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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.


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.

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