V. Romans 4

Paul has just finished arguing that a man is only justified by faith, and not by “works of the law.” In Romans 4, Paul turns to Abraham as an example of this. Moo identifies two reasons for using Abraham: (1) Abraham is used by Paul as an example of faith in a polemical fashion. In other words, Paul is demonstrating that justification does not happen through the Law, as even Abraham demonstrates. Moo points out that Jews viewed Abraham as a model of obedience—Paul uses him as a model of faith. It should be noted that Paul is not merely establishing Abraham as a model of spirituality—rather, he is making a theological point about the nature of Abraham’s faith. (2) Paul is also concerned to delineate who are sons of Abraham, namely, that Abraham is father of all who believe (and hence, justified), whether Jew or Greek.[32] This latter aspect is seized by Moxnes, whose work is dense, but helpful.[33] For instance, Moxnes points out that Paul is performing what seems to be midrash on Genesis 15.6, [34] which reads, “Then [Abraham] believed in the Lord and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Moo qualifies this statement by pointing out that “midrash” is too broad a term to really understand what it means.[35] Both Moo and Moxnes divide Romans 4 into 4 sections: 1-8, 9-12, 13-22, and 23-25. Vs. 1-8 are concerned with defining “reckoned,” 9-12 with who is reckoned. Moo sees two distinct themes in 13-22: faith apart from law (13-16) and faith apart from sight (17-22). Moxnes, on the other hand, focuses on the inclusion of the Gentiles as the theme with the promise of God as the particular motif that dominates this section. In 23-25, Paul turns toward his contemporaries and applies his argument. I shall follow these divisions of Romans 4 in my subsequent analysis.

It is clear, then, from the respective foci that the competing paradigms are at work—Moo focuses on the nature of Abraham’s faith as example, taking a more individualist approach. Moxnes examines the inclusion of the Gentiles under the promise through faith as the point of Romans 4. These differing interpretations provide warrant for my view that Romans 4 can illuminate the nature of the relationship between the individual and communal paradigms in Paul’s thought.

Romans 4.1-8

Paul begins his “midrash” on Abraham by referring back to 3.27, where he had rhetorically excluded boasting, on the grounds that justification is by faith and not works. Abraham has no grounds for boasting, because as Paul quotes in verse four, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” The latter half of the verse is taken from Genesis 15.6. The promise that Abraham believed was that the heir to his house would be one of his own offspring, given that at the time of the promise Abraham was childless. In verse four, Paul continues to develop the antithesis of faith and works, pointing out that the one who works is not reckoned his reward “as a gift, but as an obligation.” Paul’s emphasis that it be “as a gift” hearkens back to 3.24, where a man was justified freely through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. In verse 5, Paul clarifies exactly who is the one justified, namely, the one who believes “in Him who justifies the ungodly.” This is the first of three “formulaic” designations of God in conjunction with the verb “pisteuo” (I believe) in Romans 4. The other two are found in 4.17 and 4.24. Furthermore, Paul’s mention of the “ungodly,” is the first echo of the first chapter of Romans, where Paul had written, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men” (1:18a). Though no mention of “wickedness” is found in Romans 4 to this point, the conjunction of “ungodliness” in the context of “dikaisune” (righteousness) warrants at least considering it an echo. Further justification that Paul is intentionally alluding to Romans 1 will be provided in our analysis of the subsequent portions of Romans 4.[36] To return to our analysis of the passage, in verses 6-8, Paul quotes Psalm 32.1-2, arguing that David is referring to a blessing upon those who have already been reckoned as righteous, or justified. The forensic nature of these two verses illuminates what it means to be “reckoned as righteous,” namely to have “lawless deeds” be forgiven and sins covered.

Series Intro

Prefatory Remarks

An Intro to Pauline Theology

The Individual vs. the Communal

An Exegesis of Romans 3:20-31

The Turn to Romans 4

Continuing with Romans 4

The Anthropology of Romans 4

Romans 4 with respect to 5-8

Conclusion and Footnotes

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. […] RemarksAn Intro to Pauline TheologyThe Individual vs. The CommunalAn Exegesis of Romans 3:20-31The Turn to Romans FourContinuing with Romans FourThe Anthropology of Romans FourRomans 4 with Respect to […]


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