Romans 4 Commentary
ROMANS 4 COMMENTARY
Background “In 3:27–31, Paul briefly mentions two implications of the truth that we are justified by faith and not by ‘observing the law’ (v.28): We cannot boast in our own religious accomplishments (v.27), and Jews and Gentiles have equal access to justification (vv.29–30). In chapter 4 he develops both these points with reference to Abraham. In 4:1–8, Paul shows that Abraham himself had nothing to boast about before God because he, also, was justified by faith. Then, in 4:9–17, he argues that Abraham’s justification by faith means that he is qualified to be the spiritual father of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Verses 18–22 expand on the nature of Abraham’s faith before Paul wraps up his exposition with a final application to Christians (vv.23–25). Throughout the chapter, Paul grounds his exposition in the key verse, cited in 4:3, of Genesis 15:6: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The focus is especially on the nature and meaning of Abraham’s believing. Another way to look at the chapter, then, is in terms of a series of antitheses by which Paul unfolds the significance of Abraham’s faith—and of ours:
- Faith is something completely different from ‘works’ (vv.3–8).
- Faith does not depend on any religious ceremony (e.g., circumcision) (vv.9–12).
- Faith is not related to the law (vv.13–17).
- Faith often rests in a promise that flies in the face of what is natural and normal (vv.18–22).”
vv.4-8 “[These] verses constitute a general statement that compares believing with working as the basis for justification. When people work, their wages come not as gifts but because they have earned them. The spiritual realm, however, is different. In this case those who do not work but believe are regarded by God as righteous. Rather than attempting to earn God’s favor by meritorious deeds, they simply trust. They are accepted by God as righteous because of their faith. God is under no obligation to pronounce righteous those who would earn his favor by working. Righteousness is a gift. God freely gives it to those who believe. The disparity between legalism and grace is seen most clearly in the way God grants a right standing to people of faith. Paul’s designation of God as one who ‘justifies the wicked’ would come as a shock to his Jewish readers. In Exod 23:7 God says, ‘I will not acquit the guilty,’ and in Prov 17:15 we learn that he ‘detests’ the practice of acquitting the guilty when carried out by others (cf. Prov 24:24; Isa 5:23). The paradoxical phrase, however, is in keeping with the remarkable fact that a holy God accepts as righteous unholy people on the basis of absolutely nothing but faith. F. F. Bruce comments that God, who alone does great wonders, created the universe from nothing (1:19–20), calls the dead to life (4:17), and justifies the ungodly, ‘the greatest of all his wonders.’
“To reinforce his point, Paul turned to David. Moule sees in the linking of Abraham and David an illustration of the truth that all stand unworthy before God. David was guilty of adultery and the death of a loyal follower while Abraham was known for his obedience. The conduct of neither merited God’s favor. David spoke of the blessedness of the person reckoned by God as righteous apart from works (vv.6–8). In Psalm 32 (a penitential psalm) David tells of the blessedness of those whose violations of the law are forgiven and whose sins have been put out of sight (vv.1–2). David wrote out of his own experience. His errant behavior with Bathsheba and Uriah resulted in sorrow and remorse (see Ps 51). The forgiveness that followed relieved an enormous burden of guilt. Although it is unnecessary to sin in order to grasp fully the wonder of God’s forgiveness, those who have been forgiven the most often love the most. To Simon the Pharisee, who complained about the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet, Jesus said: ‘I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little’ (Luke 7:47).
“The psalmist continued, ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.’ Those who have put their faith in God are completely forgiven of their sin. Nothing can be brought up for which provision has not already been made. Believers are the most fortunate people imaginable because the question of their sin has been settled forever. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us’ (Ps 103:12). Guilt dogs the steps of the unbeliever, but forgiveness is the sweet reward of those who trust in God.”
vv.9-12 “Circumcision was not the gateway to his right relationship with God; it was only the sign and the seal that he had already entered into it. His being accounted righteous had nothing to do with circumcision and everything to do with his act of faith. From this unanswerable fact Paul makes two great deductions.
“(i) Abraham is not the father of those who have been circumcised; he is the father of those who make the same act of faith in God as he made. He is the father of every man in every age who takes God at his word as he did. This means that the real Jew is the man who trusts God as Abraham did, no matter what his race is. All the great promises of God are made not to the Jewish nation, but to the man who is Abraham’s descendant because he trusts God as he did. Jew has ceased to be a word which describes a nationality and has come to describe a way of life and a reaction to God. The descendants of Abraham are not the members of any particular nation, but those in every nation who belong to the family of God.
“(ii) The converse is also true. A man may be a Jew of pure lineage and may be circumcised; and yet in the real sense may be no descendant of Abraham. He has no right to call Abraham his father or to claim the promises of God, unless he makes that venture of faith that Abraham made.”
vv.13-17 “To Abraham God made a very great and wonderful promise. He promised that he would become a great nation, and that in him all families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:2, 3). In truth, the earth would be given to him as his inheritance. Now that promise came to Abraham because of the faith that he showed towards God. It did not come because he piled up merit by doing works of the law. It was the outgoing of God’s generous grace in answer to Abraham’s absolute faith. The promise, as Paul saw it, was dependent on two things and two things only—the free grace of God and the perfect faith of Abraham.
“The Jews were still asking, ‘How can a man enter into the right relationship with God so that he too may inherit this great promise?’ Their answer was, ‘He must do so by acquiring merit in the sight of God through doing works which the law prescribes.’ That is to say, he must do it by his own efforts. Paul saw with absolute clearness that this Jewish attitude had completely destroyed the promise. It had done so for this reason—no man can fully keep the law; therefore, if the promise depends on keeping the law, it can never be fulfilled.”
vv.18-25 “What Scripture considers as faith is defined by the confidence of Abraham in the inviolability of divine promise. This becomes the theme of the final paragraph in chap. 4. The paradoxical quality of Abraham’s faith is seen in the contrasting prepositional phrases ‘against all hope’ and ‘in hope.’ From a human standpoint there was no hope that he would have descendants. Yet with God all things are possible (cf. Matt 19:26). Therefore he believed what God said. His hope was not the invincible human spirit rising to the occasion against all odds but a deep inner confidence that God was absolutely true to his word. Faith is unreasonable only within a restricted worldview that denies God the right to intervene. His intervention is highly rational from the biblical perspective, which not only allows him to intervene but actually expects him to show concern for those he has created in his own image. Because Abraham believed, he became ‘the father of many nations.’ The opportunity to believe has not been assigned to any one nation or ethnic group. Belief is universally possible. The quotation from Gen 15:5 reinforces the remarkable number of those who believe and are therefore the offspring of Abraham.”
 Douglas Moo, ‘Romans’ n.p. on The NIV Application Commentary on CD-ROM Version 6.3.6. 2006
 Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (123). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 The Letter to the Romans. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev.ed. (Ro 4:13). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
 The Letter to the Romans. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev.ed. (Ro 4:18). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
 Barrett writes, ‘It is when human hope is exhausted that God-given hope (cf. viii 24f.) comes into effect’ (Romans, 976). Calvin comments that ‘there is nothing more inimical to faith than to bind understanding to sight, so that we seek the substance of our hope from what we see’ (The Epistle of Paul to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, trans. R. Mackenzie [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961], 96). Nygren notes that it is only when ‘without hope’ and ‘yet with hope’ stand over against each other that real faith is found (Romans, 160).
 Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (128). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.