2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
1901 ASV Translation:
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not toward God.
3 For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
I. The On-Going Problem of "Works".
A. Paul first appealed to Abraham's "discovery" in order to bring Abraham on board as his "heavy-weight" to appeal to his readers' willingness to believe his argument.
B. Now he reverts back to the "problem" of 3:27: boasting.
1. Though oft stated in these studies, it bears repeating that no theology that permits the exercise of personal boasting can possibly be legitimate since such action is extremely destructive of relationships.
a. There is no "love" in boasting; it is entirely self-absorbed self-promotion.
b. Without "love" no attitude or action can possibly have a beneficial impact upon the relationship between two "persons".
c. In a servant-kingdom, there is nothing worse than the destruction of relationships. Gehenna exists for those for whom relationships are not top priority.
2. Paul's method is that, having introduced Abraham into the mix of his argument, he now raises the spectre of Abraham being the progenitor of boastfulness.
a. This is an enormously odious notion to anyone who values the opinions of Abraham.
b. This is an inconceivable possibility to all who understand the link between Abraham and legitimate theology.
3. Paul categorically declares that if Abraham's "discovery" was "justification is by works" there is no escape from the result: boasting.
4. Then, in the strongest terms possible, he denies Abraham the possibility of boasting before God.
II. Paul's Appeal to Scripture.
A. Having brought the reader to the issue (what was Abraham's discovery?), he appeals to the inspired record of Abraham's experience: What does the Scripture say?
B. The appeal is to Genesis 15:6 and the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew text.
1. The issue of the text is the link between "believed" and "righteousness".
2. The key issue is the word "reckoned".
a. The Hebrew word of Genesis 15:6 is used widely and refers to a mental determination of something. Our text says that God "determined" Abraham's faith to be "righteousness". Paul's argument is that the text means that God determined Abraham to be righteous because he "believed" God's words.
b. The Greek word of the Septuagint translation of Genesis 15:6 as well as Romans 4:3 is used 11 times in Romans 4 alone (40 times in the New Testament) so that there is little possibility that his readers would misunderstand Paul's meaning.
1) In 3:28, which just precedes Paul's "Abrahamic" argument, it is clear that the word means "to draw a definitive conclusion" from the assembled facts. The issue in the word is that when one "reckons" a thing to be a certain way, the downline choices and actions are set by that "reckoning". In other words, the issue of "reckoning" is the issue of making a major determination that will guide all further mental and physical movement.
2) In 4:4-5 Paul uses the term to address how one "decides" the nature of a thing based upon the facts given.
3) In 4:6-8 he introduces "David" so that he might use his "weight" in the minds of his readers to argue that when God forgives a sinner He no longer "attributes" sin to him. Forgiveness releases the sinner from any connection to his "sin".
4) In the remaining uses in chapter 4, Paul assumes his meaning has been established: "counted/reckoned" means "to consider the state of a person/thing as...", so that all dealings with that person/thing are determined by that considered state.
III. Paul's Meaning in Summary.
A. The issue is the method of justification and its consequence(s).
1. If the method is works, the consequence is boastfulness and all of the downline results of pride.
2. If the method is faith, the consequence is a "considered state of righteousness" and a complete elimination of boastfulness and all of the downline results of humility.
B. The supporting argument is Abraham's discovery and the Scriptural statement of the exact nature of that discovery: Genesis 15:6.
C. There is a radical contrast in the methods and results so that there can be no intermingling of methodology (God's works plus mine -- i.e., "God helps those who help themselves").