One sharp man wondered about my study of Romans, since it contradicts the Old Testament. This question of contradiction is truly a key to understanding this chapter. In the past, being a modern Christian, I have wondered, “Why does Paul insert this unnecessary chapter?” When Paul wrote, most Christians were Jews, and the Jews, Christian or not, struggled with whether there was a conflict with the Old Testament. Many maintained that salvation in the Old Testament was by the laws given by Moses, including forgiveness of sins by the sacrifices. Is that what the Jewish Bible truly says?
Now that Paul has shown that everyone has sinned and everyone needs to be justified, he knows that the whole question of why did God give the law arises. First, He must deal with how Jews were saved before he can get to the law. Because Paul has opened this problem of the Jews, he starts out with, “What then shall we say?” Now, he goes back before Moses and the law. He even goes back before circumcision. He states that If Abraham was saved by obeying the law, he would receive salvation as a payment for what he had earned, and thus he could boast. Instead, when God made him a promise that he would be the father of a great nation, Abraham not only believed God, but he trusted Him by leaving his home. When God said, “I will give you this land, Abraham built an alter. When He said that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust on the earth, Abraham trusted God by walking about the land as He said. Later, God said that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. He trusted God, again and his faith was credited to him as righteousness. If Abraham had done things first to earn the promise, that would be different, but God always promised first, and Abraham was so convinced of God’s faithfulness that he put his life on the line by acting on his trust. Some scholars have tried to claim that faith is a work that earns the benefit, but Paul disagrees, since faith comes after the benefit is promised. Paul even quotes David to show that God forgives sins without works being mentioned.
Now that he has established that Abraham received righteousness because he trusted God, apart from works, he turns to the issue of circumcision. This seems jarring to us modern people. Why would he need to bring up circumcision? We feel so natural that God wants us non-Jews, that we forget that this was a critical issue back then. Remember, God gave circumcision, choosing the Jews, some 400 years before the law was given. Thus, this is a completely separate issue from the law. If the promise was given after the rite of circumcision was established, tit could mean the Jews only. Notice, Paul has only quoted promises that could be limited to the Jews. Now Paul triumphantly states that the promises were given before Abraham was circumcised, before the Jews became the chosen people. Now, we hear the last promise as the crowning case. “A father of many nations have I made you” This trust being credited as righteousness was not only made to people who didn’t have the law, but people who were not part of the circumcision.
Paul reminds us that if we receive the promise by works, faith is made void. He also restates that the law brings about wrath, for once we break the law, we deserve wrath. Then he reviews how Abraham saw that his and his wife’s bodies were dead when it came to having children, but he trusted God. Then Paul makes it clear. It was for us that God wrote these things, us who have no right to the Jewish inheritance. He states Jesus died for our transgressions, but was raised because of our justification. If we trust God, we, like Abraham, will have righteousness credited to us.
Thus Paul has taken us through another valley. In the first valley, he established that all have sinned and everyone needs another way to Godliness and Heaven. Then he showed that Jesus was sent to die to justify us by faith. Here he has laid the groundwork that salvation in the Old Testament was by faith, and for all people. Now, he is ready to lead us to another mountaintop in Chapter 5.