The Salvation of the Jews: Rom 4 (“We uphold the law”)

jewish_starWe start with just a little bit of context —

(Rom 3:29-31 ESV)  29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,  30 since God is one– who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Verses 29-31 demonstrate that the issue at hand is how the Gentiles can be saved and yet not be bound by the Law of Moses. But if this is so, what is the point of the Law? And Paul begins with his conclusion: “We uphold the law.”

Now, there’s something of a pun here. The Jews used “law” to refer both the Law of Moses and to the first five books of the First Testament. Hence, God’s covenant with Abraham is, in one sense, a part of the law. It’s in Genesis, the first book of the Law. He means much more than that when he declares that he upholds the law, but that is part of what he means. The “law” is not just the 613 commands. It’s also the story of the Exodus. It’s also God’s covenant with Abraham. It all matters.

(Rom 4:1-3 ESV) What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?  2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

In chapter 3, Paul proclaimed,

(Rom 3:28 NET)  28 For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law. 

How does this happen? Well, how was Abraham saved? He was found righteous due to his faith. What could be more consistent with the Law?

Paul then turns to Psalm 32, written by David, for further proof —

(Rom 4:4-8 ESV) 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,  6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

David was not speaking of a new covenant but the covenant he was under at the time — the Abrahamic/Mosaic/Davidic covenants to be very precise. And around 1010 BC, David declared that it was possible to be in a relationship with God in which sin was not counted at all.

Paul then returns to Abraham to make a point —

(Rom 4:9-12 ESV) Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.  10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.  11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,  12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

God entered into covenant with Abraham and counted his faith as righteousness before Abraham was circumcised. Therefore, circumcision is not a condition of receiving grace through faith.

Rather, circumcision was a “seal” of righteousness. “Seal” (semeion) is borrowed from —

(Gen 17:11 ESV)  11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.

N.T. Wright comments,

The stress of the paragraph thus falls not so much on the method or timing of Abraham’s justification, important though that is, but on what follows from it: that uncircumcised believers are every bit as “justified” as Abraham was (v. 11b). Indeed, vv. 11b–12 seem to imply almost that uncircumcised believers are the more obvious children of Abraham and that it is circumcised ones who come in on their coattails–and even then, Paul underlines, not on the basis of their circumcision, but on the basis of their following in the footsteps of Abraham’s “uncircumcised faith” (v. 12b).

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians (vol. 10 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), n.p.

(Rom 4:13-14 ESV)  For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

Paul next repeats his assertion in the negative form to emphasize the necessity of righteousness through faith. In so saying, he explicitly includes in that promise the “offspring” of Abraham — the Jews. Indeed, he says in v. 14, if the Jews were saved by the Law of Moses, the Abrahamic promise is void. But it’s not void, and so the Jews could not have been  saved by keeping the Law.

(Rom 4:23-25 ESV)  23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,  24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,  25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Paul concludes the chapter by stating that the promise of salvation through faith is not just for Abraham for all who believe in the God who resurrected Jesus.

In short, implicit in all Paul’s argument is the sufficiency of faith to save the Jews from Abraham until Jesus. The Law was not sufficient, but God provided grace through faith for the Jews. And God now has invited the Gentiles to join in his salvation by the same means: through faith.

Abraham’s covenant was not annulled by the Law, but rather continued under the Law to provide salvation when the Law alone could not.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to The Salvation of the Jews: Rom 4 (“We uphold the law”)

  1. rich constant says:

    JAy I need to ask a question?
    in Romans 3:25 in the NET Bible where in the world did through faith in his blood go.
    are all the other translations not right and and they just threw that in as a given ontologically inferred in in their opinion here or implied.
    what did those translators do To the net and why. in verse 25 of chapter 3
    I had a hard drive failure on my computer redid the NET Bible and I didn’t get the notes.
    that would be a major contextual consideration for me!!!
    dang what’s going on there.
    and pretty much I just saw it .that’s what happens when you don’t read your Bible that much just take it for granted that they all say the same just about.
    in Chapter three
    Verse 19 20 21 22.
    Paul is speaking to the righteousness of God through the Faithfulness of Jesus Christ. this is God’s promise but Paul is not addressing that yet.
    in 22 B also 23 we/they find just what happened through that faith, Christ’S, for all those that believe for there is no distinction, maintaining God’s righteousness in judgement because of this words and his on wavering faithfulness to those words and by being witnessed by the first covenant law and prophets. who were looking at what time or manner the Spirit of Christ in them was speaking toward
    Paul is preaching Christ crucified a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles,
    so all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but being freely by grace justified in / Partakers of the resurrection in Christ
    for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God missed the mark according to law.

    No you say verse 28 and 29 is a pun or 30 and 31 but I get what you’re saying.
    Verse 28 and 29 refer back to what I just explained.
    Check the 9th chapter of Romans and what Paul is referring to it is specifically 9:31 32
    he is revealing a mystery here the power of God unto salvation at the end of the third chapter tell me we find out Jesus was crucified. Paul is still revealing the first seven verses of chapter 1 in a consistent logical train of thought that establish’S a lot of faith where the entire creation of believers and God are justified in / takers of the redemption found in Christ.
    now he moves on to an explanation of why and starts with circumcision and the initial promise of God righteousness imputed righteousness for all those people for Christ because of their salvation in Christ because of righteousness righteous faith
    I think I hit on everything I wanted to now I got to look at it and see how it reads on the blog sorry J hope it reads ok.
    Please get an answer somebody for me on 25 you know the blood I’ll stop reading at NET Bible for that

  2. rich constant says:

    Well I just read it that’s frustrating in any event.
    At NET Bible really bugs me there.
    If its there in the end in the manuscripts then the NET Bible becomes more of an interpretation than I thought it was boy I don’t know how I missed that when I just read into it.
    Oh well Bought my ticket I took my ride.
    such a deal

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Rich,

    The NET Bible translator notes explain —

    Grk “in his blood.” The prepositional phrase ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι (en to autou haimati) is difficult to interpret. It is traditionally understood to refer to the atoning sacrifice Jesus made when he shed his blood on the cross, and as a modifier of ἱλαστήριον (hilasterion). This interpretation fits if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to a sacrifice. But if ἱλαστήριον is taken to refer to the place where atonement is made as this translation has done (see note on the phrase “mercy seat”), this interpretation of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι creates a violent mixed metaphor. Within a few words Paul would switch from referring to Jesus as the place where atonement was made to referring to Jesus as the atoning sacrifice itself. A viable option which resolves this problem is to see ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι as modifying the verb προέθετο (proetheto). If it modifies the verb, it would explain the time or place in which God publicly displayed Jesus as the mercy seat; the reference to blood would be a metaphorical way of speaking of Jesus’ death. This is supported by the placement of ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι in the Greek text (it follows the noun, separated from it by another prepositional phrase) and by stylistic parallels with Rom 1:4. This is the interpretation the translation has followed, although it is recognized that many interpreters favor different options and translations. The prepositional phrase has been moved forward in the sentence to emphasize its connection with the verb, and the referent of the metaphorical language has been specified in the translation. For a detailed discussion of this interpretation, see D. P. Bailey, “Jesus As the Mercy Seat: The Semantics and Theology of Paul’s Use of Hilasterion in Rom 3:25” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1999).

    NRSV seems to come to same conclusion:

    (Rom 3:25 NRS) whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

    NIV 2011 is to similar effect —

    (Rom 3:25 NIV) God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood– to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

    And the ESV translates —

    (Rom 3:25 ESV) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

    Can’t say that I’ve studied the question, but “faith in his blood” always struck me as odd. Our faith is in Jesus — a person. Obviously, it could be synecdoche, using “his blood” for “Jesus crucified.” But still, having given this hardly any study or thought at all, I find myself leaning toward the NRSV, ESV, NET, and NIV 11 and contrary to KJV and the original NIV.

  4. Price says:

    Saved by Grace through Faith… never really thought about it being a first covenant agreement as well… The first seal was circumcision… the second seal was the Holy Spirit….

  5. all rightie now
    i am going to try and explain what i think about ROM 3 and why.
    using a lot of gal.2:14-4:9 which becomes very similar to ROM chapter 3 or what you could call another facet of the “faith of Christ” in cleansing the Temple in the heavenlies’, which is in the new creation.
    Jay, i am taking a lot for granted here although you seem to get the curse of the Jews. and the condition of the temple.as far as God and Jesus are concerned.that be through out the gospels
    luk. 19:45- ch.20… (house of prayer / VS 19:45 / 47 sought to destroy him…

    laying the foundation
    let’s get some help from Paul and take this as a given.( of course contextually).

    1.flesh 2nd. cor 5:14-18 / servant /gal.4:4 /man as ADAM ROM ch.5 1st. cor.15:21-22 / Spirit of the messiah God.
    2nd cor 3:17-18…
    new creation 2nd cor.4:18-5:1 becomes’ our introduction into who we really are, which started out
    2nd cor.3: 1-10 because of the righteous faithfulness of the messiah’s servitude to the Will of god.

    Now read all the way down to chapter 4 verse 9 you’ll figure out why w e become known by God why? we’re children of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us? again from understanding the context from Chapter two through chapter 4 ( through the faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints)….
    and that would be Jesus’s faith …the author and perfecter of faith.
    how did he accomplish it through… the curse of the law nullifying the curse and Bringing blessings to us ALL. through “Faith in Jesus “by the good news.not the Law because the law wasn’t made for a righteous man …
    but stumble in one point of the wall and you’re guilty of it all .
    so then through one righteous Act…)
    so then you find guess what
    Salvation by grace through faith the gift of God
    then you can go all the way back up to the beginning and see what Paul saying about the spirit and The LAW because of the Faith of Jesus and not about my faith In Jesus

    i will post this and contue

  6. rich constant says:

    Thanks Jake cuz I are ignorant.
    About the only one that I have ever read consistently over a period of time because of the trust that I developed through reading him.
    And just how wonderfully simple and complex his words were, to say nothing of his scholarship, just say nothing that he started out in the same place pretty much I think that I did conservative Church of Christ.
    And somehow or another he worked his way out of it.
    Just a wonderfully humble man.
    Oops I don’t want to forget the guy that taught me the history.
    When he would come out to California and give A five day series of lectures.
    and that would be when he was in Southern California.
    I would be there with my cassette deck and I went out and bought a good one to microphones and case of tapes tapes. he sounded just like an old farmer he was about 60 or 70 years old I just love that old guy.
    I’d play those tapes over and over and over again.
    a pretty much there’s only two guys and I trusted to teach me..
    although neither one of them like that curse idea.
    so I didn’t read things that were taught in school.
    To be sure I was indoctrinated.
    But no1 could answer the curse questions number 2 nobody wanted to go there they didn’t even want to touch it. I called one guy in Temple Terrace Florida I can’t remember his name his big deal was the righteousness of God and I went to see him teach 35 or 40 years earlier and had one of these tapes. so I called him got his number.
    he called me a Herotik and wouldn’t talk to me anymore.
    I one time BOught an American standard then I got a new American Standard and I just couldn’t stand those because of the way they wrote Romans it’s hard enough to see the faith of Jesus Christ much less a bad translation. translated faith in Christ.
    eventually I got a computer and some literal translations Or trans literal translations that helped quite a bit.
    all the while trying to do one thing and one thing only. make the Bible contextually makes sense.
    through the fAith of Jesus. that brings us to about 2008 and I started reading John Mark. and my education began.
    I learned all kinds of new words had a ball I enjoyed reading everything that he put down.
    that old farmer guy was Homer hailey that was around 1973-74 so pretty much I kind of have to laugh a little but it’s true I’ve been in the wilderness studying the Bible in the Spirits hands. I just kept knocking on gods door the fruits of the Spirit as best as I could figure it out gave me the intuitive inner direction.
    right or wrong.
    the adventure of a lifetime.
    give glory to God thank God through Jesus Christ I’m finally finding some fellowship

  7. rich constant says:
    August 2, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    all rightie now
    i am going to try and explain what i think about ROM 3 and why.
    using a lot of gal.2:14-4:9 which becomes very similar to ROM chapter 3 or what you could call another facet of the “faith of Christ” in cleansing the Temple in the heavenlies’,” which WHICH HAS NOW BEEN INTEGRATED INTO the new creation”THROUGH THE SHED BLOOD OF THE MAN / GOD,SERVANT, EMANUEL,JESUS THE SON OF GOD. THE MESSIAH,THE NEW HIGH PRIEST WHO ENTERED INTO THE HOLIEST OF ALL” for context Hebrews (9:6-10:1)
    This is by way of the”body” of the” man” jesus. notice the shift from chapter 9 ( 9:23) into chapter chapter 10: 4-30 ” the Messiah chapter 9 the “MAN (of flesh where BLOOD is the life and life is in the BLOOD”),messiah god chapter 9…. which is attested to more clearly ROM. 1:1-4..gal. 2:15-3:5
    then into ROM 8:9 SPIRIT OF GOD ,SPIRIT OF CHRIST,16…THE SPIRIT ITSELF BEAR WITNESS OUR spirit ….-8:21
    .
    Jay, i am taking a lot for granted here although you seem to get the curse of the Jews. and the condition of the temple.as far as God and Jesus are concerned.that be through out the gospels
    luk. 19:45- ch.20… (house of prayer / VS 19:45 / 47 sought to destroy him…

    laying the foundation
    let’s get some help from Paul and take this as a given.( of course contextually).

    1.flesh 2nd. cor 5:14-18 / servant /gal.4:4 /man as ADAM ROM ch.5 1st. cor.15:21-22 / Spirit of the messiah God.
    2nd cor 3:17-18…
    new creation 2nd cor.4:18-5:1 becomes’ our introduction into who we really are, which started out
    2nd cor.3: 1-10 because of the righteous faithfulness of the messiah’s servitude to the Will of god.

    added more above to clairfy

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