The NIV renders Romans 4.3
3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was CREDITED to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4.3 NIV See also NASB95, LEB)
The ESV renders Romans 4.3
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was COUNTED to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:3 ESV; See also KJV 1900, AV 1873, NLT, NKJV, NRSV)
This post will argue ‘counted’ is a better translation than ‘credited’ considering the original scripture Paul was quoting from and the context of Romans 3 and 4.
Credited and Counted
‘Credited’ typically means to add (an amount of money) to an account. It’s a verb usually associated with a bookkeeping metaphor.
In this metaphor, Account 2 is credited with a certain amount of money ($$$) in order to make a nominated balance ($$$). Sometimes forgiveness of debt (-$) happens at the same time.
The metaphor can also be associated with obedience as righteousness and sin as debt in a law court situation.
In this case the judge is ‘crediting’ an ungodly – sinner with his righteousness so the ungodly – sinner can appear righteous and the judge can give him a positive verdict. In the same way the sinner is forgiven their sins as well.
‘Counted’ is similar to reckoned. It means to esteem, consider or regard as.
In the law court, the judge declares the ungodly – Gentile righteous because of his faith.
References to logizomai in Romans 3-4
The Greek verb we are considering is ‘logizomai’. Lets look at the Greek verbs used at the end of Romans 3 and throughout Romans 4.
|Rom 3.28||For LOGIZOMETHA that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.|
|Rom 4.3||Abraham believed God, and it was ELOGISTHE to him as righteousness|
|Rom 4.4||Now to the one who works, his wages are not LOGIZETAI as a gift but as his due.|
|Rom 4.5||And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is LOGIZETAI as righteousness,|
|Rom 4.6||just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God LOGIZETAI righteousness apart from works:|
|Rom 4.8||blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not LOGISETAI his sin|
|Rom 4.9||Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was ELOGISTHE to Abraham as righteousness.|
|Rom 4.10||How then was it ELOGISTHE to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.|
|Rom 4.11||The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be LOGISTHENAI to them as well,|
|Rom 4.22||That is why his faith was “ELOGISTHE to him as righteousness.”|
|Rom 4.23||But the words “it was ELOGISTHE to him” were not written for his sake alone,|
|Rom 4.24||but for ours also. It will be LOGIZESTHAI to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord|
The verbs are cognates of logizomai. From here on in I’ll refer to the lot as logizomai.
BDAG (a Greek-English lexicon)
A glance at BDAG informs one that in biblical Greek logizomai (the chief cognate of the verb) characteristically means things like “reckon,” “calculate,” “count,” “take into account,” “evaluate,” “estimate,” “think about,” “consider,” “think,” “be of the opinion,” “look upon as”.
‘It is true that BDAG translate logizomai in Rom 4:4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 22 as “place to one’s account” or “credit.”’ (p3, D. Garlington, Review of Pipers Counted Righteous in Christ)
But is this a good translation? No.
In Romans 4.3, Paul is quoting Genesis 15.6 from the LXX (Septuagint).
(The Septuagint, from the Latin word septuaginta (meaning seventy), is a translation of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek. As the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is also called the Greek Old Testament. This translation is quoted a number of times in the New Testament, particularly in Pauline epistles. (wiki))
The language of the LXX in turn, is based on the underlying Hebrew phrase וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ (Translit. chashab).
Logizomai is part of an idiom that is Hebrew in origin. This idiom is common enough in the OT as meaning “to consider a thing to be true.” (ibid)
Some who argue for ‘credited’ believe Abraham first came to faith in Genesis 15.
Does Paul think Abraham first came to faith in Genesis 15?
The following sequence puts Genesis 15 in the context of the main events in Abraham’s life.
Paul speaks about Abraham, quoting the same expression (Gen 15.6) in Galatians 3.
… 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was ELOGISTHE to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3:6–9; cf. Heb 11.8)
Does Paul think Abraham first came to faith in Genesis 15? No. Paul knows Abraham was ‘the man of faith’ from Genesis 12.
In Gal 3.8 he refers to the promise God made him in Gen 12.3 (‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’). He then encourages his audience that those who are of faith like this are blessed along with Abraham. He uses the ‘counted to him as righteousness’ to identify existing believers as righteous by their faith in Christ.
How would Paul have understood the expression and Genesis 15 (the text he drew the expression from)? How does he refer to it in Romans 4?
How does Paul apply Genesis in Romans 4?
Paul quotes from Genesis extensively in Romans 4. I’ll colour code the references to
- Gen 15,
- Sequential reference Gen 15-17,
- Gen 17, and
- Echoes of Gen 18-22
in the text.
 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.  How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.  He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,  and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,  as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”  But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,  but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,  who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Rom 4)
NT Wright helpfully makes this observation:
‘We begin with Gen 15 itself and the question of how Paul was using this chapter as a whole. I take it he was using the chapter as a whole, since as well as quoting 15.6 in Rom 4.3 and 4.22-23, and referring back to it in 4.5, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 13, he refers to God’s promise in Gen 15.5 in 4.18, and
throughout the discussion gives every appearance of wrestling with the message of the whole chapter, looking at it from one angle after another.
In vv. 10-11 he relates Gen 15 sequentially to Gen 17 (the command to circumcise), making the historical sequence between them a key point in his argument, and then quoting 17.5 at 4.17 and alluding to 17.17 at 4.19. There are other echoes as well, notably of Gen 18 and 22 in v.13.
It looks, then, as though Paul is not plucking out a proof-text (Gen 15.6) without regard for its context. Nor is he appealing to a sense of ‘scriptural authority’ as a mere rhetorical move (‘I can appeal to some ancient texts!’). He is working with the actual context of Genesis, and particularly ch. 15.’ (p210, NT Wright, Paul and the Patriarch: The Role of Abraham in Romans 4)
Hopefully you can see, Romans 4 is not all about book keeping. Its about Paul making arguments based on the underlying narrative of Genesis.
Does it make sense to say, ‘Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness’?
Paul does apply a bookkeeping metaphor in Romans 4.4;
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. (Rom 4.4)
Does this indicate Paul meant ‘credited’ after all? No.
For starters, as I noted before the book keeping metaphor does not influence the whole chapter and every use of the term logizomai. Wright is correct to say Paul’s main focus is on the context of Genesis, the covenant God made with Abraham, his faith and relationship to circumcision.
Secondly, it doesn’t make sense to say, ‘Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness’.
This is what John Piper argues for and rightly Garlington rejects. In the following quote, I’ve replaced ‘imputed’ with ‘credited’ to maintain consistency and because Garlington acknowledges Piper means the same thing by them.
On Piper’s construction, faith is “credited for righteousness” (55). However, this introduces at least a prima facie confusion.
Surely, the heart of Piper’s argument is that righteousness is credited to the believer in the act of faith. This being so, in what sense can faith meaningfully be “credited?”
If righteousness is credited by faith, then how can faith itself be credited? It would seem that Piper has arrived at a double crediting, that of righteousness and of faith.
This would appear to be a muddling of ideas, particularly as everywhere in the NT faith is predicated as the response of the human being himself/herself to the gospel. To be sure, faith is the gift of God, but to speak of the crediting of faith makes for an odd combination of terms.
By contrast, if faith is counted as righteousness, the difficulty disappears.” (p176-177, D., Garlington, Studies in the New Perspective on Paul)
Does it make sense to say, ‘Abraham’s faith is counted to him as righteousness’?
Yes. For a couple reasons.
1) Proximate occurrence.
The most proximate occurrence of logizomai to Romans 4 is Rom 3:28, where the verb can hardly be translated “impute” or “credit.”
28 For we hold [consider] that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom 3:28)
Rather, Paul “considers” or “concludes” that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law (cf. the same usage in Rom 6:11). Indeed, this strategic employment of logizomai provides a very natural lead-in to chapter 4.
2) Existing believers regarded as righteous.
The main argument Paul has with the imaginary Jew (Rom 2.17) started off with the Jew condemning Gentiles (Rom 2.1-5; cf. Rom 1.18-32).
Both Jews and Gentiles have sinned, but now are made righteous in his sight by grace through Christ (Rom 2.1-3.5).
Now believing Gentiles are righteous in his sight (Rom 3.26). Paul has to defend believing Gentiles from Jews who impose on them circumcision and the law of Moses. In defense of believing Gentiles (e.g. Rom 2.25-29; 3.27-31; 4.11-12,22-25) Paul validates their existing position before God.
Romans 4 is not about sinners being credited with faith or someone else’s righteousness.
Romans 4 about God being faithful to his covenant promise to Abraham that he will give him a worldwide family. It is about helping the Roman believers to recognise that believing Gentiles in their own church communities are part of that family (Rom 4.11-12,22-25).
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