Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 3 Study # 3
Thesis: The issues of "faith" are twins.
Introduction: Two weeks ago, when we last looked into Romans 4, we spent most of our time dealing with the "foundations" of faith as they are emphasized at the beginning of 4:17 and the ending of 4:18. The foundations of faith have always been, and have never ceased to be, divine revelation that provides a very specific "content" to be "believed". This is a very critical issue as things have developed in our day. In our day we have moved from the very solid foundation of inscripturated content ("as it stands written") -- which was at the root of the Reformation -- to once again deal with the "protestant" version of the very "mushy" content of those who claim that the Word of God has come to them in a non-biblical, "more personal" way through prayer and inner mental impressions. This is just a variation of the ancient Roman Catholic thesis of "trust me because God wouldn't let me be wrong here". The only difference is that the Roman Catholic thesis focused in the Pope and, from there, moved into a "collective form" called the "teaching magisterium of the church", whereas the modern, "protestant" version is an individualistic "trust me because God wouldn't let me be wrong here" because I am spiritual and I have prayed about the matter. In both cases there is a desire to move both beyond, and above, Scripture. The problem for faith is rather obvious: can I believe what another tells me is the word of God when that other cannot root that "word" in what has already been established as Word? In other words, those who leave off from the Scriptures in order to receive mental impressions from God are asking others to believe in men -- which is the very point Paul is making in our text.
So, the fact is this: faith not only gets its "content" from God, it also has its focus upon God. This is what Paul told the Romans in the text before us.
November 29, 2005
- I. Paul's Description of Abraham's "Believing".
- A. The "content" was a given: it was both "spoken" and "stands written" that God had promised that Abraham would be the father of a multitude of nations.
- B. The "foundations" are Paul's next issue.
- 1. Paul deliberately uses two different prepositions in conjunction with "hope" in order to explain the roots of Abraham's "faith".
- a. He says that Abraham believed "in the presence of hope".
- 1) The NASB translators reversed the order of the prepositions, as did the translators of the KJV.
- 2) The translators of the KJV, ASV, NASB, and the NIV all translated the preposition as "against". They did this in spite of the fact that the preposition is used 200 times in the New Testament and "against" is only the translators' choice twice.
- 3) A.T. Robertson, in his massive grammar of New Testament Greek, says that it ought to be translated "beyond" -- a translation I could not find even once in the 200 that exist.
- 4) But, we need to understand what Paul was saying.
- a) Clearly, he was addressing Abraham's "faith" in the God Who is characterized in two ways.
- i. He is characterized as more powerful than death. Power is the most fundamentally recognized of all of God's attributes. He is introduced to readers of the Bible as "The Executor of Power" in Genesis 1 and He is maintained as the "Inescapable Power" in Romans 1.
- ii. He is characterized as speaking promises. Verbal revelation of good is the chief rationale for the presence of inscripturated knowledge in our world.
- b) Just as clearly, the "deadness" issue which God was to address was the inability of Abraham to produce seed because of his age and the inability of Sarah to produce seed because of her long term barrenness.
- i. This is an interesting claim in the light of Genesis 25:1 and following.
- ii. There are two possible explanations: the verbs involved are elastic and do not say "when" this happened so that Hagar may not have been the only other bed-partner of Abraham (Genesis 25:6 identifies concubines) before the birth of Isaac (i.e., the Genesis 26 material may simply be overview rather than sequential events); or, the "life" God gave to the deadness of Abraham was extended for many years after the birth of Isaac.
- c) Just as clearly, Hebrews 11:12 and 19 tell us that Abraham's "faith" was solidified and developed so that he could not only produce a son, he could also give him back to God in death without a significant struggle.
- d) So, Paul is deliberately telling us that Abraham "believed" para elpida in the light of these facts.
- i. The most significant connection between the context and its facts in relation to para is that para typically introduces the idea of "presence".
- ii. This connection is most closely associated with spoken words in a deliberate communication between two who are in each other's presence.
- iii. Thus, para elpida means that Abraham "believed" in the presence of promises given.
- iv. This is contextually linked to God's character as the One who "calls" things which are not as though they are.
- b. He says that Abraham "believed upon hope".
- 1) The preposition used here presents hope as the underlying foundation for the faith of Abraham.
- 2) The point is that "upon" signals the "foundation" and "power" is the basis of "hope" in the "presence of words".
- a. Words without power may be well-meaning, but they are vacuous.
- b. Power without words may be benign, but we will never know it in a way that allows us to "hope".
- 3) Because God is more powerful than death, Death is not the final arbiter of what is true or what will be.
- 2. Paul deliberately sets the two most crucial issues before his readers.
- a. There must be "power" beneath hope or hope is just a dream.
- b. There must be "presence in hope" or hope is vacuous.
- c. There is nothing more important than for the people of God to know what God has said and that He is big enough to make it happen.