“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin. Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.’ How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.” Roman 4:1-12
In our last study (verses 1-5) we saw how the Apostle Paul introduced the great patriarch Abraham into his (Paul’s) presentation about justification by faith in God rather than works of the flesh. In this new study we will see what we can learn from the life of David, the great king of Israel, and more about Abraham.
“just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works”
καθαπερ και δαβιδ λεγει τον μακαρισμον του ανθρωπου ω ο θεος λογιζεται δικαιοσυνην χωρις εργων
καθαπερ και δαβιδ λεγει τον μακαρισμον του ανθρωπου (kathaper kai daibid legei ton makarismon tou anthrópou) “just as also David declares the blessedness of the man”
ω ο θεος λογιζεται δικαιοσυνην χωρις εργων (hó ho theos logizetai dikaiosunén chóris epgón) “to whom God credits righteousness apart from works”
Paul made the truth claim to the Jews in Rome that God saved King David “apart from works,” the same claim he made about Abraham. How did Paul support that claim? From David’s own writing in Psalm 32.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”
μακαριοι ων αφεθησαν αι ανομιαι και ων επεκαλυφθησαν αι αμαρτιαι μακαριος ανηρ ω ου μη λογισηται κυριος αμαρτιαν
μακαριοι ων αφεθησαν αι ανομιαι (makarioi hón aphethésan hai anomiai) “blessed are they of whom are forgiven the lawless deeds” .. anomiai means “without law”, the idea in this context of lawlessness in respect to God’s Laws, an utter disregard for God’s law
και ων επεκαλυφθησαν αι αμαρτιαι (kai hón epekaluphthésan hai hamartiai) “and of whom are covered the sins” .. epekaluphthésan combines the words epi (on, upon) and kaluptó (hide, conceal, cover) .. the word was used for “covering up or over” .. the idea in this context is of the “lawlessness” (sins) being covered over.
μακαριος ανηρ ω ου μη λογισηται κυριος αμαρτιαν (makarios anér hó ou mé logisétai kurios hamartian) “blessed the man against whom no not will reckon the Lord sin” .. logisétai comes from the root for the word “logic” and means “count, reason, decide, conclude, reckon) .. the idea is of reasoning to a logical conclusion .. it is reasonable for God not to count people’s sins to their account based on His grace.
King David used a second way of stating the same amazing benefit of God’s grace in the next part of Psalm 32. He wrote that God “covering” man’s sins and “not imputing” man’s sins are a great blessing to human beings.
Paul asked the Romans a question that followed logically from verses 1-8 –
“Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.”
ο μακαρισμος ουν ουτος επι την περιτομην η και επι την ακροβυστιαν λεγομεν γαρ οτι ελογισθη τω αβρααμ η πιστις εις δικαιοσυνην
ο μακαρισμος ουν ουτος επι την περιτομην η και επι την ακροβυστιαν (ho makarismos oun outos epi tén peritomén é kai epi tén akrobustian) “is the blessing then this on the circumcision or also on the uncircumcision”
Paul reached back to his earlier points about the Jews and Gentiles –
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Romans 3:27-30
And asked the same question in a different way – “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also?”
Paul’s answer is the same as it was earlier. God credited Abraham’s spiritual account with righteousness based on his faith in God’s promise –
λεγομεν γαρ οτι ελογισθη τω αβρααμ η πιστις εις δικαιοσυνην (legomen gar hoti elogisthé tó abraam hé pistis eis dikaiosunén) “we are saying indeed was credited to Abraham the faith as righteousness”
“How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.”
πως ουν ελογισθη εν περιτομη οντι η εν ακροβυστια ουκ εν περιτομη αλλ εν ακροβυστια
Paul addressed the issue of circumcision in 12 verses in his letter to the Romans. Here’s what he wrote previously –
“For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” Romans 2:25
“Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?” Romans 2:26
“And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?” Romans 2:27
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;” Romans 2:28
“but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:29
“What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” Romans 3:1-2
“Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Romans 3:29-30
“Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.” Romans 4:9
Now to Paul’s answer in verse 10 –
πως ουν ελογισθη (pós oun elogisthé) “how then was it credited”
εν περιτομη οντι η εν ακροβυστια (en peritomé onti é en akrobustia) “in circumcision being or in uncircumcision”
εν περιτομη αλλ εν ακροβυστια (en peritomé all en akrobustia) “not in circumcision but in uncircumcision”
Paul stayed true to his message through his letter to the Romans. God is the God of Jews and Gentiles – the circumcision and uncircumcised. God credits righteousness to all people the same way.
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also”
και σημειον ελαβεν περιτομης σφραγιδα της δικαιοσυνης της πιστεως της εν τη ακροβυστια εις το ειναι αυτον πατερα παντων των πιστευοντων δι ακροβυστιας εις το λογισθηναι και αυτοις την δικαιοσυνην
So, what was the purpose of Abraham’s circumcision? It was a sign of what God was going to do in the world –
και σημειον ελαβεν περιτομης (kai sémeion elaben peritoués) “and the sign he received of circumcision” .. sémeion means “sign, miracle, indication” .. the word is used 77 times in the New Testament, often in relation to miraculous signs that authenticated the work of Christ and His apostles as being of God.
σφραγιδα της δικαιοσυνης της πιστεως της εν τη ακροβυστια (sphragida tés dikaiosunés tés pisteós tés en té akrobustia) “a seal of the righteousness of the faith that he had while in the uncircumcision” .. sphragida means “seal, impression of seal, proof”
A sphragís was an engraved object that ancient kings, queens, governors and other rulers would press into soft wax or clay to seal a document. It demonstrated the promise and protection of the owner. Legal signatures have taken the place of ancient seals.
εις το ειναι αυτον πατερα παντων των πιστευοντων δι ακροβυστιας (eis to einai auton patera pantón tón pisteuontón di akrobustias) “for the to be him of all those believing in uncircumcision”
The Apostle Paul did something here that all students of Scripture should do – he went to the source of a teaching to find the true meaning.
“The Apostle here puts forth his view of the real import of circumcision. It was not (as so many of his contemporaries supposed) the cause or condition of Israel’s privileges so much as the sign or ratification of them. It ratified a state of things already existing when it was instituted. Hence, to those who inherited that state of things (justification by faith) the want of circumcision was no bar.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
“It clearly appears from the Scripture, that Abraham was justified several years before his circumcision. It is, therefore, plain that this rite was not necessary in order to justification. It was a sign of the original corruption of human nature. And it was such a sign as was also an outward seal, appointed not only to confirm God’s promises to him and to his seed, and their obligation to be the Lord’s, but likewise to assure him of his being already a real partaker of the righteousness of faith.” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
εις το λογισθηναι και αυτοις την δικαιοσυνην (eis to logisthénai kai autois tén dikaiosunén) “for to be credited also to them the righteousness”
God credited (logisthénai) “righteousness” to the uncircumcised Gentiles who believed in the same way God credited Abraham before he was circumcised.
“and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”
και πατερα περιτομης τοις ουκ εκ περιτομης μονον αλλα και τοις στοιχουσιν τοις ιχνεσιν της εν τη ακροβυστια πιστεως του πατρος ημων αβρααμ
και πατερα περιτομης τοις ουκ εκ περιτομης μονον (kai patera peritoués tois ouk ek peritomés monon) “and father of circumcision to those not of circumcision only”
αλλα και τοις στοιχουσιν τοις ιχνεσιν της εν τη ακροβυστια πιστεως (alla kai tois stoichousin tois ichnesin tés en té akrobustia pisteós) “but also to those walking in the steps of the during uncircumcision faith” .. stoichousin comes from a word that means “walk in a row, line, rank” and carries the idea of keeping in step .. it was a well-known military term meaning “to march in file” .. ichnesin means “move forward, arrive” and carries the idea of walking another’s footsteps .. the context would be walking in line of the footsteps of Abraham’s “faith”.
του πατρος ημων αβρααμ (tou patros hémón abraau) “of the father of us Abraham”
Abraham is the example of faith and righteousness for both circumcision (Jew) and uncircumcision (Gentile) because he received favor from God prior to circumcision. Circumcision was a “sign” of what God had done for him and his children.
“And the father of circumcision – The father, that is, the ancestor, exemplar, or model of those who are circumcised, and who possess the same faith that he did. Not only the father of all believers Romans 4:11, but in a special sense the father of the Jewish people. In this, the apostle intimates that though all who believed would be saved as he was, yet the Jews had a special proprietorship in Abraham; they had special favors and privileges from the fact that he was their ancestor. Not of the circumcision only – Who are not merely circumcised, but who possess his spirit and his faith. Mere circumcision would not avail; but circumcision connected with faith like his, showed that they were especially his descendants; see the note at Romans 2:25. Who walk in the steps … – Who imitate his example; who imbibe his spirit; who have his faith. Being yet uncircumcised – Before he was circumcised. Compare Genesis 15:6, with Genesis 17.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
“Thus Abraham was the spiritual forefather of all believers, who walked after the example of his obedient faith. The seal of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, making us new creatures, is the inward evidence of the righteousness of faith.” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
“Cometh this blessedness then, &c.—that is, “Say not, All this is spoken of the circumcised, and is therefore no evidence of God’s general way of justifying men; for Abraham’s justification took place long before he was circumcised, and so could have no dependence upon that rite: nay, ‘the sign of circumcision’ was given to Abraham as ‘a seal’ (or token) of the (justifying) righteousness which he had before he was circumcised; in order that he might stand forth to every age as the parent believer—the model man of justification by faith—after whose type, as the first public example of it, all were to be moulded, whether Jew or Gentile, who should thereafter believe to life everlasting.” Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
“Paul had already argued that circumcision was not a good work, but the seal of God stamping Abraham’s faith as a faith which resulted in the bestowal of righteousness. Now, he proposes the question, Is the bestowal of a righteous standing before God connected with the observance of ordinances or apart entirely from such things? He answers his question by citing the case of Abraham who was declared righteous in answer to his faith, fourteen years before he was circumcised.” Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Romans, Kenneth Wuest, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955
“Paul concluded that for Jew and Gentile alike there is only one way to be justified, and that is the way of faith. 57 God is the Father of all who place their trust in him regardless of their racial or religious background. To possess the revelation of God is of no ultimate importance apart from the walk of faith. Conduct demonstrates the reality of faith. People have a fatal tendency to elevate doctrine over behavior. Although a clear and comprehensive knowledge of the nature of God as revealed in his redemptive activity is of great importance, one cannot claim to have Abraham as father to say nothing of the God of Abraham unless that knowledge transforms life.” The New American Commentary, Volume 27, Robert Mounce, Broadman & Holman Publisher, 1995
Paul has much more to say about Abraham, law and faith and we’ll look at that next time as we continue our study in Romans 4.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.