Romans 4:1-3 Commentary
Amplified: For if Abraham was justified (established as just by acquittal from guilt) by good works [that he did, then] he has grounds for boasting. But not before God! (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NLT: Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have had something to boast about. But from God's point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Wuest: For, assuming that Abraham was justified out of a source of works, he has ground for boasting, but not when facing God. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: for if Abraham by works was declared righteous, he hath to boast -- but not before god
|FOR IF ABRAHAM WAS JUSTIFIED BY WORKS (legalistic observances, self effort): ei gar abraam ex ergon edikaiothe (3SAPI): (Ro 3:20-28; Phil 3:9)
For (gar) - Notice the little preposition "for" (there are over 9000 "for's" in Scripture) and if the context indicates, as it does in this passage, that the "for" is a term of explanation, pause and ask yourself what is the Spirit seeking to explain? In fact, stop reading right now and observe and see if you can determine what is being explained. Notice how pausing to ponder will always force you to examine the context. You should practice this simple discipline every time you encounter a for, and while not every instance is a term of explanation, a "for" at the beginning of a verse is almost always is used with that grammatical sense. I guarantee that if you begin to "pause and ponder," you will radically rejuvenate your "Read Through the Bible in a Year" program! You might even get a small journal and begin to keep notes on what the Spirit illuminates and how this truth can be applied to your daily life. As you practice interrogating the text (for, therefore, but, so that, etc) with 5W/H questions such as "What's the for explaining?", you will begin to learn to (1) Read the Bible inductively (power point overview) and to (2) Meditate (see also Primer on Biblical Meditation) on the Scripture. Meditation or "chewing the cud" of the Scripture (cf Mt 4:4, Job 23:12-note, Jer 15:16) so to speak is a vanishing discipline in our fast paced, hi tech, low touch society, but a spiritual discipline which God promises to greatly bless (See Ps 1:1-note, Ps 1:2-note, Ps 1:3-note, Joshua 1:8-note, cf Ps 4:4, 19:14, 27:4, 49:4, 63:6, Ps 77:6, 77:12, Ps 104:34, Ps 119:15, 119:23, 119:27, Ps 119:48, 119:78, Ps 119:97, 119:99, Ps 119:148, 143:5, Ps 145:5) From the preceding passages which "organ" of our being is most often involved/engaged in meditation? What are the subjects or the focus of meditation? Reading the Bible without meditating on it is like eating without chewing. We must read…
Scripture every day
(see note) --Sper
If (1487) (ei) is referred to in Greek as a condition of the first class, which means that what follows is assumed as true. In the present context it is assumed true for the sake of argument (though it is in fact not actually true - now are you confused?).
Wuest's translation may help you see the meaning of the "if" "For, assuming that Abraham was justified out of a source of works, he has ground for boasting, but not when facing God."
Justified (1344) (dikaioo [word study] is derived from the noun dike = righteousness) defines the act by which a man is brought into a right state as related to God. Justified means "being declared righteous." Note that verbs which end in –óo generally indicate bringing out that which a person is or that which is desired, but not usually referring to the mode in which the action takes place.
Dikaioo never means to make anyone righteous or to do away with his violation of the law, by himself bearing the condemnation and the imposed sentence. Abraham or any man in his fallen condition can never do anything in order to pay for his sinfulness and thus be liberated from the sentence of guilt that is upon him as it happens in the world - when a guilty person has paid the penalty of a crime, he is free from condemnation.
In regard to Biblical righteousness, God is the objective standard which determines the content of meaning of dikaios and at the same time keeps that content of meaning constant and unchanging, since He is the unchanging One. Righteousness in the biblical sense is a condition of rightness the standard of which is God, which is estimated according to the divine standard, which shows itself in behavior conformable to God, and has to do above all things with its relation to God, and with the walk before Him.
Paul's statement in this verse ("Abraham was justified by works") may bring to your mind James' question "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" This question in Greek expects a "Yes"! So how is this seeming contradiction to be resolved. The point is that Abraham was justified by faith in God's Word, but he then demonstrated that his faith was genuine by his works. The justification by works of which James is speaking is a different "type of justification". James is referring to justification before other people. Stated another way, James is using the word dikaioo or justified to mean “proved.” We prove to others our genuine faith in Christ through our works. But the justification that comes through faith is before God, and we do not “prove” ourselves to Him by our works (as Paul is explaining in this section of Romans). Instead, God declares us righteous (dikaioo) through our faith in and our association with Christ, the One who died for our sins. Paul has already declared "that a man is justified (declared righteous) by faith apart from works of the Law." (Ro 3:28-note). In summary, Abraham was justified before God by faith but was justified (proved) before men by his works (James 2:21-24).
The rabbis taught a doctrine in which the merits ("works") of Abraham (who they taught had a superfluity of meritorious "credits") would be passed on to the Jews.
HE HAS SOMETHING TO BOAST ABOUT: echei (3SPAI) kauchema: (Ro 3:27; 15:17; Ezek 8:9; Jer 9:23,24; 1Cor 9:16; 2Cor 5:12; 11:12,30; 2Cor 12:1-9; Gal 6:13,14; Eph 2:9)
Boast about (2745) (kauchema noun related to the verb kauchaomai [word study] = to boast <> in turn akin to aucheo = boast + euchomai = express a wish <> in turn from auchen = neck, which vain persons are apt to carry in proud manner) means not the actual boasting itself but the ground of glorying or boasting.
Kauchema is not connected with the word glory (doxa) which is used of God’s glory. It means glory in the sense of exultation or self-congratulation. Kauchema describes the matter or ground of boasting. In this context the ground of Abraham's boasting would have been that he was declared righteous because of his works.
If Abraham’s own works had been the basis of his justification, he would have had every right to boast in God’s presence.
"Justified" by works -- A preacher who had long-departed from the truth of the gospel, told the following story to summarize "the faith" he taught.
It seems that a frog one day fell into a pail of milk, and though he tried every conceivable way to jump out, he always failed. The sides were too high, and because he was floating in the milk he could not get enough leverage for the needed leap. So he did the only thing he could do. He paddled and paddled and paddled some more. And voila! His paddling had churned a pad of butter from which he was able to launch himself to freedom. The preacher’s conclusion was "Just keep paddling, keep on working, keep on doing your best, and you will make it." You may smile at this exaggerated simplification, but this actually describes the "good news" promulgated by many churches and by every non-Christian religion in the world. It is amazingly sad that “Amazing Grace” is one of the favorite hymns worldwide and yet most of these same people reason that if you just do your best you will somehow make it to Heaven. The truth is that mankind, be he Jew or Gentile, is deeply hostile to the truth of justification by faith alone through God’s grace. Most people are much more comfortable with the motto “We get our salvation the old-fashioned way. We earn it!” This is exactly the falsehood Paul is addressing in this section.
Why Would A Jew Believe in Salvation by Works?
Among the Jews, Abraham was felt to be the prime example and model of a man who was justified by his works, and this false understanding was amply supported by the rabbinic literature of the day as illustrated below:
For example, the Mishnah’s third division Kiddushin (4.14) makes a specious interpretation of Ge26:5, in which God repeats His covenant promise to Abraham's son Isaac, declaring…
"And 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 5 because Abraham OBEYED Me and KEPT My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws."
The Mishnah wrongly concludes
“we find that Abraham our father had performed the whole law before it was given, for it is written, ‘Because that Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statues, and my laws.’
The earlier Book of Jubilees (circa b.c. 100) similarly says,
“For Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life.”
So perfect was Abraham thought to be that "The Prayer of Manasses" concluded that Abraham had no need of repentance, declaring…
“Thou, therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the righteous, hast not appointed repentance unto the righteous, unto Abraham… ”
Now you can understand why Paul is going to such lengths to refute the preposterous Rabbinical teachings that Abraham performed the whole Law even before it was actually written, that he was perfect in all his deeds, and that he had no need of repentance.
BUT NOT BEFORE GOD: all ou pros ton theon: (Ge 12:12,13,18,20; 20:9, 10, 11, 12, 13; Josh 24:2; 1Cor 1:29; 4:7; Gal 3:22)
"from God's point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride" (NLT)
How might this truth apply to believers? Many Christians after believing on Christ for their eternal destiny fall back into the trap of spending the rest of their lives trying to gain a sense of God's approval and love by hard, exhausting, committed, dedicated labor. And you can never win God's love that way. You never know when you have done enough. You cannot earn the gift of love, but it is yours if you take it by faith in Christ. And this faith obeys. Not perfectly, but the general direction of this person's life is to live in a such a way so as to please God.
William Newell writes that
"To discover that the greatest saints have no other standing than the weakest saints, is a lesson that is difficult for all of us. So now for the Jew to find that great Abraham has nothing in the flesh, but must be justified by simple faith, like any sinner, is a great shock. There was no honor, no "merit, " in Abraham's believing the faithful God, who cannot lie. The honor was God's. When Abraham believed God, he did the one thing that a man can do without doing anything! God made the statement, the promise; and God undertook to fulfill it. Abraham believed in his heart that God told the truth. There was no effort here. Abraham's faith was not an act, but an attitude. His heart was turned completely away from himself to God and His promise. This left God free to fulfill that promise. Faith was neither a meritorious act by Abraham, nor a change of character or nature, in Abraham: he simply believed God would accomplish what He had promised: "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Ge 12:3)." (Newell, William: Romans Verse by Verse) (Bolding added)
A survey by the Barna Research Group suggests widespread confusion about the gospel - even among churchgoers who feel responsible to spread the gospel.
George Barna, president of the Barna Research Group aptly comments that "There is plenty of reason for churches to worry if nearly one-half of their people who believe in evangelism also believe in salvation by works! The central message of Protestantism is in salvation by faith alone in Christ, yet many Protestant evangelizers seem to be preaching a different message.” Respondents from “mainline” Protestant churches tended to believe in salvation by works more frequently than those from “evangelical” churches. Yet pastors from mainline churches seemed more confident in their members’ ability to evangelize. Almost half (46%) of mainline pastors believe their congregations are qualified to present the gospel, while only one-fourth (24%) of Baptist pastors do.
In another survey in 1992 survey in which one-third of the respondents claimed to be born-again Christians, 54% of all respondents (including so called "born again") stated that all good people will go to heaven whether they have embraced Jesus Christ or not. Furthermore almost 25% of "born again" respondents said that while Jesus was on earth He sinned like other men!
It is still true what G. K. Chesterton said that…
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
Mark Twain by all accounts was not a believer, and, as the following anecdote suggests, he placed his "faith" in salvation by works. The story is told of a businessman well known for his ruthlessness who announced to Twain that
"Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the 10 Commandments aloud at the top."
"I have a better idea. You could stay in Boston and keep them."
Dwight L Moody has this poignant description of salvation apart from works writing that…
"The thief had nails through both hands, so that he could not work; and a nail through each foot, so that he could not run errands for the Lord; he could not lift a hand or a foot toward his salvation, and yet Christ offered him the gift of God; and he took it. Christ threw him a passport, and took him into Paradise."
Would you go to heaven if you died tonight? Do you want to go to heaven? Do you want to know the way? Read the 2 short pamphlets below by D L Moody The Way to God & How to Find It Heaven: Where It Is, Its Inhabitants & How To Get There
Amplified: For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed in (trusted in) God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness (right living and right standing with God). (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NLT: For the Scriptures tell us, "Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous." (NLT - Tyndale House)
Wuest: For what does the scripture say? Now Abraham believed God, and it was put to his account, resulting in righteousness. (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: for what doth the writing say? 'And Abraham did believe God, and it was reckoned to him -- to righteousness;'
|FOR WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE SAY: ti gar e graphe legei (3SPAI): (Ro 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; Isa 8:20; Mk 12:10; Jas 4:5; 2Pet 1:20,21)
Paul appeals to the Old Testament as a witness testifying that justification has always been by faith not by works.
Scriptures (1124)(see in depth study of graphe) in the plural in the NT describes the Holy Scriptures and in the singular (as in the present verse) it is used to describe a part of it. So more literally Paul is saying "what does the specific passage (Genesis 15:6) say"? Does it make his works the basis of Abraham’s justification? By no means as he goes on to explain here declaring that God Himself, by His own word, has decided this matter.
Paul then personifies the Scripture, in a sense calling this specific passage (Genesis 15:6) to take the stand as a "witness" to corroborate Paul's argument (cf Ro 9:17, 10:11, 11:2, Jn 19:37 James 4:5). Clearly Paul puts much validity in what the Scripture says and he knows the Jews prided themselves on having the Scriptures (Romans 2:17, 18, 19, 20) It is not important what man says about "the way" but only what God says in His Word of Truth. For both Paul and his readers the Scripture was the final and infallible witness.
For example, the Jewish Rabbis often appealed to Biblical citations, sometimes prefacing them with, “What does Scripture say?” Likewise, Jewish teachers often commented on Abraham’s faith as it was described in Genesis 15:6 but in that passage they read it as his “faithfulness” and equate that with one of Abraham's works!
AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD: episteusen (3SAAI) de abraam to theo: (Ge 15:6; Gal 3:6,7, 8; Jas 2:23)
This quotation from Genesis 15:6 is one of the clearest statements in all Scripture about how men can be justified before God. Abraham "trusted" God, and this, rather than his works, was the ground upon which he was accorded "righteousness." Another man was "reckoned righteous" even before Abraham.
Believed (4100) (pisteuo [word study]) as used in the NT to describe saving faith denotes more than mere intellectual assent to a fact. Pisteuo describes an adherence to, a committal to, a reliance upon or a trust in a person or an object. Thus genuine belief involves not only the consent of the mind, but an act of the heart and will of the subject. Biblical saving faith is not passive assent but an active staking of one's life on the claims of God
The corresponding Hebrew verb ('aman) which is translated "believed" in Genesis 15:6 means “to say amen.” God gave a promise, and Abraham responded “Amen!” It was this faith that was counted for righteousness. Through his faith in God,
The Lord Jesus was saying that He was the One to whom Abraham looked forward. Abraham’s faith rested in the coming of Christ.
To paraphrase the respected linguist, W E Vines, saying faith involves
Robert Haldane comments on the quotation from Genesis 15:6 writing that there
Like Paul, who wrote this epistle to Rome, Abraham was sovereignly and directly chosen by God. Neither Abraham nor Paul was searching for God when they were divinely called and commissioned. Abraham had probably never heard of the true God, whereas Paul knew a great deal about Him. Abraham was seemingly content with his idolatrous paganism, and Paul was content with his traditional, but false, Judaism. When God called Abraham, or Abram (his original name) He gave no reason for selecting that pagan from the millions of others in the world. Nowhere in Scripture is the reason given. God chose Abraham because that was His divine will, which needs no justification or explanation.
Abraham was a man of faith but his faith was not a meritorious work. His faith was not the ground of justification but it was simply the channel through which it is received and it, too, is a gift (Ep2:8 2Pe1:1). by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
Kenneth Wuest explains Abraham's act of faith writing that…
AND IT (his faith = the instrument) WAS RECKONED (imputed) TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS: kai elogisthe (3SAPI) auto eis dikaiosunen: (Ro 4:5,9,11,22, 23, 24, 25; Ps 106:31)
Logizomai - 40x in 39v - Luke 22:37; John 11:50; Acts 19:27; Ro 2:3, 26; 3:28; 4:3-4, 8-11, 22-24; Ro 6:11; 8:18, 36; 9:8; 14:14; 1Cor 4:1; 13:5, 11; 2 Cor 3:5; 5:19; 10:2, 2Cor 10:7, 11; 11:5; 12:6; Gal 3:6; Phil 3:13; 4:8; 2 Tim 4:16; Heb 11:19; Jas 2:23; 1 Pet 5:12. NAS = consider(6), considered(2), counted(1), counting(1), credit(1), credited(9), credits(1), dwell(1), maintain(1), numbered(2), propose(1), reason(1), reckoned(2), regard(4), regarded(3), suppose(1), take into account(3), thinks(1).
Logizomai was a secular bookkeeping term which meant to make an entry in the account book or to put to one's account. It carried the economic and legal meaning of crediting something to another’s account. It means to calculate or reckon, as when figuring an entry in a ledger. The purpose of the entry is to make a permanent record that can be consulted whenever needed. It means to credit money to a particular account. It means that when you deposit $1000, the bank credits your account with $1000. Therefore when you write a check for $500, you don't worry about it because you are reckoning on the fact that money is actually in your account. The purpose of the entry was to make a permanent record that can be consulted whenever needed.
Abraham believed God, and his act of faith was placed to his account in value as righteousness.
He believed God and his act of faith was credited to him for righteousness.
He believed God and his act of faith was computed as to its value, and there was placed to his account, righteousness.
Note that Abraham’s act of faith was not looked upon as a meritorious work deserving a reward. What his faith did do was provide a channel through which God worked His redeeming grace. Faith is a convicted heart reaching out to receive God’s free and unmerited gift of salvation.
Logizomai was used in early secular documents as follows…
• “put to one’s account,"
• "let my revenues be placed on deposit at the storehouse"
• "I now give orders generally with regard to all payments actually made or credited to the government.”
In other words the man is called blessed, to whose account no sin is charged. At the Cross, his sin was charged to the account of the Lord Jesus. In Ro 4:6, the man to whose account righteousness is put, is called blessed
This is imputation, the act of putting something to someone’s account. In the case of the Lord Jesus, the sin of the human race was charged to Him. In the case of the believing sinner, the righteousness of God, Christ Jesus Himself, is put to his account.
Reckoning (crediting, imputing) is essentially a one-sided transaction. In other words Abraham did nothing meritorious to warrant Christ's righteousness. God credited it to him when he believed. God took Christ's righteousness and credited it to Abraham and this transaction occurred because Abraham believed God and His promises in Genesis 15:6. Paul is using Abraham to illustrate that when he trusted God, his moral and spiritual "books" were balanced so to speak and that it was not because of something Abraham did or did not do.
John MacArthur writes that…
Righteousness (1343) (dikaiosune [word study] from dikaios [word study] = being proper or right in the sense of being fully justified being or in accordance with what God requires) is the quality of being upright. In its simplest sense dikaiosune conveys the idea of conformity to a standard or norm. In this sense righteousness is the opposite of hamartia (sin), which is defined as missing of the mark set by God. In this sense righteousness is the opposite of hamartia (sin), which is defined as missing of the mark set by God.
Dikaiosune is rightness of character before God and rightness of actions before men. Righteousness of God could be succinctly stated as all that God is, all that He commands, all that He demands, all that He approves, all that He provides through faith in Christ (Click here to read Pastor Ray Pritchard's interesting analysis of righteousness in the Gospel of Matthew).
As sinners, we have no righteousness that would be acceptable to God
But God has given His Word of promise. When we respond to Him in faith, against our name in His account book He makes an entry that says in effect,
’This person is righteous in My sight!’
Our faith has been credited to us as righteousness. Some might complain that this concept of salvation is too crude. But that same person, if he went to his bank and found that someone had credited his account with the gift of $10 million, wouldn’t complain about “crude.” He would more likely shout for joy! In Christ, God has credited to us something far more precious than worldly wealth.
Kenneth Wuest explains how Abraham could possess Christ's righteousness before Christ was made sin in His place…