What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
Verses 1-25. - (5) Abraham himself shown to have been justified by faith, and not by works, believers being his true heirs. The main points of the argument may be summarized thus: When Abraham obtained a blessing to himself and to his seed for ever, it was by faith, and not by works, that he is declared to have been justified so as to obtain it. Thus the promise to his seed, as well as to himself, rested on the principle of justification by faith only. The Law, of which the principle was essentially different, could not, and did not, in itself fulfil that promise; and that its fulfilment was not dependent on circumcision, or confined to the circumcised, is further shown by the fact that it was before his own circumcision that he received the blessing and the promise, Hence the seed intended in the promise was his spiritual seed, who are of faith such as his was; and in Christ, offering justification through faith to all, the promise is now fulfilled. Verse 1. - What then shall we say that Abraham our father according to the flesh hath found? The connection, denoted by οῦν, with the preceding argument is rather with vers. 27, 28 of ch. 3, than with its concluding words, νόμον ἱστάνομεν. This appears, not only from the drift of ch. 4, but also from the word καύχημα in ver. 2, connecting the thought with ποῦ οῦν ἡ καύχησις; in Romans 3:27. The line of thought is, in the first place, this: We have said that all human glorying is shut out, and that no man can be justified except by faith: how, then (it is important to inquire), was it with Abraham our great progenitor? Did not he at least earn the blessing to his seed by the merit of his works? Had not he, on that ground, whereof to glory? No, not even he. Scripture, in what it says of him, distinctly asserts the contrary. There is uncertainty in this verse as to whether "according to the flesh" (κατὰ σάρκα) is to be connected with "our father" or with "hath found." Readings vary in their arrangement of the words. The Textus Receptus has Τί οῦν ἐροῦμεν Αβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν εὐρηκέναι κατὰ σάρκα. But the great preponderance of authority is in favour of εὐρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα. The first of these readings requires the connection of κατὰ σάρκα with εὐρηκέναι; the second allows it, but suggests the other connection. Theodoret, among the ancients, connecting with εὐρηκέναι, explains κατὰ σάρκα thus: "What righteousness, of Abraham's, wrought before he believed God, did we ever hear of?" Calvin suggests, as the meaning of the phrase (though himself inclining to the connection with προπάτορα)," naturaliter vel ex seipso." Bull, similarly ('Harmonic Apostolica,' 'Disputatio Posterior,' c. 12:14-17), "by his natural powers, without the grace of God." Alford, following Meyer, says that κατὰ σάρκα is in contrast to κατὰ πνεύμα, and that it "refers to that department of our being from which spring works, in contrast with that in which is the exercise of faith." Difficulty is avoided if (as is the most natural inference from the best authenticated reading) we take κατὰ σάρκα in connection with πάτερα or προπάτορα, in the sense of our forefather in the way of natural descent, the question being put from the Jewish standpoint; and this in distinction from the other conception of descent from Abraham, according to which all the faithful are called his children (cl. Romans 1:3; Romans 9:3, 5, 8:1 Corinthians 10:18). Among the ancients Chrysostom and Theophylact take this view. For the import of εὐρηκέναι, cf. Luke 1:30 (εϋρες χάριν παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ) and Hebrews 9:12 (αἰωνίαν λύτρωσιν εὑράμενος᾿.
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Verse 2. - For if Abraham was justified by works, be hath whereof to glory; but not before God. Many commentators take this verse to imply that, even if he was justified by works, he still had no ground of glorying before God, though he might have before men. But the drift of the whole argument being to show that he was not justified by works at all, this interpretation can hardly stand. "Not before God" must therefore have reference to the whole of the preceding sentence, in the sense, "It was not so in the sight of God." Before God (as appears from the text to be quoted) he had not whereof to glory on the ground of being justified by works, and therefore it follows that it was not by works that he was justified.
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Verse 3. - For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned Unto him for righteousness. This notable text (Genesis 15:6), declaring the ground of Abraham's acceptance, is similarly quoted in the cognate passage, Galatians 3:6. It has a peculiar cogency in the general argument from being in connection with, and with reference to, one of the Divine promises to Abraham of an unnumbered seed; so that it may be understood with an extended application to those who were to inherit the blessing, as well as to the "father of the faithful," and so declaring the principle of justification for all the "children of the promise." Further, it would be peculiarly telling as addressed to the Jews, who made such a point of their descent from Abraham as the root of all their position of privilege (cf. Psalm 105:6; Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 51:2; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; John 8:39). The two significant expressions in it are ἐπίστευσε (denoting faith, not works) and ἐλογίσθη εἰς The whole phrase, the apostle proceeds to say, implies that the reward spoken of was not earned, but granted.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Verses 4, 5. - Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt (literally, according to grace, but according to the debt, i.e. according to what is due). But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. The expression, "him that worketh" (τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ), evidently means him that works with a view to a reward which he can claim; or, as Luther explains it, "one who deals in works;" or, as we might say with the same signification, "the worker." (For a like use of the present participle, cf. Galatians 5:3, τῷ περιτεμνομένῳ.) So also in ver. 5, τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ means one who does not so work. Thus there is here no denial of the necessity of good works. It is the principle only of justification that is in view. "Neque enim fideles vult esse ignavos; sed tantum mercenarias esse vetat, qui a Deo quicquam reposcant quasi jure debitum" (Calvin). One view of the meaning of τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ is that it is equivalent to τῷ ἐργάτῃ, being meant as an illustration, thus: The workman's wage is due to him, and not granted as a favour (so Afford). But this notion does not suit the τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ in the following verse. The strong word ἀσεβῆ ("ungodly") is not to be understood as designating Abraham himself, the proposition being a general one. Nor does it imply that continued ἀσέβεια is consistent with justification; only that even the ἀσεβεῖς are justified through faith on their repentance and amendment (cf. Romans 5:6, ὑπὲρ ἀσεβῶν ἀπέθανε).
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
Verses 6-8. - Even as David also describeth the blessedness (λέγει τὸν μακαρισμὸν. The noun means properly a declaring blessed - beatitatis praedicatio - "Eloquitur illud beati praeconiam" (Bengel). We might render, "David tells of the blessing on the man," etc.) of the man unto whom God reckoneth (λογίζεται, as before. Imputeth in the Authorized Version suggests the idea of a different word being used) righteousness apart from works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon (λογίσηται, as before, and so throughout the whole passage) sin (Psalm 32:1, 2). The introduction of this testimony of David to the same principle of justification serves not only to explain it further, but also to show that under the Law too it continued to be recognized; and by David himself, the typical king and psalmist under the legal dispensation. But the argument from Abraham is not discontinued, being resumed in the next verse, and continued to the end of the chapter. If it be said that these verses from Psalm 32. do not in themselves declare a general principle applicable to all, but only the blessedness to sinners of having their sins forgiven, it may be replied, firstly, that the way in which the verses are introduced does not require more to be implied. All that need be meant is that the ground of justification exemplified in Abraham's case is the same as is spoken of by David as still available for man, and crowned with blessing. But, secondly, it is to be observed that these verses represent and suggest the general tenor of the Book of Psalms, in which human righteousness is never asserted as constituting a claim to reward. "My trust is in thy mercy," is, on the contrary, the ever-recurring theme. St. Paul's quotations from the Old Testament are frequently given as suggestive of the general scriptural teaching on the subject in hand, rather than as exhaustive proofs in themselves.
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
Verses 9, 10. - Cometh this blessedness then (properly, is then this blessing) upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How (i.e., as the context shows, under what circumstances) was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. Faith, and not works, having been shown to be the principle of Abraham's justification, and those who were under the Mosaic Law, represented by David, having been seen to have shared the blessing of being so justified, the question still remains, whether it may not be confined to them only, or to Abraham's circumcised descendants only. That this cannot be is shown in two ways: firstly (vers. 10-13), from the fact that Abraham was himself uncircumcised when he was spoken of as being thus justified, so that neither the capability nor the inheritance of such justification can be viewed as dependent on circumcision; and, secondly (vers. 13-16), it is argued that the Law could not appropriate the privilege to his carnal descendants, the very principle of law being the opposite of that on which Abraham is said to have been justified. Thus the seed, innumerable as the stars, to be understood as inheritors of the promise made to him, and sharers in his blessing, are not his circumcised descendants, but a spiritual seed - they which are of faith being the true children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).
How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
Verses 11, 12. - And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had in uncircumcision (this was all that circumcision was - a visible sign and seal to his own descendants of the righteousness that is of faith; but not confining it to them, or in itself conferring it) that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them also. And the father of circumcision to them who are not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision. The intention of ver. 12 is to express that, though the faithful who are not of Israel are Abraham's children, yet his circumcised descendants have not lost their privilege. They are already his children according to the flesh, and his spiritual children too, if they walk in the steps of his faith (cf. John 8:37, "I know that ye are Abraham's seed," compared with ver. 39, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham"). What now follows is to show (as above explained) that the Law could not be the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, or appropriate its blessing to the Jews.
And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Verses 13-15. - For not through law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be the heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith, For if they which are of law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect. For the Law worketh wrath: for where no law is, neither is there transgression. The point of the argument is that the principle of law is essentially different from that on which Abraham was justified, and which is hence to be understood in the fulfilment of the promise to him and his seed. How this is so is shortly intimated in ver. 15, the idea being more fully expounded in ch. 7. The idea is (as has been already explained) that law simply declares what is right, and requires conformity to it; it does not give either power to obey, or atonement for not obeying. Hence, in itself, it worketh, not righteousness, but wrath; for man becomes fully liable to wrath when he comes to know, through law, the difference between right and wrong (cf. John 9:41, "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin"). Exactly the same view of the impossibility of the Mosaic Law being the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham is found in Galatians 3, where also the real purpose of the Law, intervening thus between the promise and its fulfilment, is further explained. The expression in ver. 13, "that he should be the heir of the world," has reference to the ultimate scope of the Abrahamic promises (see Genesis 12:2, 3; Genesis 13:14-16; Genesis 15:5, 6, 18; Genesis 17:2-9; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:17, 18). Now, it is true that in some of these promises the language used seems to denote no more than the temporal possession by Israel of the promised land, with dominion (actually realized under David and Solomon) over the whole country from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, as in Genesis 13:14, 15; Genesis 15:18, etc. But their full scope transcends any such limited fulfilment, as where it is said that the promised seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the dust of the earth that cannot be numbered, and that in it all the nations of the earth should be blessed. The prophets accordingly recognized a far larger ultimate fulfilment in their frequent pictures of the Messiah's universal dominion; and there was no need for the apostle to prove here what the Jews already understood. The only difference between the view current among them and his would be that they would mostly have in view a universal worldly sovereignty with its local centre on the throne of David at Jerusalem, while he interpreted spirttually, seeing beyond the outward framework of prophetic visions to the ideal they imply. "Heres mundi idem est quod pater omnium gentium, benedictionem accipientium. Totus mundus promissus est Abrahae et semini ejus per totum mundum conjunctim. Abrahamo obtigit terra Canaan, et sic aliis alia pars; atque corporalia sunt specimen spiritualium. Christus beres mundi, et omuium (Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 2:5; Revelation 11:15), et qui in eum credunt Abrahae exemplo (Matthew 5:5) (Bengel). It is to be observed that, though Abraham himself in ver. 13 is spoken of as "the heir of the world," yet the preceding expression, "to Abrabam or to his seed," sufficiently intimates that it is in his seed, identified with him, that he is conceived as so inheriting.
For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
Verses 16, 17. - Therefore it is of faith, that it may be according to grace (κατὰ χάριν, as in ver. 4); to the end the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the Law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all, (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee,) before him whom he believed, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things that are not as though they were. Ver. 16 introduces no new thought, being but a summing up of what has been said, except that, in ver. 17, the text Genesis 17:5 is adduced in support of the extended sense in which "the seed of Abraham" has been understood. In ver. 17, too, the thought is introduced of how Abraham evinced his faith; and this with a view of showing it to have been in essence the same as the justifying faith of Christians.
(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.
Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
Verses 18-21. - Who against hope in hope believed (παρ ἐλπίδα ἐπ ἐλπίδι - an oxymoron. For a similar use of ἐπ ἐλπίδι, see 1 Corinthians 9:10; also below, Romans 5:2. Its position in the Authorized Version might suggest its dependence on "believed," which is grammatically possible (cf. Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11), but unallowable here, since hope cannot well be regarded as the object of belief) to the end he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be (Genesis 15:5, viz. "as the stars"). And being not weak in faith, he considered not (i.e. paid no regard to as a hindrance to faith. The codices relied on by our recent Revisers omit οὐ before κατενόησεν, and they accordingly translate, "he considered his own body," thus making the idea to be that he was fully aware of the apparent impossibility of his having a son, but believed notwithstanding. But the reading of the Textus Receptus has good support, and especially that of the Greek Fathers, and gives the best sense) his own body now dead (already deadened - νενεκρώμενον ( ι.ε. with respect to virility. So, with the same reference, Hebrews 11:12), when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb; but he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong (rather, was strengthened) in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform. With regard to the construction of ver. 20, we may observe that, though in the Authorized Version, which is followed above, the prepositions put before "unbelief" and "faith" are varied, both words are datives without a preposition in the Greek, and apparently with the same force of the dative in both cases, the sense being, "With regard to the promise, etc., unbelief did not cause him to waver (οὑ διεκρίθη τῇ ἀπιστία), but faith made him strong ἐνεδυναμώθη τῇ πίστει)." The purport of the whole passage is to show, with reference to Genesis 17:15-22; Genesis 18:9-16, how Abraham's faith in the promise of a seed through Sarah, which seemed impossible in the natural course of things, corresponded in essence to our faith in "him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead" (ver. 24). It was faith in a Divine power above nature, able to quicken into supernatural life that which humanly is dead. And as Abraham's faith in this promised birth of Isaac involved a further faith in the fulfilment through him of all the promises, so our faith in the resurrection of Christ involves faith in all that is signified and assured to us thereby - in "the power of a Divine life" in him, to bring life out of death, to regenerate and quicken the spiritually dead, and finally in "eternal redemption" and the "restitution of all things" (cf. John 3:6; John 5:25; Romans 6:3-12; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Ephesians 1:18-23; Ephesians 2:4-8; Revelation 1:18; to which many other similarly significant passages might be added). It may be observed that, not only in the instance here adduced, but in his whole life as recorded in Genesis, Abraham stands forth as an exemplification of habitual faith in a Divine order beyond sight, and trust in Divine promises. In this consists the religious meaning of that record for us all. Notably so (as is especially set forth in Hebrews 11:17, etc.) in his willingness to sacrifice the son through whom the promise was to be fulfilled, retaining still his faith in the fulfilment.
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
Verses 22-25. - Wherefore also it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned to him; but for our sake also, to whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord front the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised for our justification. It is to be observed that the word here and elsewhere translated "justification" is δίκαιωσις, corresponding with δικαιοσύνη. The correspondence is lost in English. The Vulgate preserves it by justitia and justificatio; and the Douay Version has, here as elsewhere, "justice" for δικαιοσύνη. But "righteousness" expresses the meaning better.
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.