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16 September 2019

Abraham, Heir of the World

SynopsisAccording to the book of Romans, the land promised to Abraham encompasses the entire world, not just Palestine - Romans 4:13. 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash
NASA Photo by Unsplash.com
In his letter to the churches of Rome, Paul introduces Abraham as the great exemplar of faith, the model to emulate for all men who would live by faith and the "heir of the world.” In the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the “land promise” to Abraham finds its fulfillment in the New Creation:

(Romans 4:11-17) – “And a sign he received, [namely] of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised; to the end he might be father of all that believe during uncircumcision, to the end [the same] righteousness might be reckoned unto them — And father of circumcision — unto them who are not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of the faith while yet uncircumcised of our father Abraham. For not through means of law doth the promise belong unto Abraham or unto his seed — that he should be heir of the world; but through a righteousness by faith. For if they who are of law are heirs, made void is faith and of no effect is the promise. For the law worketh out anger, but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this cause, it is by faith, in order that it may be by way of favour, so that the promise is firm unto all the seed — not unto that by the law only, but unto that also [which is such] by the faith of Abraham; who is father of us all — Even as it is written — Father of many nations have I appointed thee: before him whom he believed — God, who causeth the dead to live and calleth the things that are not as things that are.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

God declared Abraham “right” and reckoned his faith as “righteousness” while he was still uncircumcised and, thus, apart from the “works of the Law” or Torah. Consequently, Abraham is the father of every man and woman who is “from faith,” whether circumcised or not (Compare - Galatians 3:6-18).

Abraham brought to a new land
Circumcision did not justify Abraham and, instead, was a “sign,” the “seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised.” He is the “father of circumcision to them who are not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of the faith while yet uncircumcised.” Therefore, “not through the Law is the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he is to be heir of the world; but through a righteousness of faith.”

References in the Letter to the Romans of “promise” and “heir” point to future realities, things not yet received. The promised inheritance will be the possession of the entire “world” or kosmos, not the old and relatively tiny land of Canaan in the Middle East. Not always noticed is how Paul universalizes the original and very limited Land Promise so that it now includes the entire “world” (the Greek term kosmos can include the entire universe).

This promise is to Abraham and to “his seed.” His seed is comprised of all who walk in the same faith as Abraham did, whether circumcised or not, Jewish or Gentile. The promised inheritance is through faith and grace and, therefore, “the promise is firm unto all the seed.”
God appointed Abraham the “Father of many nations” and not just of Israel, since he believed the word of the God who raises the dead and calls the things that are not into being.   

In the first instance, Paul applies this clause to Abraham’s faith that God would grant him the promised "seed," that is, Isaac, even though Sarah’s womb was “dead.” By implication, this may link the promised inheritance to the future resurrection of the righteous dead, a notion Paul raises in Romans chapters 8 and 11.

Paul previously introduced the past resurrection of Jesus in his opening paragraph. The story of Abraham’s justification was not “written for his sake alone,” but, also, “for our sakes also to whom it is to be reckoned, even to them that believe upon Him who raised Jesus our Lord from among the dead; who was delivered up on account of our offences and was raised on account of the declaring us righteous” (Romans 1:2-4).

Thus, the Apostle Paul sees the fulfillment of the original promises of territory and “seed” that Yahweh made to Abraham in the gathering of men and women from every nation by the proclamation of the gospel, the coming resurrection of the dead, and the New Creation. In short, the covenant of Abraham finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

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