You are on page 1of 13

1

Abraham Justified by Faith


An exegetical paper on
Romans 4:1-8

Submitted to
Bob Stallman
Biblical Exegesis

By
Brittney Baker
Box 148

November 8, 2005
Word Count: 3,566

2
I. Introduction to the book of Roman
A. Genre
The book of Romans in the New Testament of the Bible is a letter written by the apostle
Paul. The genre of Romans, a letter to the Christians in Rome, is debated by some scholars on
whether it should in fact be categorized as a letter or whether or not it should be observed as an
epistle. An epistle is said to be an artistic literary form; a letter can be explained as a form of
communication between two parties. The letter is written from the writer of the text and is
addressed to a recipient of the text. And although it is evident that the apostle Paul addressed this
writing in a letter to the Christians at Rome, it has yet to be decided whether the book itself
should be referred to as a letter or an epistle.
In response to this debate, Fitzmyer references to Romans as an essay-letter. However,
Fitzmyer notes that Romans has additionally been called an ambassadorial letter (68-69). Moo
on the other hand clearly states that Romans is undoubtedly a letter (8). Moo, rather than
addressing whether or not it is a letter, addresses the question of what type of letter it is. He
references it to have been previously referred to as an, epideictic letter, an ambassadorial
letter, a protreptic letter, and a letter essay, to name just a few of the more prominent
suggestion (8). Thus, after many debates and point-of-views on the topic of genre, it can be
understood that there really is no specific genre worth making note of.
Romans could be an integration of two or more separate writings, and could be composed of
post-Pauline redactional activity (Myers 818). It is said to be the longest and most systematic
Pauline epistle written in the New Testament (Myers 821). Greek was the common language in
the Mediterranean world at the time of Pauls letter. With the conquering of Greece, the Greek

3
language replaced Aramaic and became the primary spoken and written language within the
Roman Empire (Fitzmyer 89).
B. Literary Context
Rome is said to have been a shepherds village, but throughout the centuries Rome
expanded and surpassed its neighboring villages in economic resources, rate of expansion, and
modern influence within the Empire. Rome was an ideal location for progression due to its
superb geographical location in central Italy. Rome was located near the sea and had control over
the ford of the Tiber River (Fitzmyer 25).
Paul most likely wrote this letter in A.D. 57 while he was staying in Corinth. This was after
he had ministered throughout the Mediterranean prior to his execution. It is understood that this
letter was written at a critical transitioning time during his ministry. Paul tells us in chapter 15
that he has concluded his travels from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum, having already shared
the gospel of Jesus to them (Moo 3-4). The book of Acts makes note that Paul began his ministry
in Damascus following his conversion; Paul was once known for being a persecutor of Christians
to now has become a slave for Christ. Paul writes to the Roman people in order to prepare
them for his visit. His intention of writing the letter prior to his arrival was in hopes of gaining
acceptance and credibility with them; he was in anticipation of later receiving prayers and
offerings for his future work in both Jerusalem and Spain.
Like most individuals who wrote letters during these days, Paul begins his letter by
identifying himself to the church, and concludes the dialogue with a greeting (Moo 8). In the
beginning chapters of Romans Paul identifies himself for the sake of gaining credibility with the
congregation of believers before his arrival. This is especially important to note with Romans
because it was written to a church that Paul had not yet met, he didnt establish the church there

4
and had not previously met with the Roman Christians. Romans is one of Pauls greatest letters
he wrote and one of the most noted books of the New Testament. After a short reference to
himself, he proceeds in telling them of the life they need to live in Christ. He then makes a
request to them to keep him in their prayers and then seeks their assistance in his ministry with
their aid in financial support. In this book as well as others, he also makes reference to the
division that exists between Jews and Gentiles. However, he makes it clear in his message that
division has been overcome by Christs death; therefore, his purpose is to establish reconciliation
between them. Finally, Romans concludes with Pauls personal greetings and is finalized with a
short doxology.
C. Themes and Tone
Prior to looking at the passage of Romans 4:1-8, it will be beneficial to know that the
righteousness of God is a predominant theme that runs throughout the entire book.
Additionally, it is important to observe Pauls references to righteousness by faith. But
predominantly, Pauls references and topics are all filtered towards the gospel of Jesus Christ and
the acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God. It is because of Him that Paul has been called
to preach to all people; Jews first and also the Greeks and Gentiles. Paul is explaining that there
is no distinguishing to be made between Jews and Gentiles; all of mankind is called to repent of
their sins and must have faith in Gods promise through Jesus His Son for their salvation. Myers
reiterates this by referencing back to Romans 1:17 when Paul states, For in it the righteousness
of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, The one who is righteous through faith
shall live (821).
After observing the passage that Paul wrote myself, I say that the tone is one of hope and
encouragement. The way in which the passage is expressed, both by the words that Paul used and

5
also by the context that the letter was written in, I see that the righteousness that comes through
faith would be something to rejoice over for both Jews and Gentiles alike. No longer do the Jews
have to feel that they would be judged for their short comings of abiding by the law, and the
Gentiles would no longer feel condemned by the Jews or God for not partaking in the rituals of
the Jewish faith. It is encouragement for both Jews and Gentiles alike, that as they seek him and
believe in the new gospel that Paul is preaching, they will be saved completely due to Gods
grace.
II. Exegetical Analysis
Romans 4:1-8 is referred to as Abraham Justified By Faith by Fitzmyer and it titled
By Faith Alone: The Case of Abraham by Moo. Cranfield recognizes that chapter 4 can be
divided into five parts. The first out of the five sections is the dialogue that we will now
recognize in more detail. Cranfield says that Paul in vs. 2-8 gives account of Abraham; Paul
displays for the Romans that Abraham would not receive glory for his works, but that it is apart
from his works that he was justified by God (224). Circumcision for Abraham was an outward
expression of righteousness which was recognized as an inward faith. And because Abraham was
righteous and is the father of all, then all men wouldve had been considered righteous as well.
This isnt the case however, because righteousness only comes to an individual when it is
observed as Gods promise to man and not a statement of the law.
Chapters 3-4 are depicted as the notions of grace (Myers 821). Myers shares that
chapters 1-4 address the fact of being justified with God is derived through faith in Him. He then
states that this section climaxes in Romans 3:21-30. The portrayal of Abraham in chapter 4 is
addressed to support what has previously been shared with the church up to this point (821).
A. Abraham was called righteous because he believed God (4:1-3)

6
In Romans 4:1-3, it says, 1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather,
discovered in this matter? 2If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to
boast aboutbut not before God. 3What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it
was credited to him as righteousness."
Within this passage we will first examine vs. 1-3. In these three verses Paul references
back to Israels forefather Abraham. He references to Abraham strictly in a Jewish sense, and
indicates this by means of the literal sense of the flesh (Hawthorne 6). In the Old Testament in
the book of Genesis, Abraham is observed to have been the beginning of a long genealogy of
Gods chosen people. Paul then asks a rhetorical question in regards to what Abraham
discovered in the matter. He leaves the topic unanswered in this verse but identifies the
matter in throughout the rest of the passage to evidently be that of righteousness. But due to
the law at the time, the Jews recognized Abrahams salvation to have been attributed to him by
God due to his obedience to the covenant and supposedly sinless lifestyle; therefore, what
Abraham had achieved for himself was nearly unattainable for them. Basically, he was righteous
due to his actions. Paul not only refers to Abraham as a familiar reference to be related to and
understood with significance, but does so to demonstrate to the people that Abrahams salvation
was credited to him because of his faith in Gods promises (Moo 26). The promise given to him
was in regards to a son whom would be born to him and his wife Sarah despite their old age, and
this son would contribute to Abraham being a father to nations.
Moo states that The Hebrew construction does not indicate that Abrahams faith was
itself a righteous deed (as some Jews interpreted the text), but that his faith was the means by
which God graciously gave Abraham the status of righteousness. (26). It is clear that his

7
righteousness was not associated with either his circumcision or the law either; it was due solely
to Gods grace and favor towards Abraham, to the extent of calling him friend.
In vs. 1, Paul makes it clear that Abraham, who having received Gods glory, is an ideal
example for Paul to use in confronting the old theology about Gods glory through works. He
uses Abraham as an example in order that he can present the new Gospel of Jesus Christ, who
has made it clear that man will only be justified through faith in Him. Paul uses this as a
historical example that was written about in Genesis 15:6. Many people have already become
familiar with the story of Abraham and understand the context surrounding his life. He uses this
background information to demonstrate the point that needs to be made in regards to the
achievement of justification in ones life. Myers says that divine approval is a gift and, again
makes it clear that it is not acquired through obedience to the law or by the act of circumcision
(822). Another way to look at this situation is to realize that a gift that is freely given is really no
gift at all if it is expected or earned; a gift is a generous offering to someone that is given out of
love for them.
In vs. 2, Paul proceeds in bringing truth into his statements. For Abraham was already
known to have been a perfect example of how man should live his life in regards to deeds and
services. He was also observed for having performed the entire law before it was known.
Cranfield confirms the Romans basis for believing that Abrahams righteousness was credited to
him by works when he references back to the Bibles statement that, Abraham obeyed my
voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws(228). If this were the
case then there really would be no reason for Abraham to be in need for him to come before God
with repentance. In comparison to the Jews who had the privilege of boasting before the
Gentiles, Abraham more than anyone, wouldve been privileged enough to boast before all.

8
However, Paul makes note that not even Abraham was righteous enough to boast before God.
In regards to Abraham, God delighted in him and showed acceptance of him prior to his
circumcision and not because he was worthy of it by his own merit (Myers 822).
In vs. 3, We see again that Abraham was not justified because of his works and obedience
to the law, rather, his justification was due to the fact that he believed in the promises that God
spoke to him; and in response, when he was spoken to, Abraham received Gods words as truth.
Scripture say, [Abraham] believed in the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness,
which is replicable to Abraham having faith. These statements that Paul made in regards to the
story of Abraham in the book of Genesis, is important to the credibility of his gospel (Cranfield
229-230).
B. Man is considered righteous due to faith and not works (4:4-5)
Romans 4:4-5 states, 4Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a
gift, but as an obligation. 5However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies
the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
In this section Paul discusses the justification God provides for sinners. It also contradicts
Gods feelings from the Old Testament when He condemns man for judging the guilty and says
in Exodus 23:7 that He will not acquit the wicked. But the phrase justify is proposed with a
new perspective, to describe the creative act by which God, on the basis of Christs own
righteousness, gives to sinful people a status they do not have and could not earn (Moo 26). In
this analogy, Paul contrasts the view of earning wages due to work, with the justification
received for the wicked who trusts God. This is a bold and confrontational statement for
Paul to make to the Jews who themselves view their good acts as worthy of salvation, and who

9
view the Gentiles (who live outside of the Covenant) to be unworthy of Gods grace and glory. It
really challenges their world view.
In vs. 4, it is understood that when a person labors, wages are not credited to him as a
favor but as what is due to them for their efforts (Freedman 369). The most appropriate analysis
of Pauls exposition in reference to Genesis 15:6 within the verse would comprehend that the
book of Genesis doesnt reference to the fact that there was ever validation for Abrahams
righteousness through his works, but only makes reference to his faith. If a work had been
accredited, in regards to the passage in Genesis as the foundation for Gods promise, than his
trust in Him wouldve occurred before Gods evidence of grace (Cranfield 231).
In vs. 5, however, we see that even though an individual does not work, yet has faith in
the one who justifies the godless, the mans faith is seen as worthiness for redemption (Freedman
369). In regards to justification, Hawthorne says that it is, the real theological center of gravity
within Pauls thought and is critical of any attempt to treat it as being of lesser importance(522).
He also describes it as not being something that merely focuses on clarifying the Christian
gospel in relation to first-century Judaism, but rather concerns the primary question of how
people can find favor in the sight of the Almighty God. Cranfield makes a good observation that
since Abraham had righteousness counted to him, he cannot have done works, but must have
been the recipient of grace (230). An emphasis throughout the entire passage and also at the
conclusion of this verse, makes known the importance of righteousness. Myers shares that this
is a unique God-kind of righteousness which is only attainable for those who put their faith and
hope in Jesus Christ. It is through such faith that both circumcised and uncircumcised will be
made holy and acceptable in Him (766). In this specific verse, Paul uses a cause and effect
approach to make his statement clearer. The cause is, the man who does not work but trusts

10
God is answered by an effect being that his faith is credited as righteousness. This topic of
discussion brings to the surface the answer to what Abraham found, and we see that it was
through Abrahams faith that he found grace (Hawthorne 7).
C. David speaks of mans blessedness/righteousness apart from works (4:6-8)
The final three verses in this passage in Romans 4:6-8 Paul references back to the Psalms
when, 6David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God
credits righteousness apart from works: 7"Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered. 8Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."
In this section we see a comparison that Paul makes between David and Abraham.
Whereas Abraham was seen as the Upright One, David was known for being the man after
Gods own heart in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel (Fitzmyer 375). Therefore, the Old
Testament supports Pauls message by using both Abraham and David as witnesses to prove
Gods justification that comes through faith. Additionally, the letter to the Romans upholds the
Jewish law (Fitzmyer 376). Here we notice that David mentions a similar thing in regards to
Gods forgiveness of sin. Paul is again drawing references from the Romans pre-understanding
of the law in order to illuminate the new gospel of Jesus from the old message based on covenant
relations.
In vs. 6-8, we recognize that Pauls argument is substantial, not just verbal. The validity
of his appeal to Ps 32 as helping to interpret Gen 15.6 is not just a matter of the presence of a
common term in both places: his appeal to the psalm-passage has an inward and substantial
validity, for Gods reckoning righteousness to a man is equivalent to His forgiving of sins
(Cranfield 233). The Psalm specifically references to David in its title, and the passage in the
Psalms was often noted within Rabbinic literature (233).

11
In vs. 6, Paul uses Davids psalm to address the same issue of righteousness apart from
works, but also identifies a mans blessedness.
In vs. 7, Paul takes the specific verse out of Psalms 32:1-2 for these two verses that
reiterates his point that a man is considered blessed when his sins have been forgiven and not
counted against him. This psalm is meant for personal thanksgiving for healing received
(Fitzmyer 375). Man is viewed as righteous before God when he is like an unblemished lamb,
free from sin, and without detestable acts held against him. Fitzmyer shares that the beatude
that is addressed for people who have been healed, are people whose transgressions have been
forgiven by Gods graciousness (376). The word that Paul uses covered is another form of
expressing the same idea of forgiveness. Furthermore, they are no longer to be observed or held
against a man in the Gods sight; the sins have been pardoned (Fitzmyer 376). Only the one and
only true God can pardon a man from sin and restore to him the gift of salvation.
In vs. 8, the quote from psalm further points out that the sins can only be taken away, and
the man can only be reckoned blameless in the eyes of God. Of course all men have sinned and
fallen short of the glory of God, but God promises to forgive us our transgressions and forget our
trespasses against him and others when we come before Him seeking his forgiveness and having
faith that He will in fact forgive us. It is through this faith and belief in His promise of
forgiveness that we are capable of attaining righteous standing before Him.

III. Conclusion
The book of Romans has been foundational to the Christian faith. Paul gives a
proclamation of the gospel, and then he follows with a description of how Gods people are
called to live in Christ. Romans 4:1-8 acknowledges the forefather Abraham and references back

12
the book of Genesis when God had proclaimed Abraham to be righteous before Him. Not only
were the Jewish Christians that Paul addressed familiar with the history of Abraham, but the
Jewish people believed themselves to also be righteous before God. The difference between the
Jews in Rome and Abraham, that Paul needed to address, was the fact that Abraham lived by
faith in addition to his works. The Jews on the other hand, believed themselves to be justified
before God solely because of their righteous living and obedience to the law. The gospel in
which Paul is proclaiming is that everyone will only be redeemed when they believe in Jesus
Christ and have faith in the Father through Him. In conclusion, the emphasis that Paul places on
this passage is in regards to the fact that man cannot be justified or made righteous by works
alone but through a sincere faith in God who is the one to forgive a man his transgressions and
cover up his sin.

13
Works Cited

Cranfield, C.E.B., ed. The Epistle to the Romans. International Critical Commentary. vol. 1.
Edingburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975-79.
Fitzmeyer, Joseph A. Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor
Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
Hawthorne, Gerald F., Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds. Dictionary of Paul and His
Letters. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Moo, Douglas J. Romans Zondervan Illustrated Bible Commentary New Testament. Ed.
Clinton Arnold. vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
Myers, Charles D. Epistle to the Romans. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Ed. David Noel
Freedman. vol. 5. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

- All references to the Bible referring to the NIV translation.