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ROMANS 4:1-4:25
Last updated 9/10/00

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 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, 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. 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: 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. 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, (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. 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 Sarah'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. 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.


Paul continues his arguments from the previous chapters. (Keep in mind, Paul did not assign these chapter and verse numbers. They were added later.)

Thus far, Paul has addressed the ideas of:

  • "Cheap grace," where one can claim to "believe" apart from obedience to God's Torah
  • Earning salvation based on on works
  • Automatic salvation based on being born a Jew, a descendent of Abraham

Paul now turns to Abraham in order to strengthen his case. In this chapter, he reiterates the themes of obedience (faith in Yeshua being likened to Abraham's faith, which was seen in his obedience) as well as the Shema (this faith is accessible to Jew and gentile through Yeshua).

2  For if Abraham were justified by works he hath whereof to glory

This verse is often pulled out of its context to teach against Torah. However, Paul's statement is a continuance of his previous ones regarding, "works apart from faith as a means to earn salvation." (See notes to verses 4-5 and 21 below for the role of "works within faith.")

3  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Abraham was counted as righteous not due to his efforts (the "qualitative level" of his faith), but due to his decision to trust in God, despite the circumstances. This theme is continued in verses 19 and 20 (below), to show that his faith was not "weak."

Paul points to Abraham to teach that there is one "work" that we can and must do in order to achieve salvation. We must choose to "trust God" as Abraham did. All else was out of his hands as it is with ours.

This is consistent with what the Talmud teaches:

Mas. Berachoth 33b - Everything is in the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven

4  to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace ...
5  But to him that worketh not, but believeth

Paul is not presenting an argument of "Law versus Grace." This idea, (that there is such a thing as "law versus grace") is taught throughout much of Christianity. It is a theology that pits God's Torah against His mercy, which is something completely contrary to the Hebrew Scriptures, that instead reveal that God gave His Torah out of His mercy.

What Paul "sets against" each other, in this and in all of his letters (including Galatians and Colossians, which are consistently misunderstood), is the idea of, "doing works apart from faith" in order to "earn" salvation, versus trusting in God's provision, and then living according to His revealed will - the Torah.

6  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man

See comments on David in verse 15 below.

10  when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?

Paul brings forth the (obvious) point that Abraham was "declared righteous" as a gentile.

11  that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also ...

God declared Abraham righteous as an uncircumcised man, then had him circumcised as a seal of this faith. Thus, he is a point of union to all who believe, Jew or gentile.

The understanding and implication of this fact (equal access to salvation for gentiles) is the "mystery" that was fully revealed through Yeshua:

Ephesians 3:3-9 - How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,  Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

12  not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith

See comments to verse 16 below.

Verses 13-17

These verses show that faith is not nullified through Torah, just as Torah is not nullified through faith (Romans 3:31).

14  For if they which are of the law be heirs ...
15  Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

The context of verse 14 is that of the previous verses. Torah not only "reveals" sin in man, but also "stirs up" sin within him. If someone is looking to earn their salvation through observance of the Torah (they which are of the law), they are sure to sin and thus fail. No one can "keep Torah" (at all), outside of faith - however within faith (having the correct view of Torah as God's will for your life), one can keep Torah.

An example of this is King David's statements about himself in the Psalms. David, who was an adulterer and murderer, wrote that he stood blameless in the Torah. For a detailed discussion of how he could make such a (valid) claim, see the article Not Subject to the Law of God?, in the YashaNet library.

Verse 15 is another that is often pulled out of context. Paul is not saying that anyone who has not been exposed to Torah is "off the hook." He made it quite clear in the previous three chapters that neither Jew or gentile have excuse before God. Paul's comment is on the heels of the previous verse (note the word "Because" at the beginning of verse 15 above).

16  not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham

This verse (and earlier, in verse 12), point back to the Shema. Paul is reiterating what he said in 1:16 (to the Jew first, and to the gentile), in light of the example of Abraham.

Although being born a descendent of Abraham does give Jews certain benefits, automatic salvation is not one of them. This was however, a view held by at least some Jews of that day:

Matthew 3:9 - And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

John 8:33 - They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?

Paul again falls back on one of the principles of the Shema, that God is One God for the Jew and the gentile. He shows that the idea of righteousness (by trusting in God) being accessible to gentiles as well Jews, predates not only Moses and the giving of the Torah, but even Abraham. As Paul shows, Abraham being declared righteous had nothing to do with his possessing or following the written Torah, as it had not been given yet.

The "New Testament" and Jewish Midrashic writings are in agreement about who has access to the Holy Spirit and heirship as Abraham's seed:

Galatians 3:2,28,29 - This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? ... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Tana DeBei Eliahu Rabba 9 - I bring heaven and earth to bear witness, that any human, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, freeman or slave, according to his deeds he can be worthy of Ruach haKodesh (the Holy Spirit)1

19  And being not weak in faith ...
20  He staggered not

Abraham had a relationship with God prior to the binding of Isaac. His "strong" faith had to do with "taking the next step" and trusting that God would fulfill the promises to He made to him (even though this seemed unlikely should he sacrifice Isaac as God asked). Abraham's faith was judged as "being not weak ..." NOT based on some "qualitative" degree (i.e., doing good enough works, or believing certain doctrines "just right"), but because he chose to look beyond the present state of things, trusted God, and obeyed His command.

Those "weak in faith" (unlike Abraham) stagger in unbelief and doubt. Paul will make use of the theme of those "weak in faith," to teach an important lesson in chapters 14 and 15 of this letter (Also see notes to Romans 11:11-12).

Abraham indeed "believed" God, and the proof of his faith was in his actual obedience. (See Jewish Views of Salvation, Faith and Freedom, in our Romans background studies.)

Hence, we have "James" reminding us that works within faith (not apart from faith), is essential to salvation:

James 2:19-24 - Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

"James" tells is that these works that we will be judged by, are the works of God's Torah:

James 1:25 - But whoso looketh into the perfect law [Torah] of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

James 2:12 - So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law [Torah] of liberty.

As does Paul:

Ephesians 2:10 - For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, [Torah] which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

1. As cited in, The Bahir: Translation, Introduction and Commentary, by Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1979, p. 156