In the fourth chapter of Romans Paul turns the corner on his opening thoughts, where he outlines that the whole world is condemned, in one way or another, and comes down a stretch where he explains why exactly not only faith in Jesus matters, but also why it works. Romans four might be the most Jewish chapter in the whole New Testament.
Translation Notes: The reoccurring word I have translated here as “counted” is a sticky wicket. It can be rendered in so many different ways, and they all would be accurate. It might be reason, reckon, thought, considered or even evaluated. I seriously thought about going with evaluated, because I think that is part of what Paul is communicating: “God evaluated Abraham’s faith as righteousness.” I am also intrigued by the word being translated here, because it is in the same root family from which the English word “logic” comes from: “It was a logical conclusion that Abraham’s faith was righteousness.” I like that a lot because of the shocking and alarming juxtaposition of “logic” and “faith” so close together.
One other note, about verse 14. I have rendered the last phrase as, “the promise doesn’t work” but the actual word should probably be translated as “broken.” I opted not to do that because it would indicate that the covenant is broken, but that is not really what Paul is saying. Therefore, I opted for “doesn’t work” instead.
Theological Notes: This entire chapter reads like a proof for a geometry problem we all had to work on in high school. Remember those? This one goes like this. If Abraham was counted as a righteous person before he was circumcised and if it was his faith that made him righteous, then he is the spiritual father of all those who have faith, regardless of genetics.
Paul then tells us that the object of faith now is Jesus and his resurrection.
1. Then what can we say about Abraham, was it only biologically that he was found to be our ancestor?
2. If Abram was made righteous because of works he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3. For what does the scripture say? “But Abram believed God and it was counted as righteousness to him.”
4. Now, to someone who has worked wages are not counted as a gift of grace, but as a debt.
5. Yet to the one not working, the one believing in him who makes the ungodly righteous, it is his faith that is counted as righteous.
6. Just as David says, “Blessed is the person who God counts as righteous without works.
7. Blessed are those whose lawlessness has been forgiven and those whose sins are covered.
8. Blessed is a man whose sins the Lord does not hold against him.”
9. Therefore, who is this blessing for then, the circumcised or those uncircumcised too? We say, “He counted Abram’s faith as righteousness.”
10. When was he counted? Was it when he was circumcised or while uncircumcised? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
11. He received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness of faith he had when uncircumcised, to be a father of many people who believe yet are not circumcised, so that righteousness might be counted to them too,
12. to be not only a father to those who are circumcised, but to those who are outside of circumcision who follow the footsteps of the uncircumcised faith of our father Abraham.
13. It was not by law that the promise to be heirs of the world was made to Abraham’s offspring, but by the righteousness of faith.
14. If it is by law that they are inheritors, then faith is empty and the promise doesn’t work.
15. The law causes wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16. That is why it is by faith through grace, so that the promise might be reliable for all the offspring; not only those from the law but those who also are from the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
17. Just as it is written, that “I have appointed you as a father to may nations,” in the sight of God, whom he believed gave life back from the dead and called forth things into being that did not exist.
18. He hoped against all hope. He believed that he would become, “A father to many nations,” according to the words spoken, “about his offspring.”
19. And not weakened in faith, he considered his already impotent one hundred year old body, not to mention Sarah’s dead womb,
20. but he did not doubt the promise of God in unbelief. Instead he was strengthened in his faith, giving glory to God.
21. And he was fully convinced that the one who had promised is able to do it.
22. And this is why, “He counted him righteous.”
23. That it was, “counted to him” was not written down for him only.
24. But it is for us that it is counted, those believing upon the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead.
25. Who was handed over because of our trespasses and was resurrected for our righteousness.