Romans 4:1-25

Oct 28, 2008


This section serves as Paul’s explanation of the the idea of righteousness though faith as introduced in 3:21-31.  The outline above should be sufficient to show the basic structure of Paul’s argument.  All the themes build directly upon his teaching in 3:27-31 (the governance of faith vs. that of works and the idea that God is God of Jews and Gentiles via faith).  These themes are indirectly synthesized with the more basic concept of righteousness through faith as laid down in 3:21-26. 

The beginning of Ch. 4 continues Paul’s rhetoric against “works of the Law” (governance of works) related boasting.  He began his “righteousness through faith” argument in 3:21 emphasizing the independence of God’s righteousness from any Law related (works) righteousness.  He also began his next rhetorical structure by mentioning that sort of “boasting” as being excluded (3:27).  Ch. 4 is divided into two halves based on the audience to such boasting (or lack there of).  Romans 4:2 mentions in a  hypothetical way that even if works of the Law were a means to acquittal, they would not be so “before God.”  This same idea is taken up again in Romans 4:17b when Paul (almost casually) mentions “in the sight of God.”  I think the division of the structure takes place at this point based on this and, more importantly, the way the themes of vs 17a and 17b relate to their respective chiastic structures (cf. the outline above).  Note that Paul also continues the idea of “faith” upon God as the subjective means to righteousness.  This is especially clear at the end of Ch. 4 where Paul applies the Abraham narrative to the gospel.  The objective means to righteousness for Abraham was God’s promise of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your offspring be” (4:18).  This has its counterpart in the gospel in the death and resurrection of Christ “who was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our acquittal” (4:25).  This verse plays on two meanings of dia with the accusative: “because of” and “for the sake of.”  Up to this point (3:25), and even afterward (5:9), Paul has clearly taught that we were justified by Christ’s sacrificial death (in the past).  Here, however, he adds a new dimension to his teaching in that he shows how Christ’s resurrection is related to our future acquittal.  That we are speaking about that time of future judgment (and either wrath or salvation) is evident by the use of the verb mellw “to be about to” with the infinitive “to credit” in Romans 4:24 (along with his previous teaching from Ch 2 on judgment).  If it is “about to” happen it is still in the future.  Romans 5:9 will elaborate on this future aspect by arguing from the greater to the lesser - if Christ’s death (the greater, harder thing) has reconciled us, we will, that much more, be saved through his life (the lesser, easier thing).  Gaffin (in Resurrection and Redemption) has made a case from Romans 4:25 that the theological basis for our justification is related to Christ’s justification at his resurrection.  We are identified with Christ by our union with him.  Just as we died with him spiritually, so also we are now alive from the dead in him and we wait for the completion of this saving act in the resurrection (being saved “by his life” Romans 5:10).  Gaffin shows that Christ’s resurrection functioned as his own acquittal.  When he was raised, he was vindicated from sin and he was also glorified.  These are all primarily future/eschatological categories.  It is our union with Christ that accounts for Paul being able to even speak of our justification as well as our glorification (Romans 8:30) in the past tense and as a present status that we enjoy in Christ through faith.  This is somewhat of an excursus, but I think that this entire category ought to be thought of in terms of Christ’s sacrifice at the cross.  It is only by identifying with the substitutionary sacrifice through faith that we share in its benefits.  In Romans 6, baptism is identified as the occasion of this saving faith.  When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we, through the symbols, are sharing in Christ’s sacrificial meal (through faith).  We are sharing in the alter (1 Cor. 10:18) because we are sharing in Christ who became our atoning mercy seat (Romans 3:25).  Thus, through our faith in the gospel, whether ritually or in everyday life, we have a certain hope for that future time of God’s judgment - that we will be saved from his wrath based on our acquittal in him who was acquitted from sin (cf. the different sense to be given to Romans 6:7 in an upcoming blog).  Like Abraham, we have the promised hope of future blessing secured through present faith on God.  Against hope, we believe upon hope!

Note also, that Paul does make it clear that our faith rests “upon God” as distinct from Jesus (4:24).  He does this based on Abraham, our father, who was given the promise by God (4:21 from Gen 15), who is Yahweh (4:8 from Ps 32).  Indeed, Paul’s theme verse for this section contains this very idea, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (4:3 from Gen 15:6).  God is the one who raises the dead and who summons what doesn’t exist as if it does exist (4:17).  He is the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead and he is the one whom we, like Abraham, believe is able to do what has been promised.