Romans 4:2
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
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(2) We know that he obtained justification. If that justification had been earned by his own works it would then have been something to be proud of; it would be a pride that he might fairly hold both towards men and towards God; for to men he could point to the privileged position that he had gained, and in the sight of God he would be able to plead a certain merit of his own. But he has not this merit. His justification was not earned, but it was bestowed upon him, not for the sake of his works, but of his faith. This is the express statement of Scripture. And hence it follows that though his privileged position in the sight of men remains, he has nothing to boast of before God.

But not before God.—This is an instance of the rapid and eager dialectic of the Apostle. If the whole train of thought had been given it would probably have run much as above, but the greater part of it is suppressed, and the Apostle strikes straight at the one point which he intended to bring into relief. (Whatever there might be before men) there is no boasting before God.

4:1-12 To meet the views of the Jews, the apostle first refers to the example of Abraham, in whom the Jews gloried as their most renowned forefather. However exalted in various respects, he had nothing to boast in the presence of God, being saved by grace, through faith, even as others. Without noticing the years which passed before his call, and the failures at times in his obedience, and even in his faith, it was expressly stated in Scripture that he believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, Ge 15:6. From this example it is observed, that if any man could work the full measure required by the law, the reward must be reckoned as a debt, which evidently was not the case even of Abraham, seeing faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. When believers are justified by faith, their faith being counted for righteousness, their faith does not justify them as a part, small or great, of their righteousness; but as the appointed means of uniting them to Him who has chosen as the name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness. Pardoned people are the only blessed people. It clearly appears from the Scripture, that Abraham was justified several years before his circumcision. It is, therefore, plain that this rite was not necessary in order to justification. It was a sign of the original corruption of human nature. And it was such a sign as was also an outward seal, appointed not only to confirm God's promises to him and to his seed, and their obligation to be the Lord's, but likewise to assure him of his being already a real partaker of the righteousness of faith. Thus Abraham was the spiritual forefather of all believers, who walked after the example of his obedient faith. The seal of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, making us new creatures, is the inward evidence of the righteousness of faith.For if Abraham ... - This is the answer of the apostle. If Abraham was justified on the ground of his own merits, he would have reason to boast, or to claim praise. He might regard himself as the author of it, and take the praise to himself; see Romans 4:4. The inquiry, therefore, was, whether in the account of the justification of Abraham, there was to be found any such statement of a reason for self-confidence and boasting.

But not before God - In the sight of God. That is, in his recorded judgment, he had no ground of boasting on account of works. To show this, the apostle appeals at once to the Scriptures, to show that there was no such record as that Abraham could boast that he was justified by his works. As God judges right in all cases, so it follows that Abraham had no just ground of boasting, and of course that he was not justified by his own works. The sense of this verse is well expressed by Calvin. "If Abraham was justified by his works, he might boast of his own merits. But he has no ground of boasting before God. Therefore he was not justified by works."

2. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God—"If works were the ground of Abraham's justification, he would have matter for boasting; but as it is perfectly certain that he hath none in the sight of God, it follows that Abraham could not have been justified by works." And to this agree the words of Scripture. He hath whereof to glory; he hath cause or matter of glorying and boasting; he hath something from whence he may take occasion of so doing.

But not before God; something must be supplied to fill up the sense, i.e. he hath nothing whereof to glory before God. The argument of the apostle might be thus formed: If Abraham had obtained justification by works, he should have had somewhat whereof he might glory before God: but he had nothing whereof to glory before God; therefore he was not justified by works. God’s way of justifying sinners is such, as shuts out all glorying and boasting, as he had before laid down, Romans 3:27.

For if Abraham were justified by works,.... That Abraham was not, and could not be justified by works, is clear from hence, that if this was his case,

he hath whereof to glory; which will be allowed him before men, on account of his pious life and conversation:

but not before God; who saw all the iniquity of his heart, and was privy to all his failings and infirmities: besides, glorying before God in a man's own works, is contrary to the scheme and method of God's grace; is excluded by the doctrine of faith; nor is there any place for glorying before God but in Christ, and his righteousness: if therefore Abraham had not that of which he could glory before God, he could not be justified by works in his sight: but does not the Apostle James say that he was justified by works, James 2:21? To this it may be replied, that the two apostles, Paul and James, are not speaking of the same thing: Paul speaks of justification before God, James of justification before men; Paul speaks of the justification of the person, James of the justification of a man's cause, as the truth of his faith, or the uprightness of his conduct; Paul speaks of works, as the causes of justification, James of them as the effects and evidences of faith; Paul had to do with the self-righteous, who trusted in their own works for justification, James with Gnostics, who slighted and neglected the performance of them. These things considered, they will be found to agree.

{2} For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

(2) A preventing of an objection. Abraham may well rejoice and extol himself among men, but not with God.

Romans 4:2. The question in Romans 4:1 contained the negative sense, which had therefore necessarily to be limited by κατὰ σάρκα: “We may not assert that Abraham has obtained anything according to the flesh.” The reason for this is now assigned (γάρ): “For, assuming that Abraham has been justified by works” (as was the Jewish opinion[964]), “he has cause for boasting,” namely, that he has attained righteousness through his actions, but he has not this ground of boasting with respect to God (as if his justification were the divine act), since, namely, in the case supposed it is not God to whom he owes the justification, but on the contrary he has himself earned it, and God would simply have to acknowledge it as a human self-acquirement. God has not, in that supposed case, done anything for him, on account of which he might thus boast with regard to God as his justifier; for ἡ τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἔργων πληρῶσις αὐτοὺς στεφανοῖ τοῦς ἐργαζομένους, τὴν δὲ τ. Θεοῦ φιλανθρωπίαν οὐ δείκνυσιν, Theodoret. Comp also Chrysostom, Oecumenius, and Theophylact. Thus for the proper understanding of this difficult passage (Chrysostom: ἀσάφες τὸ εἰρημένον) we must go back to the explanation of the Greek expositors, which is quite faithful both to the words and the context. Comp on Romans 4:3-4. This interpretation, now adopted also by Tholuck (comp Reithmayr and Th. Schott), has especially this advantage, that ἐδικαιώθη is not taken otherwise than in the entire development of the δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, not therefore as somewhat indefinite and general (“justus apparuit,” Grotius), in which case it would remain a question by whom Abraham was found righteous (Rückert, Philippi; comp Beza and others; also Grotius and Koppe, and, with trifling variation, de Wette, likewise Spohn in the Stud. u. Krit. 1843, p. 429 ff., Volckmar, and others). That Abraham was justified with God was known to no Jew otherwise (comp Sir 44:19 ff.; Manass. 8; Joseph. Antt. xi. 5, 7; Eisenmenger, entdeckt. Judenth. I. p. 322, 343), and no reader could in accordance with the entire context understand ἐδικαιώθη otherwise, than in this definite sense, consequently in the solemn absolute sense of the Apostle (in opposition to Lipsius, Rechtfertigungsl. p. 35). The only question was, whether ἐξ ἔργων or ἐκ πίστεως. If we suppose the former case, it is indeed for Abraham worthy of all honour, and he may boast of that which he has himself achieved, but with reference to God, as if He had justified him, he has no ground for boasting.[970] Observe besides, that πρὸς is used not in the sense of ἘΝΏΠΙΟΝ, coram (Hofmann: overagainst), or apud (Vulgate), but in accordance with the quite common usage of ἔχειν with the object of the thing (to have something to do, to say, to boast, to ask, to censure, etc.), and with specification of the relation of reference to some one through πρὸς τινα. The opposite of ἜΧΕΙΝ ΚΑΎΧΗΜΑ ΠΡΌς is ἜΧΕΙΝ ΜΟΜΦῊΝ ΠΡΌς, Colossians 3:13. The special mode of the reference is invariably furnished by the context, which here, in accordance with the idea of δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, suggests the notion that God is the bestower of the blessing meant by καύχημα. To that the ἔχειν καύχημα of Abraham does not refer, if he was justified by works. In the latter case he cannot boast of himself: ὁ Θεὸς με ἐδίκαιωσε, Θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον. Reiche and Fritzsche, following Calvin, Calovius, and many others, have discovered here an incomplete syllogism, in which ἀλλʼ οὐ πρὸς τ. Θεόν is the minor premiss, and the conclusion is wanting, to this effect: “Si suis bene factis Dei favorem nactus est, habet quod apud Deum glorietur.…; sed non habet, quod apud Deum glorietur, quum libri s. propter fidem, non propter pulchre facta eum Deo probatum esse doceant (Romans 4:3).…; non est igitur Abr. ob bene facta Deo probatus,” Fritzsche. So in substance also Kraussold in the Stud. u. Krit. 1842, p. 783; Baur in the Theol. Jahrb. 1857, p. 71; Köstlin in the Jahrb. f. Deutsche Theol. 1856, p. 92. Forced, and even contrary to the verbal sense; for through the very contrast ἀλλʼ οὐ π. τ. Θ. the simple ΚΑΎΧΗΜΑ is distinguished from the καύχημα πρὸς τ. Θεόν, as one that takes place not πρὸς τὸν Θεόν. Paul must have written: ἜΧΕΙ ΚΑΎΧΗΜΑ ΠΡῸς ΤῸΝ ΘΕΌΝ· ἈΛΛʼ (or ἈΛΛᾺ ΜῊΝ) ΟὐΚ ἜΧΕΙ. Mehring takes ἈΛΛʼ Οὐ ΠΡῸς ΤῸΝ ΘΕΌΝ as a question: “If Abraham has become righteous by works, he has glory, but has he it not before God?” But in what follows it is the very opposite of the affirmation, which this question would imply, that is proved. If the words were interrogative, ἀλλὰ μή must have been used instead of ἈΛΛʼ Οὐ (but yet not before God?) Hofmann, in consequence of his erroneous exposition of Romans 4:1, supposes that Paul wishes to explain how he came to propose the question in Romans 4:1, and to regard an answer to it as necessary. What is here involved, namely, is nothing less than a contradiction between what Christians say of themselves (when they deny all possibility of becoming righteous by their own actions), and what holds good of “an Abraham,” the father of the people of God. If the latter has become righteous through his own action, he has glory, and by this very circumstance his ancestorship is distinguished from that of all others. But then the Scripture teaches that what God counted worthy in Abraham was his faith, and it is therefore clear that the glory which he has, if he has become righteous by works, is no glory in presence of God, and consequently is not fitted to be the basis of his position in sacred history. This is a chain of ideas imported into the passage; instead of which it was the object of the Apostle himself merely to set forth the simple proposition that Abraham was not justified by works, and not at all to speak of the mode in which the Christian ancestorship of the patriarch came to subsist.

καύχημα (comp on Php 1:26; Php 2:16) is throughout the N. T. materies gloriandi; as also in the LXX. and Apocrypha; although in classic authors (Pind. Isthm. v. 65; Plut. Ages. 31) it also occurs as the equivalent of καύχησις, gloriatio. In Galatians 6:4, also, it is joined with ἔχειν.

[964] In the Talmud it is even inferred from Genesis 26:5 that Abraham kept the whole law of Moses. Kiddusch f. 82, 1; Joma f. 28, 2; Beresch. rabba f. 57, 4. Comp. the passages from Philo quoted by Schneckenburger in the Stud. u. Krit. 1833, p. 135.

[970] Van Hengel places a point after καύχ., and takes ἀλλʼ οὐ πρὸς τ. Θεόν as an independent sentence, in which he supplies secundum literas sacras, making the sense: “Atqui gloriandi materiam Deum Abrahamo denegare videmus in libris sacris.” But that is, in fact, not there. Against my own interpretation in the 1st ed. (making εἰ.… ἐδικαιώθη the question, and then (ἔχει.… Θεόν the answer negativing it) see Philippi. The εἰ must be the dialectic if.

Romans 4:2 f. With ἀλλʼ οὐ πρὸς τὸν θεόν the Apostle summarily repels the objection. “You say he has ground of boasting? On the contrary, he has no ground of boasting in relation to God, For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to Him for righteousness.” The quotation is from Genesis 15:6, and is exactly as in the LXX, except that Paul writes ἐπίστευσεν δὲ τῷ θεῷ instead of καὶ ἐπίστευσεν τῷ θεῷ, which serves partly to bring out the contrast between the real mode of Abraham’s justification, and the mode suggested in Romans 4:2, partly to give prominence to faith, as that on which his argument turned. The reading ἐπίστευσεν δὲ is also found in Jam 1:23, Philo i. 605 (Mangey), as well as Clem. Rom., I., x., 6, and Just. Martyr, Dial., 92: so that it was probably current, and not introduced by Paul. It is assumed that something not in itself righteousness was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness; only on this assumption is boasting in his case excluded.

2. For] Q. d., “the question is asked, because if the answer is yes, Abraham stands in a position of independence before God.”

by works] Lit. out of works; in consequence of them.

he hath] “As he stands before us in Scripture;” a frequent and natural use of the present tense.

whereof to glory] Lit. a boast; a ground of self-congratulation. The word is nearly the same as that in Romans 3:27. Both Gr. words are good or bad according to their connexion; meaning sometimes rightful and even holy exultation (e.g. ch. Romans 5:2; Hebrews 3:6, “rejoicing”), sometimes vanity and self-assertion.

but not before God] Lit. but not towards God; i.e. “not as looking Him in the face.” Before is thus a fair rendering. The phrase seems to be pregnant: instead of a mere negative to the question proposed, St Paul suggests the ultimate reason of the negative—the impossibility that man can boast rightly before God. We may paraphrase: “But as a fact he had no ground of boasting; for, in view of the holiness of God, that could not be, even for him. And (Romans 4:3) Scripture bears this out in direct terms; for it records that he was accepted as believing.”

Romans 4:2. Εἰ, if) A particle implying reluctant concession [for argument’s sake].—γὰρ, for) [The γάρ expresses] the cause after the proposition, and the reason why, in Romans 4:1, he added the limitation, hath found as pertaining to the flesh.[43]—πρὸς) to, or before. He was not justified by works before God, and therefore, he has no ground of boasting before God; but both [hold good of him] according to the flesh.

[43] Εξ ἔργων, from works) Abraham was before the law, hence Paul introduces no mention of the law, ver. 1–12.—V. g.

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. Romans 4:2For

Supply, Abraham found nothing according to the flesh; for, if he did, he has something to boast of.

By works (ἐξ ἔργων)

Lit., out of works. In speaking of the relation of works to justification, Paul never uses διά by or through, but ἐκ out of; works being regarded by the Jew as the meritorious source of salvation.

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