Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 4:17-25

WHAT KIND OF FAITH WAS REPUTED TO ABRAHAM UNTO JUSTICE?

A Summary of Romans 4:17-25~Having shown that God wished the promised inheritance to depend on the justice that comes through faith so that it might be assured to Abraham and to all his spiritual children, whether of Jewish or pagan origin, St. Paul now begins to describe the faith of the Patriarch. This he does for the purpose of making known to all those who would have part in the promised blessings what kind of faith they also must possess. It must be firm and unwavering in spite of human difficulties and natural objections, resting entirely upon God who is able to fulfil all His promises. Such perfect faith it was that God reckoned sufficient in Abraham unto justification. What the Scriptures record of this admirable faith of the great Patriarch, St. Paul says was written for us, that we, by imitating that same faith, may be justified, believing in the Omnipotent God who has raised from the dead Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.

Rom 4:17. (As it is written: I have made thee a father of many nations,) before God, whom he believed, who quickeneth the dead; and calleth those things that are not, as those that are.

The reference in parentheses is to Gen 17:4-5, according to the LXX, where it is recorded that God changed the name of the Patriarch from Abram, high father, to Abraham, father of a multitude. Abraham was in fact the father of other peoples, besides the Jews (Gen 25:1-2; Gen 36:1-19); but the reference here is to his spiritual paternity, by which he became the father of all who afterwards share his faith.

Before God. These words are to be connected with the end of the preceding verse, because the parenthesis really commences in the middle of a sentence. Abraham is the spiritual father of us all, and St. Paul is picturing him before God (Gen 18:22), accepting on faith the announcement that he is to be the father of a numerous people.

Whom he believed, etc. The object of Abraham’s faith was God Omnipotent who was able to give anew to the aged Patriarch and Sara, now far beyond the age of generating and bearing children, the power to have an offspring, who would be Isaac, the child of promise. Thus God would be said to quicken the dead loins of Abraham and the womb of Sara his wife, and to call people that did not exist and seemed not possible to come from Abraham, as though they were already in being.

The Vulgate tanquam ea quae sunt would be rendered better by tanquam sint or ac si essent (Lagrange).

Rom 4:18. Who against hope believed in hope; that he might be made the father of many nations, according to that which was said to him: So shall thy seed be.

Paul now begins to extol the faith of the Patriarch, which was neither baffled nor weakened by human obstacles. Inspired by the words of God, Abraham, against all human hope, believed that he would have an offspring and become the father of a numerous people, although he was already old and his wife Sara was sterile.

Believed in hope, i.e., not with a human but with a supernatural hope, he believed the promise of God, because he knew God was omnipotent and most faithful and true.

That he might be made, etc., as was promised in Gen 15:5: “Look up to heaven and count the stars, if thou canst; so shall thy seed be.”

The in spem of the Vulgate should be in spe.

Rom 4:19. And he was not weak in faith; neither did he consider his own body now dead, whereas he was almost an hundred years old, nor the dead womb of Sara.

Although Abraham was about a hundred years old (Gen 17:1) and Sara ninety when God promised him the birth of Isaac (Gen 17:15-21), his faith did not weaken; neither did he consider the deadness of his generative powers, nor the sterility of the womb of his wife.

According to the best Greek reading the second clause of this verse is not negative, and so should read: “And without being weak in faith, he considered his own body now dead, whereas he was almost a hundred years old, and the dead womb of Sara.” That Abraham did believe we are assured from his practice of circumcision. St. Paul represents the Patriarch as appearing to feel that humanly speaking there was some reason for doubt (Gen 17:17), but as not at all yielding to the doubt, despite the difficulty of the situation. It is said in Gen 17:17 that Abraham laughed at the thought that he and Sara should have a son when they were already so old, but this indicated no doubt on Abraham’s part; it only showed that the Patriarch appreciated the difficulty of the matter, and his reflection was afterwards expressed in the name of Isaac, which means laughter. Cornely thinks Abraham laughed for joy. His laugh was “an indication, not of incredulity, but of exultation” (St. Ambrose).

It is true that Abraham’s body, here termed dead as to its powers of generation, was able forty years later to beget other children by Ketura (Gen 25:1-2), but this was due to the miraculous power given the Patriarch before the birth of Isaac, which abided with him long afterwards.

Rom 4:20. In the promise also of God he staggered not by distrust; but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God:

While the promise made to Abraham was somewhat astonishing to him, still he did not hesitate, but by faith abandoned himself to God, and thus gave glory to God’s fidelity and omnipotence. God, therefore, did not reprove Abraham, as He did Sara for her laugh (Gen 18:10).

In place of the Vulgate’s in repromissione etiam, it is better to read ad promissionem autem (Lagrange).

Rom 4:21. Most fully knowing, that whatsoever he has promised, he is able also to perform.

This is another acknowledgment of God’s omnipotence. Faith in His veracity is also implied, as appears from the preceding verses.

The emphatic quaecunque of the Vulgate should be simply quae.

Rom 4:22. And therefore it was reputed to him unto justice.

Abraham’s full unshaken faith in God’s veracity and power, his complete subjection of his understanding and will to God was imputed to him unto justice, i.e., as the beginning and root of his justification. It was only by his perfect, strengthened faith that Abraham was justified and gave glory to God (Cornely).

Rom 4:23. Now it is not written only for him, that it was reputed to him unto justice,

Rom 4:24. But also for us, to whom it shall be reputed, if we believe in him, that raised up Jesus Christ, our Lord, from the dead,

Since Abraham was constituted by God the spiritual father of all who would imitate his faith, his story was written not only for his sake, to honor him, but also for all of us who believe (τοις πιστευουσιν) , i.e., he was a type and model for all future believers. Just as he was justified on acount of his faith in God’s promise, and not by any precedent merit of his own, so also we shall be gratuitously justified by God if we have proper faith in Jesus Christ. Abraham firmly believed that God would give new vigor to his aged body and to the sterile womb of his wife, so that the child of promise might come to him, and so likewise must we believe in the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead, if we would be justified. The Resurrection was the one great miracle of Christ which gave the seal of divine approbation to all His other miracles, and to all the doctrines He had preached to the world. Faith, therefore, in this miracle implies faith in Christ’s Divinity and in all else that He said and did.

Unto justice (Vulg., ad justitiam) of verse 23 is not represented in the Greek.

Rom 4:25. Who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification.

Christ was delivered up to death and died to make atonement and to offer satisfaction to divine justice for our sins (2 Cor 5:20; 1 Pet 2:22, 24). The first use of for (δια) in this verse expresses the motive, the reason on account of which Christ died, namely, for our sins (Isa 53:4); the second for (δια) expresses purpose, the final cause, for which Christ rose from the dead, namely, for our justification. It is true that by His death our Lord merited for us remission of sins, justification, and glory. But in order that we might profit by these merits, it was necessary that He should rise again; because, according to the plan of divine Providence, it was only after the Resurrection that the Apostles were to go forth into the world and preach the faith through which alone we can be justified. Hence it is said that without faith in the Resurrection of Christ all “our faith is vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Our Lord therefore rose again, or was raised up (ηγερθη), for our justification. After His death Christ was no longer a viator, and so could not merit, properly speaking, by His Resurrection, and yet His Resurrection is truly the exemplary cause or type of the newness of life of the justified Christian.

It is said that Jesus Christ was delivered up, i.e., He was delivered up to death by His Father (John 3:16; Rom 8:32), and by the Jews, who were the human agents of the divine plan, to show His obedience to His heavenly Father; and in another sense He delivered up Himself (Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2) to show the willingness with which He suffered for us.

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