Abraham - Heir of the World

SYNOPSIS - According to the book of Romans, the land promise to Abraham encompasses the entire world, not just PalestineRomans 4:13

World Map - Photo by Nicola Nuttall on Unsplash
In his letter to the churches in Rome, Paul introduced Abraham as the great exemplar of faith, the model for all men to emulate who would live by faith, and the “
heir of the world.” In the Kingdom of God, the original and limited “land promise” to Abraham finds its fulfillment in the New Creation – The Patriarch and all who belong to him will inherit the “world” - [World Map - Photo by Nicola Nuttall on Unsplash]:
  • (Romans 4:11-17) – “And a sign he received – circumcision - a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised; to the end he might be the father of all that believe during uncircumcision, to the end, the same righteousness might be reckoned to them; and 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 of our father Abraham. For not through the law does the promise belong to Abraham or to his seed — that he should be heir of the world - but through a righteousness from faith. For if they who are of law are heirs, faith is made void and of no effect is the promise. For the law works 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 grace, so that the promise is firm unto all the seed, not to that by the law only, but to that also which is from the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all. Even as it is written — Father of many nations have I appointed you: before him whom he believed — God, who causes the dead to live and calls the things that are not as things that are.”
God declared Abraham “right” and reckoned his faith as “righteousness” while he was still uncircumcised; thus, apart from the “works of the Law,” the deeds required by the Torah. Consequently, Abraham became the father of every man and woman who is “from faith,” whether circumcised or not - (Compare - Galatians 3:6-18).

Circumcision did not justify Abraham. Instead, it 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 Romans to the “promise” and “heir” point to future realities, things not yet received. For Abraham and his “seed,” the promised inheritance will be the possession of the entire “world” or kosmos, not the old and relatively tiny territory of Canaan. Not always noticed is how Paul universalized the original and very limited land promise so that it now includes the entire “world” - (The Greek term kosmos often includes the entire universe).

This promise was to Abraham and to “his seed,” which consists of all who walk in the same faith as he did - circumcised or not – both Jews and Gentiles. The promised inheritance is through faith and grace; therefore, the “promise is firm to all the seed.”

Yahweh appointed Abraham to be the “Father of many nations,” not just of Israel or his biological descendants, 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 applied this last 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 also raised in Romans chapters 8 and 11.

Paul previously introduced the past resurrection of Jesus in the opening paragraph of the letter. The story of Abraham’s justification was not “written for his sake alone,” but also--:
  • For our sake 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 offenses 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” made to Abraham in the gathering of men and women from every nation through 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, the true seed of Abraham.


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