Why Abraham? – Romans 4

In 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.

Abraham BelievedPaul’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?

13 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!.

    • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  7. One reason Paul may have used Abraham as the example of a faith. Is because Abraham was a Gentile, who was faithful to the promises that God made to him. Paul may have picked Abraham as the perfect example of what it means to live by faith. For both the Jews and the Gentile believers. “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith (Romans 4:13).” Abraham wasn’t declared righteous because of the law. Abraham was declared righteous through his faith and not by works of the law. The Jews consider Abraham to be the father of their people. And so, the Jewish people knew who Abraham was. And that is another possible reason why Paul used him as the example of being justified through faith and not of works through the law. As for the Gentile’s this sets the example for them as well. The example of what it means to be faithful to God.

  8. Whenever I hear about the story of Abraham, I always think of the multiple lessons that were centered around his faith, or how the story symbolizes what God did on the cross by sacrificing His Son, but never around what Paul says about him. In Romans, it shows that there is so much more that was a part of Abraham’s story that contributed to multiply arguments such as, the division between the Jews and the Gentiles, the issue of circumcision, and the issues surrounding the Law. Abraham story was able to reunite division between the Jews and the Gentiles because he was a gentile, but the also the Father of the Jews. “Abraham unites all believers. He is the father of believing gentiles (v. 11b) and of being Jew (v. 12)” (Moo, 77). I think that this also gave a good example for the Gentiles since they didn’t have anyone to be a good example and they were always looked down on by Jews. Romans 4 also shows that the Law was not needed for righteousness because it was given so far after God declared him righteous, and the same with circumcision. It is so incredible how perfectly the issues that Paul was facing were answered in one example.

    • Scripture to support circumcision and Law statement: Genesis 15 was when Abraham was declared righteous by God and circumcision didn’t happen until Genesis 17. Same with the Law, Moo shows that the Law didn’t come until 430 years later (Galatians 3:17) (Moo, 77).

  9. God knew before this happened and he knew about Abrahams Character. i believe God wanted to see it put into action and to test Abraham and see if he would follow through, and now Paul has used it to look back to see a example of a righteous person. only through Christ can we be made righteous through faith in him. but Abraham displayed a faith that he truly trusted in God through his situation. so now for us we need to trust in Jesus as our Lord and savoir to be righteous in his sight. will we ever be prefect no, but we can strive for it.

  10. In Romans 4, Paul sets out to show that gentile believers are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not works or abiding by Jewish boundary markers. As Long notes, similar to the book of Galatians, Paul chooses to use Abraham as the figure to display that one can be seen righteous before God without circumcision and keep the law. This use of Abraham would have most likely countered the arguments made by Jewish Christians who believed gentiles were required to maintain the law. Since he was a gentile seen as righteous before God, they may have pointed to his circumcision and obedience to the law as the reasons, ignoring that he was seen as righteous before these practices were performed.
    As seen in Second Temple Judaism, Abraham was presented as followed the law perfectly and was an example of righteousness, which is explicitly found in Sirach. Which states that “no one has been found like him in glory” and that when he was tested he was “proved faithful”. This is further revealed in Jubilees, which states that Abraham was “perfect in all of his actions with the Lord”. This portrayal of Abraham in Second Temple Literature illustrates how he was used as a prototypical figure for righteousness among the Jewish community. However, the significance of his favor in God’s sight was not in his adherence to the law or submission to the covenant but in his genuine faith in Yahweh. This faith is what Paul argues that the Gentiles must maintain, not the Jewish boundary markers which acclimated much of the Old Testament.

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