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A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle to the Romans online

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foundations of his system. St. James, occupying a less exceptional


Standpoint, and taking words in the average sense put upon them,
has recourse to the context of Abraham's life, and so harmonizes
the text with the requirements of his own moral sense.

The fact is that St. James and St. Paul mean diflferent things by
' faith,' and as was natural they impos*" these different meanings on
the Book of Genesis, and adapt the .?st of their conclusions to
them. When St. James heard speak of * faith,' he undersiood by
it what the letter of the Book of Genesis allowed him to understand
by it, a certain belief. It is what a Jew would consider the funda-
mental belief, belief in God, belief that God was One (Jas. ii. 19).
Christianity is with him so much a supplement to the Jews' ordinary
creed that it does not seem to be specially present to his mind
when he is speaking of Abraham, Of course he too believes in the
'Lord Jesus Christ, ^he Lord of Glory' (Jas. ii. 1). He takes that
belief for granted ; it is the substratum or basement of life on which
are not to be built such things as a wrong or corrupt partiality
{TrpocTa>Tro\r]y}fia). If he were questioned about it, he would put it on
the same footing as his behef in God. But St. James was a
thoroughly honest, and, as we should say, a ' good ' man ; and this
did not satisfy his moral sense. What is belief unless proof is given
of its sincerity ? Behef must be followed up by action, by a line
of conduct conformable to it. St. James would have echoed
Matthew Arnold's proposition that ' Conduct is three-fourths of
life.' He therefore demands — and from his point of view rightly
demands — that his readers shall authenticate their beliefs by putting
them in practice.

St. Paul's is a very different temperament, and he speaks from a
very different experience. With him too Christianity is something
added to an earlier belief in God ; but the process by which it was
added was nothing less than a convulsion of his whole nature. It
is like the stream of molten lava pouring down the volcano's side.
Christianity is with him a tremendous over-mastering force. The
crisis came at the moment when he confessed his faith in Christ ;
there was no other crisis worth the name after that. Ask such
an one whether his faith is not to be proved by action, and the
question will seem to him trivial and superfluous. He will almost
suspect the questioner of attempting to bring back under a new
name the old Jewish notion of religion as a round of legal
observance. Of course action will correspond with faith. The
believer in Christ, who has put on Christ, who has died with Christ
and risen again with him, must needs to the very utmost of his
power endeavour to live as Christ would have him live. St. Paul
is going on presently to say this (Rom. vi. i, 12, 15), as his
opponents compel him to say it. But to himself it appears a
truism, which is hardly worth definitely enunciating. To say that
a man js a Christian should be enough.


If we thus understand the real relation of the two Apostles, it will
be easier to discuss their literary relation. Are we to suppose that
either was writing with direct reference to the oiher ? Did St. Paul
mean to controvert St. James, or did St. James mean to controvert
St. Paul? Neither hypothesis seems probable. If St. Paul had
had before him the Epistle of St. James, when once he looked
beneath the language to the ideas signified by the language, he
would have found nothing to which he could seriously object. He
would have been aware that it was not his own way of putting
things ; and he might have thought that such teaching was not
intended for men at the highest level of spiritual attainment ; but
that would have been all. On the other hand, if St. James had
seen the Epistle to the Romans and wished to answer it, what he
has written would have been totally inadequate. Whatever value
his criticism might have had for those who spoke of ' faith ' as
a mere matter of formal assent, it had no relevance to a faith such
as that conceived by St. Paul. Besides, St. Paul had too effectually
guarded himself against the moral hypocrisy which he was con-

It would thus appear that when it is examined the real meeting-
ground between the two Apostles shrinks into a comparatively
narrow compass. It does not amount to more than the fact that
both quote the same verse, Gen. xv. 6, and both treat it with
reference to the antithesis of Works and Faith.

Now Bp. Lightfoot has shown {Galatians, p. 157 ff., ed. 2) that
Gen. XV. 6 was a standing thesis for discussions in the Jewish schools.
It is referred to in the First Book of Maccabees : ' Was not
Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him
for righteousness' (i Mace. ii. 52)? It is repeatedly quoted and
commented upon by Philo (no less than ten times, Lft.). The
whole history of Abraham is made the subject of an elaborate
allegory. The Talmudic treatise Mechilta expounds the verse at
length : ' Great is faith, whereby Israel believed on Him that spake
and the world was. For as a reward for Israel's having believed in
the Lord, the Holy Spirit dwelt in them ... In like manner thou
findest tl)at Abraham our father inherited this world and the world
to come solely by the merit of faith, whereby he believed in the
Lord ; for it is said, " and he believed in the Lord, and He counted
it to him for righteousness " ' (quoted by Lft. ut sup. p. 1 60). Taking
these examples with the lengthened discussions in St. Paul and
St. James, it is clear that attention was being very widely drawn to
this particular text : and it was indeed inevitable that it should be
so when we consider the place which Abraham held in the Jewish
system and the minute study which was being given to every part of
the Pentateuch.

It might therefore be contended with considerable show of reason


that the two New Testament writers are discussing independently
of each other a current problem, and that there is no ground for
supposing a controversial relation between them. We are not sure
that we are prepared to go quite so far as this. It is true that the
bearing of Gen. xv. 6 was a subject of standing debate among the
Jews ; but the same thing cannot be said of the antithesis of
Faith and Works. The controversy connected with this was
essentially a Christian controversy ; it had its origin in the special
and characteristic teaching of St. Paul. It seems to us therefore
that the passages in the two Epistles have a real relation to that
controversy, and so at least indirectly to each other.

It does not follow that the relation was a literary relation. We
have seen that there are strong reasons against this *. We do not
think that either St. Paul had seen the Epistle of St. James, or
St. James the Epistle of St. Paul. The view which appears to us
the most probable is that the argument of St. James is directed not
against the wridngs of St. Paul, or against him in person, but
against hearsay reports of his teaching, and against the perverted
construction which might be (and perhaps to some slight extent
actually was) put upon it. As St. James sate in his place in the
Church at Jerusalem, as yet the true centre and metropolis of
the Christian world; as Christian pilgrims of Jewish birth were
constantly coming and going to attend the great yearly feasts,
especially from the flourishing Jewish colonies in Asia Minor and
Greece, the scene of St. Paul's labours ; and as there was always
at his elbow the little coterie of St. Paul's fanatical enemies, it would
be impossible but that versions, scarcely ever adequate (for how
few of St. Paul's hearers had really understood him I) and often more
or less seriously distorted, of his brother Apostle's teaching, should
reach him. He did what a wise and considerate leader would
do. He names no names, and attacks no man's person. He does
not assume that the reports which he has heard are full and true
reports. At the same time he states in plain terms his own view
of the matter. He sounds a note of warning which seems to him
to be needed, and which the very language of St. Paul, in places
like Rom. vi. i ff., 15 ff., shows to have been really needed. And
thus, as so often in Scripture, two complementary sets of truths,
suited to different types of mind and different circumstances, are
stated side by s;de. We have at once the deeper principle of
action, which is also more powerful in proportion as it is deeper,
though not such as all can grasp and appropriate, and the plainer

♦ Besides what is said above, see Introduction § 8. It is a satisfaction to
find that the view here taken is substantially that of Dr. Hort, Judaistic
Christianity, p. 148, 'it seems more natural to suppose that a misuse or
misunderstanding of St. Paul's teaching 011 the part of otheri gave rise to
St. James's carefully guarded language.'


practical teaching pitched on a more every-day level and appealing
to larger numbers, which is the check and safeguard against possible


IV. 0-12. TAe declaration made to Abraham did not
depend upon Circumcision. For it was made before he was
circumcised ; aftd Circumcision only came in after the fact,
to ratify a verdict already given. The reason being that
Abraham might have for his spiritual descendants the un-
circumcised as well as the circumcised,

• Here we have certain persons pronounced ' happy.' Is
this then to be confined to the circumcised Jew, or may it also
apply to the uncircumcised Gentile ? Certainly it may. For there
is no mention of circumcision. It is his faith that we say was
credited to Abraham as righteousness. ^*And the historical
circumstances of the case prove that Circumcision had nothing
to do with it. Was Abraham circumcised when the declaration
was made to him? No: he was at the time uncircumcised.
" And circumcision was given to him afterwards, like a seal
affixed to a document, to authenticate a state of things already
existing, viz. the righteousness based on faith which was his before
he was circumcised. The reason being that he might be the
spiritual father alike" of two divergent classes : at once of believing
Gentiles, who though uncircumcised have a faiih like his, that they
too might be credited with righteousness ; ^^ and at the same time
of believing Jews who do not depend on their circumcision only,
but whose files march duly in the steps of Abraham's faith — that
faith which was his before his circumcision.

10. St. Paul appeals to the historic fact that the Divine
recognition of Abraham's faith came in order of time before his
circumcision : the one recorded in Gen. xv. 6, the other in
Gen. xvii. lo ff. Therefore allhough it might be (and was)
confirmed by circumcision, it could not be due to it or conditioned
by it

11. aTjjieio»» irepiTOfiT]s. Circumcision at its institution is said to
be iv mjfttif 8ia6tiKr)s (Gen. zvii. ii), between God and the


circumcised. The gen. irepiTon^s is a genitive of apposition or identity,
a sign ' consisting in circumcision/ 'which was circumcision.' Some
authorities (A C* a/.) read nepiToiJLijv,

(T^paylZa. The prayer pronounced at the circumcising of
a child runs thus : * Blessed be He who sanctified His beloved
from the womb, and put His ordinance upon His flesh, and sealed
His offspring with the sign of a holy covenant.' Comp. Targum
Canf. iii. 8 ' The seal of circumcision is in your flesh as it was
sealed in the flesh of Abraham'; Shemoth R. 19 'Ye shall not eat
of , the passover unless the seal of Abraham be in your flesh.'
Many other parallels will be found in Wetstein ad loc. (cf. also

At a very early da*e the same term a-^payi'y was transferred from
the rite of circumcision to Christian baptism. See the passages
collected by Lightfoot on 2 Clem. vii. 6 {Clem. Rom. ii. 226), also
Gebhardt and Harnack ad loc, and Hatch, Hibbert Lectures,
p. 295. Dr. Hatch connects the use of the term with ' the
mysteries and some forms of foreign cult ' ; and it may have
coalesced with language borrowed from these ; but in its origin it
appears to be Jewish. A similar view is taken by Aniich, Das
antike Mysterieiiivesen in seinem Einfluss auf das Christentum
(Gottingen, 1894), p. 120 ff., where the Christian use of the word
<r(j)payis is fuUy discussed.

Barnabas (ix. 6) seems to refer to, and refute, the Jewish doctrine which
he puts in the mouth of an objector : uAA.' ipar Kal /i7)i' irepiTeTfiTjTai 6
Xaos (Is dippa-^ida. dkXoi nds 'S.vpos Kal 'hpaxp Kal ■nai'Tfs ot lepus tuv fiduiXcov. ovv KaKihoi tK rrjs SiaOriKrji avrwv daiv ; d\Ad Kal ol AlyviTTioi kv rtepi-
Topfi (laiv. The fact that so many heathen nations were circumcised proved
that circumcision could not be the seal of a special covenant.

€ts TO eifai, K.T.X. Even circumcision, the strongest mark of
Jewish separation, in St. Paul's view looked beyond its immediate
exclusiveness to an ultimate inclusion of Gentiles as well as Jews.
It was nothing more than a ratification of Abraham's faith. Faith
was the real motive power ; and as applied to the present condition
of things, Abraham's faith in the promise had its counterpart in the
Christian's faith in the fulfilment of the promise (i. e. in Christ).
Thus a new division was made. The true descendants of Abra-
ham were not so much those who imitated his circumcision (i.e.
all Jews whether believing or not), but those who imitated his
I'aith (i.e. believing Jews and believing Gentiles), ds to denotes
that all this was contemplated in the Divine purpose.

irarepa -n&vTUiv twi' iriaTeootTwi'. Delitzsch {ad loc.) quotes one
of the prayers for the Day of Atonement in which Abraham is
called ' the first of my faithful ones.' He also adduces a passage,
Jerus. Gemara on Btccuriin, i. 1, in which it is proved that even
the proselyte may claim the patriarchs as his ^'O''^?^ l^^cause


Abram became Abraham, ' father of many nations,' lit. * a great
multitude'; *he was so,' the Glossator adds, 'because he taught
them to believe.'

8i' dKpoPuarias: 'though in a state of uncircumcision.' dtd of
attendant circumstances as in 8ia ypafxixaros koL irtiHTOfxijs ii. 27, tw

8ia npouKOfjifxaTOS iisBiovTi XIV. 20.

12. Tols o-Toixouo-i. As it stands the art. is a solecism : it would

make those who are circumcised one set of persons, and those who
follow the example of Abraham's faith another distinct set, which
is certainly not St. Paul's meaning. He is speaking of Jews who
are both circumcised and believe. This requires in Greek the
omission of the art. before <TToi\ov(nv. But tuIs ar. is found in all
existing MSS. We must suppose therefore either (i) that there
has been some corruption. WH. think that rolf may be the
remains of an original uvTois : but that would not seem to be a very
natural form of sentence. Or (2) we may think that Tertius made
a slip of the pen in following St. Paul's dictation, and that this
remained uncorrected. If the slip was not made by Tertius
himself, it must have been made in some very early copy, the
parent of all our present copies.

o-ToixoCo-i. aroixftv is a well-known military term, meaning
strictly to 'march in file': Pollux viii. 9 t6 Se ^d6os crrolxos KoXe'irai,

Koi TO /ueV ((pe^rjs (ivai koto. fi^Kos (vyfiv' to Se ((pe^qs Kara /Sd^oj cTToi^^tiv,

' the technical term for marching abreast is Cvyelv, for marching in
depth or in file, (ttoix^'iv ' (Wets.).

On ou ixovov rather than /x^ n6vov in this verse and in ver. 16 see Burton,
M. and T. § 481.

Jeivisk Teaching on Circumcision.

The fierce fanaticism with which the Jews insisted upon the rite
of Circumcision is vividly brought out in the Book of Jubilees
(xv. 25 ff.) : ' This law is for all generations for ever, and there is
no circumcision of the time, and no passing over one day out of
the eight days ; for it is an eternal ordinance, ordained and written
on the heavenly tables. And every one that is born, the flesh of
whose foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, belongs not to
the children of the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham,
for he belongs to the children of destruction ; nor is there moreover
any sign on him that he is the Lord's, but (he is destined) to be
destroyed and slain from the earth, and to be rooted out of the
earth, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord our God. . .
And now I will announce unto thee that the chMdren of Israel will
not keep true to this ordinance, and they will not circumcise their
sons accordi^ig to all this law ; for in the flesh of their circumcision


they will omit this circumcision of their sons, and all of them, sons
of Belial, will have their sons uncircumcised as they were born.
And there shall be great wrath from the Lord against the children
of Israel, because they have forsaken His covenant and turned away
from His word, and provoked and blasphemed, according as they
have not ooservcd the ordinance of this law; for they treat their
members like the Gentiles, so that they may be removed and rooted
out of the land. And there will be no pardon or forgiveness for
them, so that there should be pardon and release from all the sin
of ttiis error for ever.'

So absolute is Circumcision as a mark of God's favour that if an
Israelite has practised idolatry his circumcision must first be
removed before he can go down to Gehenna (Weber, Altsyn. Theol.
p. 51 f.). When Abraham was circumcised God Himself took
a part in the act {ibid. p. 253). It was his circumcision and antici-
patory fulfilment of the Law which qualified Abraham to be the
' father of many nations * {ibid. p. 256). Indeed it was just through
his circumcision that Isaac was born of a ' holy seed.' This was
the current doctrine. And it was at the root of it that St. Paul
strikes by showing that Faith was prior to Circumcision, that the
latter was wholly subordinate to the former, and that just those
privileges and promises which the Jew connected with Circumcision
were really due to Faith.


IV. 13-17. Again the declaration that was made to
AbraJiam had nothing to do with Law. For it turned on
Faith and Promise which are the very an tit J le sis of Laiu.
The reason being that Abraham might be the spiritual
father of all believers, Gentiles as well as jfeivs, and that
Gentiles might have an equal claim to the Promise.

^'Another proof that Gentiles were contemplated as well as Jews.
The promise made to Abraham and his descendants of world-wide
Messianic rule, as it was not dependent upon Circumcision, so also
was not dependent upon Law, but on a righteousness which was
the product of Faith. ** If this world-wide inheritance really
depended upon any legal system, and if it was limited to those who
were under such a system, there would be no place left for Faith
or Promise : Faith were an empty name and Promise a dead letter.
'*For Law is in its effect^ the very opposite of It only


serves to bring down God's wrath by enhancing the guilt of sin.
Where there is no law, there is no transgression, which implies
a law to be transgressed. Law and Promise therefore are mutually
exclusive; the one brings death, the other life. ^'Hence it is that
the Divine plan was made to turn, not on Law and obedience to
Law, but on Faith. For faith on man's side implies Grace, or free
favour, on the side of God. So that the Promise depending as it
did not on Law but on these broad conditions, Faith and Grace,
might hold good equally for all Abraham's descendants — not only
for those who came under the Mosaic Law, but for all who could
lay claim to a faith like his. '''Thus Abraham is the true ancestor
of all Christians {w^"), as it is expressly stated in Gen. xvii, 5
'A father' (i.e. in spiritual fatherhood) 'of many nations have
I made thee *.'

13-17. In this section St. Paul brings up the l<ey-words of his
own system Faith, Promise, Grace, and marshals them in array
over against the leading points in the current theology of the
Jews — Law, Works or performance of Law, Merit. Because the
working of this latter system had been so disastrous, ending only
in condemnation, it was a relief to find that it was not what God
had really intended, but that the true principles of things held out
a prospect so much brighter and more hopeful, and one which
furnished such abundant justification for all that seemed new in

13. ou ydp, K.T.X. The immediate point which this paragraph
is introduced to prove is that Abraham might be, in a true though
spiritual sense, the father of Gentiles as well as Jews. The ulterior
object of the whole argument is to show that Abraham himself
is rightly claimed not as the Jews contended by themselves but
by Christians.

Std j'dfjiou: without art., any system of law.

1^ eiraYyeXia : see on ch. i. 2 {npofnrjyyeiXaTo), where the uses of
the vvord and its place in Christian teaching are discussed. At the
lime of the Coming of Christ the attention of the whole Jewish race
was turned to the promises contained in the O. T. ; and in
Christianity these j)romises were (so to speak) brought to a head
and definitely identified with their fulfilment.

The following examples may be added to those quoted on ch. i. a to
illustrate the dilTusion of this idea of 'Promise' among the Jews in the first
century A.D. : 4 Ezra iv. 27 non capiet portare quae in temporibus iustis

* There is a slight awkwardness in making our break in the middle of
I verse and of a sentence. St Paul glides after his manner into a new subject,
suggested to him by the verse which be uuntes in proof of what has gone before


repromissa stmt ; vii. 14 si ergo non ingredientes htgressi ftierUit qui vivtmt
angusta et vana haec, non poteru7tt recipere quae stmt rcposita ( = to otto-
Kiifiiva. G.^n. xlix. 10); ibid. 49 (119) ff. qtiid enitn nobis prodest si pro-
7insstini est nobis immoriale tempits, nos vera mortalia opera egimus? &c.
Apoc. Baruch. xiv. \'i propter hoc etiam ipsi sine timore relinquunt imm-
dum istum, et fidentes in laetitia sperant se recepturos mundum que7?t pro-
misisti cis. It will be observed that all these passages are apocalyptic and
eschatological. The Jewish idea of Promise is vague and future; the Chris-
tian idea is definite and associated with a state of things already inaugurated.

TO KXTjpovop.oi' auTo;/ etrai Kocrfiou. What Promise is this? There
is "none in these words. Hence (i) some think that it means the
possession of the La^id of Canaan (Gen. xii. 7 ; xiii. 14 f. ; xv. 18 ;
xvii. 8 ; cf. xxvi, 3 ; Ex. vi. 4) taken as a type of the world-wide
Messianic reign; (2) others think that it must refer to the particular
promise faiih in which called down the Divine blessing — that
A. should have a son and descendants like the stars of heaven.
Probably this is meant in the first instance, but the whole series
of promises goes together and it is implied (i) that A. should have
a son ; (ii) ihat this son should have numerous descendants ;
(iii) that in One of those descendants the whole world should be
blessed ; (iv) that through Him A.'s seed should enjoy world-wide

Sid SiKatoo-uVirjs TTiorTcois : this ' faith-righteousness ' which St.
Paul has been describing as characteristic of the Christian, and
before him of Abraham.

14. 01 €K coixou: 'the dependants of law/ 'vassals of a legal system,'
such as were the Jews.

KXTjpofOfioi. If the right to that universal dominion which will
belong 10 the Messiah and His people is confined to those who are
subject to a law, like that of Moses, what can it have to do either
with the Promise oiiginally given to Abraham, or with Faith to
which that Promise was annexed ? In that case Faith and Promise
would be pushed aside and cancelled altogetlier. But they cannot
be cancelled ; and therefore the inheritance must depend upon them
and not upon Law.

15. This verse is parenthetic, proving that Law and Promise
cannot exist and be in force side by side. They are too much
opposed in their effects and operation. Law presents itself to
St. Paul chiefly in this light as entailing punishment. It increases
the guilt of sin. So long as there is no commandment, the wrong
act is done as it were accidentally and unconsciously ; it cannot be
called by the name of transgression. The direct breach of a known

Online LibraryW. (William) SandayA critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle to the Romans → online text (page 27 of 71)