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Abraham as Father of All the Faithful

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 31:
“The Power of God unto Salvation”




A central concern in many of Paul’s writings is the integration of the Gentiles into a church that exists at least initially as an outgrowth of the Jewish community and their religious beliefs and norms. Some thought that Gentile converts (those who were non-Jewish and had not been circumcised) should be required to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. Many of the frequent references to “law” and “works” in Romans (and Paul’s writings more generally) have reference respectively to the Law of Moses and the works of the law, the actions one ought to take in obedience to the Law of Moses. Paul maintains that the Gentile converts do not need to assume the burdens of the Law of Moses and circumcision, but can be received into the Church and justified without complying with these observances provided they exercise faith in Jesus Christ.

In order to strengthen his case, Paul appeals to Abraham as the pattern and type of the man who comes into favor with God by faith. The reasons for this are several: Abraham is revered as a great patriarch and the point of formation of essential covenants between God and Man, he is also the one who received the promise that the Messiah would come through his lineage but, more locally, he is the ancestor of the Jewish converts to Christianity who see that ancestry as important to their status as a chosen people. He will therefore attempt to show his readers that the way righteousness came to Abraham applies equally to his Gentile converts as to his Jewish converts. Central to his argument will, of course, be circumcision.

In order to argue that the Gentiles can achieve a state of blessedness while being yet uncircumcised, Paul will argue that, in fact this is exactly what happened with Abraham. Beginning with verse 9, I will be reading the Wayment translation because it provides some additional clarity for these verses:

9 Is this, then, the blessedness for the circumcised, or for the uncircumcised too? For we say, “Faith was reckoned as righteousness to Abraham.”

10 How was it reckoned to him? Was he circumcised or uncircumcised at the time? He was not circumcised but uncircumcised.

So Paul is claiming that Abraham was reckoned as righteous by faith before he was circumcised. He will argue from this that circumcision was a result rather than a cause of that assessment.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of his faith while being uncircumcised in order that he would be the father of all those who believe but were uncircumcised and would thus have righteousness reckoned to them.

12 And he is the father of the circumcised, of those who are not only circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith of our father Abraham when he was uncircumcised.

Okay, so according to Paul, circumcision is not the cause of Abraham’s being approved of God but, instead, faith leads to the approval of God. Because of this approval which he has received by faith, he receives the promise that he will become a father of many nations, as Paul reminds us in verses 17 and 18. (Many nations can, of course, include the Gentiles.) Because the Lord has promised that he would become the father of many nations, he receives circumcision as a sign or seal of the promise. And indeed, as Paul parses it, as Abraham was both circumcised and uncircumcised at times when the promise was in force, so he consequently is as much father to those who are uncircumcised but put living faith in Lord Jesus Christ as he is to those circumcised who likewise exercise saving faith in him.

13 For [as Paul puts it] the promise given to Abraham and to his descendants that he would inherit the world did not come through the Law but through the righteousness of faith.

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