Friday, November 1, 2019

A Rejoinder To Roman Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin On Genesis 15:6 And Reckoning Righteousness

  • Discussion:
          -Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers wrote an article on the text of Genesis 15:6 as it relates to justification and how he thinks that the text should be applied in soteriological discussions. Following are his remarks alongside with a critique:

          "Abraham is already a follower of God, someone who already has faith in him, and the context stresses Abraham’s good works and righteousness: (1) He defeated the evil kings. (2) He rescued Lot and the other captives. (3) He went to a priest of God and gave thanks for the victory. (4) He refused any reward from the wicked king of Sodom. (5) And so God himself promised to give Abraham a reward instead. (6) The fact that God is rewarding Abraham for what he has done shows this isn’t a case of a sinner coming to God and repenting so he can obtain forgiveness. It’s God rewarding a follower for faithful service. That means Abraham isn’t acquiring righteousness here for the first time. He is already righteous, as his actions have shown. Then Abraham believes the incredible promise that he will have a multitude of descendants, despite his age (cf. Rom. 4:19, Heb. 11:12), and God reckons that act of belief as a new act of righteousness on Abraham’s part."

          None of the above comments really address the text of Genesis 15:6 on its own terms. There is no interaction whatsoever with the language that Abraham "believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness." The "it" is a reference to his faith. His faith is the basis for receiving righteousness. That belief certainly does not preclude the obedience of Abraham. This man's trust in God and His promises was the instrumental cause of him being counted righteous, not any good works that he did. Consider also the following excerpts from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (New King James Version) on Romans 4:3 and Romans 4:6-8:

          "In context, Gen. 15:6 (cited here) refers to dependence on God's promise. Jewish teachers developed the implications of texts they expounded; here Paul highlights the Greek term "accounted," which he uses 11 times in ch. 4 ("impute" in v. 8), to emphasize God's generosity. Many Jewish readers, by contrast, understood Abraham's faith here as one of his virtuous works that accrued merit."

          "Jewish interpreters often linked texts based on a common key term; they also often expounded a reading in the Torah in connection with a reading elsewhere in Scripture. Paul here explains "credited" in Genesis 15:6 (quoted in v. 3) in light of Ps. 32:1-2 (quoted in vv. 7-8), which also speaks of what God credits to the righteous (cf. Ps. 32:5)."

          "Some translations bring this aspect out better than others. The New American Bible does a particularly good job. It says that the Lord “attributed it to him as an act of righteousness.” Notice, by the way, that Abraham’s act of faith also wasn’t generic in nature. Abraham already believed in and trusted God in a general way. Here he is believing something very specific: that God will give him a multitude of descendants—a point Paul recognizes when he uses the verse (Rom. 4:17-22). And notice that the righteousness isn’t a counterfactual, purely legal thing. Instead, believing God when he tells you he will do something is a righteous act. Abraham did something actually righteous here."

          There are translational differences. Many readings are legitimate. However, it is important to note that the addition of the word "act" is not present in the vast majority of translations. Moreover, it is absent from the Hebrew. The Hebrew word in Genesis 15:6 is "tsedaqah," which refers to justice or righteousness. It denotes a state of being righteous or just. It is referring to what something is. Abraham was declared righteous (something that he is), not Abraham does righteousness. The New English Translation has this footnote on Genesis 15:6:

           "tn The sentence begins with vav (ו) plus a perfect verb. It does not show simple sequence, which would have been indicated with a vav plus preterite as in the surrounding clauses. The nuance may be that Abram had already come to believe or did so while God was speaking. For a detailed discussion of the vav plus perfect construction in Hebrew narrative, see R. Longacre, “Weqatal Forms in Biblical Hebrew Prose: A Discourse-modular Approach,” Biblical Hebrew and Discourse Linguistics, 50-98. The verb אָמַן (ʾaman) occurs with a Niphal and Hiphil opposition. In the Niphal it means “to be faithful, reliable, firm, enduring.” While in the Hiphil, the form used here, it means “to consider or treat something as reliable, or dependable.” Abram regarded God as reliable for this promise; he believed."

           The line of reasoning in the excerpt from Mr. Akin seemingly depends on a reduction of what those promises to Abraham are: namely to some promise short of the gospel. Galatians 3:8, however, flatly calls it the gospel. Abraham looked forward to Jesus' day, and rejoiced (John 8:58). The Reformation Study Bible has this footnote on the text from Genesis 15:

           "15:6 This verse provides the early core doctrine of justification by faith, not by works (Gal. 3:6–14). Abraham believed the promise of the birth of an heir from the dead (Rom. 4:17–21; Heb. 11:11, 12), and God counted Abraham to be righteous...Abraham’s justification by faith is a model of our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice for sin, and God’s crediting His righteousness to us by faith (Rom. 4:22–25)."

          Defining faith as a work is a huge mistake. The two are always contrasted throughout Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-9 is a well-known example. Justification is expressly an unmerited and undeserved gift of God. If faith is a work, then that passage from Ephesians becomes self-contradictory. Faith is not a meritorious cause. Thus, to say that Abraham "does faith" is nonsense.


  1. Nice post Jesse. It's true none of us deserve or can earn heaven, we serve a gracious God who gives us countless blessings daily, many of which go unnoticed.

  2. A very good rebuttal Jesse.

    I find the NAB insertion of "act" into Gen 15:6 to be a most flagrant act of eisegesis. I would note that nearly all translations leave this out, including most Roman translations (cf. RSVCE, DRB, GNT, NJB, etc.). In the Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the Roman Church according to the council of Trent, the word "act" is found nowhere: credidit Domino et reputatum est ei ad iustitiam (Gen 15:6 VUL). It does not appear in the Hebrew: וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן בַּֽיהוָ֑ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ לֹּ֖ו צְדָקָֽה (Gen 15:6 MT) as you noted, it is not present in the Greek: καὶ ἐπίστευσεν Αβραμ τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην (Gen 15:6 LXX) (cf. Rom 4:3), nor is it implied by context, syntax or etymology.

    Regarding חָשַׁב [Impute] Calvin provides an excellent summary:

    For the word חשב (chashab,) which Moses uses, is to be understood as relating to the judgment of God, just as in Psalms 106:31, where the zeal of Phinehas is said to have been counted to him for righteousness. The meaning of the expression will, however, more fully appear by comparison with its opposites. In Leviticus 7:18, it is said that when expiation has been made, iniquity ‘shall not be imputed’ to a man. Again, in Leviticus 17:4, ‘Blood shall be imputed unto that man.’ So, in 2 Samuel 19:19, Shimei says, ‘Let not the king impute iniquity unto me.’ Nearly of the same import is the expression in 2 Kings 12:15, ‘They reckoned not with the man into whose hand they delivered the money for the work;’ that is, they required no account of the money, but suffered them to administer it, in perfect confidence.
    (John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, Volume First., trans. John King, [Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847], p. 405).