A Father of Many Nations

Brothers and sisters:
It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
For this reason, it depends on faith,
so that it may be a gift,
and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants,
not to those who only adhere to the law
but to those who follow the faith of Abraham,
who is the father of all of us, as it is written,
I have made you father of many nations.
He is our father in the sight of God,
in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead
and calls into being what does not exist.
He believed, hoping against hope,
that he would become the father of many nations,
according to what was said, Thus shall your descendants be.
(Romans 4:13, 16-18)

Scripture Study

4:13 the promise Refers to God’s promise of land (Gen 18:18; 22:17–18). Land was essential for Abraham and his descendants to become the great nation God had promised (Gen 12:3). Paul asserts that this promise came through faith; God did not give it through the law since the law had not yet been given to God’s people. inherit the world God had promised that Abraham and his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan and be an instrument of blessing for all the nations of the earth (e.g., Gen 12:3; 13:16; 17:8; 22:18).

4:16 the promise In the same way that God offered Abraham the gift of land through faith, He now offers the gift of righteousness through faith to all people. This means that both Jews and Gentiles should have the same response to God’s promise of righteousness apart from the law. faith of Abraham Jewish people regarded themselves as natural descendants of Abraham (Rom 4:1); Paul metaphorically extends this association to all people who exhibit Abraham’s faith.

4:17 the father of many nations A quotation of Gen 17:5 from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT). The plural of the Greek word used here, ethnos (“nation”), also (at times) refers to Gentiles in general. Paul uses this different meaning to assert that Abraham is father not only of Jews but also of Gentiles. gives life to the dead Could refer to Jesus’ resurrection. Abraham also is said to be as good as dead when God brought life (a child) from him and Sarah (Rom 4:19; Gen 17:17).

4:18 against hope Abraham trusted in the hope of God’s ability to fulfill what He had promised. thus shall your descendants be A quotation from Gen 15:5. When Abraham complained to God about not having an heir, God reassured him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Scripture Reflection

For Paul, Abraham is a type of Christ; that is, Abraham follows the pattern of Christ. Adam and Moses, on the other hand, are antitypes—reverse patterns. For Jews, circumcision, the ritual removal of the foreskin of infant boys, symbolizes the individual’s membership in the people of God, and therefore the individual’s acceptance of God’s law and teaching.

Since Abraham was justified before his circumcision, he was justified independently of the Law. Therefore, Abraham is the ancestor of both Jews and Gentiles. Abraham’s example illustrates the theme of Romans: all have access now to salvation through faith.

– Mary Ann Getty 

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.