Exposition of Romans 4:16-17, Grace toward all — faith from all

It is easy to wonder how Paul ever thought he would get Jews and Gentiles together, but Paul had a secret weapon: God. God was the one who wanted the unified worship of every nation, race and language. He did it by extending grace to all and by demanding faith from all.

Many have sought Gods favor by showing how their deeds set them apart. But Gods free act of grace in Christ means his children must share a common faith no matter what their deeds might be.

(NET) Romans 4:16-17

For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, I have made you the father of many nations). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.

Romans 4:16 is another of those formidable creations by Paul that is best understood by dividing it into its constituent parts. Note the switch to NET, which sticks closer to the Greek text in this verse than ESV does.

(NET) Romans 4:16a For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace,

The phrase for this reason points forward, not backward. We might rearrange the sentence to say: The reason it is by faith is so that it may be by grace. Critical to Pauls entire argument is that being declared righteous by God involves faith on our side and grace on Gods side.

The word it has twice been italicized in my rearranged sentence so that we may focus our attention on determining what the prior reference of “it” might be. Thomas Schreiner says, The subject could be Gods plan of salvation . . . or the promise . . . but the promised inheritance is probably the most comprehensive and precise rendering.[1]

(NET) Romans 4:16b with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

Because the promise is grounded on faith, it is certain for all who, when under the law, shared the faith of Abraham, and those who, like Abraham, demonstrated their faith apart from the law. In that way, Abraham is the father of all who receive righteousness by faith. Schreiner says, Here the intent is to say that the inheritance is available to both Jewish Christians and Gentiles who share the faith of Abraham.[2] The words Abraham, who is the father of us all would have shaken Jews to the core!

John Chrysostom summarizes with great skill: Here Paul mentions two blessings. The first is that the things which have been given are secured. The second is that they are given to all Abrahams descendants, including the Gentiles who believe and excluding the Jews who do not.[3]

(NET) Romans 4:17 (as it is written, I have made you the father of many nations). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.

In support of his shocking assertion that Abraham is the father of all who believe (4:16b), Paul cites one of Gods promises to Abraham from Genesis 17:5. The clause He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed (4:17b) stresses the solemnity of the promise by reminding the reader that God spoke directly to Abraham in naming him the father of many nations.

The final clause of 4:17 (the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do) provides a marvelous double-edged meaning. In Abrahams time, when the promise was made, God made the sexually dead Abraham alive and thus ensured the existence of his countless descendants.

The second meaning affected those to whom Paul wrote and us as well. The two present-tense verbal forms stress that God is still making the dead alive and summoning things that do not exist into reality. What things? For one he is creating a new people of God comprising all Abrahams descendants and including both believing Jews and Gentiles. This is exactly Pauls message in Ephesians 2:11-3:6.

What do we have in common?

In previous chapters of Romans, Paul has shown that works are wholly insufficient to achieve salvation. Today he demonstrates deeds are actually irrelevant for salvation. Because salvation is by grace through faith, all who believe come to God in exactly the same way. That commonality is the basis for unity in the church. Whatever differences make one a Jew and another a Gentile do not matter; what makes each a Christian is exactly the same!

1. Who has a right to call themselves a Christian? Who is eligible to call Abraham their spiritual father?

2. Read Ephesians 2:810. What role do works play after salvation?

Most of us find it alarmingly easy to focus on our differences. But the narrow gate that leads to life requires each of us to enter on the same basis ? by grace through faith.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 231.

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 232.

[3] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 120.

Exposition of Romans 4:9-10, Study carefully to get it right!

One of the big questions philosophers juggle is what are the sources of that which we know? Knowledge comes from a number of sources, but for a Christian, the revelation recorded in the Bible has primacy over all other written sources. An observant Jew would regard the Old Testament with the same esteem we have for the whole Bible.

Even a sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (Antonin Scalia) has commented on the value of such biblical sources by citing the Jewish Babylonian Talmud, which instructs with respect to the Scripture: Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein.. . . . Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions . . .[1]

Presumably, if God has spoken at book length to reveal himself, then he has been careful to say what he means. Since God has used such care, we must sift what he has said with diligence to get it right. Paul said, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

(ESV) Romans 4:9-10

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.

In keeping with accurate interpretation of the Old Testament, Paul challenges his Jewish opponents to go back to Genesis and determine whether Abraham was declared righteous before or after he was circumcised (4:10). By doing so they will find the answer to the question posed in 4:9, which asks: Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? If righteousness is available to the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles), then being a Jew is not required! Even a Roman Catholic like Justice Scalia would be eligible.

In the second half of 4:9, Paul takes us right back to Genesis 15:6 and repeats his thesis that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness (4:9b). In Genesis 17:1, we find that Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. Going back to Genesis 16:16, we find that Abraham was 86 at the time Ishmael was born. The Jewish interpreters assumed that the events of Genesis 15:6 took place 16 years prior to the birth of Ishmael. By the reckoning of the rabbis, Abraham was declared righteous 29 years prior to being circumcised.[2]

From his biblical analysis, Paul concluded that Abraham was uncircumcised when his faith led God to declare him righteous. Not only did Abraham attain righteousness by faith, but he was not yet qualified to be a Jew at the time!

Facts undercut prejudices

Jesus used similar methods to those of Paul: A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ (Luke 10:2526). To answer the most serious question life offers, Jesus sent the scribe back to the teaching of the Old Testament. Afterward Jesus evaluated what the scribe said and directed him toward life.

1. If you were paid by $5/word for reading the Bible, how much would you make for what you read last week? What does your answer tell you?

2. When you read something in the Bible that you do not understand, what sources of information do you have to clarify it (e.g. study Bible, Christian websites, friends, a pastor or other)? What incentives could you create to motivate yourself and your children, if any, to read the Bible and find good answers for their questions?

Many times the Gospel writers quote Jesus saying Have you not read . . . during his teaching ministry (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; Mark 12:26; Luke 6:3). A lot of questions have answers, if you look in Gods Word!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Caperton v Massey Coal, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), Scalia, J., dissenting.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 235.

Exposition of Romans 3:1-4: God is reliable; humanity is not

The Jews misunderstood the Law of Moses as their assurance of salvation when in fact it was given to bring their flaws to the surface of their awareness. But instead of running to God for mercy, they reduced the law to a one-sided promise and wrapped themselves in a cloak of self-righteous pride.

By tearing away this faade, Paul brings out countercharges from his opponents that God is being both unfaithful and inconsistent. Are the Jews of Paul’s day right to object? God’s faithfulness and constancy means just as much to us as it did to them.

(ESV) Romans 3:1-4

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.

The first eight verses of Romans 3 are considered some of the most challenging in the entire letter. Paul continues his imagined argument with a Jewish or Jewish-Christian opponent, a style known as diatribe.

Osborne does a great job summarizing the biblical text that includes this lesson’s verses as well as the verses for the next lesson:

The basic issue is this: if there is no advantage in being Jewish, and if God can reject one of his covenant people, then how can it be said that God is faithful to his covenant promises? Paul’s lengthier response in Romans 9-11 is anticipated here: God’s response in judgment also constitutes being faithful to his promises. The covenant contained blessings and curses (= salvation and judgment here), and both are proper depending on the actions of the covenant people.[1]

Since the Jew has no special advantage over the Gentile during the judgment of God — thus has Paul argued in Romans 2 — why then would anyone think it preferable to be a Jew (3:1)? In light of all that is said in the Old Testament about the privilege of being God’s people, Cranfield points out a serious issue: “The question raised is nothing less than the question of the credibility of God.”[2]

The NET Bible does a great job translating Rom. 3:2 by saying, “Actually, there are many advantages. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” It is no accident that Paul begins with God’s revelation in words because that is the gateway to so much more! Cranfield explains that the phrase “the oracles of God” is virtually identical to “the Word of God.”[3] But possession of that treasure makes the holders all the more responsible to heed the words!

The other advantages held by the Jews are not taken up in this context, but Rom. 9:4-5 names many more: “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. . . . the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever!” (Rom. 9:4-5, NET).

Paul’s question in 3:3 is a rhetorical method of putting the blame where it belongs, but translators are unsure how to punctuate the sentence.

(ESV) What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?

(NET) What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?

For complex reasons, the NET Bible’s punctuation should be preferred here.[4]

Cranfield points out the heavy density in 3:23 of words based on the Greek root underlying the noun for faith and the verb for bothbelieve and entrust. Moo brings this insight to bear on 3:3 by saying, “These words point up the contrast between Israels ‘faithlessness’ and Gods ‘faithfulness.'”[5]

In case Paul’s rhetorical questions tend to confuse you more than help you, the NLT fairly renders them as statements: “True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful?” (Rom. 3:3, NLT).

Cranfield summarizes 3:3 by saying, “It is unthinkable that God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel should be rendered ineffective even by the Jews’ unbelief.”[6] Romans 9-11 shows how God will fulfill the covenant, just as he promised.

Humanity — here epitomized by unbelieving Jews — always has an excuse, a justification, an argument to shield itself from judgment. Paul seizes instead on the Old Testament’s assertion that God is faithful at all times. Osborne says, “Behind the term true is the Old Testament term [in Hebrew] for faithful (emet), meaning God is true to his promises.”[7]

By their unbelief the Jews had failed to keep the covenants provisions, yet they still wanted its blessings! Paul says it was God who was keeping the terms of the covenant by invoking the curses on covenant breakers. Osborne says, “God cannot be faithful to his covenant until he judges Israel; only then will he be proved right to his promises (and warnings).”[8] God’s judgments will in all cases be vindicated.

Semper Fi Ultra!

Christians have a critical stake in the issue of God’s faithfulness toward the Jews. If God has broken his promises to the Jews, then his promises to us are meaningless. Not to worry! Paul makes it plain that doubting God’s reliability is pointless; worse, those who accuse God of breaking his promises are liars.

1. Name one or two key promises from God are you relying on.

2. Over the centuries believers have had to resolve the issue of Gods reliability; how do you suppose they did so? How did you resolve the issue for yourself?

David had it right: “I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your name, because of your loyal love and faithfulness, for you have exalted your promise above the entire sky” (Psalm 138:2, NET).

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 79.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 177.

[3] Cranfield, Romans, 178-179, footnote 1.

[4] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 183-184.

[5] Moo, Romans, 184.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 181.

[7] Osborne, Romans, 82.

[8] Osborne, Romans, 83.