Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 4:9 “Cometh this blessedness then upon the
circumcision only, or upon the uncircum-
cision also? for we say that faith was
reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.”
Even if the Jews accepted Paul’s teaching of justification by faith, they would still be tempted to think it could not provide salvation for Gentiles. The Jews had trouble yielding to any salvation that would be universally offered. Even Christian Jews struggled with this.
The most radically exclusive Jews did not truly believe in a human race. They only believed in a race of Jews. All others were merely creatures aping the stature and dignity of men. Gentiles were created solely to fuel the flames of Hell.
This attitude resulted in the Gentiles’ feeling excluded from the God of the Jews. Though Gentiles did often express interest in Judaism, they were usually kept at arm’s length.
Hence, Paul found himself rebuking and welcoming. He had to rebuke the narrowness of some, and he had to encourage the timidity of others. To the Jews he had to say, “Be quiet and learn humility.” To the Gentiles he said, “Be comforted; a light has arisen in your darkness.”
Romans 4:10 “How was it then reckoned? when he was
in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?
Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.”
The Jews felt that circumcision, a rite given by God to Abraham, was essential for salvation. Even some Christian Jews felt that Gentiles should be circumcised before they could be Christians.
Some of the more radical rabbis believed strongly in the saving power of circumcision. They believed that if a Jew were condemned, there was an angel appointed to obliterate his circumcision. The accursed would be made uncircumcised again before he entered Hell.
Paul had to attack this mentality. Unfortunately, such thinking is still rampant among us. Countless multitudes still think salvation is connected in some way with certain ordinances, rites, and ceremonies of the church.
Is the bestowal of righteousness connected in any way with the observance of ordinances? Can a man be right with God apart from such things? Paul answers these questions by appealing to Abraham and the calendar.
Salvation was given to Abraham, but when? What was his condition when God reckoned righteousness to him? Was he circumcised or uncircumcised at the time? Well, believe it or not, he was declared righteous 14 years before he was circumcised (see GN 15:6, 17:24).
Circumcision did not save Abraham. His salvation was received by faith, apart from any rite. No ordinance, not even a God-given one, can provide salvation.
This would raise many a Jewish eyebrow. Paul could hear someone asking, “If circumcision does not confer righteousness, then what is its purpose?” Paul offers an answer in the next verse.
Romans 4:11a “And he received the sign of circumcision,
a seal of the righteousness of the faith
which he had yet being uncircumcised:”
Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness Abraham received, but not a substitute for it. It is not enough to have the symbol; one must also have the thing signified. Circumcision bore witness to a previously existing righteousness. Let’s try to analyze what Paul meant here by “sign” and “seal.”
The word “sign” by definition denotes that which indicates or points to something else. The sign in and of itself has no importance. It has meaning and significance only with regard to that to which it points.
A wedding ring is a sign that one belongs to another in wedlock. It is a sign of the real thing, faithfulness. However, the ring without faithfulness is useless. On the other hand, one can have faithfulness without the ring. Twice I have performed a “no ring” wedding ceremony. Nevertheless, both couples are just as married as anyone can possibly be. A sign cannot be substituted for that which it pictures. Even so circumcision cannot be a substitute for salvation by faith.
“Seal” implies the confirmation of a previous bargain. It refers to a guarantee. In Abraham’s case, circumcision was a guarantee of the trustworthiness of God. He can be depended on to secure the salvation He promises. The rainbow serves as an illustration of a seal. It does not keep the earth from being destroyed by a flood again. But it does serve as a seal, a guarantee, that God will not let it happen again.
Do not confuse the seal with that which it guarantees. They are separate items. When Good Housekeeping magazine places their seal of approval on a product, that does not in itself make the product good. It was already good before the seal was placed on it. The seal itself merely confirms a previous fact.
Circumcision was merely a seal of what God had already done. Rites and ceremonies are valid only when they point to the fact that one is already saved by faith. They are simply a reminder that God can be counted on to carry through their salvation.
Romans 6:11b “. . .that he might be the father of all
them that believe,though they be not
circumcised; that righteousness might
be imputed unto them also:”
Abraham’s circumcision was a sign that he would be counted as the father of all that believe. That means he would forever be deemed as their pattern and leading example. The word “father” here implies a common nature, character, or attribute.
Being a son of Abraham involves more than just a blood line. Abraham is more than a mere unit in a particular genealogy. Though the Gentile may not be kin to Abraham after the flesh, he can be kin to him after the spirit.
Gentiles have the right to claim Abraham as their father because he never received anything on the basis of his being a Jew. He did not get saved as a Jew, but rather simply as a man.
In fact, Abraham was the father of the uncircumcised believers before he was the father of circumcised believers. With one stroke Paul overturned any basis for national or racial pride among the Jews.
It is not necessary for a Gentile to accept the Jewish rites in order to become a Christian. Rather, it is necessary for a Jew to accept the Gentile hope in faith as the only means of salvation.
Gentiles do not have to enter Christianity through a Jewish gateway. Rather, it is essential that the Jews enter in the same way as do the Gentiles. Any man, Jew or Gentile, who repents and believes in Christ places his feet in the footsteps of Abraham and follows him right into Heaven.
Romans 4:12 “And the father of circumcision to them who
are not of the circumcision only, but also
walk in the steps of that faith of our
father Abraham, which he had being yet
Now comes Paul’s crowning blow to the nonbelieving Jews. Abraham is the ancestor of all Jews, but “father” only to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Without faith, a circumcised Jew is lost.
You are a child of Abraham only if you have the faith of Abraham. The only saved Jews are those who have heart-faith, as Abraham did. If you are not willing to be saved as Abraham was saved, then you cannot be saved.
Do these verses that Paul wrote about Jews of yesteryear have significance for church members today? Absolutely. Many church members place their trust for salvation in church ordinances or sacraments.
We need Paul’s message. Salvation has nothing at all to do with external rites and ceremonies. It is a matter of the heart. Being religious, experiencing baptism, observing the Lord’s Supper–none of these can save. Our hope is faith alone.
The ceremonies of a church are “demonic” if they become the ground of confidence for salvation. Outward rites have their true meaning only if they express a previous inner experience.