Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators

By J. Patout Burns Jr.; Constantine Newman | Go to book overview

Romans 4

Paul distinguished the righteousness based on faith in God from that based on good behavior. Because all of the commentators held that good behavior is necessary for salvation, they labored to find explanations of God’s preference for the righteousness of faith. Origen observed that only God can judge faith; Ambrosiaster noted that faithcertitude about what remains uncertaincannot be a duty, as good behavior can. John Chrysostom observed that faith relies on divine works which fulfill promises, rather than human actions. Augustine asserted that human works are sinful and cannot justify anyone until God has given both faith and love.

Paul argued that Abraham’s faith and its righteousness preceded circumcision and other rituals, which then served as signs or symbols of that righteousness rather than its cause. Origen and Theodoret focused on the justifying faith of Abraham and those who imitated him, explaining that Christ had freed them from the rituals. Ambrosiaster and John Chrysostom explained that for Abraham’s descendants, circumcision was a call and commitment to faith. Augustine regarded the ritual as a forerunner to Christian Baptism, especially when given to infants.

All the commentators recognized that the faithful affirm and live by realities which are neither evident to them nor supported by the assumptions of their human societies or cultures. Such behavior affirms the divine truthfulness and fidelity; it thereby gains access to the blessings God has promised.


Romans 4:1-8

1What they shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if
Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3For what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as
righteousness
(Gen 15:6). 4Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift
but as his due. 5 And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the un-
godly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. 6So also David pronounces a blessing
upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works
:

7Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8blessed isthe man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin. (Ps 32:1-2)

-83-

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Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Church’s Bible i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Interpreting the New Testament xiii
  • An Introduction to Romans xxiii
  • Preface to Romans 1
  • Romans 1 13
  • Romans 2 37
  • Romans 3 61
  • Romans 4 83
  • Romans 5 102
  • Romans 6 132
  • Romans 7 154
  • Romans 8 182
  • Romans 9 217
  • Romans 10 245
  • Romans 11 260
  • Romans 12 289
  • Romans 13 314
  • Romans 14 334
  • Romans 15 359
  • Romans 16 381
  • Appendix 1- Authors of Works Excerpted 394
  • Appendix 2- Sources of Texts Translated 396
  • Index of Names 414
  • Index of Subjects 417
  • Index of Scripture References 422
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