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Romans 4:3–12; Genesis 15:6; Psalm 32:1–2
Romans Lesson #040
November 3, 2011
Romans 4 is the chapter where Paul is illustrating the principle from the Old Testament that justification comes from the grace of God. It is by faith alone and is not on the basis of works: it is God’s grace in operation. The focal point is on these two illustrations—one from Abraham and one from David. He does this because he is following the principle laid down in the Mosaic Law that there should be two or three witnesses of any event. He is choosing two absolute lines of evidence from the Old Testament—one from the Torah written by Moses and one from the Psalms written by David, who is also referred to in the Old Testament as a prophet. He did not hold the office of prophet and was not considered to be a prophet like Nathan, Gad, Elijah or Elishah, but he did have the gift of prophecy.
In Romans 4:3, Paul says, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ ” If you look at your Bible, you have a “for” at the beginning of verse two and a “for” at the beginning of verse three. These both represent the same word in Greek, but they are used with a slightly different sense.
Verse one begins with a somewhat rhetorical question “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh [his physical life]? “For …” at the beginning of verse two is an explanatory, and it sets up the condition “if Abraham was justified by works…” It is a first class condition there because he is setting it up like a debater. He is setting forth his first premise as if it were true, but it is not true. Sometimes when people have learned about the different conditions in Greek, they think that the first class condition means “if and it is true.” But it does not mean that. It means “if and the writer/speaker is assuming it is true.” It may not be true.
Here it is not true that Abraham was justified by works, but it is assumed to be true for the sake of argument. Verse two “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” And then Paul uses that same Greek word gar again, which is translated “for”, at the beginning of verse three. Here it is used in a much more argumentative sense. I do not use the word argument in the sense of two people getting into a disagreement with each other. I am using it in a technical/legal sense as a defense attorney or prosecutor in the courtroom is summarizing his evidence to make a point. He sets forth an argument driving toward his conclusion. The “for” here is used in this kind of an argumentative sense in order to set up or present the first line of evidence which comes from Genesis 15:6. Paul quotes it here from the Septuagint “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Let us go back to Genesis 15:6 to look at the context. There are a number of theologians, scholars and exegetes who take the position that Genesis 15:6 follows from the promise that God makes to Abram that his descendants, his seed will be more numerous than the stars in the heaven and the dust of the earth. This promise is what Abram is believing in verse six. But that is really not the case. What happens in verse six is a summary statement that Abram had already believed God, and it was accounted or imputed to him for righteousness. This cannot be the time when Abram receives the imputation of righteousness because he has already been given the Abrahamic Covenant even though the formal ceremony is not set forth until verse seven and following.
In the beginning of Genesis 12, God has already made the promise to him. He has reiterated the land promise in Genesis 12:7, and He reiterates again in Genesis 13, 14. These promises get restated again and again by God. They are just not formalized in a formal covenant ceremony until the last part of Genesis 15. This cannot be when Abraham is justified.
Furthermore, the grammar of this passage is very different from that which surrounds it. In the verses before, you have a standard Hebrew narrative construction. When you start off in beginning Hebrew, you read Genesis and other narrative literature because it is very simple type of Hebrew. The way it is written would not be good English. “This happened, and he said, and he said, and they did this, and they did that.” It almost always begins with the Hebrew vav consecutive which is the “and”. That is not how we write in English, but that is how they write in Hebrew. It would be followed by usually a verb in the imperfect tense. Suddenly when you want to change and get out of the flow of events and break that pattern, then you change from an imperfect tense verb to a perfect tense verb. What that means is that now all of a sudden this new structure of the conjunction plus a perfect tense verb throws that verse into a different timeframe. The sense of the perfect tense has to do with completed action.
We think of tenses in English as being a time oriented thing. Present tense is now in the present time. Past tense is that which happened prior. Future tense is that which happens in the future. When we think of past, present, or future tense in English, it is time oriented. In many languages, tense has nothing to do with time. It has to do with what grammarians call the aspect of the action.
In Greek, you have both at play. In some moods you have time present, but in most of the moods, it has nothing to do with time. It has to do with the action as a summary (aorist tense) or as continuous action (present tense or imperfect tense) or as completed action. In Hebrew, time is almost not present; it is almost completely absent in their verb structure. An imperfect tense represents ongoing action, and a perfect tense indicates completed action.
When you have this kind of a structure with a vav plus perfect tense, it indicates completed action. Because it is out of order, out of sync with the flow of the events here, it tells us that verse six is not describing something that happens as a result of verses four and five, but it is taking us out of this flow of events and reminding us of something that had already taken place. That Abraham had already believed in the Lord, and it was already accounted to him as righteousness. The perfect tense can either emphasize the fact that it was completed in the past or can emphasize the present ongoing results from a completed past action. That is how, I believe, it is being used here. It is emphasizing that this is present results of an action that was in the past.
So Abraham is still believing God. He still has imputed righteousness from that completed event that occurred in the past. The reader is being reminded of this. This timeframe, when Abraham believed God, had to have preceded the events of even Genesis 12. God says to him in verses 1-3 “… Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing [you are to be a blessing—it is a command]. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you [will curse harshly those who treat you with disrespect]; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
When you look at this promise from God, it is not given to Abraham as an unbeliever but as a believer. God is giving him a reward for faithful service. One reason we know that is if Genesis 15:6 is parenthetical, the next thing that is said is verse seven. “Then He said to him, ‘I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.’ ” God is reminding Abram of what had occurred in Genesis 12:1. This shows that the event of verse six goes back to an earlier time and precedes God’s bringing Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees. It is a timeframe from verse six that goes back to the time when Abram originally became a believer. We do not know when that was. There is some Jewish tradition it was around 50, but it could have been much earlier. It is uncertain. We do know that by the time he was 75, the beginning of verse 12, he was clearly a believer and already justified.
The first word we looked at last time was that word believe – not only the grammar but the sense of the word. It is a hifil of the verb amen. In that stem, it has that idea of belief, faith or trust in something. The root core meaning is the word for doorposts. It is used that way in the episode in 2 Kings 18:16 when Hezekiah takes the gold off the doors and the foundation stones of the temple doors. Those foundation stones were enormous. The form of the word amen was used to describe those foundation stones because it is emphasizing the concept of stability and something that is immovable. The idea of faith has this idea at its core of certainty, of confidence, of something that is assured beyond any shadow of doubt. That is what belief is: it is that unshakable trust in the Lord, even if it is unshakable trust like a mustard seed.
The second word hashab—“… He accounted [or imputed] it to him for righteousness.” I pointed out from various passages, like Exodus 2:6, that has very similar construction. “And He accounted it” – the “it” there is a feminine singular suffix that must relate to a feminine noun. Righteousness, tsedeq, is a feminine noun, so it should be translated “He accounted it, righteousness, to him.” It is an appositional type of construction. By stating it that way “He accounted it, righteousness, to Abram,” there is sort of a double emphasis there on what is given to Abram. Abram receives and is given this righteousness.
Think a minute about the structure here because this is what Paul is going to appeal to. Abram is called somewhere around 2100 BC. We do not know exactly what the date was. There is a lot of debate over how to handle the chronology in the Old Testament. Even the standard, traditional, conservative chronologies are being challenged by various conservatives, all of whom take the numbers to be fully inspired in the Scriptures.
In trying to correlate these events with extra-biblical events, we have run into some problems. There are a number of conservatives who are working on these issues, and they tend to push things back maybe as much as 150–200 years. I do not want you to get the idea that somehow they are discovering thousands of years. We are talking about small, triple-digit numbers, maybe a century or two extra than the traditional chronology between the Flood and the Exodus. I have even seen some conservatives put the Exodus as far back as the first decade or two in the 1500s. This is almost 80 years prior to the time we would normally assign to it which is 1446 BC.
Someone might say, “Over in 1 Kings it says that 420 years before Solomon dedicated the temple, we had the Exodus.” Yes, but in their reconstructions, the dedication of the temple is not the traditional date of 970; they moved that to about 10 something. So they are messing with all the dates. We do not know exactly when this was, but it was somewhere around 2100 BC.
The Mosaic Law is not given until when? Approximately 1445 BC (1446 BC is the Exodus) when God gives it to Moses at Mt. Sinai. The Torah is not finalized until 1404 or 1405 BC, just before the Israelites go into the land. At that time, Moses is taken to be with the Lord. The Mosaic Law sets down certain legal, moral, ethical, spiritual parameters about sacrifices and other things, but it certainly cannot be the basis of justification because Abraham was justified some 500-700 years before the Law was given.
Circumcision is not required of Abraham until later on in Genesis 17 as the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Circumcision certainly is not the basis for his justification. Abraham who precedes the Law cannot be justified on the basis of the Law. He has not been circumcised yet, so that cannot be the basis of the justification. Paul will argue that his justification is based solely on the fact that he believed or trusted in God.
In Judaism and in the teaching of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus, they taught that Abraham’s justification was based on the fact that even though the Law had not been given yet, Abraham completely fulfilled the Law. He was justified on that basis. How did he even know what the Law was to obey it?
This is the same problem you have in Roman Catholic theology. You have a written text, and then there is a belief that there is a second oral tradition that got passed down. This oral tradition then is the basis for their interpretation. Who made that up and where did that come from? Any kind of an oral tradition that is separate from the text that is then used to judge the text suddenly becomes a false basis for authority because no one can validate it.
The classic example for the use of the word imputation in the Old Testament is in Genesis 15:6.
Romans 4:3 “For what does the Scripture say?” Paul’s authority is the Word of God. That is the only authority in our lives. We always have to ask the question, “What does the Scripture say? Does something fit the Scripture?” People say, “That kind of fits the Scripture. That seems to be biblical.” Someone reads something about psychology, economics, politics or philosophy of life and then says, “That is biblical.” What do we mean by biblical. That is an important question to think about.
That should mean, and historically is meant, that it is derived from the Scriptures, not that somehow it has similarities to the Bible. Similarities to the Bible are great. There were a lot of things that the serpent said to Eve that were similar to what God said. It was the things that he did not say that were the problem that messed up the similarities. That is the issue. Just because something utilizes some biblical principles does not mean it is biblical. There are other things that are part of the mosaic in any philosophy or view of economics or life that do not come from the Bible. It is not what is said that is right that gets us in trouble; it is what is said that is wrong that gets us in trouble. We all have a tendency to be selective readers and hearers.
We hear somebody who is saying a lot of good things. They are critiquing something like a politician, a political view, some economic or legal view. They say, “This is a real problem,” and we say, “Yes, you are right; I’ve been waiting for someone to say that is a problem.” Just because someone can identify the problem correctly does not mean they have any better solution. There are many people who get sucked in because they have finally found somebody who understands the problem! But they still do not have the right solution.
We have to think about the solution, and it has to not just be similar to Scripture, but it has to come from Scripture. Paul says, “What does the Scripture say? (Genesis 15:6) ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ ” In my Bible, they make a paragraph break between verse four and five, which I do not think is correct. I think verse five is a reverse statement of four – the two verses have to go together.
In Romans 4:4 Paul sets up an illustration “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (5) But to him who does not work…” On the one hand you have the one who works, and on the other hand you have the one who does not work. Those two concepts have to go together. He is giving an illustration: on the one hand and then on the other hand. In my NKJV, they break it between the two. You lose the continuity of what he is saying. On the one hand you have a person who works; he puts forth effort. “…the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” In verse five “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
Now let us do a little exegesis here. “Now to him who works…” is a present middle passive participle from ERGOZOMAI (a deponent verb), which means it has an active meaning even though it has a middle passive form. Sometimes I throw things out like that not because I think you really understand it, but now and then I have to throw goodies out to those who are trying to apply this to the Greek they know. Last week I got an e-mail about 11:30 pm that said, “How come in one interlinear it says the middle voice and then in another interlinear it says it is a passive voice.” The answer was there is only one form for middle or passive; they are identical, so you have to judge it from the context.
ERGOZOMAI is middle passive, but it is the form of a word that always has an active meaning. The active form dropped out of usage, so it just has a passive form. It is a basic word for working, laboring, the one who does something. Then it says, “…the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” Wages is the Greek word MISTHOS that can mean reward, punishment, recompense, idea of giving someone something on the basis of what they have done. They have done something that calls for a certain recompense or a certain reward or punishment. They have done one thing, so that is why they should get something else. In this situation, there is someone who labors, and they then earn something. This is considered not grace, not a gift, but is something owed. OPHEILEMA is the Greek word here that does not necessarily mean debt but has the idea of that which is under obligation, obligated to be paid, is owed. You work for 8 hours and are paid $20 an hour, then you should be paid $160 for your labor. It is something you earned by way of your effort. It is not a gift.
Grace has the idea of something that is unmerited favor and is done without expecting anything in return. This idea within the Greek word CHARIS goes all the way back to Aristotle. Grace means to do something without any expectation of return or response. You just do it because it is the right thing to do because it is a good thing and a kind thing to do for someone. Grace is something that is unearned or undeserved by definition.
It is amazing how many people have lost that sense of grace because in many Christian denominations and all other world religions, the favor from God is always given on the basis of what people do. They have do get enough Brownie points. They have to do enough things, observe enough things, participate in enough rituals so that God will ultimately give them favor. That is something that is earned. I have had people say to me, “You are really earning a lot of grace.” That is like fingernails on a chalkboard. This is how Satan attacks vocabulary, and the truth gets distorted because as the meaning of words gets lost, then the concepts and the doctrines get distorted.
The wages are something that are earned; therefore, they are not grace. That is the key point. Grace means no expectation of return, unearned, unmerited. Romans 4:5 “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly …” What do we see there? We see Paul making a very strong contrast between work and faith or trusting in God.
We look at certain verses that say “The one who believes is the one who does what the Father says.” The idea of work or obedience or doing something is there. Every now and then you get pinhead theologians who get wrapped around the axle over the idea that, as in Romans 4:5 “But to him who does not work but believes on Him …”, that belief is also a work. Yes, you do something – you believe. That is doing something, but it is not meritorious. This is the critical passage to show that difference. One is not trying to acquire merit by what they do—by their ritual, by their morality, by their spirituality. They are not trying to somehow gain something from God through their own meritorious efforts.
“But to him who does not work but believes on Him …” That is the contrast—belief is clearly contrasted by Paul with work, with doing something. Faith has to be understood as something that is non-meritorious. It does not have any value in and of itself. The value has to do with the object of faith—what one is believing, not the act of believing itself.
Within several forms of Calvinism, faith is viewed as a gift. There is a difference between everyday faith and saving faith. If you are going to be saved, you have to have the right kind of faith. That is especially true in forms of lordship salvation. If you do not have saving faith, then you will not have the right kind of works to validate your faith.
The passage they usually go to is John 2 where Jesus has done many miracles and comes to Jerusalem for the first time after he has begun His public ministry. John 2:23 says “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which he did.” Verse 24 says “But Jesus did not commit (entrust) Himself to them …” You will hear lordship types say, “See, if they were real believers, Jesus would have trusted them.” I do not know about you, but I do not trust someone just because they are Christians. They are a lot of Christians that I know that are not very trustworthy. Some of them are in political office or in business. One of the toughest things to deal with if you are trying to witness to people is if they have been defrauded by an unscrupulous Christian businessman. There are many people like that. They think their morality is much better than the morality of Christians because of this particular kind of incident.
John 2 is completely distorted by people because Jesus understands that even though they may have believed and accepted Him as Messiah, they have not learned enough yet to recognize that He is not coming to establish a political kingdom. He is not going to entrust Himself to them because they still have a political agenda for Him and not a soteriological agenda for Him. He is not going to get sucked into their agenda. It has nothing to do with whether or not they are saved.
In John 2:23 “…many believed in His name…” you have the verb PISTEUO which is used 97-98 times in the gospel of John and always followed by a prepositional phrase with the preposition EIS—believe on His name or toward His name. Believing in Christ, in Him, PISTEUO EIS, is used all through the gospel of John to express the condition for salvation. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him (PISTEUO EIS) should not perish but have everlasting life.” That is the same thing that the people in John 2 did. They believed in Him (PISTEUO EIS). If that does not get them saved, then how can we be sure how anybody is saved? This is the problem with lordship salvation.
They want to bring a second kind of faith in. John MacArthur, one of the most widely known proponents of lordship salvation, says you can have a faith in Jesus that does not save. Really? That is not what it says in my Bible. They are saying that the kind of faith that saves is a gift of God. They also mistranslate, misunderstand, misinterpret Ephesians 2:8-9 which says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God …” The “that” in the Greek is a neuter singular pronoun, and “grace” and “faith” are both feminine nouns. There is a lot of debate over that, but the “that” refers to the whole idea. The whole phrase “For by grace you have been saved through faith …” is not of ourselves. “It” (salvation by faith through grace) is the gift of God and not from the source of works.
This is the same thing that Paul says in Romans 4:5 “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly …” Here he uses a different preposition than the Apostle John uses in the gospel of John. He uses the preposition epi [e)pi] which means in some cases to put something upon something and in some cases it almost has the idea of resting on something, placing something on top of something. Somebody standing on the sand of the seashore is an example. The idea is that you are putting your faith upon, you are resting it upon Him, that is God the Father, who justifies the ungodly. He is the one who declares the ungodly to be just.
What does that word ungodly mean? Ungodly is one of those words that has come into popular Christian English vocabulary, where we do not use it the way the Bible does. We look at some Christian and say, “Look at that ungodly behavior.” The term ungodly is used in Scripture to refer to unbelievers exclusively. It is a technical term for unbelievers. We see it in verse five “… Him who justifies the ungodly …” The godly are justified; they do not need to be justified. It is the unsaved who need to be justified. The term ungodly is a term that is equivalent to unbelievers. God is the one who justifies the ungodly. We see it again in Romans 5:6 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”
When I go to Kiev, Ukraine in January, we will show the brand new series I’m recording on Jude. The word ASEBES (the word for ungodly), used in Romans 4 and 5, is used twice in Jude. If ungodly can refer to carnal believers, then you end up having some real theological problems, especially in Jude. The term ungodly always refers to unbelievers. There is one time (2 Peter 2:5-6) that is talking about Sodom and Gomorrah. The present day false teachers that Peter is warning about are practicing the ungodly behavior of Sodom and Gomorrah. What that means is that they are acting and behaving like unbelievers. It is the behavior of unbelievers in that passage. But all the other passages are pretty clear, like Romans 5:6, that Christ died for the ungodly, for those who are unsaved.
In Romans 4:5 “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly …” There is nothing about them that renders them savable. There is nothing good there. Isaiah 64:6 “… all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” God justifies the ungodly; it is his faith that is accounted or reckoned or ascribed for righteousness.
In Romans 5:6, we shift to the second example which comes from Psalm 32:1-2. “Just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” Here the focal point shifts. It is about the blessedness of the one to whom God imputes righteousness. That word blessedness (the Greek word is MAKARIOS) does not really mean happiness. Sometimes it has been translated that way. The blessed person is the person who has experienced the unmerited favor of God. When we look at somebody and their life seems to be going well, we say, “They are really blessed by God.” It is a word that is related to the application of grace.
Romans 4:7-8 are taken directly out of Psalm 32:1-2. This is one of those penitential psalms. It is a psalm of forgiveness where David is expressing his joy at the fact that God has forgiven him for his sin with Bathsheba. Psalm 51 is the psalm of confession. He says in Psalm 32:1 “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven…” This is the Hebrew word barach. Not Barack as in either the name of our President or the former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak. In Arabic, Hebrew, and Semitic languages, that refers to lightning. Barach, like in the Valley of Blessing (Berachah), is the word that is here.
Psalm 32:1 “Blessed is he whose transgression (pesha, which means a violation of the law) is forgiven…” The word for forgiven is the Hebrew word nasa’. This is an interesting metaphorical use of this word. The noun is nasa’ which refers to a physical burden. It is used many times to refer to the physical burden you put on a camel or mule, the burden you carry on your back. Then it comes to refer to an emotional burden.
Moses is complaining a little bit about the Exodus generation and called them a burden to him in the first chapter of Deuteronomy. Dealing with all their problems in that Exodus generation was a problem, a burden to Moses. There are other passages that talk about the burden of guilt. Feeling guilty for your sins or not experiencing the forgiveness of God is a burden, like having a heavy load on your back. Forgiveness (nasa’) is God removing the burden of that guilt from us. It came to mean forgiveness and the removal of the burden. Very similar background to APHIEMI (forgiveness, cancelling of a debt, removal of a problem), the word Paul uses in Romans 4.
David says in Psalm 32:1 “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” This is another word that is used—kasa (covering). It normally refers to the cover over something, like you put a cover on your bed. In a few places, it is used like here in parallelism with forgiveness, so it has that idea but only in poetry. This is an important point to make that words do not mean the same thing in poetry that they do in the Torah. By that I mean that the Torah is law or legal literature. If you are writing a legal contract, a word has a tighter range of meaning, a more technical range of meaning than it will in poetry. When you are writing in poetry, there is poetic license. They are not as rigid in their meaning because the writer is looking for words that have a similar sound or similar cadence to fit in there that has a similar idea. We give writers of poetry a little more freedom of movement. When you are doing word studies in the Scriptures, it is important to look at the kind of literature where the word is being used.
I like to make this point because someone may read a word in a hymn and think it does not sound quite right. It would not be right if we are in Romans, but it is fine if we are in the Psalms. We are singing a hymn that is poetry, and poetry uses more figures of speech, uses a lot more similes than metaphors, and words are used in a less rigid way than they are in legal literature. You are going to read a real estate contract quite a bit differently than you are going to read a Shakespearean sonnet. You are not going to expect the words to have the exact same kind of meaning because they are different kinds of literature. The same is true in Hebrew.
The word here for covering is used just as a way in which the sin is forgiven. It does not mean that God is somehow covering it up. That is not the idea. It is used in this sense as a synonym for forgiveness and not a cover-up.
Psalm 32:2 “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” The original context of Psalm 32 is the context where David as a believer has sinned. So it is dealing with his personal sin. Paul is applying it in a little different way in Romans 4. He is not talking about forgiveness of a believer; he is talking about the imputation of righteousness.
In Romans 4, he is talking about unbelievers not having their personal sins imputed to them. There are two categories of sin for which we are condemned. We have Adam’s original sin which is the basis for our condemnation. Then we have personal sin. The focal point here is on personal sin, and the one who is blessed is the one to whom God does not impute or credit their personal sin. He is not going to be judging them on that basis. The sin has been paid for on the cross through the sacrifice.
In Romans 4:7-8 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” He is quoting from the Septuagint.
In verses 9-12, he is going to develop this argument more by going back to Abraham. He says in verse nine “Does this blessedness then come upon…” That tells us that the focal point is really on blessedness, even though Psalm 32:2 uses the word for imputation or reckoning.
Romans 4:6 “…just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” It is the one who receives grace. That is what blessing is: the one who has experienced the undeserved favor of God. That is his whole argument here that justification does not come from something we deserve but is the undeserved favor of God.
In verse 6 David describes the blessedness of the man. Verse seven begins “Blessed are those …” Verse eight begins “Blessed is the man …” Verse nine begins “Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also?” So what is he talking about? The word that he has used four times in three verses—blessing, unmerited favor. Does this unmerited favor come upon circumcised, those who have done something only, or upon the uncircumcised also?
He introduces another argument in Romans 4:9 “… For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.” He is reminding them of the point that he has made. Verse 10 “How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.” Circumcision does not come in until Genesis 17.
Verse 11 “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also.” Circumcision was a post-salvation sign of what had already taken place and was not a sign of his justification but of the covenant God made with him in relation to his seed. His argument here is bringing to a conclusion what he started back in chapter two: Are only the Jews who are circumcised justified? No. There are those who are circumcised that are less righteous than those who are uncircumcised. So is God going to justify the one who is less righteous because he has not been circumcised? No. The issue is faith whether he is circumcised or not, or obedient to the law or not. That was the argument at the end of chapter two.
In Romans 4:11 “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised…” And in verse 12 he says, “and the father of circumcision [Abraham because he is the first, the father of circumcision] to those who not only are of the circumcision [the Jews who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], but who also walk in the steps of the faith [who follow Abraham in faith, trusting God for righteousness] which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.”
His application in verses 9-12 is that if Abraham is justified long before he is circumcised, circumcision is a consequence and a sign of something that has already taken place. What is the basis for justification has nothing to do with circumcision, nothing to do with the Mosaic Law; it has to do with simply believing in the promise of God and only on the basis of believing the promise of God.