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The Illustration of Justification

What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh,[a] has discovered regarding this matter?[b] For if Abraham was declared righteous[c] by works, he has something to boast about—but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited[d] to him as righteousness.”[e] Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation.[f] But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous,[g] his faith is credited as righteousness.

So even David himself speaks regarding the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

Blessed[h] are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one[i] against whom the Lord will never count[j] sin.”[k]

Is this blessedness[l] then for[m] the circumcision[n] or also for[o] the uncircumcision? For we say, “faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.”[p] 10 How then was it credited to him? Was he circumcised at the time, or not? No, he was not circumcised but uncircumcised! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised,[q] so that he would become[r] the father of all those who believe but have never been circumcised,[s] that they too could have righteousness credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised,[t] who are not only circumcised, but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham possessed when he was still uncircumcised.[u]

13 For the promise[v] to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified.[w] 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression[x] either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace,[y] with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants—not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham,[z] who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”).[aa] He is our father[ab] in the presence of God whom he believed—the God who[ac] makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do.[ad] 18 Against hope Abraham[ae] believed[af] in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations[ag] according to the pronouncement,[ah]so will your descendants be.”[ai] 19 Without being weak in faith, he considered[aj] his own body as dead[ak] (because he was about 100 years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He[al] did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. 21 He was[am] fully convinced that what God[an] promised he was also able to do. 22 So indeed it was credited to Abraham[ao] as righteousness.

23 But the statement it was credited to him[ap] was not written only for Abraham’s[aq] sake, 24 but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He[ar] was given over[as] because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of[at] our justification.[au]


  1. Romans 4:1 tn Or “according to natural descent” (BDAG 916 s.v. σάρξ 4).
  2. Romans 4:1 tn Grk “has found?”
  3. Romans 4:2 tn Or “was justified.”
  4. Romans 4:3 tn The term λογίζομαι (logizomai) occurs 11 times in this chapter (vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24). In secular usage it could (a) refer to deliberations of some sort, or (b) in commercial dealings (as virtually a technical term) to “reckoning” or “charging up a debt.” See H. W. Heidland, TDNT 4:284, 290-92.
  5. Romans 4:3 sn A quotation from Gen 15:6.
  6. Romans 4:4 tn Grk “not according to grace but according to obligation.”
  7. Romans 4:5 tn Or “who justifies the ungodly.”
  8. Romans 4:7 tn Or “Happy.”
  9. Romans 4:8 tn The word for “man” or “individual” here is ἀνήρ (anēr), which often means “male” or “man (as opposed to woman).” However, as BDAG 79 s.v. 2 says, here it is “equivalent to τὶς someone, a person.”
  10. Romans 4:8 tn The verb translated “count” here is λογίζομαι (logizomai). It occurs eight times in Rom 4:1-12, including here, each time with the sense of “place on someone’s account.” By itself the word is neutral, but in particular contexts it can take on a positive or negative connotation. The other occurrences of the verb have been translated using a form of the English verb “credit” because they refer to a positive event: the application of righteousness to the individual believer. The use here in v. 8 is negative: the application of sin. A form of the verb “credit” was not used here because of the positive connotations associated with that English word, but it is important to recognize that the same concept is used here as in the other occurrences.
  11. Romans 4:8 sn A quotation from Ps 32:1-2.
  12. Romans 4:9 tn Or “happiness.”
  13. Romans 4:9 tn Grk “upon.”
  14. Romans 4:9 sn See the note on “circumcision” in 2:25.
  15. Romans 4:9 tn Grk “upon.”
  16. Romans 4:9 sn A quotation from Gen 15:6.
  17. Romans 4:11 tn Grk “of the faith, the one [existing] in uncircumcision.”
  18. Romans 4:11 tn Grk “that he might be,” giving the purpose of v. 11a.
  19. Romans 4:11 tn Grk “through uncircumcision.”
  20. Romans 4:12 tn Grk “the father of circumcision.”
  21. Romans 4:12 tn Grk “the ‘in-uncircumcision faith’ of our father Abraham.”
  22. Romans 4:13 sn Although a singular noun, the promise is collective and does not refer only to Gen 12:7, but as D. Moo (Romans 1-8 [WEC], 279) points out, refers to multiple aspects of the promise to Abraham: multiplied descendants (Gen 12:2), possession of the land (Gen 13:15-17), and his becoming the vehicle of blessing to all people (Gen 12:3).
  23. Romans 4:14 tn Grk “rendered inoperative.”
  24. Romans 4:15 tn Or “violation.”
  25. Romans 4:16 tn Grk “that it might be according to grace.”
  26. Romans 4:16 tn Grk “those who are of the faith of Abraham.”
  27. Romans 4:17 tn Verses 16-17 comprise one sentence in Greek, but this has been divided into two sentences due to English A quotation from Gen 17:5. The quotation forms a parenthesis in Paul’s argument.
  28. Romans 4:17 tn The words “He is our father” are not in the Greek text but are supplied to show that they resume Paul’s argument from 16b. (It is also possible to supply “Abraham had faith” here [so REB], taking the relative clause [“who is the father of us all”] as part of the parenthesis, and making the connection back to “the faith of Abraham,” but such an option is not as likely [C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans [ICC], 1:243].)
  29. Romans 4:17 tn “The God” is not in the Greek text but is supplied for clarity.
  30. Romans 4:17 tn Or “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” The translation of ὡς ὄντα (hōs onta) allows for two different interpretations. If it has the force of result, then creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing,” a technical theological phrase) is in view and the variant rendering is to be accepted (so C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans [ICC], 1:244). A problem with this view is the scarcity of ὡς plus participle to indicate result (though for the telic idea with ὡς plus participle, cf. Rom 15:15; 1 Thess 2:4). If it has a comparative force, then the translation given in the text is to be accepted: “this interpretation fits the immediate context better than a reference to God’s creative power, for it explains the assurance with which God can speak of the ‘many nations’ that will be descended from Abraham” (D. Moo, Romans [NICNT], 282; so also W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, Romans [ICC], 113). Further, this view is in line with a Pauline idiom, viz., verb followed by ὡς plus participle (of the same verb or, in certain contexts, its antonym) to compare present reality with what is not a present reality (cf. 1 Cor 4:7; 5:3; 7:29, 30 (three times), 31; Col 2:20 [similarly, 2 Cor 6:9, 10]).
  31. Romans 4:18 tn Grk “he”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  32. Romans 4:18 tn Grk “who against hope believed,” referring to Abraham. The relative pronoun was converted to a personal pronoun and, because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.
  33. Romans 4:18 sn A quotation from Gen 17:5.
  34. Romans 4:18 tn Grk “according to that which had been spoken.”
  35. Romans 4:18 sn A quotation from Gen 15:5.
  36. Romans 4:19 tc Most mss (D F G Ψ 33 1881 M it) read “he did not consider” by including the negative particle (οὐ, ou), but others (א A B C 6 81 365 1506 1739 co) lack οὐ. The reading which includes the negative particle probably represents a scribal attempt to exalt the faith of Abraham by making it appear that his faith was so strong that he did not even consider the physical facts. But “here Paul does not wish to imply that faith means closing one’s eyes to reality, but that Abraham was so strong in faith as to be undaunted by every consideration” (TCGNT 451). Both on external and internal grounds, the reading without the negative particle is preferred.
  37. Romans 4:19 tc ‡ Most witnesses (א A C D Ψ 33 M bo) have ἤδη (ēdē, “already”) at this point in v. 19. But B F G 630 1739 1881 lat sa lack it. Since it appears to heighten the style of the narrative and since there is no easy accounting for an accidental omission, it is best to regard the shorter text as autographic. NA28 includes the word in brackets, indicating doubt as to its authenticity.
  38. Romans 4:20 tn Grk “And he.” Because of the difference between Greek style, which often begins sentences or clauses with “and,” and English style, which generally does not, δέ (de) has not been translated here.
  39. Romans 4:21 tn Grk “and being.” Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.
  40. Romans 4:21 tn Grk “he”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  41. Romans 4:22 tn Grk “him”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  42. Romans 4:23 tn A quotation from Gen 15:6.
  43. Romans 4:23 tn Grk “his”; the referent (Abraham) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  44. Romans 4:25 tn Grk “who,” referring to Jesus. The relative pronoun was converted to a personal pronoun and, because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.
  45. Romans 4:25 tn Or “handed over.” sn The verb translated given over (παραδίδωμι, paradidōmi) is also used in Rom 1:24, 26, 28 to describe God giving people over to sin. But it is also used frequently in the gospels to describe Jesus being handed over (or delivered up, betrayed) by sinful men for crucifixion (cf., e.g., Matt 26:21; 27:4; Mark 9:31; 10:33; 15:15; Luke 20:20; 22:24; 24:7). It is probable that Paul has both ideas in mind: Jesus was handed over by sinners, but even this betrayal was directed by the Father for our sake (because of our transgressions).
  46. Romans 4:25 tn Grk “because of.” However, in light of the unsatisfactory sense that a causal nuance would here suggest, it has been argued that the second διά (dia) is prospective rather than retrospective (D. Moo, Romans [NICNT], 288-89). The difficulty of this interpretation is the structural balance that both διά phrases provide (“given over because of our transgressions…raised because of our justification”). However the poetic structure of this verse strengthens the likelihood that the clauses each have a different force.
  47. Romans 4:25 sn Many scholars regard Rom 4:25 to be poetic or hymnic. These terms are used broadly to refer to the genre of writing, not to the content. There are two broad criteria for determining if a passage is poetic or hymnic: “(a) stylistic: a certain rhythmical lilt when the passages are read aloud, the presence of parallelismus membrorum (i.e., an arrangement into couplets), the semblance of some metre, and the presence of rhetorical devices such as alliteration, chiasmus, and antithesis; and (b) linguistic: an unusual vocabulary, particularly the presence of theological terms, which is different from the surrounding context” (P. T. O’Brien, Philippians [NIGTC], 188-89). Classifying a passage as hymnic or poetic is important because understanding this genre can provide keys to interpretation. However, not all scholars agree that the above criteria are present in this passage.

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say(A) that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh,(B) discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.(C) What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a](D)

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift(E) but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.(F) David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”[b](G)

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?(H) We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.(I) 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.(J) So then, he is the father(K) of all who believe(L) but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise(M) that he would be heir of the world,(N) but through the righteousness that comes by faith.(O) 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless,(P) 15 because the law brings wrath.(Q) And where there is no law there is no transgression.(R)

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace(S) and may be guaranteed(T) to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.(U) 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”[c](V) He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life(W) to the dead and calls(X) into being things that were not.(Y)

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations,(Z) just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d](AA) 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead(AB)—since he was about a hundred years old(AC)—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.(AD) 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened(AE) in his faith and gave glory to God,(AF) 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.(AG) 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”(AH) 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us,(AI) to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him(AJ) who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.(AK) 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins(AL) and was raised to life for our justification.(AM)


  1. Romans 4:3 Gen. 15:6; also in verse 22
  2. Romans 4:8 Psalm 32:1,2
  3. Romans 4:17 Gen. 17:5
  4. Romans 4:18 Gen. 15:5