Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Romans 4:16-22

The Apostle Paul was one of the great intellects of the ancient world. God used Him to expand the Church in the Roman Empire and write almost half of the New Testament. Paul spent almost as much time in prison as he did preaching and teaching in cities and villages, but did not waver from his Heavenly calling.

Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome is thought by many scholars to be his most powerful writing. The apostle used his great intellect and the supernatural gifts God gave him to  communicate clearly to Jews and Gentiles the truth that salvation is by grace through faith alone.

We continue our study of Romans 4 with verse 16. If you have not read the commentary on Romans 4:13-15, we invite you to do that for the context of this new study.

Verse 16

Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all”

δια τουτο εκ πιστεως ινα κατα χαριν εις το ειναι βεβαιαν την επαγγελιαν παντι τω σπερματι ου τω εκ του νομου μονον αλλα και τω εκ πιστεως αβρααμ ος εστιν πατηρ παντων ημων

δια τουτο εκ πιστεως ινα κατα χαριν (dia touto ek pisteōs hina kata charin) “therefore it is of faith that it may be according to grace”

This is a common theme in Paul’s writings: salvation is by grace through faith –

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

The word for “faith” (pisteōs) comes from the word pistis (be persuaded) and means “belief, trust, confidence.”

The word for “grace” (charin) means “favor, kindness.”

Paul continued his argument that Jews and Gentiles are saved through faith on the basis of God’s grace (favor) based on the life of Abraham.

εις το ειναι βεβαιαν την επαγγελιαν παντι τω σπερματι (eis to einai bebaian tēn epangelian panti tō spermati) “for to be sure the promise to all the seed”

This continues Paul’s reminder to Jews especially that the “seed” covenant God made with Abraham would be a blessing to all people of the world – Jews and Gentiles.

“In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:18

“And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 26:4

“Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 28:14

ου τω εκ του νομου μονον (ou tō ek tou nomou monon) “not to that of the law only”

Meaning not to Jews (of the law) only. Gentiles were also included in the promise. That a was a difficult thing for Jews to accept 2,000 years ago and continues to be difficult for them to accept to this day.

αλλα και τω εκ πιστεως αβρααμ ος εστιν πατηρ παντων ημων (alla kai tō ek pisteōs abraau hos estin patēr pantōn hēmōn) “but also to that of the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us”

Paul continually pointed the Romans to the covenant God made with Abraham that made him the father of all people – Jews and Gentiles.

Verse 17

“(as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did”

καθως γεγραπται οτι πατερα πολλων εθνων τεθεικα σε κατεναντι ου επιστευσεν θεου του ζωοποιουντος τους νεκρους και καλουντος τα μη οντα ως οντα

καθως γεγραπται οτι πατερα πολλων εθνων τεθεικα σε (kathōs getraptai hoti patera pollōn ethnōn tetheika se) “as it has been written a father of many nations I have made you”

Paul references the Torah to remind Jews and Gentiles that his argument is based on what God said to Abraham.

κατεναντι ου επιστευσεν θεου (katenanti hou episteusen theou) “before whom he believed God”

Abraham heard what God promised and believed God.

του ζωοποιουντος τους νεκρους και καλουντος τα μη οντα ως οντα (tou zōopoiountos tous nekrous kai kalountos ta mē onta hōs onta) “the one giving life to the dead and calling the things not into being even existing” .. zōopoiountos means “make to live, quicken, animate” .. kalountos means “summon, invite, call”

Paul reminded the Romans of a powerful ability that only God could claim – He had the power to give life to the dead and call things that didn’t exist into existence. How could God fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham and his seed? Through the power of His will.

Verse 18

“who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.”

ος παρ ελπιδα επ ελπιδι επιστευσεν εις το γενεσθαι αυτον πατερα πολλων εθνων κατα το ειρημενον ουτως εσται το σπερμα σου

ος παρ ελπιδα επ ελπιδι επιστευσεν (hos par elpida ep elpidi episteusen) “who against hope in hope believed” .. par means “close beside” and carries the idea of “against” or “contrary to” in the context .. elpida and elpidi come from the word elpō (to anticipate, welcome) and mean “confident expectation” .. episteusen means “be persuaded, have trust in”

Hope is a wonderful word in Jewish and Christian theology. We are a people of hope. We hope in what we see and in what we do not see. Even when things are contrary to human hope, we hope in God. Things like life after death. We hope in God who “gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”

Paul’s strong hope in God’s plan and power to raise the dead to life again (resurrection of the dead) is a hope that he preached throughout his life as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

“But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” Acts 23:6

“I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” Acts 24:15

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.” Acts 26:6-7

Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8:23-25

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

εις το γενεσθαι αυτον πατερα πολλων εθνων κατα το ειρημενον (eis to genesthai auton patera pollōn ethnōn kata to eirēmenon) “for to become him the father of many nations according to that having been spoken”

ουτως εσται το σπερμα σου (houtōs estai to sperma) “so shall be the offspring of you”

Another reminder of God’s covenant promise to Abraham. Keep in mind that when God made this promise, Abraham had no physical hope of fathering a child with his wife. That’s the idea of  “contrary to hope, in hope believed” –

Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’ And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:3-6

Other Commentaries

Therefore it is of faith.—The words ‘it is’ have to be supplied. ‘It’ stands for the Messianic inheritance, or, in common phrase, salvation. Faith on man’s part is correlative with grace on the part of God, and salvation being thus dependent upon grace is as wide and universal as grace itself. It knows no restriction of law.

Not to that only which is of the law.—Not only to that part of the human race which belongs to the dispensation of the Law, but also to that which is in a spiritual sense descended from Abraham by imitating his faith.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

“The promise was made to Abraham long before the law. It points at Christ, and it refers to the promise, Ge 12:3. In Thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. The law worketh wrath, by showing that every transgressor is exposed to the Divine displeasure. As God intended to give men a title to the promised blessings, so he appointed it to be by faith, that it might be wholly of grace, to make it sure to all who were of the like precious faith with Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles, in all ages. The justification and salvation of sinners, the taking to himself the Gentiles who had not been a people, were a gracious calling of things which are not, as though they were; and this giving a being to things that were not, proves the almighty power of God. The nature and power of Abraham’s faith are shown. He believed God’s testimony, and looked for the performance of his promise, firmly hoping when the case seemed hopeless. It is weakness of faith, that makes a man lie poring on the difficulties in the way of a promise. Abraham took it not for a point that would admit of argument or debate. Unbelief is at the bottom of all our staggerings at God’s promises. The strength of faith appeared in its victory over fears. God honours faith; and great faith honours God. It was imputed to him for righteousness.” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary

“As it is written – Genesis 17:5. I have made thee – The word used here in the Hebrew Gen 17:5 means literally, to give, to grant; and also, to set, or constitute. This is also the meaning of the Greek word used both by the Septuagint and the apostle. The quotation is taken literally from the Septuagint. The argument of the apostle is founded in part on the fact that the past tense is used – I have made thee – and that God spoke of a thing as already done, which he had promised or purposed to do. The sense is, he had, in his mind or purpose, constituted him the father of many nations; and so certain was the fulfillment of the divine purposes, that he spoke of it as already accomplished.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

Before him whom he believed; i.e. in the sight or esteem of God. He was not the father of many nations by carnal generation in the sight of men, but by spiritual cognation in the sight of God. Or, as it may be read, like unto God, after his example; and then the meaning is, that God so honoured Abraham’s faith, that he made him a father, in some respects like himself. As God is a universal Father, not of one, but of all nations, so was Abraham. Again, as God is their spiritual Father, not by carnal generation, so was Abraham also.” Matthew Poole’s Commentary

“Who against hope believed in hope,…. Abraham believed the promise of God, that he might become the father of many nations, being assisted by a supernatural aid: “in hope”; of the fulfilment of it by the grace and power of God: “against hope”: against all visible, rational grounds of hope; Sarah’s womb and his own body being dead, but inasmuch as God had said it, he believed: according to that which is spoken, so shall thy seed be; his faith rested upon the word of God, which showed the nature of it, and that it was of the right kind.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

“What Scripture considers as faith is defined by the confidence of Abraham in the inviolability of divine promise. This becomes the theme of the final paragraph in chap. 4. The paradoxical quality of Abraham’s faith is seen in the contrasting prepositional phrases “against all hope” and ‘in hope.’ From a human standpoint there was no hope that he would have descendants. Yet with God all things are possible (cf. Matt 19:26). Therefore he believed what God said. His hope was not the invincible human spirit rising to the occasion against all odds but a deep inner confidence that God was absolutely true to his word. Faith is unreasonable only within a restricted worldview that denies God the right to intervene. His intervention is highly rational from the biblical perspective, which not only allows him to intervene but actually expects him to show concern for those he has created in his own image. Because Abraham believed, he became ‘the father of many nations.’ The opportunity to believe has not been assigned to any one nation or ethnic group. Belief is universally possible. The quotation from Gen 15:5 reinforces the remarkable number of those who believe and are therefore the offspring of Abraham.” The New American Commentary, Volume 27, Robert H. Mounce, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995

Next Time

We will continue to look into Romans 4 in the next part of our study of the Gospel of God.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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