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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.


1. What then, etc. This is a confirmation by example; and it is a very strong one, since all things are alike with regard to the subject and the person; for he was the father of the faithful, to whom we ought all to be conformed; and there is also but one way and not many ways by which righteousness may be obtained by all. In many other things one example would not be sufficient to make a common rule; but as in the person of Abraham there was exhibited a mirror and pattern of righteousness, which belongs in common to the whole Church, rightly does Paul apply what has been written of him alone to the whole body of the Church, and at the same time he gives a check to the Jews, who had nothing more plausible to glory in than that they were the children of Abraham; and they could not have dared to claim to themselves more holiness than what they ascribed to the holy patriarch. Since it is then evident that he was justified freely, his posterity, who claimed a righteousness of their own by the law, ought to have been made silent even through shame.

According to the flesh, etc. Between this clause and the word father there is put in Paul’s text the verb ἑυρηκέναι, in this order — “What shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” On this account, some interpreters think that the question is — “What has Abraham obtained according to the flesh?” If this exposition be approved, the words according to the flesh mean naturally or from himself. It is, however, probable that they are to be connected with the word father. 130130     So did all the fathers according to Pareus, and so does the Vulgate. But later commentators have taken the words as they stand, and with good reason, for otherwise the correspondence between this and the following verse would not be apparent. Beza, Hammond, and Macknight take the words in their proper order; and this is what is done by the Syriac and Arabic versions.
   Κατὰ σάρκα is rendered by Grotius and Macknight, “by (per) the flesh. Some understand by the word “flesh,” circumcision, as Vatablus; others, natural powers, as Grotius But Beza and Hammond think that it is the same as what is meant “by works” in the next verse; and “flesh” evidently has this meaning: it signifies often the performance of what the law requires, the observance not only of ceremonial but also of moral duties. See Galatians 3:3; Galatians 6:12; and especially Philippians 3:3, 4; where Paul gives up “all confidence in the flesh,” and enumerates, among other things, his strict conformity to the law. — Ed.
Besides, as we are wont to be more touched by domestic examples, the dignity of their race, in which the Jews took too much pride, is here again expressly mentioned. But some regard this as spoken in contempt, as they are elsewhere called the carnal children of Abraham, being not so spiritually or in a legitimate sense. But I think that it was expressed as a thing peculiar to the Jews; for it was a greater honor to be the children of Abraham by nature and descent, than by mere adoption, provided there was also faith. He then concedes to the Jews a closer bond of union, but only for this end — that he might more deeply impress them that they ought not to depart from the example of their father.

2. For if Abraham, etc. This is an incomplete argument, 131131     Epicheirema; in Greek ἐπιχείρεμα, an attempted but an unfinished process of reasoning. It is not necessary to introduce this sort of syllogism, it being not the character of Scripture nor of any other writing to discuss matters in this form.
   The word for “glorying” here, καύχημα, is different from that in Romans 3:27, καύχησις, and means reason, ground, or cause for glorying, and is rendered by Grotiusunde laudem speret — whereby he may hope for praise;” and by Beza and Piscatorunde glorietur — whereby he may glory.” To complete the following clause, most repeat the words ἔχει καύχημα — “But he has no ground for glorying before God.” Vatablus gives another meaning, “But not with regard to God,” that is, with regard to what he has said in his word; and this view is confirmed by what immediately follows, “For what saith the Scripture?” In this case there is nothing understood. That πρὸς θεόν is used in a similar manner, is evident from other passages: τα πρὸς θεόν — “things which pertain to God,” i.e., to God’s work or service. See Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 5:1. — Ed.
which may be made in this form — “If Abraham was justified by works, he might justly glory: but he had nothing for which he could glory before God; then he was not justified by works.” Thus the clause but not before God, is the minor proposition; and to this must be added the conclusion which I have stated, though it is not expressed by Paul. He calls that glorying when we pretend to have anything of our own to which a reward is supposed to be due at God’s tribunal. Since he takes this away from Abraham, who of us can claim for himself the least particle of merit?

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