12. Study and Exposition of Romans 4:23-25
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.”
So it is with the gospel of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ. It is a message for the entire world, for as Paul says here in Romans 4:23-25, the gospel as found in the life of Abraham, was not just for the patriarch, but for all those who trust in God who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. The whole world needs to hear God’s “violin”!
A.B. Simpson is reported to have said that the gospel “tells rebellious men that God is reconciled, that justice is satisfied, that sin has been atoned for, that the judgment of the guilty may be revoked, the condemnation of the sinner canceled, the curse of the Law blotted out, the gates of hell closed, the portals of heaven opened wide, the power of sin subdued, the guilty conscience healed, the broken heart comforted, the sorrow and misery of the Fall undone.”42 As Paul himself preaches: “he was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.”
B. Translation of Passage in NET
4:23 But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, 4:24 but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 4:25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.
C. Full Exegetical Outline
Idea: God will credit righteousness to us who believe—as it says in Genesis 15:6—on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection.
I. The words it was credited to him were not written for Abraham alone, but also for us who believe in God who raised Jesus from the dead (4:23-24).
A. The words it was credited to him were not written for Abraham’s sake alone (4:23).
B. The words it was credited to him were written for our sakes, to those whom God will credit righteousness, those who trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead (4:24).
1. The words it was credited to him were written for our sakes (4:24a).
2. God will credit righteousness to us (4:24b).
3. We are those who trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead (4:24c).
II. Jesus was given over for our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification (4:25).
A. Jesus was given over for our transgressions (4:25a).
B. Jesus was raised for the sake of our justification (4:25b).
D. Simple Point Outline
Idea: God Credits Righteousness to Those Who Believe.
I. Genesis 15:6 and Us (4:23-24)
A. Written not for Abraham’s Sake Alone (4:23)
B. Written for Our Sake Too! (4:24)
II. Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (4:25)
A. The Cause of Jesus’ Death (4:25a)
B. The Purpose for Jesus’ Resurrection (4:25b)
E. Exposition Proper
In this short, but important paragraph, Paul now applies the truth of “justification by faith” (the lesson from the experience of Abraham) to his readers. No command to do anything is given. Rather, the passage is a description of how God’s method of justification applies to the Christians in Rome and to us today. The final comment in v. 25 about Christ’s resurrection for our justification leads naturally into the issues of chapter five and beyond.
4:23-24 The argument that Paul will make in 15:4 rests on the fact that the OT is relevant to the believer and a source of encouragement, strength, and hope. It has been this premise of the present applicability of the OT (rightly understood) which underlies his entire discussion throughout chapter four and indeed further back into 2:1-3:20. In the case of the method of Abraham’s justification, namely, by faith apart from works, the OT speaks directly. Since man has always been a sinner and God has always been holy, the promise of justification has always been realized by faith apart from works. But, as the promise was fulfilled in Christ and in the church (and some day in the millennium) it became clear that the basis for God’s justification was the work of Christ on the cross and his subsequent resurrection and exaltation. In terms of the realization of the promise, then: the means has always been faith, the object of faith has always been God, and the basis the shed blood of Christ. The content of our faith and the specificity of the promise, however, have been developed as progressive revelation has been added by the Lord (Rom 1:2-4; 16:25-26; Gal 3:23; Heb 1:1-3).
This does not mean that everything in the OT is directly applicable to us as it is in the case of the method of Abraham’s justification (cf. Rom 13:8-10). Most of the application of the OT will come about indirectly as we come to understand God’s holy, loving, and faithful character, and as we learn lessons from the stories, poetry, and prophecy about human relationships and responsibilities.
The bottom line of vv. 23-24 is that since the great saint Abraham himself was justified by faith apart from works, we also are justified by faith apart from works. Now the content of our faith, however, is not in the promise that God will make a great nation from us, but rather faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The implication in v. 13, however, is that someday we will share in the complete realization of the promise when Abraham and his descendents “inherit the world” completely.
We must also note briefly the connection of this verse with v. 17 though the use of the same word dead (νεκρός, nekros). This explicit connection indicates that when Paul is thinking in v. 17 about the God who “gives life to the dead” he is thinking not only of Sarah’s womb (and perhaps Isaac in Gen 22), but also of the resurrection of Jesus. This also helps demonstrate that the essential nature of Abraham’s faith is the same as ours.
4:25 In v. 25 Paul gives the basis for God’s justification and forgiveness. The passage as a whole, with its obvious symmetry, may well be a traditional saying in the early church which Paul conscripts here for his own service. In any case, it is extremely likely that the wording comes at least partly from Isaiah 53:11-12 and perhaps represents a summary of the entire chapter. What may have triggered the idea in Paul’s mind is the repeated use of logizomai in Isaiah 53 LXX (vv. 3, 4, 12) since Romans 4 has really been an interpretation of this term as it appears in Genesis 15:6.
The expression he was given over (παρεδόθη, paredothē) is a divine passive indicating that God was the one who ultimately gave Christ over. He did this because of our transgressions (διὰ τὰ παραπτώματα ἡμῶν, dia ta paraptōma hēmōn), that is, he did it in order to secure the forgiveness for the transgressions we had committed and of which we were guilty. Remember that forgiveness is an element of justification (cf. 4:6-8).
But Christ was raised for the sake of our justification (ἠγέρθη διὰ τὴν δικαίωσιν ἡμῶν, ēgerthē dia tēn dikaiōsin hēmōn). Notice in this clause that the preposition dia (“for the sake of”) is the same term as in the first clause of the verse. We can lay the clauses out so that this can be seen:
dia ta paraptōma
dia tēn dikaiōsin
This is one element in the symmetry of the verse, but it does not necessarily mean that the preposition has to be translated the same way both times. Indeed, this would make little sense and would make our justification the cause of the resurrection. The best way to understand the second dia clause is “for the sake of” or “for the purpose of.” Jesus was raised for the purpose of securing our justification.
F. Homiletical Idea and Outline
Idea: How can I be righteous before a holy God?
I. The Means: Faith in God who Raised Jesus (4:23-24)
A. The Paradigm: Abraham’s Justification (4:23)
B. The Application: Our Justification (4:24)
II. The Basis: Christ’s Death and Resurrection (4:25)
A. The Death of Christ and Our Sin (4:25a)
B. The Resurrection of Christ and Our Justification (4:25b)
42 G. Michael Cocoris, Evangelism, A Biblical Approach (Chicago: Moody, 1984), 29.