 1:8; 2:3; 9:20). Jacob, too, was regarded as blameless, although not accorded that status in Christian Bibles (Gen 25:27; Heb. tam, perfect or complete, BDB 1070). David said, "Blessed is the one whose guilt ADONAI does not count, and in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Ps 32:2 TLV). David assumes the character quality is present before God's determination. Yeshua said of Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47).
Does an unrighteous man obey God to leave all security behind and begin a trek to an unknown destination just because God told him to go (Gen 12:1-4)? Can anyone possibly believe that God would have made the five promises to Abraham recorded in Genesis 12:2-3 and 13:14-17, if he had been an unrighteous man? Does an unrighteous man build an altar to God as Abram did upon receiving the promises? Would God have judged Pharaoh (Gen 12:17) if Abraham had been an unrighteous man? Would Melchizedek, priest-king of Salem and type of the Messiah, have brought bread and wine to Abraham after his defeat of pagan forces (14:17-20) and would Abraham have given a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek if Abraham was an unrighteous man?
Paul described Abraham's life prior to Genesis 15 as a life of faith (i.e., faithfulness, Heb 11:8-9). There is not one sin attributed to Abraham, so calling him unrighteous when God does not amounts to defamation. Abraham's trusting in Genesis had no connection to salvation. Upon hearing that God promised him a son of his loins Abraham advanced to a new level of righteousness, because Abraham knew that only a creation miracle could enable him to have a son. Such trust enabled Abraham to look forward to the future with confidence. "Faith" as Paul understands it and as it is used in the Tanakh is not merely assent to a theological statement or acceptance of a promise based on the integrity of the one giving the promise, but faithfulness grounded in trust.
4― One who works: Grk. ergazomai, pres. mid. part., to work, be at work, do, carry out, either with the focus on effort itself in the course of activity or the result of effort. his wage: Grk. misthos, reciprocation for performance, as payment for labor, pay, wages. Payment could be in currency as illustrated in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:2) or in-kind of a percentage of the harvested produce which would then be sold and converted to currency as in the parable of the vineyard (Mark 12:2). is not credited: Grk. logizomai. See the note on the previous verse. as a favor: Grk. charis, disposition marked by inclination to generosity, frequently unmotivated by the worth of the recipient; thus, grace, gracefulness, graciousness, favor, thanks or gratitude.
In the LXX charis occurs about 190 times of which only about 75 have a Hebrew equivalent, of which 61 are for Heb. hēn (favor) (DNTT 2:116). The use of hēn in biblical history depicts the stronger coming to the help of the weaker who stands in need of help by reason of his circumstances or natural weakness. but as what is due: Grk. opheilēma, that which is owed, (1) particularly of a financial nature, a debt, usually created by a loan; also (2) moral obligations to people or state laws. In the LXX opheilēma renders hōb, a debt (Ezek 18:7). Paul understands that a person who works deserves (or is owed) his wage. A wage cannot be "imputed as a favor," because it lacks the element of something freely given ("grace") (Shulam). In other words, God characterized Abraham as righteous because that was what his life had produced.
5― Paul now applies his analogy of Abraham, but in an unexpected direction. But to the one who does not work: Grk. ergazomai, pres. mid. part. See the note on the previous verse. The one who has not worked is an expression for one whose life has not produced righteousness. but believes: Grk. pisteuō, pres. part. See the note on verse 3 above. The present tense emphasizes a behavior that begins and continues and the participle characterizes the person. A better translation would be "trusts" (AMP, MSG, NIV, NRSV, RSV, TLV) or "trusting" (CJB). MOUNCE-NT has "entrusts." in Him: lit. "on him," probably an allusion to Yeshua. who justifies: Grk. dikaioō, pres. part. See the note on verse 2 above. Paul switches from the apologetic usage of dikaioō in verse 2 to the redemptive usage. the ungodly: Grk. asebēs, adj., ungodly, impious, irreverent, irreligious in an active sense. The description could not be more opposite of Abraham.
his faith: Grk. pistis incorporates two primary facets of meaning, first that which causes trust and faith, i.e., faithfulness or reliability, and second, trust or confidence in an active sense (BAG). Pistis is used in the LXX to twice render Heb. emun (e.g., Deut 32:20; Prov 13:17; 'faithfulness,' BDB 53), but renders Heb. emunah ('firmness, steadfastness, fidelity,' BDB 53) over 20 times, mainly of men's faithfulness (1Sam 26:23; 2Kgs 12:15; 22:7; 1Chr 9:22, 26, 31; 2Chr 31:12, 15, 18; 34:12; Prov 3:3; 12:17, 22; Jer 5:1, 3; 7:28; 9:3; Hos 2:20); but also of God's faithfulness (Ps 33:4; Lam 3:23; Hab 2:4; Biblos; ABP). Pistis also translates Heb. aman (to confirm, to support, Jer 15:18), amanah ('fixed support,' Neh 9:38; 11:23; SS 4:8) and emet (firmness, faithfulness, truth, Prov 14:22; Jer 28:9; 33:6).
The LXX usage emphasizes that the Hebrew meaning of faithfulness is the intended usage of pistis. The apostles build on this meaning and represent pistis as composed of two elements. The first element of faithfulness is confidence or trust: “And without faith[fulness] it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6; cf. Heb 4:2). True faith leads one to seek God and then trust Him to respond with His good gifts. The second element of faithfulness involves commitment, constancy and obedience, which includes following God’s direction for life and producing works of righteousness (cf. Eph 2:8-10). The faith or faithfulness of which Paul speaks is the same as the faithfulness of the great heroes that he describes in Hebrews 11.
credited: Grk. logizomai, pres. mid. See the note on verse 3 above. as righteousness: Paul distinguishes the "wages' that are earned from "work" from the "favor" given by God in reward for "faithfulness." Related to Paul's argument is the rabbinic concept of the "merit of the fathers" in which the "reward" comes from the "merits" of the actions committed by previous generations. The Sages associated such merit with Abraham, but Paul makes no such application. The "ungodly" are those who have no "merit" of their own and possess no righteousness before God, yet God "reckons" righteousness to them notwithstanding their lack of merit (Shulam). We should take note of what Paul does not say.
Paul does not say that justification declares a person righteous. After all, how can God call a guilty sinner righteous who has yet to produce any works of righteousness? Many people in Scripture are called righteous (Grk. dikaios) precisely because they walked with God and lived by God's commandments, including Abraham. Paul's language here is very precise and he presents a radical concept. When an ungodly person confesses, repents and expresses trust in the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua, that act is treated as a righteous act corresponding to Abraham's own life of trusting faithfulness toward God. A sinner does not have to clean up his life in order to come to God. Afterwards is a different matter, since repentance should produce the fruit of faithfulness.
6― just as David: Grk. David which transliterates the Heb. David ("dah-veed") perfectly. David is one of the most important figures in Israelite history. His name first appears in 1 Samuel 16:13 when God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons as the next king. At that time David was only a shepherd. Yet, from that humble beginning he would eventually (after many difficulties) become the King of Israel at the age of 30 and reign 40 years (2Sam 5:4; 1Chr 3:4). David made a tremendous impact on the nation of Israel. In the military sphere he broke the power of all the pagan peoples in the land of Canaan and in the civil sphere he made Jerusalem his capital and solidified central authority.
Perhaps most important is his accomplishments in the religious sphere. He erected the Tabernacle on Mt. Zion, centralized religion in Jerusalem and established Levitical choirs. He wrote many psalms and 73 psalms are specifically ascribed to him. He was known as the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2Sam 23:1). Especially important is that he compiled and organized psalms into what we now know as the Book of Psalms (2Chr 29:30). David was a true worshipper, a man imbued with the Holy Spirit (1Sam 13:14; 16:13; 2Sam 23:2).
God chose David to be king because He "sought out for Himself a man after His own heart" (1Sam 13:14). Then, God made a personal and everlasting covenant with him by which God promised that He would establish the throne of David forever, build a house for Himself and send forth a king from the loins of David to rule over his people Israel (2Sam 7:12-14; 23:5; 2Chr 7:18; 13:5; Ps 89:3; Isa 55:3; Jer 33:21). Jeremiah left a simple eulogy of David's life: "David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite" (1Kgs 15:5). The last comment on David's life in the Tanakh is from Ezra who twice refers to David as a "man of God" (2Chr 8:14; Neh 12:24).
also speaks: Grk. legō. See the note on verse 3 above. Paul uses another Jewish hermeneutic principle to demonstrate that the words of David offer the same perspective as the example of Abraham. of the blessing: Grk. makarismos, pronouncement of privileged status or a declaration of blessedness. on the man: The phrase is lit. "speaks the blessedness of the man" (Marshall). David is talking about the end state and not the process. to whom God credits righteousness: See the note on verse 3 above. apart from works: pl. of Grk. ergon. See the note on verse 2 above. The term "works" refers to legalistic observance of Torah commands or man-made traditions. Paul then quotes from Psalm 32:1-2 to make his point.
7― Blessed: Grk. makarios, enjoying a special advantage and may be translated as blessed, privileged, fortunate, or happy. In English “blessed” describes a state of being happy as a result of personal circumstances. However, the Hebrew viewpoint is that a “blessing” is an endowment of beneficial power (cf. Gen 1:28), ordinarily transmitted from the greater to the lesser (DNTT 1:207). Blessedness can never be self-imposed nor come by accident. Men may bless others without particular expectation (e.g., Isaac to Jacob, Gen 27:27), but man has to do something in order to receive divine blessings, whether positive or negative (cf. Ps 1:1-2; 112:1; 119:1-2; Prov 16:20; 29:18). The best examples are the blessings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12) in which Yeshua defines the criteria by which he will dispense his Messianic favors. David then uses two different words for unrighteous behavior that together form a synonymous parallelism.
are those whose lawless deeds: pl. of Grk. anomia may refer either to (1) a state or condition of opposition to the plans and purposes of God or (2) action or product of a lawless mindset. In the LXX anomia occurs almost 190 times and is used to render 23 different Hebrew words. By far the most common word translated (54 times) is Heb. avon (SH-5771), iniquity, guilt or punishment for iniquity (e.g., Gen 19:15), and the second most times for Heb. toebah (SH-8441), abomination, 25 times, all in the book of Ezekiel. The range of meaning that anomia represents in the LXX of the Hebrew words rendered includes wickedness, treacherous acts, rebellion, transgression, injustice, violence, defection, unrighteousness and destruction. The word “lawlessness” does not necessarily mean abandonment of customs or community laws, but a rejection of God’s authority, God's laws.
have been forgiven: Grk. aphiēmi, aor. pass., let go, release, send away. In the LXX the verb aphiēmi usually renders the Heb. nasa, to release from guilt or punishment (Gen 18:26, BDB 669), or salach, to forgive or pardon (Lev 4:20, BDB 699), but sometimes kipper, to cover or make atonement (Ex 32:30; Isa 22:14 BDB 497). Under the Old Covenant God's grace of forgiveness was experienced in priestly rituals of atonement sacrifices, so that all kinds of terms related to that system are used to express the idea (e.g., washing, cleansing, covering, etc.). and whose sins: pl. of Grk. hamartia may refer to (1) a behavioral action, a misdeed that creates liability, every departure from the way of righteousness; (2) the result of sinning or the condition of being sinful; or (3) an invasive evil power.
Hamartia is the dominant word for sin in the Besekh. In Greek culture hamartia meant to miss the mark, to fail, be mistaken. A mistake is the result of ignorance. Hamartia could mean anything from stupidity to law-breaking, anything that does not conform to the dominant community ethic (DNTT 3:577). This breadth of application has unfortunately influenced Christian theology among those who espouse the "sinning every day in thought, word and deed" viewpoint. In the LXX hamartia translates a range of Hebrew words for guilt and sin, particularly Heb. chata (SH-2398), miss, go wrong, lapse, sin (Gen 20:6; 39:9) and avon (SH-5771), iniquity, guilt, punishment for iniquity (Gen 15:16).
Throughout Scripture sin as a behavior is a violation of God's written commandments (Rom 3:20; 5:13; 7:7). The degree of intentionality is not a factor in defining sinful behavior, only whether the express requirements or prohibitions of Torah commandments have been violated. Indeed, the Torah recognizes that a transgression could be unintentional (Heb. shegagah, SH-7684), sin of error or inadvertence (Lev 4:1-3, 27-28; 5:18; Num 15:22-29). Nevertheless, atonement was still required. In Scripture hamartia does not include the imperfections that separate humanity from divinity, "falling short of the glory" (Rom 3:23).
have been covered: Grk. epikaluptō, aor. pass., to cover over. In the LXX epikaluptō renders Heb. kasah (SH-3680), to cover, conceal or hide, used normally in a physical sense of covering or clothing something or fig. of something being overwhelmed. Only in David's psalm is the verb used in the sense of God covering sin to remove it from His sight. David's description is clearly paradoxical. How can God redemptive action remove and cover at the same time? These words convey the mystery of God's grace.
8― Blessed: Grk. makarios. See the note on the previous verse. is the man: Grk. anēr, an adult man without regard to age or marital status. In the LXX anēr renders several Hebrew words, among which are the three words translated by anthrōpos (adam, ish, and enosh), but also ba'al, lord, husband, head of a household; gibbôr, hero, warrior; zaqen, elder; nasi, prince; and adôn, lord (DNTT 2:562). In Hebrew society a male was treated as an adult and accountable to the Torah (Heb. bar mitzvah, "son of the commandment") when he became thirteen years and a day old (Ab. 5:21; Kidd. 63b). There was no ceremony among Jews in ancient times to mark this rite of passage as today.
whose sin: Grk. hamartia. See the note on the previous verse. the LORD: Grk. kurios may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, first translating the divine title Adonai (SH-136, Lord; Gen 15:2), and Heb. words used of men to denote higher rank or authority, primarily adôn (SH-113, master, lord; Gen 18:12). Over 6,000 times kurios replaces YHVH ("LORD" in Christian versions). Kurios does not translate YHVH, but interprets all that is implied by use of the divine name.
In the quoted Hebrew text the name is YHVH. YHVH is the Creator and Lord of the whole universe, of men, Lord of life and death. Above all He is the God of Israel and His covenant people. By choosing kurios for YHVH the LXX also emphasized the idea of legal authority. Because YHVH delivered His people from Egypt and chose them as His possession, He is the legitimate Lord of Israel. The LXX thus strengthened the tendency to avoid the utterance of the name of God. For more background information on the name of God see my web article The Blessed Name.
will not take into account: Grk. logizomai, aor. mid. subj. See the note on verse 3 above. In Psalm 32:1-2 God's mercy is given to those who have sinned, and who therefore do not deserve forgiveness. In the case of David obviously no legalistic work is involved (as would be defined by the Pharisees centuries later), although he did live faithfully by the Torah, as the prophet recorded, "David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite" (1Kgs 15:5).
We could call David a justified man and when he sinned his justification was not canceled (Harrison). God's gifts, including His mercy, are irrevocable (11:29). Of course, God severely punished David for his sin and even though he confessed, the negative consequences to his family and his reign were long lasting. Nevertheless, David could speak of the blessedness of forgiveness.
The Blessing of Abraham, 4:9-12
9― Is this blessing: Grk. makarismos, lit. blessedness. See the note on verse 6 above. Paul then divides the population into two groups. then on the circumcised: Grk. peritomē, the surgical removal of male foreskin. In the LXX peritomē occurs only two times: in Genesis 17:13 without Heb. equivalent regarding the circumcision of males in Abraham's household, and in Exodus 4:25 to render Heb. mulah, circumcision, regarding the circumcision of Moses' firstborn son. As a category the term could include both conservative Jews and Gentile proselytes. The presence of the definite article also suggests that Paul means the Circumcision Party, a sub-group of the Pharisees, since he uses peritomē elsewhere with this meaning (Rom 15:8; Gal 2:12; Col 3:11; Titus 1:10), as does Luke (Acts 10:45; 11:2; 15:1).
or on the uncircumcised also: Grk. akrobustia, prepuce of the penis, foreskin, to have a foreskin and therefore never circumcised. It was "a reproach" for an Israelite to be uncircumcised (Gen 17:14; Josh 5:9). Hence the Heb. name arēlim (uncircumcised) became a term of contemptuous reproach, denoting the Philistines and other non-Israelites (Jud 14:3; 1Sam 14:6;17:26; 31:4; 2Sam 1: 20), and used synonymously with Heb. tamē ("unclean") for heathen (Isa 52:1). The Heb. word arēl ("uncircumcised") is also employed for "unclean" (Lev 26:41). These verses show how abhorrent it was for a Jew not to be circumcised and their desire to maintain distance from the uncircumcised. This category could include both Hellenistic Jews and Gentiles.
For we say: Grk. legō. See the note on verse 3 above. The verb is used here in the sense of quoting Genesis 15:6. Faith: Grk. pistis. See the note on verse 5 above. was credited: Grk. logizomai, aor. See the note on verse 3 above. to Abraham: See the note on verse 1 above. as righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē. See the note on verse 3 above. God had promised Abraham that he would be the source of blessing to the whole world. Paul clarifies that the promised blessing applied equally to the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised.
10― How: Grk. pōs, adv. introducing a query concerning manner, way, or reason in respect to a matter; how? in what manner/way? then: Grk. oun, an inferential conj., which may (1) indicate a conclusion connected with data immediately preceding; so, therefore, consequently, then; (2) indicate that one takes account of something in the narrative immediately preceding, then; or (3) simply indicate a stage in the narrative -so, then. The first application fits here. was it credited: Grk. logizomai, aor. pass. See the note on verse 3 above.
While he was: Grk. eimi, pres. part., to be. circumcised: Grk. peritomē; lit. "in circumcision." See the note on the previous verse. or uncircumcised: Grk. akrobustia, lit. "in uncircumcision." See the note on the previous verse. Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised: Paul's proof that the blessing of Abraham benefited both categories of people is that Abraham’s trusting faithfulness occurred before his own circumcision. Indeed God's call on his life came before circumcision as did the covenant that God made with him. Circumcision did not change his character nor his relationship with God.
11― and he received: Grk. lambanō, aor. The verb marks the transit of something from a position to another person who is the agent with the latter being also the receptor; to take or receive. the sign: Grk. sēmeion means sign, miracle or wonder, and is used in a similar sense to attest the authority of Yeshua and validate His divinity (John 2:11, 18; 4:54; 6:14; 12:18; 20:30f). The corresponding Heb. word oth referred to signs, omens or miracles promised by prophets as pledges of certain predicted events or as pledges or attestations of divine presence and intervention in the affairs of men. Oth has its root in the verb avah, which means to sign, mark or describe with a mark (BDB 16).
of circumcision: Grk. peritomē; lit. "in circumcision." See the note on verse 9 above. Circumcision represented a divine transaction and as part of God's covenant with Abraham circumcision of babies at 8 days became a mark of God's covenantal relationship with Israel. a seal: Grk. sphragis is an old word for the seal placed on books (Rev 5:1), for a signet-ring (Rev 7:2), the stamp made by the seal (2Tim 2:19), and that by which anything is confirmed (1Cor 9:2) as here (Robertson). of the righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē. See the note on verse 3 above. of the faith: Grk. pistis. See the note on verse 5 above. As an attribute of Abraham the word would be better translated as "faithfulness" or "trusting faithfulness."
which he had while uncircumcised: Grk. akrobustia, lit. "in uncircumcision." See the note on verse 9 above. so that he might be: Grk. eimi, pres. inf., to be. the father: Grk. patēr, normally of a male biological parent or ancestor. In the LXX patēr renders ab ("av"), which occurs about 1180 times, generally in the human sense, but used here in a fig. sense. of all who believe: Grk. pisteuō, pres. part. See the note on verse 3 above. The verb would be better translated as "are trusting" or "trusts" (CJB). without being circumcised: lit. "during uncircumcision."
that righteousness: Grk. dikaiosunē. might be credited: Grk. logizomai, aor. pass. inf. See the note on verse 3 above. to them: i.e., the uncircumcised, probably meaning Gentiles, but also Hellenistic Jews who were despised by Judean Jews. Abraham was the father or forerunner and prototype of righteousness by his trusting faithfulness. Abraham's circumcision was a sign of his trusting faithfulness, much as water immersion is for the disciple of Yeshua. Not only Jews, but Gentiles as well can receive God's favor on the same basis as Abraham without undergoing circumcision (Brit Milah). After all, God promised Abraham that he would be a blessing to the nations (Gen 17:4-6). In the end each person must trust. We cannot rely on the work of Abraham being imputed to us. As John says,
"But as many as received Him, he gave to them power to become children of God, to the ones trusting in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of a man, but of God." (John 1:12-13 mine)
12― and the father of circumcision: See the note on the previous verse. Paul employs an idiomatic expression, not meaning that Abraham invented circumcision, but that he was the physical and spiritual father of all circumcised people. to those who not only are of the circumcision: i.e., the uncircumcised. but who also follow in the steps: Grk. stoicheō , be in agreement with. The verb originally came from a military context, to walk in file or standing in a row with others (Gal 5:25; Phil 3:16) (Robertson). of the faith: Grk. pistis. See the note on verse 5 above. of our father Abraham: As an attribute of Abraham the word would be better translated as "faithfulness of" or "trusting faithfulness of." which he had while uncircumcised: Grk. akrobustia, lit. "during uncircumcision." See the note on verse 9 above.
Paul emphasizes the two sides of the faith of Abraham. First, Abraham trusted God's Word while he was still uncircumcised, but then that trust manifested itself in faithfulness to God's call. That trust did not just suddenly manifest itself on the day the promise of a son was given. Abraham had walked by faith (literally) since the time he obeyed the call of God to leave Haran and seek a new land (Gen 12:1-4). So, if we want righteousness to characterize our lives we must exhibit the same sort of trust as Abraham followed by a life of faithfulness. We must follow in his steps and seek our home in God (Heb 11:10).
Note the parallel thought in 1 Peter regarding the "steps of Yeshua:"
"For you were called to this, because Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in His footsteps: 22 He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth. 23 When He was abused, He did not return the abuse. While suffering, He made no threats. Instead, He kept entrusting Himself to the One who judges righteously. 24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we, removed from sins, might live for righteousness. By His wounds you were healed." (1Pet 2:21-24 TLV)
It is one thing to follow in the steps of Abraham, quite another to follow in the steps of Yeshua.
The Promise of Abraham, 4:13-25
13― Not through the Law: (See the note on 2:12 regarding the term "Law.") Christians typically misconstrue Paul's argument. The faulty assumption is that Abraham's faith and resulting righteousness were not based on Law, because there was no Law. However, God's moral law certainly existed before Moses. Consider God's covenant with Isaac:
"Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." (Gen 26:3-5)
The moral law of God also existed before Abraham (Job 24:14), otherwise how could Cain be guilty of murder?
Faith is trusting faithfulness as illustrated in verse 12.
14― Paul turns the argument back on the imaginary objector. The phrase those who are of the Law refers to the Jews. The mention of heirs is an allusion to the "merits of the fathers" theology. Imputing merit invalidates trusting God and when that happens the promise of Abraham cannot be fulfilled. Abraham’s faith simply does not provide merit for his descendants.
15― Paul's argument is that promises cannot be based on Law, because Law includes wrath, Grk. orgē, or God's punishment for violation, Grk parabasis, a transgression, stepping over the mark (Rienecker). Paul implies that his Jewish opponent cannot claim the promises to Abraham on the ground of connection to the Law without opening oneself to judgment under the Law. The second half of the verse is a parenthetical comment, saying one thing while actually intending another.
where there is no law … no violation: Paul repeats the axiom of 3:20 as a reverse proposition. See note there. Sin is a transgression of God’s Torah, the commandments given to Moses (and reiterated in the New Testament). Motive or intention does not have a bearing on whether an act violates God's commandments. For example, causing a death accidentally was still treated as a violation of Torah and required an atonement sacrifice (cf. Ex 21:12; Lev 4:1-3; Deut 19:1-6). A sin, then, can only exist if there is a law defining prohibited behavior. No law - no sin.
Paul's actual point has nothing to do with the classification of sinful behavior. Rather, he is illustrating the limitation of the Law that sets up his point in verse 16. He does the same thing in Galatians 5:22-23 where he lists fruit of the Spirit and adds the curious comment, "against such things there is no law." The Law or legalistic obedience to it cannot produce faith or the fruit of the Spirit. Conversely, the Law does not restrict these spiritual attributes, especially who may exhibit them. Yeshua made this point repeatedly in his healing on the Sabbath - "so then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath," Matt 12:12.
16― For this reason: Paul sums up the argument of verses 1-15. Righteousness is "reckoned" according to a person's faithfulness (Shulam) and faithfulness cannot be legalistically defined. The grace and blessing of God is intended not only for the faithful Jew but also to Gentiles who have the faithfulness of Abraham. With the declaration of Abraham being the father of us all Paul sets forth the election of the Gentiles whom God intended to be a part of the commonwealth of Israel. As God promised the nations:
"To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off." (Isa 56:5)
17― as it is written: the standard formula in the apostolic writings for attesting an assertion of truth and divine inspiration of Scripture, followed by a quote from the Tanakh. See the note on 1:17 for this phrase. This is the fifth time the formula is used in the letter. Paul then quotes from Genesis 17:5 to underscore his point. The election of Gentiles was never intended to make them a separate people from Israel. Paul elaborates on this theme later in the letter. God accomplishes the calling and inclusion of Gentiles in the same manner as in the past. He is Creator and as such he calls into being that which does not exist. The universe was spoken into existence (Ps 33:9; 148:5). The Jews were not a people until God called Abraham and gave him promises that he fulfilled in the call of Moses and the covenant at Sinai. In the same way God gives life to Gentiles, dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1).
18― Abraham wanted to be father and leave his legacy and estate to a son. But, God's promise gave him hope of becoming so much more.
19― Paul makes an interesting contrast between the fertility of Abraham and Sarah, who was ten years younger than her husband (Gen 17:17). Abraham died at 175 and Sarah at 127 years. From modern experience and scientific studies we know that women lose their fertility by the age of 50 and a man's ability to impregnate significantly diminishes after age 55. Fertility rates were presumptively higher in ancient times due to environmental factors and increased life span. Relatively speaking Abraham should have been able to impregnate a woman, but he lamented his childless state to God (Gen 15:2).
What is unknown is whether Abraham had had relations with any woman other than Sarah before that time. The salient point is that he had failed to produce a child, let alone a son. If Abraham informed Sarah of God's promise of a child from his loins (Gen 15:4), then Sarah's decision to give him Hagar makes sense (Gen 16:2). God had said nothing about ending Sarah's barrenness and Sarah rightly concluded that God had prevented her from having a child. Generally overlooked in Christian commentary on the story is that nowhere does God criticize Sarah's decision. She broke no divine law in giving Hagar to her husband as a wife. Abraham became a father at age 86 when Ishmael was born (Gen 16:16), so why would he consider his body as dead at age 100? Because in 14 years he had not produced another child of Hagar and, of course, none with Sarah.
20―22 Abraham may not have understood why he had not produced another child, but he kept his faith in God's promise. His faithfulness was not an isolated act on one day, but a commitment manifested every day of his life. He kept on believing in spite of the evidence that would cause lesser men to doubt God.
23― Now not for his sake only was it written: Paul alludes to the purpose of the Hebrew Scriptures, the only Bible he knew.
24― our sake also: Since Abraham’s trusting faithfulness was considered as righteousness, so we may receive the blessing of Abraham and become a child of Abraham by trusting (and keep on trusting) in God’s salvation provision through Yeshua. Him who raised: Grk. egeirō, aor. part., to rise from a recumbent or lower position. Egeirō appears frequently in the Besekh in reference to resurrection. As a Pharisee Paul already believed in resurrection to occur on the last day (cf. John 6:39-40; 11:24; Acts 23:6). Meeting Yeshua on the Damascus Road convinced him that Yeshua had indeed conquered death.
Jesus our Lord from the dead: Grk. nekros, one without life, dead. There is no equivocation in the apostolic narratives and letters that Yeshua was dead when he was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. Paul asserts numerous times that it was God who raised Yeshua from the dead (Acts 26:8; Rom 4:5, 24-25; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 8:11, 34; 10:9; 1Cor 6:14; 15:4, 12-17, 20; 2Cor 4:14; 5:15; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Col 2:12; 1Thess 1:10; 2Tim 2:8). Yeshua did not raise himself.
25― Paul concludes this section of his letter with a traditional liturgical phrase, which functions almost as a benediction (Shulam). He who was delivered: Grk. paradidōmi, aor. pass., to deliver up, may be an allusion to Isaiah 53:12. The verb is used in the narratives of the arrest and trial of Yeshua (Matt 17:22; 20:18; 27:2). Peter summarized the actions of wicked men in Acts 3:13, "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him." Peter also acknowledged God's part in the plan for atonement since Yeshua was surrendered "by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23).
because of: Grk. dia, prep., occurring twice in the verse. The root meaning of dia is two, but in composition it normally means through or between (DM 101). With the accusative case of the noun following, as in this verse, the meaning is "because of" signifying a causal function. Paul is not using the preposition to indicate agency, because he has already warned that man's unrighteousness cannot make a claim on God's grace (3:5-6). our transgressions: pl. of Grk. paraptōma, transgression, a falling along side, a false step (Rienecker). The word points to violation of the Torah. Paul may have meant the personal pronoun "our" in the sense of identification with the Sanhedrin who conducted the illegal trial and condemnation of Yeshua. There is no evidence that Paul was present, but as a Pharisee he was in agreement with their decision at the time. With his subsequent persecution of disciples he later felt a great sense of guilt and shame for his part (1Tim 1:15).
and was raised: Grk. egeirō, aor. pass. See the note on the previous verse. because of: Grk. dia, prep. The intended meaning is "for." our justification: Grk. dikaiōsis. Danker defines dikaiōsis as "vindication," but BAG defines the noun as justification, vindication, or acquittal. In Classical Greek the term also could mean (a) condemnation, punishment; (b) acquittal; (c) just claim; (d) discretion, judgment as to what is just or unjust (DNTT 3:354). The word occurs only twice in the Besekh (also at Rom 5:18). In the LXX dikaiōsis occurs only in Leviticus 24:22 where it renders mishpat, justice. This verse espouses the "one law" principle of the Torah, "There shall be one standard [Heb. mishpat] for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God."
In the context of Paul's arguments concerning justification of the ungodly dikaiōsis cannot possibly mean acquittal or vindication, but rather pardon. The use of dikaiōsis here to conclude a purpose statement means that Yeshua willingly suffered the penalty of sin for our sakes to benefit the whole world with the result that all may enjoy a right relationship with God and become righteous in character and conduct.
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