The Father William Most Collection
Children of Abraham
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Abraham was born at Ur, in southern Mesopotamia. Extensive excavations have been done there. Later his family moved to Haran in the northern part of the Tigris- Euphrates area.
While Abraham was there, God spoke to Abraham and told him to leave his home and his people and go to the place God would point out. Abraham was then 75, and he was to go to a strange place --then partly urban, partly nomadic.
Abraham believed God, and so became justified, right with God. We note this happening in Genesis 15, before circumcision had been enjoined on Abraham. Again, It is clear that his justification came not from circumcision but from faith.
We can see from Abraham what faith is. It includes belief and confidence- -when told to go to a strange land. it includes especially obedience, in spite of all Abraham did obey God.
When Abraham was age 99 and his wife Sarah was 90 -- and had been sterile all her lifetime God spoke again to Abraham, told him next year Sarah would have a son, Isaac, and through him would become father of a great people. Again, in spite of sterility of Sarah and his age, Abraham believed. Again he is just before God.
At that point Abraham could have reasonably reminded God that he was required to believe he would be the father of a great people through Isaac, and yet as told to kill him in sacrifice before the process started. But Abraham as it were held on in the dark, i.e., he believed when it seemed impossible. He just went ahead. At the critical moment God sent an angel to stop the sacrifice, and provided a ram in the bushes to be used in place of Isaac.
St. Paul in Romans 4 points to this faith of Abraham, and notes that Abraham became just not by circumcision, which was not ordered until Genesis 17, but by faith, as seen beginning in Genesis 15.
Paul insists that to be a child of Abraham physical descent does not suffice: we must imitate the faith of Abraham, and then we inherit the blessing promised to and through him..
In Romans 11 at the start Paul says that God has not rejected His people-- His call to them to be His people still stands. Near the end of the same chapter he also says that the call of God is without repentance-ethat is, God will not take the call back.
Yet in the middle of chapter 11 Paul uses an image of two olive trees. The tame tree is the original people of God; the wild stands for the gentiles. Many branches fell out of the tame tree by not obeying God-rejecting the Messiah God had promised over the centuries. Gentiles are put in the place of the fallen branches. Hence Paul says we all can be children of Abraham if we imitate his faith- believe, have confidence--and obey.Paul also cherishes the hope in Rom11.25 that the blindness that has fallen on part of Israel will go away and they will come back to the tame olive tree before the end.
1) On Ishmael: When Abraham saw he would have no heir through Sarah, he took her maid, Hagar, at her suggestion and did have a son through her. Unfortunately Hagar made fun of Sarah when she saw she, not Sarah, would have a son. Not strangely, but sadly, when Sarah did have a son Isaac, she got back at Hagar, and told Abraham to send her away. Abraham did that. Sent her into the wilderness. When Hagar prayed to God for help, He told her that she too would be the ancestor of a major people. In Jewish and Moslem tradition Ishmael, half brother of Isaac, came to be considered ancestor of the desert dwelling tribes. Arab tradition says Hagar and Ishmael were buried in the sacred Ka'aba in Mecca.
2) On Eugenio Zolli. He has been chief Rabbi of Rome, but became Catholic in 1944. He spoke of himself as a "completed Jew" since Christianity fulfills al l the prophecies God gave to His people centuries before. He took the name Eugenio in recognition of the great services of Pius XII to the Jews during the German occupation.
3) In Ephesians 3.3-6 Paul says he is telling a truth not clear before - Gentiles are called by God to be part of the people of God along with the faithful Jews. So then Christians can also be children of Abraham, by imitating Abraham's faith. They can be brothers, forming one people, with the faithful Jews.
4) Was Paul anti-Semitic? Far from it. Even though they had tried many times to kill him--at Lystra they stoned him and left him for dead--he still at start of Romans 9 said he would be willing to be cursed and away from Christ to bring his racial brothers into the messianic kingdom. Just after that he said that having the law was a great privilege of the people of God. He said the same at the start of Romans 3.
5) Was Paul against law? Not at all. He said it was privilege, as above. He just objected to saying the law could justify and save, when it did not justify Abraham: it is faith that justifies and saves. But faith includes obedience which, though it does not of itself justify and save, yet is a requirement It is one thing to say it earns salvation -- it did not earn it for Abraham, it was faith that obtained it for him; and so it is with us. So it another thing to say one can violate it and still be saved. A student once said: as to salvation, you cannot earn it, but you can blow it.