Why Abraham? – Romans 4

Abraham BelievedIn Romans 4 Paul illustrates his statement claim that God will justify all those who are in Christ Jesus by faith, no works. Like Galatians, he uses the well-known story of Abraham in order to show that the father of the Jewish people was himself made right with God without submitting to ritual (like circumcision) or keeping the Law.

Abraham was a prototype of righteousness in Second Temple Judaism. He perfectly kept the Law according to Sirach, a wisdom text written about 200 B.C.

Sirach 44:19–21 (NRSV) Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory. 20 He kept the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him; he certified the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he proved faithful. 21 Therefore the Lord assured him with an oath that the nations would be blessed through his offspring; that he would make him as numerous as the dust of the earth, and exalt his offspring like the stars, and give them an inheritance from sea to sea and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth.

Jubilees 23:10 For Abraham was perfect in all of his actions with the LORD and was pleasing through righteousness all of the days of his life. (OTP 2:100)

Another reason for using Abraham in both Galatians and Romans is Paul’s opponents may have used Abraham as an example for the Gentiles. Abraham was a Gentile who was righteous before God. Why did God declare him righteous? They might answer because he obeyed God by not withholding his only son (Genesis 22) and because he submitted to the sign of the covenant, circumcision.

Paul’s main point in Romans 4 is simple. In Genesis 15:6 God declared Abraham righteous, before he was given the sign of the covenant (Gen 17) and long before the Law was given. For Paul, Gentiles are declared righteous just as Abraham was, by faith.

Are there other factors which may account for why Paul used Abraham as an analogy in Romans 4?

17 thoughts on “Why Abraham? – Romans 4

  1. I hope you will explain how Romans 4.15b fits in with the immediately preceding and following context Thank you in advance!.

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    • I assume you mean, “but where there is no law there is no transgression.” I will have something up tomorrow, maybe the next day on that verse. Thanks for the encouragement, I might have skipped that since Paul will expand on that in chapter 7.

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  2. I think that it is important for Gentile believers to see that even though they are not exactly a Jew, that the father of the Jewish nation once like them, a Gentile. As a Gentile of that time, it would be hard to see a glimmer of hope in a time where all of the Jews are condemning the Gentile believers because they have not followed the same law so they cannot believe in the God of their fathers. But given the knowledge of Abraham as being righteous even before his circumcision, the Gentiles then can see that circumcision was more of an outward sign of that covenant made with God, not the binding action of being righteous because of it. The only other idea of Abraham being an example that I could come up with is the fact that he would have left his people and their traditions just as the Gentiles did to follow God, in that way being an example of fully giving up everything that he knew to follow this God instead.

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  3. I think that Paul uses Abraham to try to unite Jew and Gentile. he may have had a mixed audience and was trying to reach both people groups through his letter. We see in Romans 1-2, that Paul uses phrases from scripture specifically talking to the Jews and trying to show them that Jesus was the messiah. I think he uses Abraham to try to reach the core of their beliefs. To open their hearts to that fact that he isn’t just preaching “new” material but by using scripture and Jewish history he is still making his message applicable to the Jews. I do like what Anthony said that because the Jews were “condemning Gentiles” for not following the Law that it is possible Paul was trying to open their eyes to the truth that their “father” Abraham did not have the law but had faith. His works were not counted to him as righteousness but his faith was. The father of the nation of Israel was not following the Law when he was circumcised but he was responding in obedience to the commands of God. The Jews failed every time in their past to follow the law because maybe they were more concerned with their works being “counted” to them and not their faith in the promises of God. And this good news that Paul is bringing is about faith and not works. But I think I got off topic, I think Paul is using Abraham to still connect to Jewish History and using him because he was a Gentile. Proving that God can reconcile all nations to himself. Not just Jews. Specially since he started with a Gentile.

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  4. Romans 4 is a huge passage of Romans because it is part of the transition from the dark section of sin that ended in chapter 3. In chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham as an example for the Jews and the Gentiles to show that people can be saved from the sin that was stated in the previous chapters. Abraham was the father of the Jewish people, and they look up to his life as an example of how to live. Abraham is a great example for the Jews because he was declared righteous (Genesis 15:6) before he was given the sign of the covenant or before the law. So Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith, not by holding the law like the Jewish people believed. Abraham was also a Gentile, which is an amazing example for the Gentiles, because they can see the proof that they can be saved and declared righteous by God. Abraham is the perfect example to bridge the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles.

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  5. I feel that the reason that Paul uses Abraham as an example in Romans 4 for two reasons. The first I feel that he uses Abraham for is that the Jews regard him as the father of them and who they are. He uses Abraham because Abraham is a character both Jews and Gentiles can relate to. He is not a circumcised Jew nor is he a full blown Gentile, but he is a relatable character purely because he is someone that both parties can relate to in the letter Paul writes. Abraham was declared righteous by God and Paul writes of him to show Jews and Gentiles that they can be declared righteous based on faith and not just based on the law. This is why Paul uses Abraham.

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  6. Among the reasons that were mentioned, I think that Paul used Abraham in his letter to the Romans, because Abraham had become in a sense iconic for the Jews. Abraham was held in the highest esteem by the Jews, he was the one who first followed through with the circumcision process (as the Jews so adamantly pushed for), he was the ancestor that linked all the Jews, and the list could go on for why Abraham was so important to the Jews. Although the Gentiles would not have had as clear of a picture about the significance of Abraham for themselves, the letter to Romans explains how through Abraham’s descendants (and specifically Jesus) all nations could eventually be blessed.Also, Paul wanted the Gentiles to know that Abraham was a good example for them as well, but not because of his circumcision, or because he was the beginning of the Israel. Rather, Abraham was the first example to truly show that faith is what pleases God, and that it was because of faith that Abraham was credited righteousness. Abraham would rest in the hands of the Lord forever due to his faith, and Paul wanted every single Christian to understand that it is faith and love God wants above all else, not works to prove ourselves to others, nor by trying to follow every single rule within the Law. As Romans 4 suggests, faith was more important than following the Law, because the Law was really meant to show us all just how impossible it is to live a sin-free lifestyle. Faith, not works or signs, is the requirement.

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  7. As everyone has said, Abraham is a good choice to use as an example of faith because he is relatable to both Jews and Gentiles. Especially with the topic of circumcision being so huge, the spiritual status of the first man to have circumcision-included covenant with God would be important. Also important, I think, is the fact that Abraham did not have the Torah. He followed the commands of God as they were revealed to him, no matter how odd. To think of Abraham would be to bring to mind the story of a gentile without the law who gets circumcised after establishing a faith relationship with God. His story shows that it is possible to have righteousness through faith apart from circumcision and before the law of Moses. Abraham and his family also are examples of being faithful as a minority in a largely idolatrous society like the early Christians were.

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  8. I believe that Romans 4 is such a big illustration for both Jews and Gentiles. This is a way to bring them together in a positive light again after having shown how equal Jews and Gentiles are in our sins. Abraham is the first person in the Old Testament who brings a somewhat start to the religion that both groups hold dear in God. The covenant that God made with Abraham began not only a people group, but also a religion. We as Christians growing up in the church often sang the song about “father Abraham” and how we are one of his many sons. All the heritage of Christianity can be traced back to this man as is with tradition. Abraham is then a great example to use in bringing the two groups together in a positive way. Abraham was saved through faith before the law came into existence and it shows that we can be saved not through our works of the law, since we learned how we will always fail in doing that, we can be saved through our faith which is something that both sides need to hear.

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  9. I think Paul uses Abraham in Romans 4 because it is something that everyone Jew and Gentile are able to relate to and understand. Jews were all about the Old Testament and keeping the law. Abraham plays a vital role in the the very beginning stages of the covenant and blessings God made with his people. The Jews are able to see that God made a covenant with Abraham and has been with him making him a great nation and so God will be able to do that for the Jews as well because they are his chosen people. For the Gentiles, they are able to relate to how Abraham’s faith he has for the Lord. When Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac his only son, he was being tested of his faith by God. So the Gentiles are able to learn that when their faith gets tested, and they remain firm in their faith that God will be there with them and bless them throughout their life.

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    • I agree, but it is important to note how God declared Abraham righteous before he followed God’s direction. This is how God was able to display to the Gentiles how the act of Christ dying on the cross made human righteous before God, because Christ was already righteous by taking on everyone’s sins and people not having to do anything about earning this righteousness. This is why Abraham is an excellent example of justified by faith and not by the things he has done, because already declared him atoned. Yes, it is important to know how Abraham relates to the Jews, but Paul wanted to widen the spectrum to all people can be righteous through faith in Christ and not by works.

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  10. I believe that Paul used Abraham as an example for justification by faith because he is a character that both the Jews and Gentiles could relate to. The Jews referred to Abraham as Father Abraham because he is the father of their people. He is a significant character in there faith and they know his story well. The Gentiles could relate to him because God made him righteous before he was circumcised and before he was under the Law. Paul also used Abraham because his story was a perfect example for what he was trying to explain in this part of his letter. Paul was introducing a topic, and then giving an example to support that topic in order to make a convincing argument for what he was trying to say. In Romans 3 Paul started the topic of righteousness through faith and then in Romans 4 he uses Abraham to provide a well-known example to support his claim of righteousness through faith rather than by works or keeping the law.

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  11. I really like how Paul uses Abraham rather than anyone else who could have the argument used that they were justified by actions, circumcision, or the law. With Abraham, however, he was declared righteous without any of that. I love the message that it sends to the gentiles, that they can be saved without being Jewish. I also love the message it sends to the Jews, that there is salvation outside of Judaism. He also could have used Abraham because he would have been known to both, being the father of Judaism but also a gentile. Thinking simply, he could have used Abraham simply because he’s the most logical person to use. He’s one of the most well known who wasn’t justified through anything but faith. It simply is the best example. I like the application this can have to my faith because it means that no one is outside the means to salvation. Someone cal always come to faith and it is a reminder not to judge someone who doesn’t necessarily look like they’re doing much as a Christian. God looks at the heart, as He did with Abraham.

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  12. I like how Paul picks Abraham to describe the that through Christ everyone is justified from their sins and not of works, because Abraham simply believed that God’s promises to Him would come to past. I believe part of the reason why Paul chose to illustrate this concept through Abraham is because he wants to bring back the history of all God has done to restore relationship with His creation. I believe it would possibly provoke the Gentiles to ask questions about who Abraham is and what is so significant about him. I do not think there is any more support from Roman 4 that has not already been stated of why Paul has chosen Abraham. I do believe Paul was following God’s leading in how to best illustrate this concept to Rome, so that is how Abraham was selected. God knows best.

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  13. As most people have mentioned, Abraham is the pivotal start of Judaism. Jews for decades/centuries refer to Abraham as the father of the Jews or the first patriarch for them. He is one of the highest celebrities, if not the most among the nation of Jews. To associate Abraham as the father of the Gentiles would personally cause chaos within the Jews life and faith. How can someone who we descended from and knew as a Jewish patriarch be Gentile? That would be so hard to hear. This message was clearly designed for both parties. The Gentiles needed to hear that they were able to obtain salvation through faith in Jesus and this was through the example of Abraham. This gave them hope to pursue this faith. For the Jews it caused them to take Abraham down as an idol and replace it to where God should rightly be exalted. This goes back to the idea that they are all on the same playing field (in regards to salvation, since we know Jews do have some benefits for being God’s chosen people).
    Paul knew he needed to uproot the ingrained attachment to the Law from the Jews through revelations such as this one. It was a humbling experience for the Jews and an empowering moment for the Gentiles.

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  14. I think that it is very significant that Paul mentions Abraham. Abraham was a gentile and he was declared righteous. The Church in Rome consisted of both Jew and Gentile and there may have been some tension between the two groups. Paul brings up Abraham because he was a gentile made right by faith and yet he also kept the law once it was given. Another small but meaningful thing to point out, is that Abraham was just a guy. Meaning there was nothing special about him, he wasn’t a king, he wasn’t a super wealthy man. Yet, God saw that he was an honest man and God was able to do great things through an average joe. This idea that Abraham was just another guy might have been more welcoming to the lower class in Rome. Again, going back to the main reason, Abraham and his faith. Another reason could be that Abraham was a well know figure of the Jewish faith and considered the patriarch. Abraham would have been some what familiar for both Jew and Gentile.

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