“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?”

A new argument with much weight, taken from the example of Abraham the father of all believers: and this is the proposition: if Abraham is considered in himself by his works, as is evident from the next verse, he has deserved nothing with which to rejoice with God.

“What shall we say then?”
Literally: “What then shall we say?”–Paul is fond of this rhetorical question (4:1; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14, 30).  “What shall we say that Abraham our father hath found in respect to the flesh” 

         This is really the objection of a Jew: “How does your doctrine of Justification by Faith agree with what the Scriptures say of Abraham? Was the law set aside in his case? Did he derive no advantage in justification from the rite of circumcision, and from the covenant which God made with him.”  The object of Paul’s is to now answer this inquiry (see 3:1).|
        Paul, having shown in the preceding chapter the impossibility of man’s being
justified by the merit of his obedience to any law, moral or ceremonial, or any otherwise than by grace through faith judged it necessary, for the sake of the Jews, thought it necessary to consider the case of Abraham. 

         On being Abraham’s progeny, and on whose merits, the Jews placed great dependence; as they did also on the ceremony of circumcision, received from him. It was therefore of great importance to know how Abraham was justified; for in whatever way he, the most renowned progenitor of their nation, obtained that privilege 

         “that Abraham our father”
         Literally:  “Abraham our father”–Our ancestor; the father and founder of the nation.

The Jews valued themselves much on the fact that Abraham was their forefather; and an argument, drawn from his example or conduct, therefore, would be peculiarly forcible.  They regarded it as sufficient righteousness that they were descended from so holy a man as Abraham. They deemed it as such an honor that it would go far to justify all his descendant. John assured them that this was a matter of small consequence in the sight of God (John 8:33-37, 53).

         FATHER:  (Grk.-propatora)–Literally:  “forefather.”  The Jews had no term for “forefather or grandfather.  The only term they had was simply to say, “father.”

         “as pertaining to the flesh”
         Literally:  “According to flesh.” 

The idea is, “If men are justified by faith; if works are to have no place; if, therefore, all rites and ceremonies, all legal observances, are useless in justification, what is the advantage of circumcision? What benefit did Abraham derive from it? Why was it appointed? And why is such an importance attached to it in the history of his   life?”  A  similar question was asked in 3:1.

         TO THE FLESH:  (Grk.- kata sarka)—Literally:  “according to flesh.” This expression is one that has been much convoluted.  In the original, it may refer either to Abraham as their father “according to the flesh”–that is, their natural father, or, from  whom they were descended.  The question is, “Was Abraham justified by anything which pertained to the flesh?” 

“hath found”
Literally:  “To have found.”–Has found; has obtained. What advantage has he derived         from it? That is, found as an advantage or cause of boasting. The answer, which Paul here          omits, is, he has found nothing. And this Paul proceeds to show.

         HATH FOUND:  (Grk.-heurêkenai))—“Found” signifies, “attained by his own efforts,”  The question is, “Was Abraham justified by anything which pertained to the   flesh?” 

Because Abraham obeyed the laws and commandments of God, he had performed the whole Law before it was given.

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.”

         “For if Abraham were justified by works”
         Literally: “For if Abraham by works was justified.”–This is the Paul’s answer to the objections of the

         IF:  (Grk.–ei)—Meaning, “assuming that;” meaning a source of works. He might regard himself as the author of it, and take the praise to himself (v. 4). The  inquiry therefore was, whether in the account of the justification of Abraham there was to be found any such statement of a reason for self-confidence and boasting.

            BY WORKS:  (Grk.–ex ergōn)—Literally: “out of works.”  Works was view by  the Jew as the source of salvation. 

If works were the ground of Abraham's justification, he would have matter for boasting; but as it is perfectly certain that he has none in the sight of God, it follows that Abraham could not have been justified by works.  And to this the words of Scripture are in agreement.

         “he hath whereof to glory”
         Literally: “He has a boast.”  If Abraham was justified by his own righteous works, He     would have ground for glorying in himself. 

         If his works are the meritorious ground of his justification, he is saved of debt, not of grace. He might glory in his works as the ground of his salvation, and take to himself the praise. But not before God; that is, but he has not before God any thing whereof to glory. It follows that he was not justified by works. And this agrees with the word of God. For what saith the scripture? (see Gen. 15:6).
         The Jew might say: “I therefore conclude that Abraham was justified by works, or by his obedience to this law of circumcision; and, consequently, he has cause for glorying.”  Let us assume for the moment that Abraham was declared righteous as the result of what he did In that case, he would have something to boast about.  But that cannot be because we have already established that God’s method of setting people right excludes all boasting.

          GLORY: (Grk.–kauchma)–To exult or boast in something which he has done to   entitle him to these blessings.

         “but not before God”
         Literally: Not toward God”–That is, in his recorded judgment he had no ground of boasting on account of works.

         To show this, Paul appeals at once to the Scriptures, to show that there was no such record as that Abraham could boast that he was justified by his works. As God judges right in all cases, so it follows that Abraham had no just ground of boasting, and of course that he was not justified by his own works.  If Abraham was justified by his works, he might boast of his own merits. But he has no ground of boasting before God. Therefore he was not justified by works.
         These seem to be Paul’s words, and contain the beginning of his answer to the arguments of the Jew, as if he had said: “Allowing that Abraham might glory in being called from heathenish darkness into such marvelous light, and exult in the privileges which God had granted to him; yet this glorying was not before God as a reason why those privileges should be granted; the glorying itself being a consequence of these very privileges.”  Abraham deserved all the respect from men that came to him, but his relation to God was a different matter. He had there no ground of boasting at all.

“For what saith the Scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”

“For what saith the Scripture?”
Literally: “For what does the Scripture say?”–The Scriptural account of this transaction, Genesis 15:6, is decisive; for there it is said, Abraham believed God, and it was counted,  it was reckoned to him for righteousness, for justification.

The inspired account of Abraham's justification. This account was final, and was to settle the question. The passage quoted is found in Gen. 15:6, and is quoted three times in the N.T. (here, Gal. 3:6, James 2:23). God promised an heir to Abraham, and, although it seemed contrary to nature, he believed the promise of God’s.

         SCRIPTURE:  (Grk.–graphē)–“The sacred writing; Scripture.”

         “Abraham believed God”
         Literally:  In the Hebrew, “Abraham believed Jehovah.” The Septuagint (LXX), words it as, “Abraham believed God.”

         The sense is substantially the same, as the argument turns on the act of believing The faith which Abraham exercised was, that his posterity should be like the stars of heaven in number. This promise was made to him when he had no child, and of course when he had no prospect of such a posterity. See the strength and nature of this faith further illustrated in vv. 16-21. The reason why it was counted to him for righteousness was, that it was such a strong, direct, and unwavering act of confidence in the promise of God.
         The The Jewish New Testament, translation by Dr. David Stern, reads this verse as:  “For what does the Tanakh say, ‘Avraham put his trust in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.’”

“and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
Literally: “And it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”–It was set down on the credit side of the leger.  It was the ground of his acceptance with God. His faith was a trusting faith, which contained in it the element of obedience. No other faith justifies 
“And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham beleived God and it was imputed uto him for righteousness:  and he was called the Friend of God." (James 2:23).

           COUNTED:  (Grk.–elogisthē)–From the Greek root word of logizomai–A semi- technical term used in commercial dealings. It means, “to place to one’s account; to credit.”   Elogisthē  is a theological passive term;  it is God who credits righteousness to Abraham.     

Faith was not that which the Law required. The Law demanded complete and perfect obedience; and if a man was justified by faith, it was in some other way than by the Law.  Rabinnic Judaism held that faith itself was a meritorious act.  Mkilta 40b speaks of Abraham’s meritorious faith.”
1.      As the Law did not demand this, and as faith was something different from the demand of the law, so if a man were justified by that, it was on a principle altogether different from justification by works.  It was not by personal merit. It was not by complying with the Law; rather, it was an entirely different mode.
2.      In being Justified by Faith is meant
         a.      That we are treated as righteous;
         b.      That we are forgiven;
         c.      That we are admitted to the favor of God, and treated as His friends.
3.      In this act, faith is the instrument that God has been pleased to appoint as a condition on which men may be treated as righteous. It expresses a state of mind which is demonstrative:
         a.      Of love to God;
         b.      Of affection for His cause and character;
         c.      Of reconciliation and friendship;     
4.      As this is not a matter of Law; as the Law could not be said to demand it; as it is on different principle; and as the acceptance of faith, or of a believer, cannot be a matter of merit or claim, so justification is of grace, or mere favor.
5.      It is in no sense a matter of merit on our part, and thus stands distinguished entirely from justification by works, or by conformity to the Law. From beginning to end, it is, so far as we are concerned, a matter of grace. The merit by which all this is obtained is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom this plan is proposed, and by whose atonement alone God can consistently pardon and treat as righteous those who are in themselves ungodly (see 4:5).

It is said, “Abraham believed God,” and it was counted, that is, it was reckoned to him for righteousness, for justification. It was the ground of his acceptance with God. His faith was a trusting faith, which contained in it the element of obedience. No other faith justifies (see James 2:23).

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt”

            “Now to him  that worketh”
             “Now {to one} working.” –-Who earns wages as a servant.

             WORKETH:   (Grk.–katergazomai)–“To do that from which something results.”  The workman works in order to earn wages.

            All that the Law requires, the reward is no favor, but a debt.  Abraham was the most illustrious pattern of piety among the Jewish patriarchs. David was the most eminent of their kings. If then neither of these was justified by his own obedience, if they both obtained acceptance with God, not as upright beings who might claim it, but as sinful creatures who must implore it, the consequence is glaring.  It is such as must strike every attentive understanding, and must affect every individual person.
            It is a general principle in regard to contracts and obligations, that where a man fulfills them he is entitled to the reward as that which is due to him, and which he can claim. This is well understood in all the transactions among men. Where a man has fulfilled the terms of a contract, to pay him is not a matter of favor; he has earned it; and we are bound to pay him. So, says Paul, it would be, if a man were justified by his works, he would have a claim on God. It would be wrong not to justify him. And this is an additional reason why the doctrine cannot be true (comp. 11:6).

            “the reward not reckoned of grace”
            Literally: “The reward is not counted according to grace.”–Not a free gift, but a
debt.       If one has rendered himself righteous by his works, this is true of him.

            REWARD:  (Grk.–misthos)–Meaning his salvation.  Used in its strict and proper sense, to reckon that as belonging to a man which is his own, or which is due to   him.

It is a general rule that a workman is paid for the services that he renders.  Obviously, Abraham was not a workman, for he did not earn what he received.  His salvation was received on the only other basis—that it was undeserved favor—by the grace of God, and he believed God.                  

                        RECKONED:  (Grk.–logizetai)–Meaning, to “count, reckon, calculate  take into account, credit, consider.”

                        GRACE:  (Grk.–charis)–The N.T. word for grace, but used here in its classical sense of a favor.

            “but of debt”
            Literally: “But according to debt.”–Not a free gift, but a

            If one has rendered himself righteous by his works, this is true of him. The pay, or wages. As due; as a claim; as a fair compensation according to the contract.  The word is commonly applied to the pay of soldiers, day-laborers, etc., (Matt. 20:8; Luke 10:7; I Tim. 5:18; James 5:4). It has a similar meaning here.  If, in obedience to law, a person is justified, his salvation is merited, not bestowed as a gratuitous favor. 
          Therefore, if Abraham had been justified by works, the blessings he received would have been given to him as a reward for those works, and consequently his believing could have had no part in his justification, and his faith would have been useless.

                        DEBT:  (Grk.–ophelēma)–Literally:  “that which is justly or legally due, a debt.”

            Paul uses an illustration here taken from human affairs.  He calls attention to the fact that when the employer gives the workman his pay, that is not counted as a favor, but as a legal obligation which the employer is bound to discharge.  It is the debt which he owes his employee.
            If the sinner earned salvation by good works, God would be indebted to the man and obligated to give it to him.  It5 would not be a favor which God would do for man.  And man would not need to thank God or glorify Him for salvation.

“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

 “But to him that worketh not”
“But to the {one} not working.”–Does not trust his works for acceptance with God. Which was the case with Abraham, for he was called when he was ungodly, i.e. an idolater; and, on his believing, was freely justified: and, as all men have sinned, none can be justified by works. 

Therefore, justification, if it take place at all, must take place in behalf of the ungodly. Now, as Abraham's state and mode in which he was justified, are the plan and rule according to which God purposes to save men; and as Abraham’s state was ungodly, and the mode of his justification was by faith in the goodness and mercy of God; and this is precisely the state of Jews and Gentiles at present.  There can be no other mode of justification than by faith in that Christ who is Abraham's seed, after the flesh, and in whom, according to the promise, all the nations of the earth are to be blessed:
1.      Who does not rely on his conformity to the law for his justification;
2.      Who does not depend on his works;
3.      Who seeks to be justified in some other way.
         The reference here is to the Christian Plan of Justification.

“but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly”
Literally: “But believing on the {One} justifying the ungodly.”–Trusts in the mercy of Him who justifies sinners who come to Him penitent and believing; believes on God.

Thus the connection requires; for the discussion has immediate reference to Abraham, whose faith was in the promise of God. Casts himself upon the mercy of Him that justifies those who deserve only condemnation.     

           JUSTIFIETH THE UNGODLY: (Grk.–dikaiounta ton asebe)–Literally:   “Justifying the ungodly.”–It is necessary to observe here, in order to prevent confusion and  misapprehension, that although the Greek word for “justifieth,”–the verb (dikaioō ) has a variety of senses in the N.T.  Here it is to be taken as implying the pardon of sin; receiving a person into the favor of God. 

“his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Literally:  “His faith is reckoned for righteousness.”–The means of his justification  and salvation, through the atonement and righteousness of Christ.  It is made the ground of his acceptance with God. By faith he clings to Christ, the Savior.

If a man could possibly be made holy before he was justified, it would entirely set his justification aside; seeing he could not, in the very nature of the thing, be justified if he were not, at that very time, ungodly.

       COUNTED:   (Grk.–logizomai)It is also necessary to observe, that our translators render the verb logizomai differently in different parts of this chapter.  It is rendered counted, (4:3, 5); reckoned, (4:4, 9-10); imputed, (4:6, 8, 11, 22-24). Reckoned is probably the best sense in all these places. 

If a man could possibly be made holy before he was justified, it would entirely set his justification aside; seeing he could not, in the very nature of the thing, be justified if he were not, at that very time, ungodly. This is a very important expression. it implies:
1.      That all men are sinners, or are ungodly.

2.      That God regards them as such when they are justified He does not first esteem them, to be pure, but knowing that they are polluted, and that they deserve no favor, He resolves to forgive them, and to treat them as His friends.
3.      In themselves they are equally undeserving, whether they are justified or not.
         Note that the Bible does not say that God justifies the praying man, or the Bible reader, or the church member; rather, it says the ungodly.