Romans Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 4
1. Then what should we say Avraham, our forefather, obtained by his own efforts?
2. For if Avraham came to be considered righteous by God because of legalistic observances, then he has something to boast about. But this is not how it is before God!
Then what should we say Avraham, our forefather, obtained by his own efforts?
Having offered reassurance to his hypothetical Jewish questioner that the Gospel's focus on faithful trusting does not destroy Torah but confirms it (3:3l&N), Sha'ul addresses a second objection he might raise: What about z 'khut-avot, the "merits of the fathers"? (See 11:28-29N.)

There can be no doubt that in the 1st century C.E. the doctrine was widespread that descendants can benefit and even can claim salvation on the ground of their ancestors' righteousness. Yeshua's opponents made exactly such a claim at Yn 8:33, Sha'ul's own opponents obviously were making use of the idea at 2C 11:22, and Yochanan the Immerser rebuked his investigators before they had a chance to say, "Avraham is our father" (Mt 3:9&N).

There is a kernel of biblical basis for this belief: "And because he loved your fathers he chose their offspring after them" (Deuteronomy 4:37; see also Exodus 32:13). Moreover, there is a perfectly correct application of this idea not to the rights of the descendants but to the faithfulness of God. that he will fulfill his own promises to the forefathers (11:28-29&N).

Rabbinic literature does well in pointing up Avraham's faithful and trusting attitude toward God. For example, the Midrash Rabbah:
"In the 'olam haba [world tocome] Israel will sing a new song, as it is said, 'Sing unto Adonai a new song, for he has done marvelous things' (Psalm 98:1). By whose i 'khut [merit] will they do so? By the merit of Avraham, because he trusted in the Holy One, blessed be he, as it says, 'And he trusted in Adonai' (Genesis 15:6)." (Exodus Rabbah 23:5)

But even Avraham's trust is of no avail to his descendants; they must have trust of their own. Romans 9-11 can be viewed as an elaboration of this principle. The present chapter investigates the nature of Avraham's own "merit": what is it that he obtained by his own efforts? (The phrase translates one Greek word which means "found, discovered" or even "achieved.") Didn't he have "works," meritorious "deeds" that earned him his salvation? This is what Sha'ul's hypothetical questioner is asking.

In one sense the answer is "Yes" — if trusting can be counted as a "work," or if trusting in its proper sense implies appropriate good works that stem from it, which is what Sha'ul himself speaks about at Ep 2:8-10 and Ya'akov at Ya 2:14-26 (see 3:27-28N). But, as explained at 3:20bN, "works" here are understood in contradistinction to "faith" as legalistic observances. If Ya'akov's point is that "faith without works is dead" (Ya 2:26), Sha'ul's point here is complementary and equally true: works without faith are dead. 

3. For what does the Tanakh say? "Avraham put his trust in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
Sha'ul quotes the same verse as cited in the Midrash Rabbah above (vv. I-2N). The one "deed" that "earned" Avraham being declared righteous by God was not a deed at all, but the non-act (the heart attitude) of (rusting God. 

4. Now the account of someone who is working is credited not on the ground of grace but on the ground of what is owed him.
5. However, in the case of one who is not working but rather is trusting in him who makes ungodly people righteous, his trust is credited to him as righteousness.
6. In the same way, the blessing which David pronounces is on those whom God credits with righteousness apart from legalistic observances:
Legalistic observances, Greek erga, "works." See 3:20bN. 

7. "Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered over
8. Blessed is the man whose sin Adonai will not reckon against his account" (Psalm 32:1–2).
9. Now is this blessing for the circumcised only? Or is it also for the uncircumcised? For we say that Avraham’s trust was credited to his account as righteousness;
10. but what state was he in when it was so credited — circumcision or uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision!
11. In fact, he received circumcision as a sign, as a seal of the righteousness he had been credited with on the ground of the trust he had while he was still uncircumcised. This happened so that he could be the father of every uncircumcised person who trusts and thus has righteousness credited to him,
12. and at the same time be the father of every circumcised person who not only has had a b’rit-milah, but also follows in the footsteps of the trust which Avraham avinu had when he was still uncircumcised.
Sha'ul finishes destroying the argument that physical circumcision (i.e., being a member of the Chosen People) is the Jews' big advantage (refer back to 2:25-29). He consistently maintains that the advantage of Jews is spiritual, not physical (3:1-2,9:4-5, and most explicitly at 15:27). At the same time he shows that the righteousness that comes from trusting God is available equally to Jews and Gentiles not merely because it antedates the Mosaic Law, but because it antedates even the Abrahamic Covenant, when circumcision was given as a sign of Abraham's already demonstrated faith and as a seal guaranteeing God's promises, but not as something to boast about.

Thus Avraham avinu ("Abraham, our father" — a common phrase in rabbinic writing and in today's Siddur; v. 12) is "our" father not only to Jews but also to trusting Gentiles, hence, to "all of us" (v. 16&N). Galatians 3:6-18 develops the same theme, as do vv. 13-22 below. 

13. For the promise to Avraham and his seed (Genesis 15:3, 5) that he would inherit the world did not come through legalism but through the righteousness that trust produces.
The promise to Avraham and his seed that he would inherit the world. The Greek word for "world" here is "kosmos"; Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament explains that here it means "inhabited world," but its sense "merges into that of the nations of the world" (III, p. 888), as found in such passages as Genesis 12:1-3,15:3-5, 17:2-7, 18:18 and 22:17-18. These passages are not the same as the ones in which it is promised that Avraham and his descendants would inherit the Land of Israel (Genesis 12:7, 13:14-17, 15:7-21, 17:7-8, 24:7); when the New Testament wishes to refer to the Land, it uses the word "ge" (see Mt 5:5N and JNT Introduction, Section VI, last paragraph).

At 9:7 Sha"ul takes "seed" to mean Yitzchak, Avraham's son; and at Ga 3:16 he makes a midrash applying the word "seed" to Yeshua. In the present passage Sha'ul uses "seed" in its ordinary figurative sense to mean Avraham's descendants — not only his physical seed, but (at v. 16) his spiritual seed. See 9:7-9N and, for a discussion of the various possible meanings of "seed," Ga 3:16N. 

14. For if the heirs are produced by legalism, then trust is pointless and the promise worthless.
15. For what law brings is punishment. But where there is no law, there is also no violation.
In these three verses the Greek word "nomos" occurs four times. In each case, does it mean Torah in general, the legal portions of the Torah, law in general, or legalism? My rendering reflects my own understanding (see Introduction to JNT, Section V) — legalism the first two times (3:20&N), law in general the last two times (v. 15N).

For what law brings is punishment. But where there is no law, there is also no violation. Cranfield (commentary on Romans, ad loc.) disagrees; but to me this seems to be a statement about law in general rather than about the Torah in particular: although moral behavior is absolute, unless a statute makes a particular act illegal and punishable, there is no violation and the act goes unpunished. This general principle is applied specifically to the Torah, insofar as it contains elements of law, at 5:13 and 7:7-10. 

16. The reason the promise is based on trusting is so that it may come as God’s free gift, a promise that can be relied on by all the seed, not only those who live within the framework of the Torah, but also those with the kind of trust Avraham had — Avraham avinu for all of us.
A vraham avinu for all of us, Gentiles as well as Jews. Can a Gentile speak of A vrahai as his father? The following, condensed from the Rambam's well-known "Letter I Ovadyah the Proselyte," is quoted at length because its sentiments are so precise! appropriate, provided one imagines it as written to a Gentile follower of Yeshua instez of a convert to Judaism.

"You ask me if you are permitted to say in the prayers, 'God of our fathers," and 'You who worked miracles for our fathers.' Yes; you may say your blessing and prayer in the same way as every born Jew. This is because Avraham avinu revealed the true faith and the unity of God, rejected idol-worship, and brought many children under the wings of the Sh 'khinah [see Genesis 18:19]. Ever since then whoever adopts Judaism and confesses the unity of the Divine Name, as prescribed in the Torah, is counted among the disciples of Avraham avinu, peace unto him. In the same way as he converted his contemporaries through his words and teaching, he converts later generations through the testament he left his children and household after him. Thus Avraham avinu is the father of his pious posterity who keep his ways, and the father of his disciples and of all proselytes who adopt Judaism.

"Since you have come under the wings of the Sh 'khinah and confessed the Lord, no difference exists between you and us, and all miracles done to us have been done, as it were, both to us and to you. Thus it is said in the book of Isaiah, 'Let not the son of the stranger who follows Adonai say, "Adnnai has completely separated me from his people'" (Isaiah 56:3). There is no difference whatsoever between you and us.

"Know that our fathers, when they came out of Egypt, were mostly idolaters; they had mingled with the pagans in Egypt and imitated their way of life, until the Holy One, blessed be he, sent Moshe Rabbenu [Moses our teacher], who separated us from the nations, brought us under the wings of the Sh 'khinah, us and all proselytes, and gave all of us one Torah.

"Do not consider your origin inferior. While we are the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, you derive from him through whose word the world was created. As Isaiah writes, 'This one will say, "I belong to Adonai" while that one will call himself by the name of Ya'akov' (Isaiah 44:5)." 

17. This accords with the Tanakh, where it says, "I have appointed you to be a father to many nations" (Genesis 17:5). Avraham is our father in God’s sight because he trusted God as the one who gives life to the dead and calls nonexistent things into existence.
18. For he was past hope, yet in hope he trusted that he would indeed become "a father to many nations", in keeping with what he had been told, "So many will your seed be" (Genesis 15:5)
19. His trust did not waver when he considered his own body — which was as good as dead, since he was about a hundred years old — or when he considered that Sarah’s womb was dead too.
20. He did not by lack of trust decide against God’s promises. On the contrary, by trust he was given power as he gave glory to God,
21. for he was fully convinced that what God had promised he could also accomplish.
22. This is why it was credited to his account as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
23. But the words, "it was credited to his account..." were not written for him only.
24. They were written also for us, who will certainly have our account credited too, because we have trusted in him who raised Yeshua our Lord from the dead —
"I have appointed you to be a father to many nations." A vi-ahum is our father.
See vv. 9-12N.

Avraham... trusted God as the one who gives life to the dead. That God quickens the dead is a major tenet of Judaism; the second benediction of the 'Amidah, the prayer recited three times every day in the synagogue, reads:
"You are mighty forever, Adonai. You cause the dead to live, you are great to save. With loving-kindness you sustain the living; with great mercy you cause the dead to live, support the falling, heal the sick, free the bound and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like you, Master of mighty deeds? Who resembles you, О King? You cause death, you cause life, and you cause salvation to sprout forth, so you can be trusted to cause the dead to live. Blessed are you, Adonai, who causes the dead to live."

Resurrection faith distinguished the P'rushim from the Tz'dukim (Mt 22:23-33&NN, Ac 23:6-10&NN). Today it distinguishes Orthodox Judaism from liberal elements in other branches of Judaism. Avraham's resurrection faith was both literal and figurative, and both senses are indicated in this chapter. Figuratively, so far as procreation and fulfillment of God's promise of descendants was concerned, Avraham's body... was as good as dead, since he was about a hundred years old (ninety-nine, to be exact; see Genesis 17:17, 24), and Sarah's womb was dead too (she was about ninety). Yet, although past hope, with resurrection faith he trusted that what God had promised he could also accomplish (a theme that returns at 8:31-39, and see 9:1-11:36N). For at Genesis 15:5-6, after wondering how God would fulfill his promise to make him a great nation when he was old and childless, God
"brought him outside and said, 'Now look at the sky and count the stars — if you can count them!' Then he said to him, 'so many will your seed be!' And Avraham put his trust in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness,"

as quoted in v. 3.
But Avraham also had literal resurrection faith. It was necessary for what Judaism regards as his greatest "work," his willingness to sacrifice his only son Yitzchak, through whom God had said the promise would be fulfilled (Genesis 17:21, 22:1-19). This act is referred to throughout the High Holy Day services, and Genesis 22 is one of the statutory Torah readings on Rosh-HaShanah, a feast on which the shofar is blown one hundred times — and the shofar is associated with the resurrection of the dead (see Mt 24:3l&N, 1С 15:52&N, 1 Th 4:16&N. Rv 8:2&N). The act is mentioned twice in the NewTestament explicitly as an exampleof great faith(MJ 11:17-19&NN, Ya2:21). Here it constitutes the background for the conclusion of our passage, which says that we who have become followers of Yeshua have the same kind of resurrection faith as Avraham because we have trusted in him who raised Yeshua our Lord from the dead (v. 24), just as Avraham "had concluded that God could even raise people from the dead" (MJ 11:19). That is why the words, 'it was credited to his account..." were not written for him only, but also for us, who will certainly have our account credited too (vv. 23-24), This is a radical statement, for it says that Avraham was not special. Whereas Jewish midrashim attribute unique ability, holiness and power to Avraham, enabling him to have trust far beyond what ordinary people can attain to, Sha'ul insists that such trust is available to everyone. This is the Good News, that through Yeshua the Messiah anyone can have the same close personal relationship with Almighty God that Avraham had! Indeed, many believers have received promises from God just as Avraham did and have seen God fulfill them. 

25. Yeshua, who was delivered over to death because of our offences and raised to life in order to make us righteous.
The content of our "hope" (v. 18; 5:2,4,5) is that because we have fully identified with Yeshua, who was delivered over to death because of our offences and was raised to life in order to make us righteous, we too will be resurrected to sinless eternal life with God (6:5, 23; 8:23). Chapter 5 elaborates this theme. 

next chapter...