NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson VI)
British theologian Adam Clarke made this remark about what David said in the Psalm the Apostle Paul is using here to make his point: “That man is truly happy to whose charge God does not reckon sin; that is, they alone are happy who are redeemed from the curse of the law and the consequence of their ungodly life, by having their sins freely forgiven, through the mercy of God.”1 How much more blessed do we feel when we realize that in spite of our sinful nature and regardless of our sinful ways, God was still willing to grant us salvation from sin’s punishment because of what His Son did for us on the cross. Such a gift is certainly more valuable than if it had been achieved by accomplishing some feat, especially, when we find out that no one before us had ever achieved this on their own. Except for one man from Galilee named Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the living God, our Lord, and Savior.
Robert Haldane makes an impassioned plea for us to understand what Paul really means by imputed righteousness. He writes: “The expression ‘imputes righteousness without works,’ is important, as it clearly ascertains that the phrase ‘for righteousness,’ signifies the receiving of righteousness. It signifies receiving righteousness itself, not a substitute for righteousness, nor a thing of less value than righteousness, which is accounted or accepted as righteousness. The righteousness said to be imputed here is that righteousness to which Paul had all along been referring, even the righteousness of God on account of the revelation of which the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and which is called by the Apostle Peter the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, in which believers have obtained precious faith. That the Apostle refers in the verse before us to this righteousness which fulfills the law, is evident, if we look back to what he says in the 21st verse of the preceding chapter, and to what he continues to say respecting it up to this 6th verse, and to the effect he here ascribes to it. If anyone can suppose that all this is insufficient to settle the question, I shall produce an argument which is unanswerable, and which all the ingenuity of man is unable to gainsay It must be the righteousness of God (or the righteousness of Christ, which is the same) that is here spoken of BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER RIGHTEOUSNESS ON EARTH.”2
F. F. Bruce provides this insight: “Psalm 32 is ascribed to David in the titles of both MT3 and LXX.4 There is a formal link between Psalm 32:1–2, quoted in verses 7–8, and Genesis 15:6, quoted in verse 3, in that the verb ‘reckon’ is common to both passages. In rabbinical exegesis, such a link was held to encourage the interpretation of the one passage by the other, by the principle called ‘equal category.’ Paul uses this principle here, but the link is not a merely formal one: the non-imputation of sin, in which the psalmist rejoices, amounts to the positive imputation of righteousness or pronouncement of acquittal, for there is no verdict of ‘Not proven’ in God’s court of law.”5 In other words, when anyone looks over the transcript of all the testimonies and examines all the evidence, there is no hung jury. Everything provided is more than enough to declare a sinner, “Not Guilty” because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Verse 9: Is this blessing only for those who are circumcised? Or is it also for those who are not circumcised? We have already said that it was because of Abraham’s faith that he was accepted as one who is right with God.
This is where many stumble today in attempting to attain salvation through their good works. Have you ever met someone who was baptized and christened as a baby; successfully completed their catechism classes; became loyal members of a church; established a record of regular attendance, became a faithful tither, and good all-around steward, then used all this as a basis to claim their salvation? They feel good because of all they contributed to the effort. But, if it were possible to attain salvation this way, then Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was in vain and senseless. This was how the Jews attempted to find redemption and salvation through their many rites and rituals and keeping the Law and all the commandments. It was like, “Look what I’ve done God! You owe me!” Faith would no longer be the substance of things we hope for.
Paul wanted the believers in Rome to know that it is by grace alone that God saves us, and He is not persuaded by works or words. Nevertheless, some Christians who claim salvation by faith, end up following the Jewish format in trying to retain their salvation through works. But Paul points out, if faith brought us salvation, then faith will make our salvation valid. Yet, works are still required for another purpose. Jesus said very bluntly, once you come to the cross and receive the free gift of salvation, then pick up your own cross and follow Me by doing what I have commanded you to do. However, all of these works of obedience are done out of gratitude and love for our Father, our Savior, and our Holy Spirit as a way to honor, praise, glorify and lift them up for all the world to see the light, so that they too can come to the same knowledge of the truth about God’s plan of true salvation.
At the same time, Paul was insistent that these Messianic Jews drop any notion that just because they were of Jewish stock, that they were first in line to receive forgiveness and be justified before God. Even though the children of Jacob were chosen to bring light to a world living in spiritual darkness, God’s promise as revealed through the prophet Isaiah said that His special Servant would not only be a Savior to the Jews but to people all over the world.6
Jesus was confirmed as that special Servant when Mary and Joseph brought Him to the Temple in order to be dedicated. By God’s design, a priest named Simeon, who lived in Jerusalem, was there on that day when Joseph and Mary arrived with the baby Jesus. Simeon lived and breathed for the day when he would see the Messiah, and had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before the Messiah would be revealed. So when he took Jesus in his arms, Simeon offered this prayer: “Now, Lord, you can let me, your servant, die in peace as you said. I have seen with my own eyes how you will save your people. Now all people can see your plan. He is a light to show your way to the other nations.”7
Paul had previously written the Galatians, and this is what he said: “Because of what Jesus Christ did, the blessing God promised to Abraham was given to all people. Christ died so that by believing in Him we could have the Spirit that God promised.”8 As a result, Paul went on to say: “In Christ, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or free, male or female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.”9 Paul reiterated the same truth in his letter to the Ephesians,10 and the Colossians.11 But Paul is not happy just saying it, now he wants to prove it from Scripture.
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster has an interesting question: “Is this blessedness given to the children of Abraham only or to the Gentiles also? If in those days the Gentiles were not forbidden to come [to God] under the law and the promise made to Abraham, how could it be that in the time of Christ they should be prevented from coming to grace when God has clearly invited them?”12 Ambrosiaster’s question is rhetorical. In other words, this idea of opening the door to salvation for all mankind did not start with the Apostle Paul, it was already true when Jesus was here on earth.
Adam Clarke adds his insight to this: “The apostle‘s question is very nervous. If this pardon, granted in this way, be essential to happiness – and David says it is so – then is it the privilege of the Jews exclusively? This cannot be; for, as it is by the mere mercy of God, through faith, even the Jews could not claim it. But if God offered it to the Jews, not because they have been obedient, for they also have sinned, but because of His mere mercy, then, of course, the same blessedness may be offered to the Gentiles who believe in the Lord Jesus… Abraham had no merit, he was an idolater; but he believed in God, and his faith was reckoned to him ‘in righteousness,’ in reference to his justification; he brought faith when he could not bring works; God accepted his faith in the place of obedience; and this became the instrumental cause of his justification.”13
Robert Haldane makes this point: “The Apostle having fully established the truth, that a man is justified by faith without works, now reverts to the allusion made to circumcision at the beginning of this chapter, in demanding what Abraham had obtained as pertaining to the flesh. He now shows, in the most decisive manner, that Abraham had not obtained justification by means of circumcision since he was justified before he was circumcised. And, proceeding to prove what he had affirmed, (ch. 3:30), that justification is not confined to the Jews, he asks if the blessedness he had spoken of comes only to those who are circumcised, or to the uncircumcised also. It was the more necessary to decide this question because the Jews not only believed that justification depended, at least in part, on their works, but that the privileges of the people of God were inseparably connected with circumcision. In the sequel, Paul shows that justification has no necessary connection with, or dependence on, circumcision.”14
Charles Hodge points out: “The apostle’s third argument, commencing with this verse and continuing to the 12th, has special reference to circumcision. He had proved that Abraham was not justified on account of his works generally; he now proves that circumcision is neither the ground nor condition of his acceptance. The proof of this point is brief and conclusive. It is admitted that Abraham was justified. The only question is, was it before or after his circumcision? If before, it certainly was not on account of it. As it was before, circumcision must have served some other purpose.”15 Of course, that other purpose was that circumcision was a passive sign that this individual was part of the covenant God made with Abraham. But being a part of was not enough, one must also be a participant of for the promise to take effect. What Paul says of circumcision for Jews can also be said of baptism for Christians.
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 168
3 MT is an abbreviation for the Masoretic Text for the Jewish Hebrew Bible
4 LXX is an abbreviation for Septuagint (which is Greek for 70), identifying the 70 Jewish scholars that translated the Masoretic Text into Greek in 250 BC.
5 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 118
6 Isaiah 49:6
7 Luke 2:29-32
8 Galatians 3:14
9 Ibid. 3:28
10 Ephesians 2:11-13
11 Colossians 3:11
12 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
13 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 173
15 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 179