"Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!" (Romans 4:9-10)
In the 10th grade, I sat with two friends at lunch every day and we argued about baptism. We all had different viewpoints and because of it, different agendas. It seems so silly now. Absolutely nothing was accomplished during those mealtimes, except our ability to talk over each other.
Thinking back, I wonder why this debate was so important to us. I imagine it stemmed from a similar debate Paul was heading off in these verses—when exactly is righteousness obtained?
The Jews, to whom circumcision was a big deal, were staking their claim in it. It was so ingrained in their culture and in their spiritual practices that it became synonymous with being righteous (or acceptable) before God.
However, Paul had already dropped a mind-blowing statement in chapter 2 saying that this by no means makes a person a true Jew, as circumcision is merely an outward and physical sign and true circumcision is of the heart done by the Spirit of God (Rom. 2:28-29).
Knowing this, here’s the next question Paul raises: When was Abraham justified? Was it before he was circumcised or after?