Abraham’s Faith: Romans 4.3

I’ve been using Mathew Poole’s (d. 1679) brief commentary on the whole Bible for a while now, and most of the time I have thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is concise and right to the point, and usually includes great cross-references in the margin and in the text.  Since I’m working through Romans 4.1-8 this week, I noticed Poole’s helpful discussion of verse 3, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (ESV).

“He was justified thereby: to have faith imputed for righteousness, and to be justified by faith, is the same thing.  Faith is not our righteousness materially, but objectively and organically, as it apprehends and implies the righteousness of Christ, which is the matter of our justification.  Our adversaries the papists oppose the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; they cavil (complain) at the very word, and call it putative (a.k.a. legal fiction) righteousness: and yet the apostle uses the word ten times in this chapter, and in the same sense that we take it.”

He continues,

“But how shall we reconcile our apostle with St. James, about the manner of Abraham’s justification: he says, expressly, James 2.21, that Abraham our father was justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac; and thence he infers, v 24, that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.  They are easily reconciled, forasmuch as the one discorseth of the cause of our justification before God; the other, of the signs of justification before men.  The one speaks of the imputation of righteousness; the other, the declaration of righteousness.  The one speaks of the office of faith; the other, of the quality of faith.  The one speaks of the justification of the person; the other, of the faith of that person.  The one speaks of Abraham to be justified; the other, of Abraham already justified.”

This is one of the better whole Bible commentaries that I’ve used, even surpassing Matthew Henry in my opinion.  Note: to dig deeper into the Roman Catholic “putative” objection, see Thomas Ridgley’s Body of Divinity, Vol III, p.84ff – click here for that.

Quotes taken from Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible (Mclean: Macdonald Publishing Company, n.d.), III.490.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

5 thoughts on “Abraham’s Faith: Romans 4.3”

  1. Your right on target with this!! Great point you make here. Faith is a walk.

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  2. Sorry, Zdenny, I don’t have a facebook account! Feel free to cut and paste if you wish, along with a link.


  3. In my study on this topic, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular Protestant Lexicon here is what it is defined as:

    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

    The Protestant Lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteouness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are 3 examples:

    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (3) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22).


  4. I’d also like to comment on Poole’s comments:

    Poole: “the other, of the signs of justification before men.”

    Nick: This is simply not what Scripture says. James pointed to Abraham in Genesis 22, yet there were no men around to witness, and the Scripture (Gn 22:1, 9-12) plainly says this was to be before God. Thus the argument about this being “before men” is not actually plausible. Further, verse 24 applies ‘justified’ to both faith and works, thus it should read: “a man is justified by works and justified by faith.” But if “justified” means “vindicated” here, then 2:24B should read “vindicated by faith,” but that is problematic for (1) it means faith is not justifying but merely vindicating, and (2) being vindicated by faith contradicts the Protestant argument that James’ point is that only works can vindicate.

    Poole: “The one speaks of the imputation of righteousness; the other, the declaration of righteousness.”

    Nick: This is contrary to the plain reading of the text, 2:23 quotes Gen 15:6 (the epitome of imputed righteousness). Plus, since James quotes Gen 15:6, it means the context of v24 is to be seen in light of the “righteousness” just mentioned. The original Greek readers would have seen it like this:
    dikaio-sune (righteousness) in verse 23
    diaio-o (justified) in verse 24
    Thus James was using “justify” in a salvific sense corresponding to the salvific righteousness mentioned.

    Poole: “The one speaks of Abraham to be justified; the other, of Abraham already justified.”

    Nick: This is not correct. Abraham had faith and was justified before Gen 15:6, in fact he had faith as early as Gen 12 (see Heb 11:8; Gal 3:8). It is Pelagian to suggest Abraham was first justified in Gen 15 when he was pleasing God long before that.


  5. Hey Nick:
    I wondered if you’d grab this post and reply!

    Basically and generally, you’re simply saying Trent is right, and the Augsburg, Westminster, and the Belgic (etc. – Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed) confessions are wrong. Instead of hashing this out here, I refer you to one of the above confessions if you want a defense of justification by the instrument of faith alone.

    Thanks for dropping by, even if you disagree.



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