What Scholars SayGenesis 15:6
Imputation of righteousness
Bruce Waltke on Genesis 15:6Genesis 15:6 is foundational to the doctrine of justification by faith, not by works (see Gal. 3:6–14). Abraham is not sinless, but he believes the promise of the birth of an heir from the dead (see Rom. 4:17–21; Heb. 11:11–12), and God counts that equivalent to meeting the moral demands later stipulated in the Mosaic covenant (see Ps. 15). According to Nehemiah (Neh. 9:8), God makes a covenant with Abraham because he finds Abraham’s heart faithful. Abraham is the model for our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, faith that God will credit to us as righteousness (Rom. 4:22–25).
Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. Genesis: a Commentary (pp. 246–247). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001. Logos edition.
John Sailhamer on Genesis 15:6The syntax of v.6 suggests that it is to be read as “background” information for the scene that unfolds in v.7. God was about to enter a “covenant” with Abraham that would lie at the base of all God’s future dealings with him and his seed (vv.7–21). Verse 6 opens the scene by setting the record straight: Abraham had believed in Yahweh and had been accounted righteous. The “covenant” did not make him “righteous”; rather it was through his “faith” that he was reckoned righteous. Only after he had been counted righteous through his faith could Abraham enter into God’s covenant.
Sailhamer, J. H. Genesis. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (Vol. 2, pp. 129–130). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990. Logos edition.
James Montgomery Boice on Galatians 3:6
How, then, did Abraham receive God’s blessing? How was he justified? Paul answers by a quotation of Genesis 15:6, noting that Abraham “believed God” and that “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
What does Paul understand to have been imputed to Abraham as righteousness? The answer depends on what definition of “righteousness” he is using. Righteousness may be either a forensic term (denoting a right standing before the law) or a right relationship, in this case to God.… But in view of Paul’s development of the doctrine elsewhere, the first must be accepted. It is only by thinking of God’s righteousness actually being credited to our account that Paul can say, as he does, for instance, in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”These two views are not in opposition, of course, for justification does bring one into a right relationship with God out of which ethical changes follow. The changes result from one’s being placed “in Christ,” as Paul has shown.
Boice, J. M. Galatians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, pp. 456–457). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976. Logos edition.
Samuel Ngewa on Galatians 3:6
When we speak of something being “credited” to someone, we normally think of a bank transaction or a business transaction. The person being given the credit has paid in something and that amount is credited to their account. In the Old Testament, we also see this word being used for someone who has earned something, as Phineas did (Ps 106:30–31). But that is not how the word is used here. Abraham did nothing to earn his status except to believe what God revealed.
Some people will argue that believing is actually a way of earning God’s favour, and is thus a “work”, but such thinking muddles different categories. If, for example, someone gives me an envelope containing money, and I ask them, “What do you want me to do?”, the response may be “Take it, it’s a gift” or “Please wash the car for me”. The gift is clearly in a different category to the second request, which includes an element of works. The one needs only to be accepted; the other needs action. In the same way, Abraham’s faith was a fact, not an act. It was through faith that he took hold of the promise. God offered a gift; Abraham accepted it.That is what God still expects of us today. He does not ask us to do this, that or the other before we can receive salvation. He simply asks us to believe—to accept the envelope of salvation he offers us.
Ngewa, S. Galatians (pp. 102–103). Grand Rapids: Hippo Books, 2010. Logos edition.
Douglas Moo on Romans 4:3Of considerable importance for Paul’s use of the text is the meaning of God’s “reckoning” Abraham’s faith “for” righteousness. The language could suggest that his faith is considered as the “equivalent” of righteousness—that God sees Abraham’s faith as itself a “righteous” act, well pleasing to him. But if we compare other verses in which the same grammatical construction as is used in Gen. 15:6 occurs, we arrive at a different conclusion. These parallels suggest that the “reckoning” of Abraham’s faith as righteousness means “to account to him a righteousness that does not inherently belong to him.” Abraham’s response to God’s promise leads God to “reckon” to him a “status” of righteousness. If this interpretation of Gen. 15:6 is correct, then Paul’s application of the verse is both fair and appropriate. … Here Paul distances himself emphatically from the typical interpretation. For Jewish interpreters often viewed Gen. 15:6 through the lens of Gen. 22, so that Abraham’s “faith” became his obedience to God and was regarded as a “work” for which God owed Abraham a reward. Paul’s interpretation stands squarely against this tradition and is also a more faithful interpretation of the original.
Moo, D. J. The Epistle to the Romans (p. 262). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. Logos edition.
Charles Swindoll on Romans 4:3
As Abram approached his eighty-fifth birthday, long after Sarai had gone through menopause, he wondered about the promises of God. In response, the Lord reassured him. “He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’ ” (Gen. 15:5).
Abram’s response was to believe. Not in himself. Not in the promise. Not as an attempt to impress God and certainly not as an act of righteousness. Abram “believed in the Lord” (Gen. 15:6). In other words, the old man trusted God. He trusted His character. He believed that God was willing and able to fulfill His promises despite the obvious natural difficulties. And the Lord responded to Abram’s trust by declaring him just. He “reckoned it to him as righteousness.”
“Reckon” is an accounting term that describes the process of analyzing and squaring accounts. You have a credit card. Each month the credit card company sends you a statement with a detailed list of transactions: expenditures, accrued interest, fees, and payments you have made. Your balance—the total amount you owe—is then reckoned to reflect all of this activity; charges are debited against your account while payments are credited.The Lord entered a credit, as it were, to Abram’s account because of his belief and then stamped his account “paid.” Abram was declared righteous, not because he earned or deserved the designation, but because the One to whom he owed everything—God—decided to extend him grace.
Swindoll, Charles R. Insights on Romans. Swindoll’s New Testament Insights. (pp. 94–95). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. Logos edition.
RC Sproul on Romans 4:3
It is not that God looked down upon Abraham, and said, ‘There is a righteous man; I will justify him on the basis of his obvious righteousness.’ Rather, because Abraham believed, God counted him as righteous. If we had to wait until we were perfectly righteous before we could be justified, none of us would make it. All of us have some degree of sin clinging to us as long as we live in this world. If God were to judge us on a strict standard of absolute righteousness, none of us would be able to stand. The same was true of Abraham. But Abraham believed God and his faith was counted by God as righteousness.This concept is called by Protestant theology ‘forensic justification’ or ‘synthetic justification’.… The concept of forensics has to do with legal declarations, and so when we talk about forensic justification we are referring to the fact that God makes a legal declaration about those who believe. When a person believes, God legally declares that person just.
Sproul, R. C. The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (p. 82). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994. Logos edition.
Craig Keener on Romans 6:11
In 6:11, Paul climactically evokes his earlier arguments about righteousness. Eleven times Paul speaks of God “reckoning” righteousness to someone’s account in chapter 4. In 6:11, however, he summons believers to agree with God’s perspective; as God has “reckoned” righteousness to them, they must reckon themselves righteous. They are righteous because they are in Christ, in whom they both died to their identity as sinners in Adam and were raised to a new master, God. They must view their identity as those who have died and been raised in Christ, and hence must live accordingly. Paul is simply demanding belief congruent with the truth he has explained in 6:2–10: in Christ, believers died to the sin of Adamic humanity and have new life. If they believe this, they will “walk” (6:4) accordingly. If they can have faith that Jesus rose, having faith that they share this resurrection life should be a natural corollary. …Scholars often find in Paul a tension between the indicative and the imperative; Paul summons them to be what he declares they are. This may be because for Paul identity is determined by being in Christ, but the believer must still choose to believe the eschatological reality sufficiently to live accordingly. Through faith one receives a new identity, and through faith one must also continue to embrace and live in that new identity, so that obedient works become expressions of living faith.
Keener, Craig S. Romans: A New Covenant Commentary. (pp. 81–82). Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009. Logos edition.
Colin Kruse on Romans 6:11Having spoken of Christ’s own death to sin and that he now lives to God, Paul exhorts his audience: In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. There is strong emphasis on the fact that we must count ourselves to be dead to sin. On first reading it would appear that believers must ‘count’ themselves dead to sin in the same way as Christ died to sin. However, Paul would be the first to say that the way Christ died to sin is unique (being himself without sin, he became an atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity). Paul’s meaning, then, appears to be something like this: As Christ died for our sins once for all, so we ought now to count ourselves dead to sin in the sense that we are released from its tyranny as a result of what Christ has done (cf. 6:14); and as Christ now lives in a restored relationship with God following his death on the cross, so we are to count ourselves ‘alive’ (lit. ‘living’) to God in Christ. In 6:13 Paul will refer to believers as those ‘who have been brought from death to life’. In Galatians 5:25 he says: ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’. In Ephesians 2:4–5 we read, ‘God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions’ (cf. also Col 2:13). All this suggests that when Paul calls upon his audience to consider themselves to be ‘alive to God’, it is in recognition of the fact that they are no longer dead in transgressions, they have been made alive with Christ, and they now live by the Spirit. This counting/reckoning oneself dead to sin and alive to God is not just pretending.
Kruse, C. G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (D. A. Carson, Ed.) (pp. 266–267). Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2012. Logos edition.
Robert Utley on Romans 6:11This is an ongoing, habitual command for believers. Christians’ knowledge of Christ’s work on their behalf is crucial for daily life. The term “consider” (cf. 4:4, 9), was an accounting term that meant “carefully add it up” and then act on that knowledge. Verses 1–11 acknowledged one’s position in Christ (positional sanctification) while 12–13 emphasized walking in Him (progressive sanctification).
Utley, R. J. The Gospel according to Paul: Romans (Vol. Volume 5, Ro 6:11). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1998. Logos edition.
Everett Harrison on Romans 6:11
In the previous section Paul has been imparting information on the subject of union with Christ, and agreeable to this he has three times used the word “know” (vv. 3, 6, 9). Now he employs a different key word—“count” or “reckon” (the same term used so often in chapter 4 in connection with righteousness). Reckoning does not create the fact of union with Christ but makes it operative in one’s life. The charge to count oneself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus is in the present tense, indicating a necessity to keep up the process if one is to avoid reactivating the body of sin. Paradoxically, the Christian is dead and alive at the same time, as in Galatians 2:20, dead to sin and self but alive and responsive to God. He is to give no more response to sin than a dead man can give. On the other hand, all the potential that redeemed life affords is to be channeled Godward.Since Paul seems to lay considerable stress on the importance of this process of counting or reckoning, we should inquire about its value—especially in view of the objection that such a process smacks of attempting to convince oneself of something unrealistic in terms of actual experience and so amounts to self-deception. The justification for the use of this terminology is at least threefold. First, this is a command freighted with apostolic authority. God is speaking through his servant, and what God commands must be efficacious. It must never be treated as frivolous. Second, the command is psychologically sound, for what we think tends to be carried out in action. The thought is father to the act. Third, this process must not be undertaken in a mechanical fashion, as though there were some sort of magic in going through the motions. One must really desire to have freedom from sin and to live responsibly to God. To that end he must avail himself of the means of grace, particularly the diligent use of Scripture and faithfulness in prayer.
Harrison, E. F. Romans. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 71). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976. Logos edition.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the imputation of Christ’s righteousnessBut (and this is the point) justification does not stop at forgiveness. Justification and forgiveness are not identical. … Christ rendered a positive obedience to the law before He obeyed it passively in His death upon the cross. In other words, there is a second, positive, element in justification. This means that, in addition to having our sins forgiven, we have imputed to us, or put to our account or to our reckoning, the positive righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He kept the law, He honoured it, and therefore He is righteous face to face with the demands of the law. And God puts that righteousness of Christ to my account.
Lloyd-Jones, D. M. God the Holy Spirit (pp. 172–174). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997. Logos edition.
Wayne Grudem on the imputation of righteousness
When we say that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us it means that God thinks of Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, or regards it as belonging to us. He “reckons” it to our account. We read, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, quoting Gen. 15:6). Paul explains, “To one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6). In this way, Christ’s righteousness became ours. Paul says that we are those who received “the free gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17).This is the third time in studying the doctrines of Scripture that we have encountered the idea of imputing guilt or righteousness to someone else. First, when Adam sinned, his guilt was imputed to us; God the Father viewed it as belonging to us, and therefore it did. Second, when Christ suffered and died for our sins, our sin was imputed to Christ; God thought of it as belonging to him, and he paid the penalty for it. Now in the doctrine of justification we see imputation for the third time. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us. It is not our own righteousness but Christ’s righteousness that is freely given to us.
Grudem, W. A. Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 726). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity; Zondervan, 2004. Logos edition.
John Miley on the imputation of faith for righteousness (in Romans 4)With the word impute we have also the words count and reckon. Faith is imputed for righteousness, counted for righteousness, reckoned for righteousness. There is no difference of meaning in these words, as here used, that requires any notice. They are all the rendering of the same word, λογίζομαι.
Miley, John. John Miley’s Systematic Theology, Volume 2 (p. 319). New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1893. Logos edition.
The following scholars discuss the contrasting conclusions Paul and James derive from Genesis 15:6. Here is Paul in Romans 4:
Here is the James text:
The apparent contradiction disappears once we understand the Bible authors’ different purposes for writing what they did and the divergent yet complementary meanings they intend by the word “righteousness.”
Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell on James 2:24
James summarizes his example of Abraham by appealing to Genesis 15:6 and other biblical texts. The verb “was fulfilled” (ἐπληρώθη) is the standard verb for the fulfillment of Scripture in the NT, both when events previously predicted take place and when later occurrences flesh out or “fill full” the meaning of earlier ones, as here. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son richly filled his earlier profession of faith with fuller meaning.
The Scripture on which James draws stands out because Paul uses the identical passage to argue for work-free faith in Ro 4:3, 9, 22 and Gal 3:6. But Paul is promoting faith apart from the law, while James argues that Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac shows that he really did believe God and the promise of descendants for him. This active faith is what was “reckoned to him” or “accounted to him.” The expression “as righteousness” (εἰς δικαιοσύνην) forms a Septuagintalism, employing the preposition “for” (cf. the Hebrew l-prefix) with an accusative object to depict what was credited to Abraham. This choice of the word “righteousness” recalls Pauline language, where it regularly referred to the imputation of right standing before God through faith in Christ. James, however, is closer to the OT use of righteousness as equivalent to ḥesed or “covenant faithfulness.” ….
Ronald Fung differentiates between what he calls “forensic justification by faith” and “probative justification by works.” The first is a legal declaration made by God at the time one commits one’s life to Christ. The second is the demonstration by a transformed life that such a commitment was genuine.…It is also important to remember that James was most likely writing earlier than Paul and thus not intentionally using the same vocabulary with contrasting meanings. Had James known how Paul would later phrase things, he might have altered his language here. Meanwhile, James’s point is “quite simply that God will recognize the devotion of those whose public professions of monotheistic faith are embodied in public works of mercy toward one’s neighbor.”
Blomberg, Craig L., & Kamell, Mariam J. James (Vol. 16, pp. 137–140). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. Logos edition.
Wayne Grudem on James 2:24
What can James mean when he says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Here we must realize that James is using the word justified in a different sense from the way Paul uses it. In the beginning of this chapter we noted that the word justify has a range of meanings, and that one significant sense was “declare to be righteous,” but we should also notice that the Greek word δικαιόω (G1467) can also mean “demonstrate or show to be righteous.” For instance, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). The point here was not that the Pharisees went around making legal declarations that they were “not guilty” before God, but rather that they were always attempting to show others that they were righteous by their outward deeds. …Our interpretation of James 2 depends not only on the fact that “show to be righteous” is an acceptable sense for the word justified but also on the consideration that this sense fits well in the context of James 2. When James says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (v. 21) he is referring to something later in Abraham’s life, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, which occurred in Genesis 22. This is long after the time recorded in Genesis 15:6 where Abraham believed God “and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Yet this earlier incident at the beginning of Abraham’s covenantal relationship with God is the one that Paul quotes and repeatedly refers to in Romans 4. Paul is talking about the time God justified Abraham once for all, reckoning righteousness to him as a result of his faith in God. But James is talking about something far later, after Abraham had waited many years for the birth of Isaac, and then after Isaac had grown old enough to carry wood up the mountain for a sacrifice. At that point Abraham was “shown to be righteous” by his works, and in that sense James says that Abraham was “justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar” (James 2:21).
Grudem, W. A. Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 731). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity; Zondervan, 2004. Logos edition.
Robert W. Lyon on use of Genesis 15:6 by James and Paul
The Letter of James is often seen to be in conflict with Paul’s teaching on justification by faith apart from works of the Law. In fact, James quotes the same text (Gn 15:6) concerning Abraham and concludes, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas 2:24). Luther even repudiated this letter because it seemed at variance with Paul. But two factors should be observed: (1) Paul and James are faced with two completely opposite crises. Paul is compelled to oppose a legalism which made the Law the basis for righteousness and enabled one to stand justified before God. The legalists were trying to maintain the law of Moses (in particular the obligation of circumcision) for those who would be justified. For these the Law was front and center. James, on the other hand, seeks to cope with an antinomianism which shows no concern for the Law of God and says that faith is enough. For these persons the Law is of no consequence. Paul’s opponents would put the Law at the heart of justification, so Paul’s response is expressed largely in negative terms: “No one will be justified by works of the law” (Rom 3:20). The opponents of James remove the Law altogether and negate the significance or meaning of works in the name of faith. As a result James speaks positively of the Law in relation to faith.(2) When Paul and James speak of “works,” they speak of different concepts. Paul is speaking of works of the Law; that is, works as an expression of the Law, or what might be called “law-works” (Rom 3:20). James, on the other hand, never speaks of works of the Law but rather of works that give expression to faith, or what might be called “faith-works.” James regards faith without works as dead; that is, as no faith at all (Jas 2:17). For him faith is expressed and perfected by works. Paul and James both affirm that one comes into, and continues in, living relationship to God through faith—apart from the Law but not without the love and obedience that is born of faith.
Lyon, Robert W. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, edited by Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. (p. 1254). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988. Logos edition.
Ted Cabal and others in The Apologetics Study Bible on James 2:24
Many skeptics argue that a contradiction exists between Paul’s statement that “a man is justified by faith apart from works” (Rm 3:28; cp. 4:5–6; Gl 2:16) and the teaching of James that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jms 2:24). However, these positions actually complement one other.
First, Paul and James addressed different situations. On the one hand, Paul refuted a Jewish legalism holding that one must observe the law’s requirements in order to be saved. On the other hand, James opposed an antinomianism that was twisting faith in Christ so much that no expression of works was necessary.
Second, when Paul used the word “justified,” he meant “saved” or “declared righteous,” whereas James meant “vindicated” or “authenticated.” By “works,” Paul meant “works of the law,” whereas James meant works that faith produces.In the light of the above, Paul was saying that one is declared righteous by God apart from the works of the law. James, by contrast, was saying that a person’s faith produces works that vindicate his faith in Christ as genuine. James used Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (vv. 21–23; cp. Gn 22:9) and Rahab’s protection of the spies (Jms 2:25; cp. Jos 2) as examples to show that their works authenticated the reality of their faith in God. For James, faith without works was clearly worthless; it must be more than words (Jms 2:14–19, 26). Authentic faith will bear the fruit of good works.
Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1843). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.