Romans 4:18-25


The reader is reminded that the exegesis of Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 was covered for Lent II. This is mentioned in case the reader wishes to review what precedes our text.

Romans 4:18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 

Arndt notes that verses 18-22 constitute a section. He entitles it  "The example of Abraham shows that faith does not follow the dictates of reason but the word of promise." 

Stoeckhardt: According to human reckoning and the course of nature there was nothing for which to hope, since that promise of a countless posterity contradicted the natural development of things. . . . Abraham's faith is placed under the aspect of hope, since the faith of the Old Testament believers reached out toward future things and blessings.
Arndt: He trusted contrary to hope, that is from the human point of view.
Franzmann: Against all human possibilities of hope, but in sure trust in his God's creative power, he believed the fantastic promise that he should have descendants innumerable as the stars.
Lenski: All was beyond hope as far as Abraham's and Sarah's bodies were concerned; but on hope rests everything on God's word and promise.
Kretzmann: So far as nature was concerned, his faith was contrary to hope.

Abraham believed so firmly as if it were already true. Read Genesis 15:5 at this point. Who are his countless descendants? Believers in Christ. In what sense was he their father? They had and have the same firm faith.

Stoeckhardt: It is characteristic of all believers that they against hope believe in hope. Christian faith runs directly counter to nature and reason.

A comforting thought.

Lenski: Already in Genesis 15:5 Abraham believed. . . . He was then and there 'father of many nations' as God also declared later in Genesis 17:5.

Romans 4:19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead.

Abraham had two great obstacles to overcome. Both he and his wife were of an advanced age. Secondly, the reproductive organs of both Sarah and Abraham were unable to function. Verse 19 explains verse 18.

KJV and NKJV translate thus: "And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body etc."  RSV: "He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body." 

The second  "and" is like our English "plus."  His own problem was bad enough. But there was also his wife's problem: the infertility of her womb.

Bengel: Isaac's birth was miraculous. . . . Sarah gave birth to Isaac only through her union with Abraham. His renewed bodily vigor remained even in his marriage with Keturah.

In other words it was not a virgin birth and furthermore, it is amazing that when Sarah died, Abraham married again and had children.

Stoeckhardt: He did not become weak in faith and revealed this by not considering his and Sarah's dead body. . . . He put nature, reason, feeling, experience, completely aside. . . . Does Paul's judgment of Abraham agree with Genesis 17:17? . . . Abraham's reply to the Lord's promise are not the words of one who doubts but of one who is astonished and leaps for joy. His laughter showed boundless joy in his heart.
Franzmann: Faith is open-eyed toward man's impotence. Believing Abraham faced the fact that as a father he was dead and gone and that there was no life in Sarah's womb. . . . All human knowledge and experience contradicted this promise of God, the response of man as man could only be--laughter (Genesis 17:17).
Kretzmann: These circumstances, these physical hindrances, Abraham did not consider, he did not permit them to have weight and to influence him, he did not fix his mind on the difficulties of the case as it presented itself to him.

Christians don't kid themselves. They face life's grim realities. But, in faith they look beyond the difficulties and trust in the Lord with all their heart.

Romans 4:20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,

"Yet" continues the thought and includes the idea "with reference to."   "Waver" describes unbelief and doubt. Cf. James 1:6-8. Unbelief is like a wave of the sea, constantly bobbing up and down, never quiet, strong and settled. When God promised, Abraham did not waver.

"But"  or "but quite to the contrary." Rather than waver and become weaker Abraham stood firm and was strengthened (by God) with reference to his faith.

"Giving glory to God."  How does a person glorify God? By believing what God says. By subjecting his own desires and thoughts to the promises of God.

Bengel: Every act which tends to his honor is said to give glory to God. See Joshua 7:19; Jeremiah 13:16; John 9:24 etc. Here it was done through acknowledging the omnipotence of God.
Stoeckhardt: The longer and more persevering we bury heart, senses and thoughts in God's Word and promise, all the more will we become strengthened in faith. . . . True faith gives God the glory. Man gives glory to God when he acknowledges Him to be the almighty and all-gracious Creator, thanks Him for His kindnesses and acknowledges Him as the Lord and Master of his life.
Arndt: He gave glory to God: he clung to the conviction that God's promises were truthful and reliable.
Franzmann: Believing Abraham held to the promise of God despite all the contradictions of his senses, his knowledge, and his littleness of faith.

Lenski correctly points out that the aorist active participle in this verse and the aorist passive participle in the next verse are coincident in time with the aorist verb.

Apology,  Art. IV, Tappert 155.309: This faith gives honor to God, gives him what is properly his; it obeys him by accepting his promises. As Paul says (Romans 4:20), 'No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.' Thus the service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God, while the worship of the law is to offer and present our goods to God.
Kretzmann: Unbelief robs God of His glory, but faith with its absolute, simple trust in the Word of God and in His almighty power thereby gives to the Lord the worshipful appreciation which is due to Him at all times.

Romans 4:21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Verse 20 looked at matters from Abraham's viewpoint. This verse looks at it from God's point of view.

Stoeckhardt: Faith is essentially complete persuasion, firm conviction, certainty. The believer trusts that God will really give him what He has promised in Christ, namely, righteousness, life and salvation.
Arndt: Concerning faith we can say: 1) It is implicit trust; 2) It bases itself on the Word of God; 3) It relies on God's unlimited power; and, 4) It does not listen to the unfavorable comments of human reason.
Lenski: The agent of the passive participle is God with his promise.

Romans 4:22 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." 

"This," an inferential particle, refers to the contents of verses 18-21 which describe Abraham's faith and hope again and again from different angles. This verse is quoted from Genesis 15:6 and found again at Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23. The word "credited" absolutely eliminates all synergism, the idea that man can contribute something in his conversion or continued justification. It could be translated: "His faith was accounted righteousness to him." 

Arndt: What justifies is that which faith seizes.

Exactly. Faith or trust are no better than their object. If parents are very faithful to their children, the latter will trust and believe them completely. But if the parents are deceptive the children will not trust or believe. All depends on the object of faith. We could paraphrase this verse:  "Christ was accounted righteousness to him." 

Arndt adds: Faith must actually seize, it must be a real taking, it must be confidence, trust, assurance.
Franzmann: Here was man before God as God would have him, the creature before the Creator, the 'ungodly' man looking to his God for justification.
Lenski: Not the act as an act was reckoned for righteousness, but Christ embraced by that act, Christ the substance and heart of the promise to Abraham.

Romans 4:23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone,

Arndt: The story of Abraham is intended to show us the way of justification.
Franzmann: Abraham's faith is a prototype and exemplar of our own.

Read John 8:39. The Jews claimed to be Abraham's children. But they were not using Abraham as a model, an exemplar of repentance and faith, of justification before God. Therefore Jesus had to tell them finally that they were children of the devil. We are justified exactly as he was.

Paul summarizes the whole divine record regarding Abraham. Was Abraham a Lutheran? Yes. Why? Because justification by faith alone is central to Lutheranism. So it was with Abraham.

Kretzmann: Throughout the discussion, Abraham must be regarded as a representative of all believers. . . . The Lord has only one method of justifying sinners.

Before we leave this verse, note the importance of the verb  "it was written, recorded."  We would never have known about it had not God had it written. For us life should be one song of praise for having the Bible written down for us. Where would we be without it?

Romans 4:24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

Paul leaves nothing to the imagination. He plainly says:  "But also because of us (for our sake)."  By the way, these pronouns are not limited to believers but pertain to anyone and everyone who reads it. Of course only believers benefit from it. But if a pagan were alone in the desert and would find a Bible and read this passage and thereby be brought to faith, the pronoun would refer to him. In other words, the universal atonement underlies these words.

Arndt: He is speaking of an act of the divine will and not of simple futurity.

Arndt says this lest we make the text say that God is about to justify a sinner when he begins to believe. Perhaps Paul speaks this way because at Abraham's time the work of the incarnate Christ still lay in the future. The Old Testament and New Testament saints have the same faith. The former looked forward to Christ. We reject the translation of the KJV and NKJV:  "to whom it shall be imputed if we believe on him etc."  The phrase does not mean "if we believe" but rather "to those who believe."  AAT is a paraphrase but brings out the meaning: "He had in mind already then to count us righteous on the basis of our believing in Him etc." 

Bengel: Abraham's faith was directed to what would and could come to pass, ours to what has actually occurred; the faith of both is directed to the Quickener.
Stoeckhardt: Paul mentions Christ's resurrection in order to let Christian faith appear analogous to Abraham's faith.
Arndt: Which God is Paul speaking of? In him that has raised up Jesus from the dead. And what is that Jesus? He is our Lord. The contents of faith are given here. Faith that is not merely trust in a higher being, but the whole work of Christ is included. There is a strong passage here against the Free Masons and all other people who speak much of faith in God and will not say in which God they trust.

Our God is the only God Who raises the dead.

Franzmann: The resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of man, for He comprehended us all in His living Lordship (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22). It is, moreover, the resurrection of condemned man, man under the wrath of God. In raising Him from the dead, God was 'justifying the ungodly' for whom He died; God was saying to a doomed mankind 'You are righteous, you shall live.'

Romans 4:25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Here we have the grand summary .Note the beautiful parallelism. The truth stated in the first half is the same as that stated in the second half. Both parts begin with passive verbs. The preposition is common to both. Those who deny objective justification say that the first part refers to all men but that the second part refers only to believers.

Did Luther believe in what we call objective justification today? Listen to this passage from the  Smalcald Articles,  Part II, Art. 1, Tappert 292.1:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, 'was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification , (Romans 4:25). He alone is 'the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world' (John 1:29). 'God has laid upon him the iniquity of us all' (Isaiah 53:6).

Note that Luther quotes two clear passages on the universal atonement along side Romans 4:25.

Jesus died to atone for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead (or was raised from the dead) to justify all men. If that is not true, then Jesus' resurrection was not for all men.

Arndt: The apostle does not speak of something that should happen after the resurrection of Christ, but of the resurrection itself. He is declaring something that was accomplished by the act of God when he raised Jesus from the dead. According to Paul our justification took place when Christ arose. . . . 'It is finished. ' Universal justification or objective justification is taught here. Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. . . . Faith believes the judgment which God has pronounced over the whole world, it believes that sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. Justification comes first. It precedes faith.
Stoeckhardt: As the atonement of sins, so the judgment of justification concerns the entire sinful world. . . . Justification has taken place and has been revealed. This the Gospel proclaims.
Kretzmann: The expiation through Christ's sufferings on the cross, the atonement of death, have been sealed by the resurrection of Christ; for it is a declaration before all the world that the object of Christ's death has been gained, that God has accepted the reconciliation, that the victory of Jesus is a formal and solemn absolution which God has pronounced upon sinful mankind.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 14-17. Used with permission.

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