Commentary on Romans 4:9-25

Notes (NET Translation)

9 Is this blessedness then for the circumcision or also for the uncircumcision? For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.”

The blessedness in question is the blessing of righteousness through faith and apart from works of the law (4:6-7). Is this blessing limited only to the circumcised? Paul quotes Gen 15:6 to show that righteousness is by faith, not circumcision.

10 How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not? No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised!

He bases this assertion upon the fact that Scripture says that God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6) well before it recounts God’s command to him to be circumcised (Gen 17:9-14).1

The argument is simple. If Abraham was righteous before his circumcision, then circumcision cannot be essential to righteousness.2

11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised, so that he would become the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised, that they too could have righteousness credited to them.

Paul describes circumcision as a ‘seal’ of the righteousness he had by faith, and not as a ‘sign’ of covenant as it is described in Genesis 17:11. By describing circumcision as a seal of the righteousness Abraham had by faith, Paul is actually saying that circumcision functioned as confirmation of the righteousness Abraham had through faith. As has often been noted, Paul appears to avoid calling circumcision a sign of the covenant because his Jewish contemporaries regarded it as a sign of the Mosaic covenant, something that distinguished Israel from the nations (cf. Judg 14:3; 1 Sam 14:6). By describing it as a sign of the righteousness Abraham already had by faith before he was circumcised, he shows that this righteousness is universally available.3

Gentiles need only have faith to have righteousness credited to them.

12 And he is also the father of the circumcised, who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised.

That Abraham received circumcision (as a sign of the faith he already had) means that he may be said to be the ‘father’ of the circumcised (Jews) also. But the apostle straightaway makes clear that this is not because they are circumcised but because they ‘follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised’. Faith is crucial in every case, not circumcision (or ethnicity)!4

Jewish Christians are those who are circumcised and share the faith of Abraham.

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

God promised Abraham descendants (Gen 12:2; 13:16-17; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 18:18; 22:17), the land of Canaan (Gen 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:7, 12-21; 17:8), and that all nations would be blessed through him (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18). By merging all these elements together, Paul and the Jews of his day understood that Abraham’s descendants would inherit the world (Jub 22:14; 32:19; 2 Bar 14:13; 51:3; 1 En 5:7; 4 Ezra 6:55-59; Sir 44:21).

If universal blessing for all peoples is guaranteed by God, then this is another way of saying that God will reclaim the world that was lost through Adam’s sin. The universal character of the promise is sounded forth in the rest of the OT (e.g., Ps. 2:7-12; 22:27-28; 47:7-9; 72:8-11, 17; Isa. 2:1-4; 19:18-25; 49:6-7; 52:7-10; 55:3-5; 66:23; Amos 9:11-12; Zeph. 3:9-10; Zech. 14:9) . . . . Paul’s view can be distinguished from other Jews in that he saw this promise fulfilled as Jews and Gentiles put their faith in Jesus as Messiah.5

14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified.

“They” are probably ethnic Jews who rely on observance of the law to inherit the promise. If obedience to the law makes them heirs to the promise then faith is empty (has no effect) because it is no longer the necessary condition for receiving the inheritance. The promise to Abraham would be nullified because Abraham could not follow the law since it had not been given in his lifetime. Moreover, as verse 15 states, no one can keep the law perfectly. Douglas Moo paraphrases the verse as follows: “If it is the case that the inheritance is to be based on adherence to the law, then there will be no heirs, because no fallen human being can adequately adhere to the law–and that means that faith is exercised in vain and the promise will never be fulfilled.”6

15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either.

The law does not qualify one to share the promised inheritance because no one keeps the law perfectly.

A word also needs to be said here about parabasis (transgression). When Paul says that there is no transgression without law, he does not intend to say that there is no sin (hamartia) apart from the Mosaic law. Romans 5:13 shows that sin existed before the era of the law. Thus parabasis is used technically to describe the violation of commandments that are specified and written. Romans 2:12-16 indicates that God’s wrath is also inflicted on those who do not have a written law (cf. 5:13-14). We should not conclude from 4:15 that wrath is experienced only when a written commandment is violated. Nevertheless, transgression of the law involves greater responsibility since the infraction is conscious and therefore involves rebellion against a known standard.7

Paul’s real point emerges in the application of this principle to the Mosaic law as an explanation of how it is that “the law works wrath.” Before and outside the Mosaic law wrath certainly exists, for all people, being sinners, stand under God’s sentence of condemnation (1:18). But the Mosaic law “produces” even more wrath; rather than rescuing people from the sentence of condemnation, it confirms their condemnation. For by stating clearly, and in great detail, exactly what God requires of people, the law renders people even more accountable to God than they were without the law.8

16 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

That the promised inheritance is by God’s grace, instead of the works of the law, means it is guaranteed/certain. In this context, “those who are under the law” are Jewish Christians because Paul rejects the possibility of righteousness by works. The inheritance is available to both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians who share the faith of Abraham.

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.

Paul sees the fulfillment of the promise given in Gen 17:5 not just in the physical descendants of Abraham, but in the multitude following in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith. The God who can raise the dead can bring nations forth from the “dead” bodies of Abraham and Sarah. At first glance, the phrase “summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” seems to imply creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo), a belief common in ancient Judaism (2 Macc 7:28; 2 Apoc Bar 21:4; 48:8; 2 Enoch 24:2; Philo, Spec Leg 4.187). However, Paul does not speak of calling things into being, but speaking of things as though they existed. In context, God speaks of the nations that will be descended from Abraham as if they already existed. The nations are not created out of nothing, but by normal human reproduction. Abraham trusted that God could call these descendants into existence.

18 Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be.”

Despite the circumstances that militated against his becoming a father (spelled out in verse 19), Abraham still believed the promise of God.

We note here that Abraham’s faith is not described as a “leap into the dark,” a completely baseless, almost irrational “decision”–as Christian faith is pictured by some “existentialist” theologians–but as a “leap” from the evidence of his senses into the security of God’s word and promise.9

The quotation is from Gen 15:5.

19 Without being weak in faith, he considered his own body as dead (because he was about one hundred years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.

A weak body did not lead to a weak faith. Most manuscripts read “he did not consider” by including the negative particle ou (D F G K P ? 33 1881 Byz Lect itd, g syrh al), but other manuscripts omit ou (? A B C 6 81 365 1506 1739 vg syrp copsa, bo, fay arm al). The reading that omits ou means, “His faith did not weaken when he considered . . .,” while the reading that contains ou means, “He was so strong in faith that he did not consider . . . .” In context, “Paul does not wish to imply that faith means closing one’s eyes to reality, but that Abraham was so strong in faith as to be undaunted by every consideration.”10 Note 36 of the NET says that the reading without the negative particle ou is preferred on both external and internal grounds.

Most manuscripts read “already dead” (? A C Dgr K P ? 33 81 Byz Lect syrh, copbo arm al), but some manuscripts lack the word “already” (B F G 630 1739 1881). The presence of “already” (hdh) “gives the impression of a certain heightening of the account. Moreover, who would have omitted the word had it stood in the text originally?”11 Due to the conflict between the internal and external evidence the UBS4 committee placed the words in brackets. The NET translation omits the word.

Since the word “deadness” is not the normal word for a woman’s barrenness, Paul has deliberately chosen his language to make clear that Abraham’s faith with respect to this promise was specifically faith in the “God who gives life to the dead” (v. 17b).12

20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.

In Gen 12-24 there are regressions and advances in Abraham’s faith. Paul does not intend to provide a detailed narrative of the life of Abraham here. His point is that Abraham’s life was ultimately typified by faith in God. Abraham’s faith strengthened as he saw the evidence of God fulfilling his promises (e.g., the birth of Isaac).

21 He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do.

22 So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness.

Gen 15:6 is quoted again.

When Paul reaches the conclusion in verse 22 that such faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness, we perceive that the faith that results in righteousness is not a vague abstraction. Genuine faith adheres to God’s promise despite the whirlwind of external circumstances that imperil it. Most important, faith receives its nourishment by anchoring on the God who made the promises. He can and will fulfill his pledges because he is the resurrecting God who creates life out of death, and because he is the sovereign God who summons into existence that which does not even exist. Abraham believed that God would fulfill his covenantal promises, and he did. So too, Jews and Gentiles become part of Abraham’s family when they believe that God has fulfilled his saving promises in and through Jesus Christ.13

23 But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, 24 but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

Verse 23 implies that the statement was written for Abraham’s sake as well as ours. It may have been written to preserve the memory of Abraham or to honor him. Paul believes Scripture is relevant for all believers (cf. Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11). All who believe in the one who raised Jesus from the dead have their faith credited to them as righteousness. The resurrection of Jesus inaugurates the new world promised to Abraham.

25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.

This verse may allude to Isa 53:12 LXX. The passive voice (“given over” and “raised”) indicates that God performed the giving over and raising up.

Commenting on the phrase translated “was raised for (dia) the sake of our justification”, Thomas Schreiner says:

The meaning of the second dia is difficult to discern. There is virtually unanimous agreement that the first dia is causal: Jesus was handed over to death “because” of our trespasses. But does Paul intend to say that Jesus was raised from the dead “because” of our justification? The parallelism of the two clauses favors such a rendering, but many scholars resist the idea that the resurrection would depend on justification. Thus they suggest that the second dia is final, that Jesus was raised with a view to our justification. But a causal sense should be maintained if possible to preserve the parallelism of the two clauses, and a causal rendering makes good sense. To say that Jesus was raised because of our justification is to say that his resurrection authenticates and confirms that our justification has been secured. The resurrection of Christ constitutes evidence that his work on our behalf has been completed. The death and resurrection of Christ fulfill the promise of universal blessing made to Abraham, for they are the means by which all peoples enter into the new people of God.14

The NET provides an alternative interpretation of the words. Douglas Moo, who follows the NET interpretation, writes:

As Jesus’ death provides the necessary grounds on which God’s justifying action can proceed, so his resurrection, by vindicating Christ and freeing him forever from the influence of sin (cf. 6:10), provides for the ongoing power over sins experienced by the believer in union with Christ.15

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Kruse 2012, 209 
  2. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 4695-4696 
  3. Kruse 2012, 209 
  4. Kruse 2012, 210 
  5. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 4750-4755 
  6. Moo 1996, 275 
  7. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 4815-4822 
  8. Moo 1996, 277 
  9. Moo 1996, 282–283 
  10. Metzger 2005, 451 
  11. Metzger 2005, 451 
  12. Moo 1996, 284 
  13. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 4980-4985 
  14. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5070-5078 
  15. Moo 1996, 290 
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