Reckoning Paul’s Worker Analogy Rightly: Crediting Faith, Righteousness, and Sin (Rom 4:4–8)

In his scholarly skirmish with Robert Gundry over the precise meaning of λογίζομαι (“to credit/reckon”) in Romans 4:4–5, D. A. Carson warns that since the structure of Paul’s crediting language is not consistent “it becomes easy to force the wrong kind of parallelism and miss the train of thought” (Carson, “The Vindication of Imputation,” 60). Yet a quick perusal of recent commentaries would suggest that a clear understanding of the structure of Paul’s worker analogy still eludes interpreters. For example, commentators differ in their opinions as to which element within Paul’s analogy parallels “righteousness,” with answers ranging from “reward” (μισθός) to “something due” (presumably based on κατὰ ὀφείλημα). This lack of clarity manifests itself most consistently, however, in the almost universal opinion that the non-reckoning of sin in Paul’s citation of Psalm 32:1–2 (Rom 4:7–8) constitutes the negative parallel to the reckoning of righteousness. That is, God’s reckoning of righteousness is equivalent to his not reckoning sin. But, as this paper attempts to demonstrate, this represents a misapprehension of the structure of Paul’s worker analogy, due largely to the fact that Paul uses the verb λογίζομαι with two different objects. Paul says that God reckons faith and God reckons righteousness. These two constructions speak of two discernably different yet relatable actions. Faith is that thing because of which God credits righteousness, while righteousness is the thing itself that God credits. God sees faith and because of that faith credits to the believer in the currency of righteousness. Spelled out explicitly, Paul’s worker analogy takes the shape: as a manager credits a wage/reward (μισθός) to a worker because of his or her work as an obligation, so God credits righteousness to a believer because of his or her faith as a favor/grace. According to this structure, Paul draws out parallels between the worker and believer, respectively, in terms of works and faith, wage and righteousness, obligation and grace. That is, righteousness is the believer’s μισθός. This echoes the context of Genesis 15:6 (which Paul cites) where Abraham is promised a very great μισθός (Gen 15:1 LXX). Laying out the structure in this way suggests that when Paul turns to cite Psalm 32, the non-reckoning of sin should be understood to parallel not the righteousness/reward element of his analogy but the faith/works element. Put another way, God’s decision to not credit sin—now best understood as sinful actions—is the negative equivalent of his decision to reckon faith (i.e., what the believer “does”) rather than righteousness (i.e., what the believer “gets”). This understanding of Paul’s discourse finds support elsewhere in the letter such as in Romans 6:23, where—in stark contrast to God, who credits righteousness for faith—personified Sin pays in the currency of death to its slaves for their service of sin. This study is a small piece that contributes to an exegetically clearer articulation of Paul’s worker analogy and, ultimately, his doctrine of justification.

3 thoughts on “Reckoning Paul’s Worker Analogy Rightly: Crediting Faith, Righteousness, and Sin (Rom 4:4–8)”

  1. interesting but problematic
    There is a problem in the claim that “Faith is that thing because of which God reckons righteousness.” The causal relation is presupposed. But this is hardly clear. When Paul says, for example, that “foreskin is reckoned as circumcision” does he mean that foreskin is the cause of circumcision? (2:26b; I realize that the preceding clause in involves doing something). The collocation λογιζομαι τι εις τι (or προς τι) signifies an affirmation or predication. A cause is thereby implied but it need not be expressed in the affirmation itself.

    It would help the proposed essay if the context of faith in Gen 15 and Rom 4, namely that of promise — including the promise that the μισθος to Abraham is the Lord — were part of the exploration

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