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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Seventy-Eighth (Romans Part 7)

We're moving forward in Romans again this week, on to chapter 4.  Last week we finished up chapter 3 and learned, what I would consider, the bedrock of all of Paul's teachings.  He wrote many letters spreading the message, and reminding the readers, that works doesn't lead to righteousness, faith does.  In chapter 4 of his letter to the church in Rome, he goes a step further with this but it's still clear he has an agenda with this letter.  So let's get into it!

Where Paul hinted at a certain well-known and revered individual of the past when he mentioned circumcision, he starts out in this chapter by just calling him out plainly.  Paul is really digging in here on his agenda to bring the believers in Rome together as well.  By bringing in Abraham, he was getting to the heart of what seems to be a rift between the Jews and the non-Jews.

Paul's previous mention of circumcision would have been an introduction of Abraham that was clear to the Jews since he was held in high regard in their community.  You have to look no further than Yeshua's talks with fellow Jews to see that.  In His interaction where He called them sons of the devil, they claimed Abraham as their father (John 8:39).  John the Baptist also preempted the Pharisees and Sadducees at Yeshua's baptism by telling them not to try and use Abraham as their excuse to not produce fruit (Matthew 3:9).  

When accusing Yeshua of having a demon, the Jews tried to get Him to exalt Himself above Abraham (John 8:53), presumably to have a reason to kill Him or lock Him up.  This is when not only did Yeshua oblige, but He called Himself God without calling Himself God by stating a phrase only associated with YHWH: I am (John 8:58, Exodus 3:14).  Yeshua also used Abraham in one of His parables (Luke 16:19-31), and Matthew used Abraham as a distinguisher in his lineage of Yeshua (Matthew 1:17).

Abraham was the very first person in the history of man to be circumcised, so Paul is giving some basis here for his statements that whether circumcised or uncircumcised, righteousness is given due to faith.  His basis is the fact that in scripture, Abraham was called righteous before he was ever told to be circumcised (Genesis 15:6, 17:11).  He reminds the reader that it was Abraham's faith was what made him worthy of righteousness (Romans 4:1-3,9-10).  

The next few verses are more supporting information for that key foundational belief in Christianity we saw at the end of chapter 3.  Have you ever received something from someone unexpectedly?  How about if you gave something to someone unexpectedly?  There are certain feelings associated with the giver and the receiver in this situation, and that's what Paul is hitting on in verses 4-8.

Some things to understand when you're reading these verses are the words Paul uses.  If you look at different translations, they give slightly different words for the same Greek word.  These different words give a slightly different feel, and sometimes they even lose a little bit of the weight of what Paul is trying to say here.  

One of these words is wages.  The Greek word used is misthos, and is the same word used when Yeshua was talking about our reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12) and when He returns with our reward (Revelation 22:2).  So, while the word wages makes sense when talking about working, like Paul is doing here, in most every other occurrence of this Greek word in scripture, it is translated as reward, and we'll see why this makes more sense in a minute.

The other two words we need to look at are charis and opheilema, which are translated to either gift, favor or grace, and obligation, debt, or what is due, respectively.  For the first word, grace is the best translation because it gives the feeling of something given with no expectation in return.  The word favor these days definitely feels like something will be asked of the receiver in the future (think "he owes me one"), and even gifts feel like you should send back something, even if it's just a thank you note.    

Opheilema is a bit of a deeper dig.  The only other occurrence of this word in the New Testament is when Yeshua is teaching how to pray (Matthew 6:12), and with the exception of one or two versions of scripture it is translated to debts.  If you don't think too hard about this, you don't quite get the full weight of what Paul is saying.  The meaning behind this word is that there is a moral, or even legal requirement for some payment to be made.  In fact, its usage in Greek started with being associated with legal requirements, then was associated with moral duties and responsibilities not only to others but to their gods.  

In other words, Paul is pointing out that when working is involved, whatever is given to the worker is associated with a requirement to pay that worker for his or her effort, not associated with a giver being gracious and giving out of the kindness and love of his or her heart (Romans 4:4).  Imagine how that would make you feel, and therefore how that makes YHWH feel.  You want to do something nice for someone and give them something, and the person associates what was given with the fact that they did something for you.  YHWH sacrificed His Son out of love for us, not because of anything we did, and when we associate that sacrifice, and subsequently the grace that is given through it, with how many good things we do, we cheapen that gesture to something transactional.

Paul contrasts this statement with how we should approach this.  If there is no work involved, but there is faith, this faith gives righteousness (Romans 4:5).  This verse is quite interesting because Paul uses the word dikaiounta.  This particular conjugation of the word dikaioo, or to be declared righteous, is used only one other place, Romans 3:26.  The best translation I found for this word, dikaiounta, is "justifier," meaning the one who justifies.  In this case, Paul is talking about YHWH, who justifies those who were wicked based on their faith in Yeshua.  I like it because I think "The Justifier" is another great title for YHWH.

Paul then ties another huge name into this discussion to drive the point home.  He quotes David, from the 32nd Psalm, when he talks about the blessing of YHWH to those He gives righteousness in spite of their sin or iniquity (Psalm 32:1-2).  The word "blessed" in this quote, and in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, is the same as used by Yeshua in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).  

In the last part of the first half of chapter 4, Paul hits on another one of the concepts he wrote about multiple times in his various letters: adoption.  We know that through accepting Yeshua as our Savior, we are given the authority to be children of YHWH (John 1:12), which is the same as being adopted by YHWH.  Paul states that because righteousness is given with or without circumcision, and was given to Abraham simply through his faith, he is not only the father of those circumcised but also uncircumcised as long as they have faith.  Effectively, we are all adopted children of Abraham if we are believers, and this idea was intended to bring together the Jews and non-Jews

In summary, we've seen that Paul was trying to get the point across that when it comes to righteousness, with or without circumcision, and with or without the law, it doesn't matter.  Righteousness is not given because of these things, rather it is given due to our faith.  We also see that Paul is trying to bring the believers together and heal some rifts that developed between the Jews and non-Jews.  Next week, we'll finish chapter 4 and find that Paul wasn't done talking about Abraham!

Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you! 

-Rob and Sara Gene

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