Romans 4:1-12

1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.
5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
6 So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
7 "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 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."
10 How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.
11 He 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,
12 and 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.

Romans 4:1-12 Meaning and Commentary

INTRODUCTION TO ROMANS 4

The apostle having, in the preceding chapters, proved that there is no justification before God by the works of the law, partly from the depraved state and condition that all men are in by nature, both Jews and Gentiles; and partly from the nature of the law itself, which discovers sin, arraigns men for it, and convicts of it, and pronounces guilty before God for it; as also by showing, that it is by another righteousness, which he describes, that men are justified in the sight of God; proceeds in this to confirm the same by an example; and that which he pitches upon is the most appropriate and pertinent he could have thought of, namely, that of Abraham, the father of the Jews, Ro 4:1, for in whatsoever way he was justified, his sons surely could not imagine but it must be the right way, nor should they seek another: now that Abraham was not justified by works, he proves Ro 4:2, from an absurdity following upon it, that he would have just reason to glory; whereas no man ought to glory before God, but only in the Lord: and by a passage of Scripture, Ro 4:3, to which he appeals, he makes it clearly appear that he was justified by faith, for that says, his faith was counted for righteousness. This case of accounting anything to another for righteousness, is illustrated by two sorts of persons, who have different things accounted to them, and in a different manner; to the worker, the reward is reckoned of debt, and not of grace, Ro 4:4, but to the believer that works not, his faith, as Abraham's was, is counted for righteousness; whence it follows, that not the worker is justified by his works, but the believer by the righteousness of faith; and this is confirmed by a testimony of David in Ps 32:1,2, by which the apostle proves the imputation of righteousness without works, in which the happiness of men consists, Ro 4:6-8, and shows, that this happiness does not belong to circumcised persons only, but to the uncircumcised also; and therefore is not by circumcision, but by faith, Ro 4:9, and which he proves by observing the time when faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness; not when he was circumcised, but before, Ro 4:10, the use of which circumcision to him was to assure him, that he should be the father of uncircumcised Gentiles that believed, to whom righteousness should be imputed, as to him when he was uncircumcised, Ro 4:11, who are described by their imitation of his faith, which he had, and exercised before his circumcision, Ro 4:12. And this leads on to a fresh argument, proving justification to be by faith, and not by the works of the law, since the promise made to Abraham, and his seed, was not through the law, but the righteousness of faith; and consequently both his and their justification were not by the one, but by the other, Ro 4:13, or, if otherwise, both the faithfulness of God, and the faith of his people, would be void, and the promise of grace of no effect, Ro 4:14. And this is still further argued from the effect of the law working wrath, which, if justification was by it, it would never do, Ro 4:15. The wisdom and goodness of God in giving faith, and not works, a concern in justification, are observed, Ro 4:16, whereby it appears to be of free grace, faith only being a recipient, and what gives all the glory to God; and also the promise of eternal life through justification by free grace becomes sure to all the spiritual seed; who are distributed into two sorts, the believing Jews under the legal dispensation, and the believing Gentiles, under the Gospel dispensation; of both which Abraham was father; which is confirmed by a testimony out of Ge 17:4,5, whose faith is described by the object of it, the omnipotent God that quickens the dead, and calls things that are not, as though they were, Ro 4:17, and by the nature of it, Ro 4:18, believing in hope against hope, resting on the promise of God; and by the strength of it, being not at all weakened by considering, either his own case, or that of his wife's, Ro 4:19, and was so far from being staggered through unbelief at these things, that it was strong in exercise, thereby glorifying God, the object of it, Ro 4:20, nay, it rose up to a plerophory, a full assurance, Ro 4:21, being built upon the power of a promising God; hence, as before observed, his faith was reckoned to him for righteousness, Ro 4:22, And now in the same way that he was justified, all his children, his spiritual seed, are justified, whether they be Jews or Gentiles; for what is said concerning the imputation of the righteousness of faith to him, does not concern him only, Ro 4:23, but all true believers also; whose faith is described by the object of it, him that raised up Christ from the dead, that is, God the Father, Ro 4:24, who is supposed hereby to have been dead, and is represented as the Lord and Saviour of his people; and of whom a further account is given, Ro 4:25, as being delivered into the hands of men, of justice, and of death, for the sins of his people, which he took upon him, and bore, and made satisfaction for, and as being raised again for their justification; so that this is a benefit owing not to the works of men, but to what Christ has done and suffered in the room and stead of his people; which is what the apostle meant to bring this point unto; the blessed effects and consequences of which he relates in the next chapter.

Romans 4:1-12 In-Context

1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.
5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
6 So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
7 "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 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."
10 How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.
11 He 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,
12 and 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.
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.
14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
15 For 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,

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Other ancient authorities read [say about]