a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

The Example of Abraham


What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 6So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:


“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered;


blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

9 Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, 12and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.

God’s Promise Realized through Faith

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.


13. For the promise, etc. He now more clearly sets the law and faith in opposition, the one to the other, which he had before in some measure done; and this ought to be carefully observed: for if faith borrows nothing from the law in order to justify, we hence understand, that it has respect to nothing else but to the mercy of God. And further, the romance of those who would have this to have been said of ceremonies, may be easily disproved; for if works contributed anything towards justification, it ought not to have been said, through the written law, but rather, through the law of nature. But Paul does not oppose spiritual holiness of life to ceremonies, but faith and its righteousness. The meaning then is, that heirship was promised to Abraham, not because he deserved it by keeping the law, but because he had obtained righteousness by faith. And doubtless (as Paul will presently show) consciences can then only enjoy solid peace, when they know that what is not justly due is freely given them. 139139     Critics have differed as to the disjunctive ἤ, or, “or to his seed.” Some think it is put for καὶ, and: but Pareus thinks that it has a special meaning, intended to anticipate an objection. The Jews might have said, “If the case with Abraham is as stated, it is not so with his seed who received the law.” Yes, says Paul, there is no difference, “The promise to Abraham, or to his seed, to whom the law was actually given, was not by the law.”
   Hammond renders the whole verse more literally than in our version, — “The promise to Abraham or to his seed, that he should be the heir of the world, was not by the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” — Ed.

Hence also it follows, that this benefit, the reason for which applies equally to both, belongs to the Gentiles no less than to the Jews; for if the salvation of men is based on the goodness of God alone, they check and hinder its course, as much as they can, who exclude from it the Gentiles.

That he should be the heir of the world, 140140     There is in Genesis no expression conveyed in these words; but the probability is, that he intended to express in another form what he distinctly quotes in Romans 4:17, “I have made thee a father of many nations.”
   The word “father,” in this case, has been commonly understood to mean a leader, a pattern, a model, an exemplar, a forerunner, as Abraham was the first believer justified by faith, of whom there is an express record. But the idea seems to be somewhat different. He was a father as the first possessor of an inheritance which was to descend to all his children. The inheritance was given him by grace through faith; it was to descend, as it were, to all his lawful posterity, to all his legitimate seed, that is, to all who possessed the like faith with himself. He is therefore called the father of many nations, because many nations would become his legitimate heirs by becoming believers; and in the same sense must be regarded the expression here, “the heir of the world;” he was the representative of all the believing world, and made an heir of an inheritance which was to come to the world in general, to the believing Jews and to the believing Gentiles. He was the heir, the first possessor, of what was to descend to the world without any difference. He was the heir of the world in the same sense as he was “the father of all who believe,” as he is said to have been in verse eleventh.

   The inheritance was doubtless eternal life or the heavenly kingdom, the country above, of which the land of Canaan was a type and a pledge. See Hebrews 11:12, 13, 16. — Ed.
etc. Since he now speaks of eternal salvation, the Apostle seems to have somewhat unseasonably led his readers to the world; but he includes generally under this word world, the restoration which was expected through Christ. The chief thing was indeed the restoration of life; it was yet necessary that the fallen state of the whole world should be repaired. The Apostle, in Hebrews 1:2, calls Christ the heir of all the good things of God; for the adoption which we obtain through his favor restores to us the possession of the inheritance which we lost in Adam; and as under the type of the land of Canaan, not only the hope of a heavenly life was exhibited to Abraham, but also the full and complete blessing of God, the Apostle rightly teaches us, that the dominion of the world was promised to him. Some taste of this the godly have in the present life; for how much soever they may at times be oppressed with want, yet as they partake with a peaceable conscience of those things which God has created for their use, and as they enjoy through his mercy and good-will his earthly benefits no otherwise than as pledges and earnests of eternal life, their poverty does in no degree prevent them from acknowledging heaven, and the earth, and the sea, as their own possessions.

Though the ungodly swallow up the riches of the world, they can yet call nothing as their own; but they rather snatch them as it were by stealth; for they possess them under the curse of God. It is indeed a great comfort to the godly in their poverty, that though they fare slenderly, they yet steal nothing of what belongs to another, but receive their lawful allowance from the hand of their celestial Father, until they enter on the full possession of their inheritance, when all creatures shall be made subservient to their glory; for both heaven and earth shall be renewed for this end, — that according to their measure they may contribute to render glorious the kingdom of God.

14. For if they who are of the law, etc. He takes his argument from what is impossible or absurd, that the favor which Abraham obtained from God, was not promised to him through any legal agreement, or through any regard to works; for if this condition had been interposed — that God would favor those only with adoption who deserved, or who performed the law, no one could have dared to feel confident that it belonged to him: for who is there so conscious of so much perfection that he can feel assured that the inheritance is due to him through the righteousness of the law? Void then would faith be made; for an impossible condition would not only hold the minds of men in suspense and anxiety, but fill them also with fear and trembling: and thus the fulfillment of the promises would be rendered void; for they avail nothing but when received by faith. If our adversaries had ears to hear this one reason, the contest between us might easily be settled.

The Apostle assumes it as a thing indubitable, that the promises would by no means be effectual except they were received with full assurance of mind. But what would be the case if the salvation of men was based on the keeping of the law? consciences would have no certainty, but would be harassed with perpetual inquietude, and at length sink in despair; and the promise itself, the fulfillment of which depended on what is impossible, would also vanish away without producing any fruit. Away then with those who teach the common people to seek salvation for themselves by works, seeing that Paul declares expressly, that the promise is abolished if we depend on works. But it is especially necessary that this should be known, — that when there is a reliance on works, faith is reduced to nothing. And hence we also learn what faith is, and what sort of righteousness ought that of works to be, in which men may safely trust.

The Apostle teaches us, that faith perishes, except the soul rests on the goodness of God. Faith then is not a naked knowledge either of God or of his truth; nor is it a simple persuasion that God is, that his word is the truth; but a sure knowledge of God’s mercy, which is received from the gospel, and brings peace of conscience with regard to God, and rest to the mind. The sum of the matter then is this, — that if salvation depends on the keeping of the law, the soul can entertain no confidence respecting it, yea, that all the promises offered to us by God will become void: we must thus become wretched and lost, if we are sent back to works to find out the cause or the certainty of salvation.

15. For the law causeth wrath, etc. This is a confirmation of the last verse, derived from the contrary effect of the law; for as the law generates nothing but vengeance, it cannot bring grace. It can indeed show to the good and the perfect the way of life: but as it prescribes to the sinful and corrupt what they ought to do, and supplies them with no power for doing, it exhibits them as guilty before the tribunal of God. For such is the viciousness of our nature, that the more we are taught what is right and just, the more openly is our iniquity discovered, and especially our contumacy, and thus a heavier judgment is incurred.

By wrath, understand God’s judgment, which meaning it has everywhere. They who explain it of the wrath of the sinner, excited by the law, inasmuch as he hates and execrates the Lawgiver, whom he finds to be opposed to his lusts, say what is ingenious, but not suitable to this passage; for Paul meant no other thing, than that condemnation only is what is brought on us all by the law, as it is evident from the common use of the expression, and also from the reason which he immediately adds.

Where there is no law, etc. This is the proof, by which he confirms what he had said; for it would have been difficult to see how God’s wrath is kindled against us through the law, unless it had been made more apparent. And the reason is, that as the knowledge of God’s justice is discovered by the law, the less excuse we have, and hence the more grievously we offend against God; for they who despise the known will of God, justly deserve to sustain a heavier punishment, than those who offend through ignorance.

But the Apostle speaks not of the mere transgression of what is right, from which no man is exempt; but he calls that a transgression, when man, having been taught what pleases and displeases God, knowingly and willfully passes over the boundaries fixed by God’s word; or, in other words, transgression here is not a mere act of sin, but a willful determination to violate what is right. 141141     It is better to take this sentence, “Where there is no law, there is no transgression,” according to its obvious meaning; as it comports better with the former clause. The reasoning seems to be this, — “The promise is by faith, and not by the law; for the law brings wrath or condemnation: but where there is no law, there is no transgression to occasion wrath.” The same idea is essentially conveyed in verse Romans 4:16, where it is said, that the promise is sure, because it is through faith and by grace. Had it been by the law, there would have been transgression and wrath, and hence the loss of the promise.
   This verse is connected with the Romans 4:13 rather than with the 14th. It contains another reason, besides what Romans 4:14 gives, in confirmation of what is said in Romans 4:13. Hence Macknight renders γὰρ, in this verse, “farther,” which renders the connection more evident. “Where no law is, there is no transgression, and therefore no wrath or punishment; but where law is, there is transgression, wrath, and punishment.” — Pareus
The particle, οὖ, where, which I take as an adverb, some consider to be a relative, of which; but the former reading is the most suitable, and the most commonly received. Whichever reading you may follow, the meaning will be the same, — that he who is not instructed by the written law, when he sins, is not guilty of so great a transgression, as he is who knowingly breaks and transgresses the law of God.

16. It is therefore of faith, etc. This is the winding up of the argument; and you may summarily include the whole of it in this statement, — “If the heirship of salvation comes to us by works, then faith in it vanishes, the promise of it is abolished; but it is necessary that both these should be sure and certain; hence it comes to us by faith, so that its stability being based on the goodness of God alone, may be secured.” See how the Apostle, regarding faith as a thing firm and certain, considers hesitancy and doubt as unbelief, by which faith is abolished, and the promise abrogated. And yet this doubting is what the schoolmen call a moral conjecture, and which, alas! they substitute for faith.

That it might be by grace, etc. Here, in the first place, the Apostle shows, that nothing is set before faith but mere grace; and this, as they commonly say, is its object: for were it to look on merits, absurdly would Paul infer, that whatever it obtains for us is gratuitous. I will repeat this again in other words, — “If grace be everything that we obtain by faith, then every regard for works is laid in the dust.” But what next follows more fully removes all ambiguity, — that the promise then only stands firm, when it recumbs on grace: for by this expression Paul confirms this truth, that as long as men depend on works, they are harassed with doubts; for they deprive themselves of what the promises contain. Hence, also, we may easily learn, that grace is not to be taken, as some imagine, for the gift of regeneration, but for a gratuitous favor: for as regeneration is never perfect, it can never suffice to pacify souls, nor of itself can it make the promise certain.

Not to that only which is of the law, etc. Though these words mean in another place those who, being absurd zealots of the law, bind themselves to its yoke, and boast of their confidence in it, yet here they mean simply the Jewish nation, to whom the law of the Lord had been delivered. For Paul teaches us in another passage, that all who remain bound to the dominion of the law, are subject to a curse; it is then certain that they are excluded from the participation of grace. He does not then call them the servants of the law, who, adhering to the righteousness of works, renounce Christ; but they were those Jews who had been brought up in the law, and yet professed the name of Christ. But that the sentence may be made clearer, let it be worded thus, — “Not to those only who are of the law, but to all who imitate the faith of Abraham, though they had not the law before.”

Who is the father of us all, etc. The relative has the meaning of a causative particle; for he meant to prove, that the Gentiles were become partakers of this grace, inasmuch as by the same oracle, by which the heirship was conferred on Abraham and his seed, were the Gentiles also constituted his seed: for he is said to have been made the father, not of one nation, but of many nations; by which was presignified the future extension of grace, then confined to Israel alone. For except the promised blessing had been extended to them, they could not have been counted as the offspring of Abraham. The past tense of the verb, according to the common usage of Scripture, denotes the certainty of the Divine counsel; for though nothing then was less apparent, yet as God had thus decreed, he is rightly said to have been made the father of many nations. Let the testimony of Moses be included in a parenthesis, that this clause, “Who is the father of us all,” may be connected with the other, “before God,” etc.: for it was necessary to explain also what that relationship was, that the Jews might not glory too much in their carnal descent. Hence he says, “He is our father before God;” which means the same as though he had said, “He is our spiritual father;” for he had this privilege, not from his own flesh, but from the promise of God 142142     It appears from Pareus and Hammond, that some of the Fathers such as Chrysostom, and Theophylact, regarded κατέναντι in the sense of ὁμοίως, like, and have rendered the passage, “like God, in whom he believed;” that is, that as God is not partial, but the Father of all, so Abraham was. But this meaning is not consistent with the import of κατέναντι, nor with the context. The preposition is found in four other places, Mark 11:2; Mark 12:41; Mark 13:3; Luke 19:30, and invariably means before, or, over against. The Septuagint use it in Numbers 25:4, in the sense of before, κατέναντι τοῦ ἡλίου — “before the sun,” not “against the sun” as in our version; for the word in Hebrew is נגד, Coram, in conspectu. The context also requires this meaning: Abraham was a father of many nations before God, or, in the view or estimation of God, and not in the view or estimation of men, because God, as it is said at the end of the verse, regards things which are not, as though they were. Hence Abraham was already in God’s view, according to his purpose, the father of many nations.
   The collocation of the words is said by Wolfius to be an instance of Atticism, the word θεοῦ, being separated from its preposition: and οὗ is put for ᾧ by the grammatical law of attraction; and Stuart brings three similar instances of the relative being regulated by the case of its noun, though preceding it in the sentence, Mark 6:16, Acts 21:16; and Romans 6:17

17. Whom he believed, who quickens the dead, etc. In this circuitous form is expressed the very substance of Abraham’s faith, that by his example an opening might be made for the Gentiles. He had indeed to attain, in a wonderful way, the promise which he had heard from the Lord’s mouth, since there was then no token of it. A seed was promised to him as though he was in vigor and strength; but he was as it were dead. It was hence necessary for him to raise up his thoughts to the power of God, by which the dead are quickened. It was therefore not strange that the Gentiles, who were barren and dead, should be introduced into the same society. He then who denies them to be capable of grace, does wrong to Abraham, whose faith was sustained by this thought, — that it matters not whether he was dead or not who is called by the Lord; to whom it is an easy thing, even by a word, to raise the dead through his own power.

We have here also a type and a pattern of the call of us all, by which our beginning is set before our eyes, not as to our first birth, but as to the hope of future life, — that when we are called by the Lord we emerge from nothing; for whatever we may seem to be we have not, no, not a spark of anything good, which can render us fit for the kingdom of God. That we may indeed on the other hand be in a suitable state to hear the call of God, we must be altogether dead in ourselves. The character of the divine calling is, that they who are dead are raised by the Lord, that they who are nothing begin to be something through his power. The word call ought not to be confined to preaching, but it is to be taken, according to the usage of Scripture, for raising up; and it is intended to set forth more fully the power of God, who raises up, as it were by a nod only, whom he wills. 143143     The idea of commanding to existence, or of effecting, is given by many Commentators to the word καλοῦντος; but this seems not necessary. The simple notion of calling, naming, regarding, or representing, is more consistent with the passage, and with the construction of the sentence: and the various modes of rendering it, which critics have proposed, have arisen from not taking the word in its most obvious meaning. “The literal version is, and who calls things not existing as existing,” — και καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα. The reference is evidently to the declaration, “I have made thee the father of many nations.” This had then no real existence; but God represents it as having an existence already. Far-fetched meanings are sometimes adopted, when the plainest and the most obvious is passed by. — Ed.

VIEWNAME is study