Romans 4
Vincent's Word Studies
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
What shall we say? (τι ἐροῦμεν)

See Romans 4:1; Romans 6:1; Romans 7:7; Romans 8:31; Romans 9:14, Romans 9:30. The phrase anticipates an objection or proposes an inference. It is used by Paul only, and by him only in this Epistle and in its argumentative portions. It is not found in the last five chapters, which are hortatory.

Our Father

The best texts read προπάτορα forefather.

Hath found

Westcott and Hort omit. Then the reading would be "what shall we say of Abraham," etc. Found signifies, attained by his own efforts apart from grace.

As pertaining to the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα)

Construe with found. The question is, Was Abraham justified by anything which pertained to the flesh? Some construe with Abraham: our father humanly speaking.

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

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.

For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
The Scripture (ἡ γραφὴ)

The scripture passage. See on John 2:22; and footnote on John 5:47.

It was counted for righteousness (ἐλογίσθη εἰς δικαιοσύνην)

For the phrase λογίζεσθαι εἰς to reckon unto, compare Romans 2:26; Romans 9:8, where εἰς is rendered for. The verb is also used with ὡς as. So Romans 8:36; 1 Corinthians 4:1. So in Sept., εἰς, Psalm 56:1-13 :31; Isaiah 29:17; Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 40:17 : ὡς. Genesis 31:15; Job 41:20; Psalm 44:22; Isaiah 5:28; Isaiah 29:16. The phrases ἐλογίσθη εἰς and ἐλ. ὡς are thus shown to be substantially equivalent. See further on Romans 4:5.

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
The reward (ὁ μισθὸς)

See on 2 Peter 2:13.

Not of grace but of debt (οὐ κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα)

Lit., according to grace, etc. Not grace but debt is the regulative standard according to which his compensation is awarded. The workman for hire represents the legal method of salvation; he who does not work for hire, the gospel method; wages cannot be tendered as a gift. Grace is out of the question when wages is in question.

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Believeth on Him (πιστεύοντι ἐπὶ τὸν)

The verb πιστεύω to believe is used in the New Testament as follows:

1. Transitively, with the accusative and dative: to entrust something to one, Luke 16:11; John 2:24. In the passive, to be entrusted with something, Romans 3:2; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Galatians 2:7. With the simple accusative, to believe a thing, John 11:26; 1 John 4:16.

2. With the infinitive, Acts 15:11.

3. With ὅτι that, Matthew 9:28; Mark 11:24; James 2:19. Especially frequent in John: John 4:21; John 11:27, John 11:42; John 13:19; John 14:10, John 14:11; John 16:27, John 16:30, etc.

4. With the simple dative, meaning to believe a person or thing, that they are true or speak the truth, John 2:22; John 4:21; John 5:46. See on John 1:12; see on John 2:22, John 2:23; see on John 8:31; see on John 10:37.

5. With the preposition ἐν in. Not frequent, and questioned in some of the passages cited for illustration. In John 3:15, ἐν αὐτῷ in Him, is probably to be construed with have eternal life. The formula occurs nowhere else in John. In Mark 1:15 we find πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ believe in the gospel. The kindred noun πίστις faith, occurs in this combination. Thus Galatians 3:26, though some join in Christ Jesus with sons. See also Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; 1 Timothy 3:13; 2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 3:25. This preposition indicates the sphere in which faith moves, rather than the object to which it is directed, though instances occur in the Septuagint where it plainly indicates the direction of faith, Psalm 78:22; Jeremiah 12:6.

6. With the preposition ἐπί upon, on to, unto. a. With the accusative, Romans 4:5; Acts 9:42; Acts 11:17; Acts 16:31; Acts 22:19. The preposition carries the idea of mental direction with a view to resting upon, which latter idea is conveyed by the same preposition. b. With the dative, 1 Timothy 1:16; Luke 24:25; compare Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6. The dative expresses absolute superposition. Christ as the object of faith, is the basis on which faith rests.

7. With the preposition εἰς into, Matthew 18:6; John 2:11; Acts 19:4; Romans 10:14; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 1:29, etc. The preposition conveys the idea of the absolute transference of trust from one's self to another. Literally the phrase means to believe into. See on John 1:12; see on John 2:23; see on John 9:35; see on John 12:44.

Is counted for righteousness (λογίζεται εἰς δικαιοσύνην)

Rev., is reckoned. See on Romans 4:3. The preposition εἰς has the force of as, not the telic meaning with a view to, or in order that he may be (righteous); nor strictly, in the place of righteousness. Faith is not a substitute for righteousness, since righteousness is involved in faith. When a man is reckoned righteous through faith, it is not a legal fiction. He is not indeed a perfect man, but God does not reckon something which has no real existence. Faith is the germ of righteousness, of life in God. God recognizes no true life apart from holiness, and "he that believeth on the Son hath life." He is not merely regarded in the law's eye as living. God accepts the germ, not in place of the fruit, but as containing the fruit. "Abraham believed God.... No soul comes into such a relation of trust without having God's investment upon it; and whatever there may be in God's righteousness - love, truth, sacrifice - will be rightfully imputed or counted to be in it, because, being united to Him, it will have them coming over derivatively from Him" (Bushnell). The idea of logical sequence is inherent in λογίζεται is reckoned - the sequence of character upon faith. Where there is faith there is, logically, righteousness, and the righteousness is from faith unto faith (Romans 1:17). Nevertheless, in the highest development of the righteousness of faith, it will remain true that the man is justified, not by the works of righteousness, which are the fruit of faith, but by the faith which, in making him a partaker of the life and righteousness of God, generates and inspires the works.

Observe that the believer's own faith is reckoned as righteousness. "In no passage in Paul's writings or in other parts of the New Testament, where the phrase to reckon for or the verb to reckon alone is used, is there a declaration that anything belonging to one person is imputed, accounted, or reckoned to another, or a formal statement that Christ's righteousness is imputed to believers" (President Dwight, "Notes on Meyer").

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
Describeth the blessedness (λέγει τὸν μακαρισμὸν)

Μακαρισμός does not mean blessedness, but the declaration of blessedness, the congratulation. So Plato: "The man of understanding will not suffer himself to be dazzled by the congratulation (μακαρισμοῦ) of the multitude ("Republic," ix., 591). Compare Galatians 4:15 (Rev.), and see note there. Rev., correctly, pronounceth blessing.

Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Iniquities (ἀνομίαι)

Lit., lawlessnesses.

Are forgiven (ἀφέθησαν)

Lit., were forgiven. See on Matthew 6:12; see on James 5:15; see on 1 John 1:9. Also see on remission, Luke 3:3.

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.
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:
The sign - a seal (σημεῖον - σφραγῖδα)

Sign refers to the material token; seal to its religious import. Compare 1 Corinthians 9:2; Genesis 17:11. See on to seal, Revelation 22:10.

That he might be (εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν)

Not so that he became, but expressing the divinely appointed aim of his receiving the sign.

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.
Father of circumcision

Of circumcised persons. The abstract term is used for the concrete. See on Romans 11:7.

Who not only are - but who also walk

Apparently Paul speaks of two classes, but really of but one, designated by two different attributes. The awkwardness arises from the article τοῖς, erroneously repeated with στοιχοῦσιν walk, which latter word expresses an added characteristic, not another class. Paul means that Abraham received a seal, etc., that he might be the father of circumcision to those who not only are circumcised, but who add to this outward sign the faith which Abraham exhibited.

Walk (στοιχοῦσιν)

See on elements, 2 Peter 3:10.

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.
Heir of the world (κληρονόμον κόσμου)

See on divided by lot, Acts 13:19; and see on inheritance, 1 Peter 1:4. "Paul here takes the Jewish conception of the universal dominion of the Messianic theocracy prefigured by the inheritance of Canaan, divests it of its Judaistic element, and raises it to a christological truth." Compare Matthew 19:28, Matthew 19:29; Luke 22:30. The idea underlies the phrases kingdom of God, kingdom of Heaven.

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,
Sure (βεβαίαν)

Stable, valid, something realized, the opposite of made of none effect, Romans 4:14.

(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.
A father of many nations

See Genesis 17:5. Originally his name was Abram, exalted father; afterward Abraham, father of a multitude.

Have I made (τέθεικα)

Appointed or constituted. For a similar sense see Matthew 24:51; John 15:16, and note; Acts 13:47; 1 Timothy 2:7. The verb shows that the paternity was the result of a special arrangement. It would not be used to denote the mere physical connection between father and son.

Who quickeneth the dead

This attribute of God is selected with special reference to the circumstances of Abraham as described in Romans 4:18, Romans 4:21. As a formal attribute of God it occurs 1 Samuel 2:6; John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:13.

Calleth (καλοῦντος)

The verb is used in the following senses:

1. To give a name, with ὄνομα name, Matthew 1:21, Matthew 1:22, Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:13, Luke 1:31; without ὄνομα Luke 1:59, Luke 1:60. To salute by a name, Matthew 23:9; Matthew 22:43, Matthew 22:45.

2. Passive. To bear a name or title among men, Luke 1:35; Luke 22:25; 1 Corinthians 15:9. To be acknowledged or to pass as, Matthew 5:9, Matthew 5:19; James 2:23.

3. To invite, Matthew 22:3, Matthew 22:9; John 2:2; 1 Corinthians 10:27. To summon, Matthew 4:21; Acts 4:18; Acts 24:2. To call out from, Matthew 2:15; Hebrews 11:8; 1 Peter 2:9.

4. To appoint. Select for an office, Galatians 1:15; Hebrews 5:4; to salvation, Romans 9:11; Romans 8:30.

5. Of God's creative decree. To call forth from nothing, Isaiah 41:4; 2 Kings 8:1.

In this last sense some explain the word here; but it can scarcely be said that God creates things that are not as actually existing. Others explain, God's disposing decree. He disposes of things that are not as though existing. The simplest explanation appears to be to give καλεῖν the sense of nameth, speaketh of. Compare Romans 9:7; Acts 7:5. The seed of Abraham "which were at present in the category of things which were not, and the nations which should spring physically or spiritually from him, God spoke of as having an existence, which word Abraham believed" (Alford). In this case there may properly be added the idea of the summons to the high destiny ordained for Abraham's seed.

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.
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:
Being not weak in faith he considered not (μὴ ἀσθενήσας τῇ πίστει οὐ κατενόησεν)

The best texts omit οὐ not before considered. According to this the rendering is as Rev., he considered, etc. Being not weak or weakened: (Rev.) is an accompanying circumstance to he considered. He considered all these unfavorable circumstances without a weakening of faith. The preposition κατά in κατενόησεν considered, is intensive - attentively. He fixed his eye upon the obstacles.

Dead (νενεκρωμένον)

The participle is passive, slain. Used here hyperbolically. Hence, Rev., as good as dead.

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
Staggered (διεκρίθη)

Rev., better, wavered. See on Acts 11:12; see on James 1:6; see on James 2:4. The word implies a mental struggle.

Promise (ἐπαγγελίαν)

See on Acts 1:4.

Was strong (ἐνεδυναμώθη)

Passive voice. Lit., was strengthened, or endued with strength. Rev., waxed strong.

And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
Being fully persuaded (πληροφορηθεὶς)

Rev., more accurately, fully assured. See on most surely believed, Luke 1:1. The primary idea is, being filled with a thought or conviction.

Able (δυνατός)

The sense is stronger: mighty; compare Luke 1:49; Luke 24:19; Acts 18:24; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Revelation 6:15.

And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
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;
It shall be reckoned (μέλλει λογίζεσθαι)

Not the future of the verb to reckon, but μέλλω to intend points to God's definite purpose. See on Acts 27:2; see on 2 Peter 1:12.

Who believe

Since we are those who believe.

Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Was delivered (παρεδόθη)

See on Matthew 4:12; see on 1 Peter 2:23. Used of casting into prison or delivering to justice, Matthew 4:12; Matthew 10:17, Matthew 19:21. Frequently of the betrayal of Christ, Matthew 10:4; Matthew 17:22; John 6:64, John 6:71. Of committing a trust, Matthew 25:14, Matthew 25:20, Matthew 25:22. Of committing tradition, doctrine, or precept, Mark 7:13; 1 Corinthians 11:2; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 6:17; 2 Peter 2:21. Of Christ's yielding up His spirit, John 19:30. Of the surrender of Christ and His followers to death, Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 4:11; Galatians 2:20. Of giving over to evil, Romans 1:26, Romans 1:28; 1 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 4:19.

Raised again for our justification

"But if the whole matter of the justification depends on what He has suffered for our offenses, we shall as certainly be justified or have our account made even, if He does not rise, as if He does. Doubtless the rising has an immense significance, when the justification is conceived to be the renewing of our moral nature in righteousness; for it is only by the rising that His incarnate life and glory are fully discovered, and the righteousness of God declared in His person in its true moral power. But in the other view of justification there is plainly enough nothing depending, as far as that is concerned, on His resurrection" (Bushnell). Compare Romans 6:4-13.

Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent [1886].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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