When discussing Abraham and righteousness, Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6 several times.
Abraham trusted God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom 4:3 NIV).
The word translated as “credited” in the NIV and many other English translations is “logizomai. It word is the verb equivalent to the noun “logos”, which means “word” or “thought”. John’s gospel refers to Jesus as the “Logos”. According to my dictionary, “logizomai” has a broad range of meanings. In a banking/accounting context, it can mean “credit, account, calculate” but there is no reason to assume a banking context in Romans. The more standard meaning is “think, evaluate, look upon as, consider, class, classify,”. It refers to how we think about things. In Paul’s love chapter, he uses this word when he says, “love thinks no evil” (1 Cor 13:5).
In Romans 4, Paul uses “logizomai” to refer to how God thought about Abraham. Because he trusted him, God thought of Abraham as righteous. This does not mean he suddenly became righteous, because he was not, and he continued to be unrighteous. God was the one who changed. He changed from seeing Abraham as fickle to perceiving him to be righteous.
In Genesis, Yahweh is the subject of the verb.
Yahweh classified him as righteous (Gen 15:6).
The Hebrew equivalent word means “weave” or “plait”, so metaphorically it refers to “thinking about” or “classifying”. God is the one who takes the action. He thinks of Abraham as righteous. He classifies him as belonging to the group of people who are righteous. Abraham did not change. It was God’s perception and evaluation of him that had changed. The English word “credit” used in many English translations is confusing, as it makes it seem like something was taken from someone else’s bank account and put into Abraham’s account. It sounds like Abraham now has some credit, but that was not true. Abraham was still a sinner, and his account was still empty.
Likewise, the word “count” used in many English translations is confusing. This word makes it sound like faith and righteousness are mathematical equivalents, ie faith = righteousness. This is not true. The person of faith is not given some righteousness equivalent to their faith. Rather God looks upon the person of faith and changes his assessment of them. He shifts them into the “righteous” category. This is not a bringing forward of the final judgment as some commentators suggest. Rather it describes God’s assessment of the person now.
Older translations used the word “impute”. Apart from statistics, where the record of a representative respondent to a survey is assigned to a non-respondent to avoid non-response bias, this word has become obsolete in modern usage. The problem with using it in a New Testament context is that it makes righteousness seem to be something that is taken from someone else (possibly Jesus) and given to Abraham, or the person of faith. This is misleading, although it was used in this way by several of the Reformers to describe how salvation worked. The word “logizomai” is never used in the New Testament to describe something being taken from someone and given to another.
The righteousness that Abraham gets is not passed to him from someone else. Rather, it describes how God assesses him. Righteousness is not a banner or substance that can be transferred from one person to another. It is a status that a suitable assessor can give to a person. God is the only person in the universe who is truly righteous, so he is the only one who can assess a human to be righteous. He is the only one who understands every person’s true character, so he is the only one who knows enough to judge that a person is righteous.
In my dictionary, the basic meaning of “logizomai” is “think, consider, look upon, classify, class”. When God looked at Abraham or thought about him, he considered him to be righteous. He classed him with other righteous people. Paul said that Abraham was classified as righteous. This did not change his character. It did not mean that he had not sinned. Rather, God changed the way that he thought about Abraham.
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