St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans Chapter 4


Almighty God and Father,

In Abraham You called forth the physical father of Your
Covenant people Israel and the spiritual father of all who in faith come to the
sacrament of Baptism in Jesus Christ.  He is the Old Testament model of obedient
faith as he cut himself off from all earthly ties to set out with his wife, at
Your command, for an unknown land and an unknown future.  This was Abram’s first
act of faith and it was renewed when he offered You his beloved son’the son of
Your promise.  For his unswerving faith and obedience You added grace to his
name and Abram became Abraham.  It was to this man of faith that Your chosen
people owed their existence and destiny’not only Abraham’s physical descendants
but all who, in virtue of this same faith, become his spiritual children with a
share in that promised destiny.  Send us Your Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our
study.  We pray in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
Father Abraham, pray for us!


+ + +

“Paul shows that the Jews, by trying to put the Gentiles
in their place, were insulting God’s glory by not allowing Him to be the God of
all.  But if God is God of all, then He takes care of all, and if He takes care
of all, then He saves all alike by faith.”
St. John Chrysostom Bishop of
Constantinople, Homilies on Romans # 7


“How should the
law be upheld if not by righteousness?  By a righteousness, moreover, which is
of faith, for what could not be fulfilled through the law is fulfilled through
St. Augustine, Homilies on Romans


“Not only does Paul say that there is only one God for
both Jews and Gentiles, but he adds that this God is the one who justifies the
circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their
faith…. Neither the circumcision nor the uncircumcision enjoys any advantage
in this. 
Origin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


In chapter 4 Paul
will use a Scriptural defense in support of the claim he makes that salvation is
a gift by faith and not only by works of the Old Covenant Law, and that the
justification of all mankind by grace through faith does not dismiss the Law of
Moses but upholds it.  Paul will present a Scriptural defense that points to an
inclusive covenant in the Gospel of Jesus Christ’a principle that was already
operative in the Old Testament.  In Romans chapter 1 Paul
maintained that God’s righteousness is revealed to all mankind both through
natural law’apart from the Law of Moses in the Sinai Covenant’and also to the
children of Israel through the Law of the Sinai Covenant.  In chapters 2 and
3 he pointed
out that this revelation was also revealed through the prophets who witnessed to
the truth in the Law of Moses [see Romans
].  In both cases God’s Law worked in the lives of men beyond the
visual and the physical’the true believer is the one who offers his life as a
sacrifice to God’a sacrifice witnessed by a “circumcised heart” [Deuteronomy
; 30:6;
].  Now Paul turns to Scripture to prove his argument in the figure of
the model of faith for all Old Covenant believers.


Question: Who is it in the Old Testament who is the
first model of faithful covenant obedience and in whom all future covenants
between God and man will be linked?

Answer: Father Abraham:

  • “Remember the deeds performed by our ancestors, each in
    his own generation, and you will win great honor and everlasting renown.  Was
    not Abraham tested and found faithful, was that not considered in justifying
      1 Maccabees
  • “Abraham, the great ancestor of a host of nations, no one
    was ever his equal in glory.  He observed the Law of the Most High, and entered
    into a covenant with him.  He confirmed the covenant in his own flesh, and
    proved himself faithful under ordeal.  The Lord therefore promised him on oath
    to bless the nations through his descendants, to multiply him like the dust on
    the ground, to exalt his descendants like the stars, and to give them the land
    as their heritage from one sea to another from the River to the ends of the
    (20)-21 (23)

Paul will focus his argument on Genesis chapters 15-17.
It is in father Abraham that the Jews derive their special relationship with
Yahweh as His chosen people.  It is in father Abraham that the entire Jewish
identity and the promises of the Covenant with Yahweh are centered’promises that
all Jews believed would be fulfilled in the Messianic Age.


In using father Abraham as his model, it is necessary for
Paul to demonstrate that Abraham was justified in the eyes of God by his faith.
But Abraham is also a model of obedience and so Paul must achieve two points in
the representation of Abraham as a person first justified by faith.  He
must demonstrate that Abraham’s righteousness was not through nature or through
the Law but through the righteousness of faith and as a result the obedience of
Abraham’s faith is manifested through his deeds.  To succeed in this argument
Paul develops two themes:

  1. Paul shows that sacred Scripture identifies Abraham first
    and foremost as a person of faith [see Romans 4:1-12],
  2. Paul demonstrates that it was upon the standing of Abraham’s
    initial justification by faith that he received for himself and for his
    descendants the blessings of the Covenant promises that are fulfilled in Jesus
    Christ [4:13-17].


In establishing these two themes Paul will be able to define
Abraham’s fatherhood to the Covenant people as Abraham the father of all New
Covenant believers’Jews and Gentiles’all who are justified on the basis of faith
in Jesus Christ.  It is in this theme that St. Irenaeus wrote in the late first
century: “We were prefigured in the Jews, and they are represented in us,
that is, in the Church, and they receive the reward for what they achieved.”
St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, Against Heresies 4.22.2. Paul’s
intension then is nothing less than to present the true definition of Yahweh’s
eschatological people as the progeny of the Gentile Abraham and the rightful
heirs to the promised blessings of the world-wide inheritance of the Kingdom of


Please read Romans 4:1-12,
Abraham is justified by faith:

1 Then what do
we say about Abraham, the ancestor from whom we are descended physically?
2 If Abraham had been justified
because of what he had done, then he would have had something to boast about.
But not before God: does not Scripture say:
3 ‘Abraham put his faith in God and this was
reckoned to him as uprightness
4 Now, when someone works, the wages for this are
not considered as a favor but as due;
however, when someone, without working puts faith in the one who
justifies the godless, it is this faith that is reckoned as uprightness.
6 David, too, says the same: he calls
someone blessed if God attributes uprightness to that person, apart from any
action undertaken:
7 ‘How blessed
are those whose offence is forgiven, whose sin is blotted out.
8 How blessed are those to
whom the Lord imputes no guilt.’
9 Is this blessing only for the circumcised, or is
it said of the uncircumcised as well? Well, we said of Abraham that his faith
was reckoned to him as uprightness. 
how did this come about?  When he was already circumcised, or before he
had been circumcised?  Not when he had been circumcised, but while he was still
11 and circumcision
was given to him later, as a sign and a guarantee that the faith which he had
while still uncircumcised was reckoned to him as uprightness.  In this way,
Abraham was to be the ancestor of all believers who are uncircumcised, so that
they might be reckoned as upright;
as well as the ancestor of those of the circumcision who not only have
their circumcision but who also follow our ancestor Abraham along the path of
faith that he trod before he was circumcised.”


In this passage Paul presents his argument in 3 stages:

  1. Romans 4:3-5
    focuses on Genesis 15
    [quoting verse 6]
  2. Romans 4:6-8
    focuses on Psalms
    32 [quoting verses 1-2]
    and King David’s justification
  3. Romans 4:9-12
    focuses on Genesis 17
    [quoting verse 10]
    and Abraham’s righteousness which is not the result of
    circumcision because his faith preceded his circumcision.


Question: In Romans 4:1-2
Paul writes that if Abraham had been justified by his works then he would have
had something to boast about to men but not to God, “If Abraham had been
justified because of what he had done, then he would have had something to boast
about.  But not before God…”
Why didn’t Abraham have something to boast
about before God?  What about before man?  What did Paul say about “boasting” in
.?  What is the key phrase in this passage?

Answer: Abraham’s righteous works might have been
something to boast of to other men and women because his deeds were good and in
the eyes of others were worthy deeds, but Paul is linking this question to his
statements in 3:23-28 that
there is no room for boasting because “faith is what counts, since, as we see
it, a person is justified by faith and not by doing what the Law tells him to
Paul’s point is that Abraham’s justification and the works that
resulted had their source in the first stage of the process of
justification’which is in the supernatural gift of faith’which comes from the
divine grace and favor of God
[CCC# 153].

Question: Why might this be a hard teaching for Paul’s
Jewish audience?

Answer: This is a hard teaching for Paul’s Jewish
audience, who through their tradition, have been preoccupied with Abraham
chiefly as a model of works of obedience no matter what the trial:

  • 1 Maccabee
    : “Remember the deeds performed by our ancestors, each in his
    generation, and you will win great honor and everlasting renown.  Was not
    Abraham tested and found faithful, was that not considered as justifying
  • Wisdom 10:5
    [Wisdom at work in Salvation history]: “Again, when, concurring in
    wickedness, the nations had been thrown into confusion, she singled out the
    upright man, preserved him blameless before God and fortified him against pity
    for his child.”
  • Ecclesiasticus
    44:19 (20)
    :“Abraham, the great ancestor of a host of nations, no one was
    ever his equal in glory.  He observed the Law of the Most High, and entered into
    a covenant with him.  He confirmed the covenant in his own flesh, and proved
    himself faithful under ordeal. 


But Paul’s point is that faith and obedience in deeds are so
interdependent that they cannot be separated and yet it is the gift of faith
that must come first in order for the works of faith to be generated.  The gift
of faith is the first step in obtaining justification/salvation: “The
necessity of faith: CCC# 161, Believing in
Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for
obtaining that salvation.  Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please
and to attain to the fellowship of his Son, therefore without
faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal
life ‘but he who endures to the end.'”
[quoting Dei Filius 3; Matthew
; 3; 24:13; 3;
; Council of Trent: DS 1532].  The Council of Trent stated that this
initial act of faith “moves the person to recognize God, to repent of his
sins, to put his trust and faith in God’s divine mercy and to love him above all
things; and to desire the sacraments and resolve to live a holy life..”  The
Council of Trent, De Justification,
chapter 6.


In Romans 4:3 Paul
begins his Scriptural proof in support of Abraham’s initial justification by
faith by quoting from the key text in Genesis
, “Abraham put his faith in God and this was reckoned as
Paul will quote Genesis 15:6
three times in Romans 4:3; 4:10; and in 4:22.  In
quoting this passage Paul asks a question:

Question: Why was Abraham’s faith reckoned as
righteousness?  Read Genesis
and Galatians

Answer: Once again Paul is quoting from the Greek
Septuagint translation.  In Genesis 15:6
God made the promise of numerous descendants.  Abraham had no evidence to
support the validity of a promise that no mere human’s word could guarantee, but
he had faith in God’s promise.  In other words he accepted in trust the truth of
Yahweh’s word, and this faith was credited as uprightness with God.  This text
in Genesis supports Paul’s argument by making the link between faith and being
found righteous in God’s eyes.  God reckoned Abraham’s faith as something which
deserved to be rewarded.  It is faith that leads to justification and
justification renders a believer’s good works God’s works and meritorious of
eternal life.  In Galatians
Paul wrote that it was Abraham’s faith which had brought about the
events in the Church in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’Paul wrote,
“Abraham, you remember, put his faith in God, and this was reckoned to him as
uprightness.  Be sure, then, that it is people of faith who are the children of
Abraham.  And it was because Scripture foresaw that God would give saving
justice to the Gentiles through faith, that it announced the future Gospel to
Abraham in the words: ‘All nations will be blessed in you.’  So it is people of
faith who receive the same blessing as Abraham, the man of faith.”


Then in Romans 4:4-5
Paul takes an example from everyday life in an experience with which most of his
audience can relate: the right of an employee to receive just compensation for
work done and on the other hand, the lack of right to such compensation for one
who has failed to do any work.

Question: What is Paul’s point?  Hint: the phrase
“in the one who justifies the godless” or “in the one justifying the
is an allusion to Exodus 23:7 and
Isaiah 5:23
in which it is forbidden in the spirit of justice for men to acquit the

Answer: Paul makes the point that someone who has
worked is entitled to receive a wage comparable to the work they have
completed’it is their just reward that they have earned for themselves through
their efforts.  However, if any benefit comes to an employee who has not worked
and has not earned the wage through his own efforts then their wage rests purely
on the favor or mercy of the employer.  Such an employee has no legitimate claim
to a wage.  For the Christian faith is “credited as righteousness” when one’s
faith is recognized by God as meriting His grace because one’s faith becomes the
advanced promise of the good deeds that will in the future be credited to the
believer’s righteousness.  It is the gift of faith that gives us, as it were,
the trust of the “employer” that the “employee” will live up to his obligations.
The “one who justifies the godless” is of course a liberty that belongs
to God Himself.  Man cannot purchase his salvation through good works like a
laborer works for a wage: “If anyone saith that man may be justified before
God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature or that
of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be
[Council of Trent, On Justification, canon I]. God in His
desire to bring man to salvation does not simply confirm the good deeds that
people may do but He takes the initiative to do for His children what they
cannot do for themselves to bring a sinful humanity into a right relationship
with Himself’and for our part, in the exercise of our free will, we cooperate
with His grace so that the “credit” is translated into acts of love and mercy.


Then in Romans 4:7-8
Paul equates this example of the employee who receives merciful compensation
over the just wage by linking justification by faith and salvation to David’s
beatitude in Psalm 32:1-2.
Paul is again quoting from the Greek Septuagint.  Please read Psalm

Question: What is the theme of David’s psalm?

Answer: David’s admission of sin and repentance and
Yahweh’s merciful reply.  This psalm is in essence a prayer of thanksgiving
expressing David’s faith in God’s forgiveness, healing, and restoration.  So
now, in addition to quoting from the “book of Moses”, Paul is also citing from
the Old Testament “writings” to illustrate his thesis’both Old Testament
fathers, Abraham and the great King David support Paul’s thesis of God’s grace
and justification/salvation through faith’a teaching, Paul tells his audience
which is upheld by inspired Scripture.


Question: What series of questions does Paul ask in Romans

Answer: Paul asks if David’s blessing in Psalm 32:1-2 is
only for the circumcised or is it also for the uncircumcised. Circumcision was
to become the key sacrament of the covenant with Abraham which was transmitted
to all future covenants until the coming of Christ.  Please read Genesis chapter


The circumcision
of Abraham at age 99
is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant: “You
for your part must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you,
generation after generation.  This is my covenant which you must keep between
myself and you, and your descendants after you: every one of your males must be
circumcised.  You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that will be
the sign of the covenant between myself and you.  As soon as he is eight
days old, every one of your males, generation after generation must be
circumcised, including slaves born within the household or bought from a
foreigner not of your descent.  Whether born within the household or bought,
they must be circumcised.  My covenant must be marked in your flesh as a
covenant in perpetuity.  The uncircumcised male, whose foreskin has not been
circumcised’that person must be cut off from his people: he has broken my


Circumcision was not unique to the people of Israel.  Many
other peoples of the region used circumcision as a rite of passage into manhood
and as a rite initiatory to marriage.  The oldest depiction of circumcision is
on a relief from the tomb of Ankhmahor, vizier of Pharaoh Teti from the
24th century BC [circa 4-6 hundred years before Abraham], and the
oldest text reference is from an Egyptian inscription from 2300 BC.  Infant
circumcision was unique to the Israelites and the 8th day prescribed
is also significant.

Question: What is the significance of the number 8 in
Scripture?  See the document The Significance of Numbers in Scripture in
the Documents section of Agape Bible Study.

Answer: 8 is the number of redemption, resurrection,
and regeneration.  8 people were saved in Noah’s ark and Jesus was raised from
the dead on Sunday which was not only the first day of a 7-day week but also in
sequence can be the 8th day.  Recognizing this significance all of
the earliest Christian churches of the Byzantine era were 8-sided’including the
early church of the faithful who gathered in what had been Peter’s house in


In Genesis chapter
circumcision becomes a “sign” like the covenant sign of the rainbow in Genesis
, to remind Yahweh of His covenant commitment and humans of their
covenant obligations.  However, according to God’s plan, circumcision was
only an external sign of Abraham’s justification’not the cause! 

  • Deuteronomy
    : “Circumcise your heart then and be obstinate no longer; for Yahweh
    your God is God of gods and Lord of lords…”
  • Jeremiah
    : “Circumcise yourselves for Yahweh, apply circumcision to your
    hearts, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
  • Jeremiah
    9:24-25 [25-26]
    : “Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I
    shall punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh: Egypt, Judah, Edom, the
    Ammonites, Moab, and all the men with shaven temples who live in the desert.
    For all those nations and the whole House of Israel too, are uncircumcised at


Paul insists that the blessing in Psalms 32:1-2 is
not limited to the circumcised Jews.  The force of Paul’s questions center on
Abraham and whether he was circumcised when he was first justified by faith. He
was not.  Abraham was justified by his faith in Genesis chapter
but was not circumcised until chapter 17.
Paul argues the status of the individual depends on his uprightness before
God’whether or not he came to God in faith’because in Abraham’s case
justification came about through faith and not by “deeds of the Law” like
circumcision.  It is, as Paul explains in Romans 4:11,
the “sign and a guarantee that the faith which he had while still
uncircumcised was reckoned to him as uprightness.
”  It is the time sequence
that is Paul’s focus in the Genesis story.  Abraham was judged as righteous in
Genesis 15
but was not circumcised until Genesis 17;
therefore, circumcision had nothing to do with Abraham being reckoned as
upright.  Circumcision was a “sign” to seal the Covenant with Yahweh to be
handed on to Abraham’s posterity, but it was a sign given to Abraham as a
person of faith.
Abraham, through the gift of faith, believed in God and
God made a covenant with him, and circumcision became a sign of that covenant
and a seal of his justification through faith!


Question: And so in Romans 4:11-12,
according to Paul whose father does Abraham become?

Answer: Abraham’s spiritual paternity is as important
as his physical paternity and it is the spiritual paternity that makes him the
father of all believers who imitate his faith and turn to faith in Jesus Christ
whether they are circumcised in the flesh or not.


Please read Romans 4:13-17,
Justification is not through obedience to the Law of Moses:

13 “For the promise to
Abraham and his descendants that he should inherit the world was not through the
Law, but through the uprightness of faith. 
14 For if it is those who live by the Law who will
gain the inheritance, faith is worthless and the promise is without force;
15 for the Law produces nothing but
God’s retribution, and it is only where there is no Law that it is possible to
live without breaking the Law.
That is why the promise is to faith, so that I comes as a free gift and is
secure for all the descendants, not only those who rely on the Law but all those
others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the ancestor of us all
17 (as Scripture says: I have made you the father
of many nations).  Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his
faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into existence what does not
yet exist.”


Romans 4:13-14,
“For the promise to Abraham and his descendants that he should inherit the
world was not through the Law, but through the uprightness of faith.  For if it
is those who live by the Law who will gain the inheritance, faith is worthless
and the promise is without force…”

Question: If salvation was only through the observance
of the Law of Moses what would be the result?

Answer: The result would be that faith as a
supernatural gift of God would have no role in God’s plan of salvation for
humanity.  Faith would be “null and void” of any meaning or impact and God’s
promise of justifying Abraham’s faith could not be fulfilled.  The “uprightness
of faith” that Paul mentions is the obedience of faith that is evidenced by a
living and active faith in Abraham’s life.  God awarded the promises to Abraham
in Genesis
because of his faith.  It was an inheritance that wasn’t
given as a reward for a duty performed or as a contract fulfilled [Abraham
hadn’t even left for Canaan] but was given in faith to be redeemed by faith in
the saving work of Jesus Christ.


In Romans 4:15
Paul is repeating what he introduced in Romans 1:18 and
then taught more fully in 3:19-20,
“Now we are well aware that whatever the Law says is said for those who are
subject to the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world
brought under the judgment of God.  So then, no human being can be found upright
at the tribunal of God by keeping the Law; all that the Law does is to tell us
what is sinful.”

Question: What point is Paul repeating?  How is the
Law of Moses limited?

Answer: The Law was given to identify sin; it
cannot eliminate sin nor can the Law bring about salvation.


Then in completing his thought in Romans 4:15
Paul makes a curious statement.  He writes, “…it is only where there is no
Law that it is possible to live without breaking the Law”,
which can also be
translated as “but where there is no law, there is no transgression.”

Question: What is Paul’s point?

Answer: A “transgression”, or “breaking of the Law”
implies an act that violates the law that has been prescribed.  So, if there is
no law prescribed then there can be no violation of the law’and yet if there is
no law at all sin abounds even when it is not labeled as sin.  Paul will develop
this further in Romans


Romans 4:16,
“That is why the promise is to faith, so that it comes as a free gift and is
secure for all the descendants, not only those who rely on the Law but all those
others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the ancestor of us all..”

Paul is presenting the alternative to disobedience to the Law
which leads to transgression of the Law and God’s wrathful judgment through
God’s promise of salvation in the gift of unmerited grace and faith.

The Law àtransgressionàwrath

God’s promisesàunmerited graceàfaith


God’s power to make us godly is greater than the power of
concupiscence that calls us into sin. 
[see CCC#405; 1264; 2515-16].


Romans 4:17:
“as Scripture says: I have made you the father of many nations..” Paul is
citing Genesis
according to the Septuagint.  The term “many nations” is a term for the
Gentile peoples in general who will become the children of Abraham through faith
in Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul tells his audience, while they may have
assumed God’s promise to be in the physical sense, the promise was intended to
have a fuller more profound spiritual fulfillment.  Scripture, anticipating that
God would justify the Gentile nations through faith in Jesus,  records the
preaching of the Gospel in advance to Abraham with Yahweh’s promise “I have
made you the father of many nations.”


Question: In Romans 4:13-17
what does Paul establish as the consequence of the “spiritual fatherhood” of

Answer: It fulfills the promise God made to Abraham
that is an intrinsic aspect of God’s salvific plan for all humanity’the
world-wide blessing through Abraham which is repeated 5 times in Genesis 12:3;
18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14 and
which is fulfilled in the spiritual descendants of Abraham who are New Covenant
believers living in one end of the world to the other.  Now both Jews and
Gentile come to God through the Lord Jesus Christ and are incorporated into one
family’the universal Catholic Church.


In Romans 4:17
Paul writes, “Abraham is our father in the eye of God, in whom he put his
faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into existence what does not
yet exist”,
Question: What significant link is Paul making between
revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments in this passage?

Answer: Paul is providing his hearers with the link
between the miracle of Creation and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which will
generate a new Creation’Jesus is resurrected on the same day that according to
Jewish tradition the first Creation took place’the first day of the week, Sunday
[you will recall that Sunday, the Sabbath, is the 7th day].


Please read Romans 4:18-25,
Father Abraham’s faith is a model for Christian faith:

18 “Though there
seemed no hope, he hoped and believed that he was to become father of many
nations in fulfillment of the promise: ‘Just so will your descendants be.’
19 Even the thought that his body was
as good as dead’he was about a hundred years old’and that Sarah’s womb was dead
too did not shake his faith.
Counting on the promise of God, he did not doubt or disbelieve, but drew
strength from faith and gave glory to God,
21 fully convinced that whatever God promised he
has the power to perform. 
22 This is
the faith that was reckoned to him as uprightness. 
23 And the word ‘reckoned’ in Scripture applies
not only to him;
24 it is there for
our sake too’our faith, too, will be ‘reckoned’
25 because we believe in him who raised from the
dead our Lord Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life
for our justification.”


Question: Why would there seem to be no hope for the
fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham?  What was the necessary condition
that had to be completed for the promises to be fulfilled?  See chart of
promises from Genesis chapter
and read Genesis chapter

1. “I shall make you a great nation”: This is the
promise of a nation that will belong to Abram’s descendants and over which they
will rule.
2. “I shall bless you and make your name famous”:
This is the promised of the blessing of descendants.  A man’s name was carried
on by his offspring.
3. “All the nations on earth will bless themselves by
your descendants”
:  This is the promise of a world-wide blessing that will
come from the children of Abram.

These promises will become the
3-fold Covenant with Abram and his “seed”/descendants in chapters 15,
17 and 22, a period
that covers approximately 40 years.

Answer: Abraham would have to have children’all the
promises are based on descendants.  He was elderly and his wife was beyond
childbearing years’in Genesis 17 he is
99 and Sarai is 89
but he believe and miraculously Sarah conceived the child
through which the promises would be eventually fulfilled and gave birth when she
was 90 years old.  Abraham’s son Isaac’born when his father was 100 years
old’would father Jacob who would be renamed by God as Israel and Jacob/Israel
would become the physical father of the 12 tribes of Israel, and Jesus the
Messiah would be born from the 4th son, the tribe of Judah.


Question: Paul is presenting Abraham as a model of
faith but was there a time when Abraham’s faith in the physical fulfillment [not
the spiritual fulfillment] of the promises was weak?

Answer: Earlier in his walk with God Abraham had
tried to take the fulfillment of the promises into his own hands and the result
was Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Sarai’s Egyptian slave girl, Hagar [Genesis chapter
].  However, in Genesis chapter 17:1
God repeats His promise adding in 17:15-19
that a son is to be born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.

Question: Turn to Genesis 17.
What request does Abraham make in Genesis
?  What is God’s answer?

Answer: Abraham is elated to be told Sarah will bear
him a son but he reminds God’look here is a perfectly fine son [Ishmael] who can
inherit the promises “that will be enough.”.  But God’s answer is that
the Covenant is to only pass through the Hebrew bloodline of Abraham and
Sarah”the son of the promise in whom the promised “seed” of Genesis 3:15
is preserved.  This is the line through which the Messiah will come.  Abraham
believed and his reward was the fulfillment of the promises.


Question: In Romans 4:20-21
what does Paul write that Abraham’s faith achieved for him?

Answer: The exercise of faith strengthens the
believer’even when the believer is physically or spiritually weak.  Even a
little faith is enough for God’s grace to work in our lives for faith is all
powerful and allows God’s power to yield miracles in our lives.  Paul confirms
this “strength” in weakness when he writes to the Church at Corinth:  2
Corinthians 12:9-10
, “for power is at full stretch in weakness.  It is,
then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power
of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults,
constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ’s sake.  For it is when I am
weak that I am strong.”
Using Abraham as an example, we can say in Genesis
17 that Abraham did not trust in his own powers or body [as he had in the past];
instead he trusted only in God.  It is not our own strength we must depend upon,
but in faith we depend upon the strength of God the Father.  Recalling Romans 4:17 and
the power of God as Creator, Paul writes that Abraham was “… fully
convinced that whatever God promised he has the power to perform.”
This was
a profession of faith that took a life journey for Abraham to reach’in faith he
reached the point of abandoning himself in faith into God’s hands.


Paul quotes Genesis 15:6
for the third time in Romans 4:22 and
then writes, “And the word ‘reckoned’ in Scripture applies not only to him;
it is there for our sake too’our faith, too, will be ‘reckoned’ because we
believe in him who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus who was handed
over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.”

The hearers of the letter realize in this part of his letter [Romans 4:
] that Paul, now using the first person plural [“our”], has cited the
story of Abraham to apply it to himself and to the Roman faith community in
their walk of faith.  Therefore, Abraham’s faith becomes the pattern for our
Christian faith because the object is the same’the faith that the God who
promises to make the dead live again and who promises to justify the sinner is
the same God who fulfilled His promises to Abraham 2000 years earlier.  If
Abraham trusted in faith and was justified, then so too will we be justified by
our faith’a teaching Paul used in 1
Corinthians 10:11
when Paul wrote concerning the stories in the Old
Testament: “Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they
were described in writing to be a lesson for us, to whom it has fallen to live
in the last days of the ages.”


Notice in Romans 4:25
that Paul’s reference is not only to Jesus’ sacrificial death but also to His
glorious Resurrection.  Paul never writes of the death of the Savior in
isolation from His Resurrection.  The faith which leads to our justification is
accomplished by entering into the life of the Resurrected Jesus Christ in the
Sacrament of Baptism:

  • Romans 6:4:
    “So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ
    was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we too should begin
    living a new life.”
  • Galatians
    : “for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in
    Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in
    Christ.  There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor
    freeman, there can be neither male nor female’for you are all one in Christ
    Jesus.  And simply by being Christ’s, you are that progeny of Abraham, the heirs
    named in the promise.”


Martin Luther interpreted these passages in Romans chapters 3
and 4 to support his doctrine of salvation by “faith alone”‘rejecting the
“justification by deeds in chapter 2 as an “unfulfilled plan” on account of
man’s sinfulness.  His interpretation of these passages was that justification
is a state in which man is only declared “just” generated by faith in Jesus
Christ; that this is only a legal declaration’not a transformation, and that
justification is not concerned with works.  Most Protestants view the different
aspects of salvation: sanctification, justification, redemption, and forgiveness
as past events and justification only as a state into which the believe is
placed upon a one time profession of faith.  But according to sacred Scripture
all the different aspects of salvation share past, present and future dimensions
including justification.  Catholic doctrine does agree with our Protestant
brothers that justification is a state conferred by God’s grace through faith
[that is initial justification]; however, Catholic doctrine teaches that
justification is a state as well as a process, and that justification has past,
present and future dimensions.  We do we not agree with our Protestant brothers
and sisters who reject justification by works as a part of the salvation


Sacred Scripture supports the 3 different dimensions of
justification as a life process. Romans 5:1-2, 9 and 1
Corinthians 6:11
are some examples of Scripture that speak of justification
as a past event, but the Bible also teaches that justification is not simply a
“one-for-all-time” event but is rather also an on-going and not yet completed
process in which works of righteous faith are a key part of the process.


Some Scripture passages that identify justification as a

Justification as a past event Justification as a present event Justification as a future event
Corinthians 6:11
2:16, 17

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions
All Rights Reserved.


The story of Abraham that Paul used in chapter 4 and the
references to God’s promise of descendants in Genesis
is one of the classic Old Testament texts on the doctrine of
justification.  St. Paul uses this text in Genesis and the story of Abraham as
an example of justification in both the letter to the Romans and the letter to
the Galatians.  Let’s reexamine what Paul wrote in Romans 4:1-5 concerning
when God told Abram “‘Look up at the sky and count the stars if
you can.  Just so will your descendants be,’ he told him.  Abram put his faith
in Yahweh and this was reckoned to him as uprightness
  Paul then continues in Romans 4:2,
“If Abraham had been justified because of what he had done, then he would
have had something to boast about.  But not before God: does not Scripture say:
‘Abraham put his faith in God and this was reckoned to him as uprightness?'”
We have already noted that this passage, which conforms with Paul’s teaching
as a whole and with James chapter 2,
is that with God faith and righteousness expressed in deeds are so
interdependent as to be inseparable.


Romans 4:3
teaches that Abraham was justified when he believed God concerning the blessing
of numerous descendants.  But, if justification is a one-time event rather than
a life-long process then we would have to conclude that Abraham could not
receive God’s justification either before or after Genesis
.  Scripture, however, proves the contrary.  Abraham’s justification was
not a once-in-a-lifetime event but rather Scripture confirms that he received
God’s justification both before and after Genesis


Scripture clearly teaches that Abraham was justified at least
on 3 separate occasions:

  1. Genesis 12:
    when Abraham obeyed God and left his homeland for the Promised Land
  2. Genesis 15:
    when Abraham believed the promise of descendants
  3. Genesis 22:
    when Abraham offered the “son of promise” on the altar to God

Each of the 3 promises and
Abraham’s subsequent “justification” follows the 3-fold Abrahamic Covenant


referring to events that took place in Genesis chapter 12
states: “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a
country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he
set out without knowing where he was going.  By faith he sojourned in the
Promised Land as though it were not his, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob,
who were heirs with him of the same promise.” 
The subject of this passage
in Hebrews is “faith reckoned as righteousness” or “saving faith.”  Therefore,
according to Scripture the faith we are told that Abraham received in Genesis
chapter 15 must be the same faith Abraham received in Genesis
when he was called to leave his homeland and travel to Canaan’the
Promised Land, which “was the inheritance given to him and his
].  This faith which was reckoned as righteousness that was Abraham’s by
the grace of God in Genesis chapter 12 was faith that was demonstrated three
chapters before and years and years before Abraham believed God’s promise of
descendants as numerous as the stars in Genesis 15.


Not only was Abraham justified by his faith prior to Genesis 15:6
but years later in Genesis chapter
as St. James teaches in James 2:18-24,
Abraham was also justified by his deeds’a teaching introduced by Paul in Romans 2:5-10.
St. James writes in 2:18-24, “But
someone may say: So you have faith and I have good deeds?  Show me this faith of
yours without deeds, then!  It is by my deeds that I will show you my faith.
You believe in the one God’that is creditable enough, but even the demons have
the same belief, and they tremble with fear.  Fool!  Would you not like to know
that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by
his deed, because he offered his son Isaac on the altar? So you can see that his
faith was working together with his deeds; his faith became perfect by whet he
did.  In this way the Scripture was fulfilled: Abraham put his faith in God, and
this was considered as making him upright; and he received the name ‘friend of
God.’  You see now that it is by deeds, and not only by believing [faith alone],
that someone is justified.”


The justification that Abraham received in believing God’s
initial promise of his descendants was fulfilled in the action/deed of obeying
God and offering his beloved son Isaac on the altar as a sacrifice [see Genesis 22:2;

11:17-19 concerning this event records: “It was by faith that Abraham,
when put to the test, offered up Isaac.  He offered to sacrifice his only son
even though he had yet to receive what had been promised, and he had been told:
Isaac is the one through whom your name will be carried on.  He was confident
that God had the power even to raise the dead; and so, figuratively speaking, he
was given back Isaac from the dead.”


Therefore, taking Scripture as a whole it is clear that
justification is a process.  The process begins with the first work of the grace
of the Holy Spirit in our conversion and our initial justification through faith
merited in the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’we are Baptized by
water and the Spirit and reborn as transformed, holy children into God’s
covenant family.  That justification continues after our Baptism into the family
of God as we struggle on our journey’turning away from sin and turning back to
God, renewed and justified through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and
sanctified by the works of God work through our lives in deeds of love and
charity’a process that continues until our individual judgment or the
Resurrection of the dead and the Final Judgment.   When we face the judgment of
God we will be judged according to our deeds and, by the grace of God the
righteous who persevered in faith demonstrated in works of love will receive the
gift of eternal life [see CCC # 1987-1996].


While it is true that many of our Protestant brothers and
sisters conceive of the doctrine of justification as a state rather than also as
a life-long process, it is ironic that Martin Luther, the first “Protestant” did
conceive of justification in the Catholic sense as both a state and a process.
Luther wrote, “we understand that a man who is justified is not already
righteous, but moving toward righteousness..” 
He also wrote, “our
justification is not yet complete..[…].  It is still under construction.  It
shall, however, be completed in the resurrection of the dead.”
Salvation Controversy,
page 23].


Questions for group discussion:

Question: How does man cooperate in his own
salvation?  How has God chosen to associate man with the work of His grace and
how does justification establish cooperation between God’s grace and man’s free


Question: CCC# 1990 says that
“Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God and
purifies his heart of sin.  Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative
of offering forgiveness.  It reconciles man with God.  It frees from the
enslavement to sin and it heals.”
What part does justification play in the
Sacrament of Reconciliation?


Question: How does one avoid falling into error when
interpreting sacred Scripture?

Answer: In the case of the doctrine of justification
as in all matters relating to Scripture, it is the entire body of Scripture
that must be addressed in seeking a correct interpretation
‘not only those
passages that fit a preconceived notion.  One cannot accept certain passages of
the sacred text and reject others.  Such a practice leads to false
interpretation and ultimately to heresy.  Pope Leo XIII [1878-1903] stated in
the document Providentissimus Deus 20: “it is absolutely wrong and
forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture
or to admit that the sacred writer has erred.”
  In addition, Pope Leo
condemned those who viewed difficult passages in Scripture as an indication that
some of the text was Holy Spirit inspired while other parts of the text were not
when he wrote that the Church condemned, “the system of those who, in order
to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine
inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond.”

Continuing the doctrine that Sacred Scripture is without error the great council
of Vatican I [1870] affirmed in De Fide Catholic 2:7 that “the
canon of the Bible is sacred and canonical, not because having been composed by
human industry they were afterwards approved by her [the Church’s] authority;
nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been
written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their
  And Pope Pius the XII [1939-1958] in the document Divino
Afflante Spiritu
1, citing this passage from Vatican I in De Fide
, stated that this passage was a “solemn definition of Catholic
doctrine. By which such divine authority is claimed for the entire books with
all their parts as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever.”
condemned those who would dare to “ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred
Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals”
thereby limiting the
accuracy of the entire body of Sacred Scripture. Vatican II, the most recent
Great Council of the Universal Church reaffirmed the doctrine of the inerrancy
of Scripture in the document Dei Verbum 11 which the Magisterium teaches: “In
composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by him they made
use of their powers and abilities, so that with him acting in them and through
them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those
things that he wanted.  Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired
authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it
follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly,
faithfully, and without error that truth that God wanted put into sacred
writings for the sake of salvation.”


Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions
All Rights Reserved.


Catechism references for Romans chapter 4 [*indicates passage

4:3 146 4:18-21 723*
4:11 146 4:18 146; 165; 1819
4:16-21 706*; 2572* 4:20 146
4:17 298 4:25 517*; 519; 654*; 977*


Resources used in the lesson:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Dogmatic Canons and Decrees: The Council of Trent; Vatican
Council I; etc.

The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II

The Salvation Controversy

Romans, Joseph Fitzmyer

Romans, Brendan Byrne

Navarre Commentary’Romans

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture’Romans

Strong’s Concordance 

Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism”
by “Bible Christians”

Catholic Dictionary

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Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study.
All Rights Reserved.


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