what will we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather: Some manuscripts read “what will we say about Abraham, our forefather.” But the current main text reading has stronger manuscript support.
Jehovah: In this quote from Ge 15:6, the divine name, represented by four Hebrew consonants (transliterated YHWH), occurs in the original Hebrew text. (See App. C.) Existing Greek manuscripts have the word The·osʹ (God) here, perhaps reflecting the term used at Ge 15:6 in copies of the Septuagint. This usage may explain why most translations use “God” here. However, the original Hebrew text from which this quotation is taken contains the Tetragrammaton, and therefore the divine name is used in the main text. The whole phrase taken from Ge 15:6 is also quoted at Ga 3:6 and Jas 2:23.
counted: Or “credited.” In Romans chapter 4, the Greek word lo·giʹzo·mai is ten times rendered “counted” or “counts” (vss. 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24) and one time rendered “take into account” (vs. 8). This Greek verb was used in ancient times for numerical calculations, such as in accounting. It could refer to calculations entered on either the debit or the credit side. Abraham’s faith combined with works “was counted [credited, or attributed] to him as righteousness.” (Ro 4:20-22) This does not mean that he and other faithful men and women of pre-Christian times were free of sin. However, God took into account their faith in his promise and their efforts to follow his commands. (Ge 3:15; Ps 119:2, 3) Thus, God accounted them guiltless, as compared with the rest of mankind, who had no standing with him. (Ps 32:1, 2; Eph 2:12) Of course, faithful ones like Abraham recognized their need for redemption from sin and were awaiting God’s due time to provide it. (Ps 49:7-9; Heb 9:26) Meanwhile, because of their faith, Jehovah could have dealings with such imperfect humans and bless them without compromising his own perfect standards of justice.—Ps 36:10.
as an undeserved kindness: Or “as a gift.” A worker is entitled to his pay. He does not consider it a gift or a special kindness. By contrast, God’s releasing imperfect humans from condemnation to death and declaring them righteous by faith is a kindness totally undeserved. It is unearned and unmerited and is motivated solely by the generosity of the Giver.—Ro 3:23, 24; 5:17; 2Co 6:1; Eph 1:7; see Glossary, “Undeserved kindness.”
as something owed to him: Or “as a debt.” A worker is entitled to wages that he has worked for. He expects his pay as a right, as a debt owed him. The payment for his work is not considered a gift or a special kindness.
Happy: The Greek word ma·kaʹri·os occurs 50 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Paul here describes “the happiness of the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works.” (Ro 4:6) This Greek term is used to describe God (1Ti 1:11) and to describe Jesus in his heavenly glory (1Ti 6:15). It is also the term used in the famous statements on happiness in the Sermon on the Mount. (Mt 5:3-11; Lu 6:20-22) Here at Ro 4:7, 8, “happy” is quoted from Ps 32:1, 2. This type of pronouncement is common in the Hebrew Scriptures. (De 33:29; 1Ki 10:8; Job 5:17; Ps 1:1; 2:12; 33:12; 94:12; 128:1; 144:15; Da 12:12) The Hebrew and the Greek expressions used for “happy” do not refer simply to a state of lightheartedness, as when a person is enjoying a good time. From a Scriptural standpoint, to be truly happy a person needs to cultivate love for God, to serve him faithfully, and to enjoy his favor and blessing.
pardoned: Or “forgiven.” The Greek word a·phiʹe·mi basically means “to let go” (Joh 11:44; 18:8), but it can also have the meanings “to cancel a debt” (Mt 18:27, 32) and, in a figurative sense, to “forgive” sins (Mt 6:12). (See study notes on Mt 6:12.) This term is also used in the Septuagint at Ps 32:1 (31:1, LXX), from which Paul here quotes.
covered: Or “forgiven.” The Greek word e·pi·ka·lyʹpto appears only here in the Christian Greek Scriptures. It literally means “to cover over” but is here used figuratively as a synonym for “to forgive.” Paul here quotes from Ps 32:1, and in the Septuagint (Ps 31:1), this same Greek verb renders a Hebrew verb meaning “to cover” in the sense of forgiving sins.
a seal: Or “a guarantee; a confirmation.” Here the term “seal” is used figuratively in the sense of a mark of possession, or ownership. Abraham’s circumcision was “a seal” confirming the righteousness by faith that he already had.—Compare study note on Joh 3:33.
the father of all those having faith: In a spiritual sense, Abraham is the father not only of his natural offspring who were faithful to God but of all disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul highlights the fact that Abraham began to show faith before his circumcision. (Ro 4:10) This made him “the father” of uncircumcised non-Jews, or Gentiles, who put faith in Jesus. Therefore, all in the diverse Christian congregation in Rome could by reason of their faith and obedience call Abraham their father.—See study note on Ro 4:17.
offspring: Or “descendants.” Lit., “seed.”—See App. A2.
transgression: The Greek pa·raʹba·sis refers basically to “overstepping,” that is, going beyond certain limits or boundaries, especially as in breaking a law.
offspring: See study note on Ro 4:13.
just as it is written: That is, at Ge 17:5, where Jehovah told Abram: “I will make you a father of many nations.” This promise was the basis for Jehovah’s changing Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning “Father of a Crowd (Multitude); Father of Many.” The promise was fulfilled in the following way: Abraham’s son Ishmael fathered “12 chieftains according to their clans.” (Ge 25:13-16; 17:20; 21:13, 18) The six sons of Abraham by Keturah produced additional nations that trace their ancestry back to Abraham. (Ge 25:1-4; 1Ch 1:28-33; Ro 4:16-18) And from Abraham’s son Isaac sprang the Israelites and the Edomites. (Ge 25:21-26) Also, in a spiritual sense, Abraham became a father to people of many national groups, including those of the Christian congregation in Rome, who “adhere to the faith” of Abraham.—Ro 4:16.
who . . . calls the things that are not as though they are: That is, because God’s purposes are absolutely certain of fulfillment. (Isa 55:10, 11) Paul here alludes to God’s promise to Abram that he would become “a father of many nations,” although Abram and Sarai were yet childless. (Ge 17:4-6) It was as though Abraham’s sons and their descendants existed long before they were born. This Greek phrase at the end of verse 17 could also be rendered “who . . . calls into existence what does not exist.” That rendering would highlight the creative power of God, which was certainly involved in causing Abraham to become “a father of many nations.”
offspring: See study note on Ro 4:13.
deadness: Or “barrenness.” The Greek word neʹkro·sis is related to the verb ne·kroʹo, which is used earlier in the sentence and rendered as good as dead. Sarah (Sarai) was barren, but then her reproductive powers were miraculously revived after she was past the age of childbearing. (Ge 11:30; 18:11) Paul also described Abraham as a man “who was as good as dead.” (Heb 11:11, 12) So in a sense, both Abraham and Sarah experienced something comparable to a resurrection when their reproductive powers were restored and they were given the ability to have a child.—Ge 18:9-11; 21:1, 2, 12; Ro 4:20, 21.
counted: See study note on Ro 4:3.