Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. The apostle proves what he had advanced in the last chapter, that the Jews cannot be justified by the works of the written law, nor by any works, unless joined with faith in the Messias, their Redeemer. This he shews by the example of Abraham, who is said to have been justified by believing; 2. and this was before he was circumcised; 3. and long before the law of Moses. Justification was then given without the works of that law. — What advantage shall we say, then, that Abraham hath found, who is our father according to the flesh? This seems the true construction and sense: rather than what did he find according to the flesh, as some expound it. (Witham)
Ver. 2. If Abraham were justified by works, or by his own works, he might have glory, and be commended by men, who judge only according to outward appearances; but not with God: that is, he could not be truly justified, so as to deserve a reward in heaven, without faith and the grace of God. (Witham) — Not with God. Whatever glory or applause such works might procure from men, they would be of no value in the sight of God. (Challoner)
Ver. 3. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice. The Scripture, therefore, teacheth us that he became just by his faith. And as he had this faith by the grace of God, grace was the cause of his justification, and not any works without grace. And when it is said, it was reputed to him, we must not understand an imputation of being just without a true and interior justice: for to be reputed just in the sight of God, who sees the heart, and sanctifies the soul by his interior grace, is the only true justice that can make a man acceptable to God. As not to have our sins imputed in the sight of God, is to have them forgiven, and to be free from our sins. (Witham) — Reputed, &c. By God, who reputeth nothing otherwise than it is. However, we may gather from this word, that when we are justified, our justification proceedeth from God’s free grace and bounty; and not from any efficacy which any act of ours could have of its own nature, abstracting from God’s grace. (Challoner)
Ver. 4. Now to him that worketh, &c. a reward may be looked upon as due for his works, and not bestowed upon him as a free gift; but when it is said he believed and was justified, (this belief or faith was always a liberal gift of God) and when no mention is made of his works, it appears that such a justification and sanctification are not from the works of the written law, nor from any works he could do of himself, but that they are according to the purpose, or decree of grace. (Witham) — Such a man, says the apostle, challenges his reward as a debt, due to his own performance; whereas he who worketh not, that is, who presumeth not upon any works done by his own strength; but seeketh justice through faith and grace, is freely justified by God’s grace. (Challoner)
Ver. 5. Abraham, before his vocation, was an idolater, according to Josephus; (Jewish Antiquities, lib. i. chap. viii.) according to some of the Rabbins, and as the Scripture itself seems to insinuate, Josue chap. xxiv; Isaias xliii; Wisdom x; Judith v. He did not then merit his vocation to the faith by his works. But when God had called him, and made him depart from his country, when he promised to him an innumerable posterity, Abraham believed in his promises, and it was reputed to him unto justice, that his faith and his justice were the pure gift of God. His faith was not a dead and speculative faith only, but an active faith, a faith animated by charity, as appears from the sequel of his life. (Calmet)
Ver. 6. As David, &c. That is, David accounted a man happy in being justified by God’s grace, and not by his own works, when he said: Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven by the mercies of God, and whose sins are covered; that is, covered so as to be no more, even in the sight of God. (Witham)
Ver. 7. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. That is, blessed are those who, by doing penance, have obtained pardon and remission of their sins, and also are covered; that is, newly clothed with the habit of grace, and vested with the stole of charity. (Challoner) — When it is said that the sins of man are covered, we must not imagine that they still remain, but on account of the goodness of God will not be punished, as the Lutherans contend; for the justice of God could not suffer this: but by it we must understand that they are entirely blotted out, and neither exist, nor are considered any longer by God. Still, we must not conclude that man is blessed, as soon as sin is remitted; since the same psalmist, in another place, ascribes happiness to man when he walks in the law of the Lord, and when he keeps judgment and does justice. (Psalms i; cv; and cviii.) And our Saviour says, If you know these things, blessed shall you be if you do them. (St. John xiii.) (Estius) — Moreover, if sins were never blotted out, but only covered, why did the royal prophet pray to the Almighty, saying: blot out all mine iniquities; and in different parts of the 50th psalm and psalm cviii, speaking of the egregious sinner, he says: let the sin of his mother not be blotted out; which would mean nothing at all, if sins were never blotted out? (Haydock)
Ver. 8. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin. That is, blessed is the man who hath retained his baptismal innocence, that no grievous sin can be imputed to him. And likewise, blessed is the man who, after falling into sin hath done penance, and leads a virtuous life by frequenting the sacraments necessary for obtaining the grace to prevent a relapse, that sin is no more imputed to him. (Challoner)
Ver. 9. This blessedness, by which a man’s sins are forgiven, and his soul truly justified, was promised, and is given to the uncircumcised Gentiles, as well as to the circumcised Jews, by the faith and grace of Christ; as Abraham was justified, when he was in the state of uncircumcision. (Witham)
Ver. 10. In effect, Abraham received circumcision a year only before the birth of Isaac; whereas he had received the promises and justification more than 25 years before, when the Almighty caused him to depart from Mesopotamia. (Calmet) — Therefore he was justified by faith and grace, which is common both to the circumcised and uncircumcised. (Menochius)
Ver. 11. And he received, after he was justified, circumcision, as a seal of the justice of faith, which he had before when he believed. Circumcision, therefore, in Abraham, was as a seal and testimony of the justice which he had already by faith: though circumcision was chiefly given to Abraham and his posterity, as a sign or seal of that alliance which God made with Abraham, and his seed, to shew he had made choice of them for his elect people. (Witham)
Ver. 12. And might be the father of circumcision. The apostle here tells them that Abraham is the father of all true believers, uncircumcised as well as circumcised, and all that believe in Christ, his seed, in whom God promised to bless all nations, are the spiritual sons of Abraham, and partake of the blessings promised to him in his posterity: nor can the circumcised be his true and spiritual children, unless they follow the footsteps of his faith, by which he was justified, when he believed the promises which God made to him before that circumcision was instituted; to wit, that he and Sara should have a son, when they were naturally past the age of having children, and that in his posterity all the world should be blessed, that is, in Christ. (Witham)
Ver. 13. Of the world, &c. By the world, some understand the land of Chanaan, which is sometimes meant by the whole earth, particularly in the times of David and Solomon, when they ruled over the neighbouring nations. But others think that the apostle alludes to the passage of Genesis, where the Almighty promises that in his (Abraham’s) seed, all the nations of the earth should be blessed; which promise extends much beyond the narrow limits of Chanaan. In fine, it may be understood in a spiritual sense, of his dignity of father of all the faithful; which makes him, in a manner, master of the whole world, since his spiritual children, spread through the whole world, have the universe for their inheritance. (Calmet) — Postula a me, et dabo tibi Gentes hæreditatem tuam et possessionem tuam terminos terræ. (Psalm ii. 8.) (Haydock) — It was by Christ that Abraham was to be heir of the world, in as much as the spiritual kingdom of Christ should be spread over all the world. And this of one who was of the seed of David, being heir of the world, was not by the law, or by virtue of the law, which was not given to Moses till 400 years after. (Witham)
Ver. 14. For if they, who are of the law, be heirs: faith is made void, the promise is made of no effect. That is, if the Jews, who are under the law, are the only heirs of the blessings promised, it will follow that the faith which Abraham had before the circumcision, and before the law, was of no value, which I have shewn to be false. And, secondly, it will follow that the promise made to him, that in him all nations should be blessed, is also null. (Witham)
Ver. 15. For the law worketh wrath, not of itself, nor by the intention of the lawgiver, but in as much as it is the occasion of greater punishments, when persons transgress it knowingly. (Witham) — The law abstracting from faith and grace, worketh wrath occasionally, by being an occasion of many transgressions, which provoke God’s wrath. (Challoner)
Ver. 16. There are two kinds of children of Abraham, to whom alone these promises are made; the one is according to the flesh, the other according to the spirit. The former of these had no more part in the promises made to him and his seed than the Gentiles, unless they imitated the fidelity and obedience of their father. (Calmet) — It is in this sense of spiritual father, that the [Catholic] priest at the altar, speaking in the name of the faithful, calls Abraham our patriarch. (Estius)
Ver. 18. Who, against hope, believed in hope, or with hope. That is, Abraham, against all probability of human hopes, still hoped in God, says St. Chrysostom, that he should have a son by Sara: and in this, he was not weak in faith. Therefore it, that is, is great faith, was imputed to him unto justice: and also our faith shall be imputed to us unto justice, or make us truly just, by believing in Christ, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 19. Effete, through old age, nenekromenon.
Ver. 25. The eternal Father delivered his Son to death, to expiate our offences; he raised him from the dead for our justification. His death is our redemption; his resurrection is the principal object of our faith. Our faith in the resurrection, is imputed unto justice, as was the faith of Abraham in the promises of God. The apostle here seems to refer our faith and justification only to the resurrection, not to the exclusion of other mysteries of religion, which are all, and every one of them, the objects of our faith. But the resurrection is, as it were, the zeal and consummation of the rest; it eminently includes in itself all the others. (Calmet)
 Ver. 3. Et reputatum est illi ad justitiam, kai elogisthe auto eis dikaiosunen. The Greek word is sometimes translated in the Vulgate Latin, by imputare, or accepto ferre.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Abraham was not justified by works done, as of himself: but by grace, and by faith; and that before he was circumcised. Gentiles by faith are his children.
1 What shall we say, then, that Abraham hath found, who is our father according to the flesh.
2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath glory, but not with God.
3 For what saith the Scripture? *Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice.
4 Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned according to grace, but according to debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, yet believeth in him that justifieth the impious, his faith is reputed to justice, according to the purpose of the grace of God.
6 As David also termeth the blessedness of a man, to whom God reputeth justice without works:
7 Blessed are they, whose *iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man, to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin.
9 This blessedness, then, doth it abide in the circumcision only, or in the uncircumcision also? For we say that faith was reputed to Abraham unto justice.
10 How then was it reputed? In circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
11 *And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the justice of the faith, which is in uncircumcision: that he might be the father of all the believers uncircumcised, that to them also it may be reputed to justice:
12 And might be the father of circumcision, not to them only that are of the circumcision, but to them also who follow the steps of the faith, that our father Abraham had, and being as yet uncircumcised.
13 *For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed, that he should be heir of the world, but through the justice of faith.
14 For if they who are of the law, be heirs: faith is made void, the promise is made of no effect.
15 For the law worketh wrath. For where there is no law, there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it is of faith, that according to grace the promise might be firm to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is 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 God, whom he believed, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things that are not, as those that are.
18 Who, against hope, believed in hope, that he might be made the father of many nations, according to that which was said to him: *So shall thy seed be.
19 And he was not weak in faith: neither did he consider his own body now dead, whereas he was almost a hundred years old, nor the dead womb of Sara.
20 In the promise also of God he staggered not by distrust: but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God:
21 Most fully knowing that whatsoever he has promised, he is able also to perform.
22 And therefore it was reputed to him unto justice.
23 Now it is not written only for him, that it was reputed to him unto justice:
24 But for us also, to whom it shall be reputed, if we believe in him, *that raised up Jesus Christ, our Lord, from the dead,
25 *Who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification.
3: Genesis xv. 6.; Galatians iii. 6.; James ii. 23.
7: Psalm xxxi. 1.
11: Genesis xvii. 10. and 11.
13: Galatians iii. 18.; Hebrews xi. 9.
17: Genesis xvii. 4.
18: Genesis xv. 5.
24: 1 Peter ii. 21.
25: Isaias liii. 6.; 1 Peter i. 3.