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From "Yosef benYehudah" <rabbiyosef@h...> Tue Oct 26 23:10:05 1999
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From: "Yosef benYehudah" <rabbiyosef@h...>
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 23:13:19 PDT
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Subject: [chofjclist] Rom. 4
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> I'd be interested in hearing your view on the following scriptures,
>particularly in regard to how Abram was given the pomise before the
>covenant of circumcision was instituted, and how faith relates to that
>promise ("that in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be
> I ask this since you seem to be suggesting in your last several posts
>that we ought to continue to keep the law of Moses, as though the
>ordinances of that law are still in force. If that isn't what you're
>suggesting, please correct me.
>Genesis 12
>2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make
>thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that
>bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee shall the
>families of the earth be blessed.
>3 So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with
>him. And Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of
>Also, it seems that this promise was given about 24 years before the
>covenant of circumcision was established, which was also about 25 years
>before Isaac was born:
>Genesis 17:1, 31; 21:4 And when Abram was ninety and nine years old, the
>Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I, the Almighty God, give unto
>thee a commandment; that thou shalt walk uprightly before me, and be
>perfect....And Abraham was ninety and nine years old when he was
>circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin....And Abraham was an hundred
>years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.
>Romans 4
>9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the
>uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham, for
>10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in
>uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
>11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness
>of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the
>father of all of them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that
>righteousness might be imputed unto them also;
>12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision
>only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham,
>which he had being yet uncircumcised.
>13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to
>Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness
>of faith.
>14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the
>promise made of none effect;
>15 Because the law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no
>16 Therefore ye are justified of faith and works, through grace, to the
>end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to them only who are
>of the law, but to them also who are of the faith of Abraham; who is the
>father of us all,
>17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before
>him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth
>those things which be not as though they were;
>18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of
>many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

The Jewish New Testament Commentary to Rom. 4: 9-18 by David Stern:

9�12 Sha�ul finishes destroying the argument that physical circumcision
(i.e., being a member of the Chosen People) is the Jews� big advantage
(refer back to 2:25�29). He consistently maintains that the advantage of
Jews is spiritual, not physical (3:1�2, 9:4�5 and most explicitly at 15:27).
At the same time he shows that the righteousness that comes from trusting
God is available equally to Jews and Gentiles not merely because it
antedates the Mosaic Law, but because it antedates even the Abrahamic
Covenant, when circumcision was given as a sign of Abraham�s already
demonstrated faith and as a seal guaranteeing God�s promises, but not as
something to boast about.
Thus Avraham avinu (�Abraham, our father��a common phrase in rabbinic
writing and in today�s Siddur; v. 12) is �our� father not only to Jews but
also to trusting Gentiles, hence, to �all of us� (v. 16&N). Galatians 3:6�18
develops the same theme, as do vv. 13�22 below.

13�15 In these three verses the Greek word �nomos� occurs four times. In
each case, does it mean Torah in general, the legal portions of the Torah,
law in general, or legalism? My rendering reflects my own understanding (see
Introduction to JNT, Section V)�legalism the first two times (3:20&N), law
in general the last two times (v. 15).

13 The promise to Avraham and his seed that he would inherit the world. The
Greek word for �world� here is �kosmos�; Kittel�s Theological Dictionary of
the New Testament explains that here it means �inhabited world,� but its
sense �merges into that of the nations of the world� (III, p. 888), as found
in such passages as Genesis 12:1�3, 15:3�5, 17:2�7, 18:18 and 22:17�18.
These passages are not the same as the ones in which it is promised that
Avraham and his descendants would inherit the Land of Israel (Genesis 12:7,
13:14�17, 15:7�21, 17:7�8, 24:7); when the New Testament wishes to refer to
the Land, it uses the word �geƔ (see Mt 5:5N and JNT Introduction, Section
VI, last paragraph).
At 9:7 Sha�ul takes �seed� to mean Yitzchak, Avraham�s son; and at Ga 3:16
he makes a midrash applying the word �seed� to Yeshua. In the present
passage Sha�ul uses �seed� in its ordinary figurative sense to mean
Avraham�s descendants�not only his physical seed, but (at v. 16) his
spiritual seed. See 9:7�9 and, for a discussion of the various possible
meanings of �seed,� Ga 3:16N.

15 For what law brings is punishment. But where there is no law, there is
also no violation. Cranfield (commentary on Romans, ad loc.) disagrees; but
to me this seems to be a statement about law in general rather than about
the Torah in particular: although moral behavior is absolute, unless a
statute makes a particular act illegal and punishable, there is no violation
and the act goes unpunished. This general principle is applied specifically
to the Torah, insofar as it contains elements of law, at 5:13 and 7:7�10.

16 Avraham avinu for all of us, Gentiles as well as Jews. Can a Gentile
speak of Avraham as his father? The following, condensed from the Rambam�s
well-known �Letter to Ovadyah the Proselyte,� is quoted at length because
its sentiments are so precisely appropriate, provided one imagines it as
written to a Gentile follower of Yeshua instead of a convert to Judaism.

�You ask me if you are permitted to say in the prayers, �God of our
fathers,� and �You who worked miracles for our fathers.� Yes; you may say
your blessing and prayer in the same way as every born Jew. This is because
Avraham avinu revealed the true faith and the unity of God, rejected
idol-worship, and brought many children under the wings of the Sh<khinah
[see Genesis 18:19]. Ever since then whoever adopts Judaism and confesses
the unity of the Divine Name, as prescribed in the Torah, is counted among
the disciples of Avraham avinu, peace unto him. In the same way as he
converted his contemporaries through his words and teaching, he converts
later generations through the testament he left his children and household
after him. Thus Avraham avinu is the father of his pious posterity who keep
his ways, and the father of his disciples and of all proselytes who adopt
�Since you have come under the wings of the Sh<khinah and confessed the
Lord, no difference exists between you and us, and all miracles done to us
have been done, as it were, both to us and to you. Thus it is said in the
book of Isaiah, �Let not the son of the stranger who follows Adonai say,
�Adonai has completely separated me from his people�� (Isaiah 56:3). There
is no difference whatsoever between you and us.
�Know that our fathers, when they came out of Egypt, were mostly idolaters;
they had mingled with the pagans in Egypt and imitated their way of life,
until the Holy One, blessed be he, sent Moshe Rabbenu [Moses our teacher],
who separated us from the nations, brought us under the wings of the
Sh<khinah, us and all proselytes, and gave all of us one Torah.
�Do not consider your origin inferior. While we are the descendants of
Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya�akov, you derive from him through whose word the
world was created. As Isaiah writes, �This one will say, �I belong to
Adonai,� while that one will call himself by the name of Ya�akov� (Isaiah

17�24 �I have appointed you to be a father to many nations.� Avraham is our
father. See vv. 9�12.
Avraham � trusted God as the one who gives life to the dead. That God
quickens the dead is a major tenet of Judaism; the second benediction of the
>Amidah, the prayer recited three times every day in the synagogue, reads:

�You are mighty forever, Adonai. You cause the dead to live, you are great
to save. With loving-kindness you sustain the living; with great mercy you
cause the dead to live, support the falling, heal the sick, free the bound
and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like you, Master of
mighty deeds? Who resembles you, O King? You cause death, you cause life,
and you cause salvation to sprout forth, so you can be trusted to cause the
dead to live. Blessed are you, Adonai, who causes the dead to live.�

Resurrection faith distinguished the P<rushim from the Tz<dukim (Mt
22:23�33, Ac 23:6�10&NN). Today it distinguishes Orthodox Judaism from
liberal elements in other branches of Judaism. Avraham�s resurrection faith
was both literal and figurative, and both senses are indicated in this
Figuratively, so far as procreation and fulfillment of God�s promise of
descendants was concerned, Avraham�s body � was as good as dead, since he
was about a hundred years old (ninety-nine, to be exact; see Genesis 17:17,
24), and Sarah�s womb was dead too (she was about ninety). Yet, although
past hope, with resurrection faith he trusted that what God had promised he
could also accomplish (a theme that returns at 8:31�39, and see 9:1�11:36).
For at Genesis 15:5�6, after wondering how God would fulfill his promise to
make him a great nation when he was old and childless, God

�brought him outside and said, �Now look at the sky and count the stars�if
you can count them!� Then he said to him, �so many will your seed be!� And
Avraham put his trust in God, and it was credited to his account as

as quoted in v. 3.
But Avraham also had literal resurrection faith. It was necessary for what
Judaism regards as his greatest �work,� his willingness to sacrifice his
only son Yitzchak, through whom God had said the promise would be fulfilled
(Genesis 17:21, 22:1�19). This act is referred to throughout the High Holy
Day services, and Genesis 22 is one of the statutory Torah readings on
Rosh-HaShanah, a feast on which the shofar is blown one hundred times�and
the shofar is associated with the resurrection of the dead (see Mt 24:31&N,
1C 15:52&N, 1 Th 4:16&N, Rv 8:2&N). The act is mentioned twice in the New
Testament explicitly as an example of great faith (MJ 11:17�19&NN, Ya 2:21).
Here it constitutes the background for the conclusion of our passage, which
says that we who have become followers of Yeshua have the same kind of
resurrection faith as Avraham because we have trusted in him who raised
Yeshua our Lord from the dead (v. 24), just as Avraham �had concluded that
God could even raise people from the dead� (MJ 11:19). That is why the
words, �it was credited to his account � � were not written for him only,
but also for us, who will certainly have our account credited too (vv.
23�24). This is a radical statement, for it says that Avraham was not
special. Whereas Jewish midrashim attribute unique ability, holiness and
power to Avraham, enabling him to have trust far beyond what ordinary people
can attain to, Sha�ul insists that such trust is available to everyone. This
is the Good News, that through Yeshua the Messiah anyone can have the same
close personal relationship with Almighty God that Avraham had! Indeed, many
believers have received promises from God just as Avraham did and have seen
God fulfill them.
The Jewish New Testament Commentary, (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament
Publications) 1996.


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