A Reassessment of the Meaning of the Abrahamic Covenant for Evangelical Theology

Abstract:

Most modern evangelicals classify the Abrahamic covenant as unconditional.  But the label is ambiguous.  A review of the covenant passages strongly suggests that the blessings promised to Abraham were conditioned on his obedience – making the covenant, in this sense, conditional.  On the other hand, once Abraham obeyed God’s commands, the covenant became prophetically guaranteed – and is, in this sense, unconditional.

The nuance is more than theological trivia, for God’s dealings with Abraham have profound implications for us.  Abraham received imputed righteousness by faith, without conditions of obedience.  But his justification did not guarantee him historic/prophetic prominence.  That flowed from his submission to Yahweh.  I suggest that these twin principles are universal, applying to believers of every age.

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (© Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963,1968, 1971,1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. Used by premission. ) unless otherwise indicated.  Emphasis is mine in all scripture quotations.

The Significance of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Church

The Abrahamic covenant has held a prominent place in Christian theology since the days of the earliest church fathers.  Iraneaus was among the first to discuss the covenant in detail.  In a lengthy discourse on Abraham’s relationship to the church, he writes: “The promise of God that he gave to Abraham remains steadfast … For his seed is the church.”  He goes on to quote Paul’s exposition in Galatians concerning the gospel in the covenant.[1]   In short, he echoes Paul’s thought in declaring that the church, and her gospel, were foretold and secured in the covenant.

The Abrahamic covenant, then, is especially important to the church because it was seen by the Apostle and the fathers as an ancient guarantee of the gospel.   In recent times, however, the covenant has come to be seen by many evangelicals, not only as a guarantee of the gospel, but as an analogy of the gospel as well.  It is urged that the covenant was a blessing bestowed on Abraham solely because of his faith, and that, as a result, it is a type of the eternal life that comes to the believer by faith alone.  But the church fathers do not appear ever to have contemplated the covenant in this way.  The idea is a fairly recent one – coming in the mid 1800s on the heels of dispensationalism.  Dispensationalism, in an effort to clarify the duration and applicability of various biblical covenants, began classifying them as either conditional or unconditional.  Under this scheme of classification, the Abrahamic covenant has come to be catalogued as an unconditional covenant. [2]

It is this label that has apparently popularized the view that the covenant is a type of salvation.  Many understand unconditional to imply a gift bestowed apart from merit (and hence an analogy of salvation by faith).  But we must consider whether this thought is inherent in the meaning of unconditional.  And if it is, does the biblical record support such a designation for Abrahamic covenant?  It is my aim to demonstrate that this classification for the covenant is, at best, confusing, and, at worst, the source of much mischief in the modern evangelical church.

The Abrahamic Covenant Was Irrevocable, But Not Unmerited

The idea that the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional is now well entrenched in evangelical theology.  But the label is ambiguous.  If it is meant to imply simply that the covenant was irrevocable once ratified (i.e. could not be undone by anyone’s actions thereafter), then its use seems adequately to reflect the biblical account.  Paul affirms this in Galatians:

Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. … What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate [the Abrahamic] covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. (Gal 3:15, 17)

So the covenant promises to Abraham are clearly irrevocable. [3]  But in common evangelical usage, unconditional is more than a synonym for irrevocable.  We often use it to mean unmerited or undeserved – sometimes even applying it to God’s ultimate unmerited gift: salvation by faith.[4]  However, in this sense of the word, scripture flatly contravenes the notion that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional:

And the LORD appeared to him [Isaac] and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.  Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws. " (Gen 26:2-5) [5]

Dr. David Anderson succinctly describes the dilemma in applying the term unconditional to the Abrahamic (as well as the Davidic) covenant:

 Both Abraham and David loyally served their suzerain.  Abraham is promised the land of Israel because he obeyed God (Gen 22:16, 18; 26:5), and David is promised a dynasty because he served God with truth, loyalty, and righteousness (1 Kgs 3:6; 9:4; 11:4, 6, 11, 35; 14:8; 15:3-5). / The traditional premillenial distinction of conditional versus unconditional has muddied the waters.  As a matter of fact, the covenants of grant are conditional upon obedience, but are unconditional after their inauguration ... [Emphasis his] [6]

Old Testament: Abraham’s Merit Attested in the Formation of the Covenant

A. Genesis 12, 17 and 22.

In all but one of the four primary passages which form the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12, 15, 17 and 22), conditionality is plainly stated in the Hebrew text (despite ambiguity in some English translations – see endnotes for a discussion of the Hebrew):

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, ... " (Gen 12:1-2a) [7]

(Gen 13:14-17 is sometimes cited as a separate sub-covenant, but is, in my view, simply a reaffirmation of the Genesis 12 covenant. After Abraham graciously gives choice land to Lot, God reassures him of the covenant with concrete details.)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless.  Then I will confirm my covenant between me and you …” (New English Translation) (Gen 17:1-2a) [8]

Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, "By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.  And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Gen 22:15-18)[9]

In each of these passages, Abraham, is either required to obey, or has already obeyed, as an express condition of the promise.  It is worth noting that each of these passages (which are quoted only in part here) may be considered a new covenant, or sub-covenant, in its own right. [10]   A careful examination of the passages will reveal that nothing is repeated and that each sub-covenant is superior to its predecessors.  While an item-by-item comparison of the passages is beyond the scope of this article, a few examples will illustrate the point:

In Gen 12:2, God says he will make of Abraham “a great nation.”  In 17:4, the covenant reads, “father of a multitude of nations.”

In 17:2, God “will multiply [Abraham] exceedingly.”  In 22:16 God says literally, “multiplying I will multiply your descendants” (New King James Version), employing a doubling of the verb – a Hebrew superlative surpassing the adverbial form in 17:2.

In 17:6, Abraham is told, “kings shall come forth from you.” This is an entirely new promise, adding to, not repeating, the promises in chapters 12 and 15.  In 22:17, he is told that “his seed shall possess the gates of their enemies [conquer and rule them],” again an entirely new promise.

This insight makes comprehensible God’s capacity to be true to His past word, while yet making each new offer of the covenant dependent on Abraham’s loyalty at the time.  As each sub-covenant was ratified (i.e., Abraham’s part accomplished), it became irrevocable, independent of any later sub-covenant.

B. Genesis 15: Royal land grant for a faithful servant.

This brings us to the remaining covenant passage, Genesis 15.  I have saved it until last because it is both the most celebrated and most complex of the covenant passages.  Here, God promises Abram a great land – a land much larger than that given in Gen 12:2/13:15 when he first left Ur for Palestine.  (So here again is a covenant superior to that which preceded.)  The Gen 15:7ff covenant is focussed exclusively on the promised land, and as a result, is sometimes called the Palestinian covenant.  Unlike the Genesis 12, 17 and 22 promises, there is in Genesis 15 no immediate statement which makes the new promise a clear response to Abraham’s obedience.  Although one may conclude from this that the Palestinian covenant was unconditional (unmerited), a closer look at both the passage and history makes it unlikely.  Further, if it is indeed unconditional, one is left to wonder why this item in the series of sub-covenants should be atypical of the whole.

1.) The context of Genesis 15.

The context of the two promises in Genesis 15 (descendents, vv. 2-6, and land, vv. 7ff) is most helpful.  These promises come on the heels Abraham’s daring rescue of his kinsmen (Gen 14:12-20) and his solemn vow to accept reward only from God (Gen 14:21-24). Then Gen 15:1 reads “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram! I am your shield – and the one who will reward you in great abundance’” (New English Translation).[11]  Dr. Gordon Wenham (Word Biblical Commentary) observes that “shield” and (probably) “reward” are military terms tying this chapter back to the military affairs of 14:12-24.  (“Reward,” sakar, may be translated spoils/soldiers’ wages.) [12]  The promises of Gen 15 appear to be a direct response to Abram’s integrity and fealty in the Gen 14 rescue and its aftermath.

The New English Translation footnote to Gen 15:1 captures the connection between the chapters well: “Abram has just rejected all the spoils of war, and the Lord promises to reward him in great abundance.  In walking by faith and living with integrity he cannot lose.” [13]  Matthew Henry adds, “After [Abram’s] famous act of generous charity … in rescuing his friends and neighbours out of distress, and that, not for price nor reward, … God made him a gracious visit.  Note, Those [sic] that show favour to men shall find favour with God.” [Emphasis his] [14]

In short, Gen 15:1 is a declaration by God that he will protect and reward Abraham for his fidelity to his neighbors, his kinsmen and his God.  When Abram then asks God, “In what way will you reward me?” (v. 2),  God responds by making the celebrated promises of chapter 15; he shows Abram what his sakar will be.

2.) The history surrounding Genesis 15.

If we examine history, we are also drawn to the remarkable similarity of the promise of land to the royal land grants of the day.[15]  The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament includes the following description of the covenant with Abraham:

Like the royal grants in the ancient Near East, so also the covenants with David and Abraham are gifts bestowed upon individuals who distinguish themselves in loyally serving their masters.  Abraham is promised a land because he obeyed God and followed his mandate (Gen. 26:5; cf. 22:16-18), and similarly David was given the grace of kingship because he served God in truth, righteousness, and loyalty (1 K. 3:6; 9:4; 11:4,6; 14:8; 15:3).  The terminology employed in this context is very close to that used in the Assyrian grants.  Thus in the grant of Ashurbanipal to his servant we read: ‘[Baltaya]..., whose heart is whole to his master, stood before me with truthfulness, walked in perfection in my palace ... and kept the charge of my kingship .... I took thought of his kindness and decreed (therefore) his gi[f]t.’  Identical formulations are to be found in connection with the promises to Abraham and David.  With regard to Abraham, it is said that ‘he kept my charge’ ... (Gen 26:5), ‘walked before God’ (24;40; 48:15), and is expected ‘to be perfect’ (17:1). / Land and ‘house’ (=dynasty), the subjects of the Abraham and Davidic covenants, are the most prominent gifts in the Hittite and Syro-Palestinian provenance. [16]

Anderson indicates that similar grants for featly were prevalent in Babylon as well.  He cites as evidence the translations of Babylonian land-boundary stones. [17]

3.) The narrative of Genesis 15.

Often, various features of the Genesis 15 narrative are used to infer that Abraham’s previous loyalty to his sovereign played no part in the land covenant of this chapter.  We should note here, before embarking on a tour of individual story elements, that narrative investigations yield inferential conclusions.  This kind of analysis is a valuable tool in understanding scripture, but its discoveries must find harmony with scripture’s direct, non-inferential statements.  In Genesis 15, any conclusions should seek accord with Yahweh’s explicit grounds for the covenant in Gen 26:5 (“because Abraham obeyed Me”) – and (if we believe the covenant is to be taken as an integrated whole) his statements in Gen 12, 17 and 22 as well.

The narrative feature perhaps most often cited in support of an unmerited covenant is Abraham’s redemptive faith, described in v. 6.  His faith, it is proposed, was the sole basis for the covenant; the covenant was an immediate response to it, and it alone.  But this proposal faces both linguistic and narrative difficulties.  Several modern commentators regard v. 6 as far more than a simple continuation of the narrative.  Dr. John Sailhamer (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary) notes that:

The syntax of wehe’emin bayhwh, ‘[Abram] believed the Lord,’ (W + QATAL + X …) suggests that this is a comment within the narrative and is not to be understood as an event within the framework of the other events in the narrative.  The narrator ‘updates’ the reader’s understanding of the events by informing him of Abraham’s faith. [18]

Dr. Allen Ross (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) makes a similar assessment:

Genesis15:6 provides an important note, but does not pinpoint Abram’s conversion.  That occurred years earlier when he left Ur.  (The form of the Heb. word for ‘believed’ shows that his faith did not begin after the events recorded in vv. 1-5.) [19]

But perhaps Gordon Wenham sheds the most light on the syntactical function of verse 6.  He identifies it as an “editorial comment,” and notes that the form of aman (believe) used here (waw + hiphil qatal/perfect) “… probably indicates repeated or continuing action.  Faith was Abraham’s normal response…” [20]  In short, Abraham was a person of faith.

It is indeed appealing to see Gen 15:6 as a commentary – informing us of Abraham’s character of faith, as opposed to a single instance of faith – for surely Abraham’s redemptive relationship with Yahweh was already in place when Melchizedek blessed him in Gen 14:18-19, calling him “Abram of God Most High.”  It seems unlikely, too, that God would have called Abram to leave Ur (12:1), or that Abram would have accepted (12:4), without the reality of an already vital faith relationship. (And the writer of Hebrews implies as much in the Faith hall of fame, Heb 11:8). [21]

If Gen 15:6 indeed reaches beyond its immediate context, defining Abraham’s lifelong character of faith, we should desire to know why it is placed here in Abraham’s story.  I believe Paul gives us the answer in Rom 4:17b-24:

[Abraham] believed [in] God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.  In hope against hope … [Abraham] contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.  Therefore, also, it was counted to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 

Paul (like Wenham, Sailhamer and Ross) seems to view Gen 15:6 as broader than its immediate context.  He alludes to a promise, when Abraham “was about a hundred years old,” of a son by Sarah (Gen 17:16ff).  That promise, however, comes some 14 years after Gen 15 [22] – and yet Paul applies the second half of 15:6 (“it was counted to him as righteousness”) to Abraham’s exercise of faith those many years later. [23] 

I suggest that Abraham’s justification by faith is recorded in chapter 15 because the context highlights the kind of faith that led to Abraham’s imputed righteousness – namely, faith in God’s power to create life where there is no life.  If this is, in fact, correct, we might paraphrase Gen 15:6 in this way: “Now Abraham was a person of faith, believing in God’s life-giving power, and it was considered righteousness for him.” [24]

The upshot of all this is that if Gen 15:6 is an editorial note describing Abraham’s lifetime character of faith, then it is difficult to find in Gen 15:7ff a response to a moment of conversion (not present in the passage).

Before moving on, we should also observe that, on careful reading of vv. 7-8, the land covenant of Gen 15:9ff was not, in fact, a direct response to Abraham’s faith, but to his hunger for confirmation of the already existing covenant of Gen 12.  In 15:9ff, God responds to Abraham’s desire by rewarding him with a greatly enlarged plot of land, and confirming that reward with a solemn oath.

A second story element often cited as evidence of an unmerited covenant is the unilateral confirmation ritual described in the latter half of chapter 15. This, it is urged, implies that Abraham’s preceding faithfulness played no part.  But this goes beyond the text.  Undoubtedly, God is binding himself without imposing future obligations on Abraham.  But this falls short of asserting that Abraham’s past had no bearing.  Unilateral and unmerited have distinctly different implications.  Jamieson, Fausset and Brown succinctly give the ritual its proper historical significance, “The patriarch did not pass between the sacrifice and the reason was that in this transaction he was bound to nothing.  He asked a sign, and God was pleased to give him a sign, by which, according to Eastern ideas, He bound Himself.” [25]  This ritual answers Abraham’s question in verse 8 by proclaiming the certainty of the promise.   The basis for the promise is not at issue. [26]

A final feature of the narrative sometimes used to infer that the covenant was independent of Abraham’s fealty is his slumber (v. 12) – which is taken to imply passivity.  However, we are not told the significance of Abraham’s sleep, or even that he was still asleep when the smoke and fire passed through the animal parts.  Several evangelical commentators view Abraham’s deep slumber as a vision-sleep, preparing him for the prophecy of vv. 13-16.[27]  It should also be observed that, for the ritual to serve its purpose of affirming the promise, Abraham must have witnessed in some way God’s walk through the animals.

It is not my intent here to exhaust every mainstream possibility in interpreting the details of the story line.  Rather, it is simply to note that reasoned inferences may be drawn from these details which comfortably harmonize with the rest of Genesis (12:1-3, 17:1-2, 22:15-18, 26:2-5).

4.) The Levites on Genesis 15.

Perhaps it is best to close this examination of Genesis 15 by letting scripture interpret itself.  In Nehemiah, the Levites, in what is almost certainly a reference to the sub-covenant of Gen 15:9ff, recount God’s greatness toward Abraham:

You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before You, and made a covenant with him to give him the land of the Canaanite, of the Hittite and the Amorite, of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite … (New American Standard Bible, 1995 update)  (Neh 9:7, 8)

The ethnic lands here are an abbreviated list of those in Genesis 15 – a list which does not appear in any of the other covenant passages. 

The NASB rendering above makes reasonably plain, but not unassailable, the link between Abraham’s faithfulness and the covenant.  Much recent scholarship supports the more forceful reading of the New Living Translation: [28]

You are the Lord who chose Abraham and brought him from the Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham. When he had proved himself faithful, you made a covenant with him to give him and his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites. (Neh 9:7, 8)

The obvious significance of this passage is that the Levites are on record here asserting that “God marked and rewarded [Abraham’s] fidelity” by means of the land covenant of Genesis 15 (The Pulpit Commentary on Nehemiah).[29]

C. Closing thoughts on the Genesis passages.

It has been constructive in this analysis of the Genesis covenant to examine the individual sub-covenants, particularly the Palestinian covenant of chapter 15, separately.  But most scholars take the Abrahamic covenant to be a deliberately designed whole, with the individual pieces carefully integrated.  If this is so, there seems little alternative to accepting it, in total, as responsive to Abraham’s loyalty.

The New Testament and the Abrahamic Covenant

It is in examining the New Testament that strong objections to a reward-based understanding of the Abrahamic covenant are sometimes raised.  This is because the covenant is often heralded as a type, or analogy, of the believer’s imputed righteousness –and Pauline statements are ordinarily cited as the basis.   No doubt, the New Testament and Paul have many wonderful things to say about imputed righteousness, including that it is unmerited.  But if the covenant is a type of unmerited salvation, how is the conflict with Gen 12:1-3, 17:1-2, 22:15-18 and 26:3-5 to be resolved?  And how is conflict to be avoided among the internal witnesses within the New Testament itself?

There are five direct references to the Abrahamic covenant in the New Testament – Acts 3:25, Acts 7:2-8, Rom 4:13-16, Gal 3:7-29, and Heb 6:10-15.  The Acts passages are addressed to Israelites and remind them of specific covenant promises as they relate to Israel.  Neither Luke, nor any commentator on his work (so far as I know), suggest that there is a typology of any kind to be found in these passages. The final New Testament passage touching the covenant, Heb 6:10-15, not only carries no type of salvation, but seems plainly to support a reward-based covenant – but we shall come to it in due time.   Let us turn now to the two passages in which Paul cites the Abrahamic covenant in discourses on justification by faith, Romans 4 and Galatians 3.

A. Romans 4:13.

Rom 4:13 is the sole New Testament passage from which an analogy to salvation, or an unmerited covenant, may potentially be adduced:

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Rom 4:13)

For many, this verse seems to repudiate the declarations in Genesis (12:1-3, 17:1-2, 22:16, 22:18, 26:3-5) that the covenant was conditional. [30]  The verse is taken to mean that Abraham received the covenant promises because of his faith (and so the NIV translates). [31]  But a glance at the Greek makes this understanding far from conclusive.[32]  The chief difficulty presented by the text is the absence of a main verb (a common occurrence in Greek, requiring translators to supply a verb to make sense in English).  This critical grammatical detail has led some translators to take an approach very different from the NIV.  Notably, the academically acclaimed New English Translation renders the verse:

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. (Rom 4:13)

Baker Exegetical Commentary essentially follows suit, translating:

For the promise made to Abraham and to his descendants that he would be heir of the world becomes a reality not through the law but through the righteousness of faith. [33]

The pivotal issue for translators here is whether Paul is explaining why God issued the promise, or how He fulfilled the promise.  In other words, does Paul mean that God fulfilled the promise by making us Abraham’s heirs through faith, or that God issued the promise in response to Abraham’s faith?  It is impossible to tell from the Greek.  But any conclusion should be guided by the context. 

In considering the immediate context, it is essential to determine what Paul means by “inherit the world (kosmos).”  Since Abraham is never promised the physical earth, the vast majority of scholars understand “inheriting the kosmos” to refer to Abraham inheriting many nations or peoples (Gen 17:4, Rom 4:17-18).  Commentators feel this way for both grammatical and contextual reasons. [34] 

Grammatically, kosmos quite frequently refers to humankind (as distinct from Planet Earth).  The most well-known example is undoubtedly John 3:16, “For God so loved the world [kosmos] that he gave is only begotten Son …”   There are numerous other examples in the New Testament as well (including some in Romans) – e.g. 1 John 2:2, 3:1; 1 Cor 4:9, 6:2; 2 Cor 5:19; Rom 3:6, 19, 11:15, John 1:10.   With regard to our present verse, E. F. Harrison, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, writes:  “‘[W]orld,’ [kosmos] lacks the definite article, so that it is not likely to denote the physical world but the multitude of those who will follow Abraham in future generations in terms of faith.  These he can claim as his own.” [35] 

As regards context, commentators point out that Paul’s focus in this passage is Abraham’s global spiritual fatherhood – i.e. his fatherhood over all who believe.  In vv. 11 through 18 Paul refers to this universal fatherhood at least five times – six, if commentators are correct about the meaning of “inherit the kosmos” in our verse.

If Paul indeed intends kosmos here to refer to the world of believing men and women, then a translation centered on fulfillment surely fits the passage best.  If we supply “fulfill” as the missing main verb (consistent with the NET and Baker), then we may paraphrase v. 13 as follows: “For the promise that Abraham would inherit many nations was not fulfilled by people keeping the Law, but by means of their saving faith.”[36]  Paul is, in this verse, buttressing his assertion in vv.11-12 that Abraham is the “father of all who believe.” [37]  He makes his case by explaining that God could not have otherwise fulfilled His promise of a global offspring for Abraham.  Everyone’s Bible Commentary (Moody Bible Institute) puts it like this:  “[T]he only principle that will ensure the literal fulfillment of the promise to Abraham of being a father of ‘many’ nations … is faith.” [38]

In sum, it is grammatically permissible to conclude from Rom 4:13 that the Abrahamic covenant was bestowed solely on the basis of Abraham’s faith.  But the grammar supports, and the context seems to favor, a different conclusion: that God used our justification by faith to fulfill his promise to Abraham.  The broader context of the whole of scripture strongly favors this conclusion as well; for it is a conclusion consistent with scripture’s many declarations concerning the conditionality of the covenant: Gen 12:1-2, 17:1-2, 22:16, 22:18, 26:3-5; Neh 9:8; and (as will be seen shortly) Heb 6:10-15. Finally, to find an unmerited covenant in Rom 4:13 demands of the diligent scholar that he conform each of the aforementioned passages to his thesis.  In my analysis, it is a linguistically impossible task.

B. Galatians 3:7-29.

The next New Testament mention of the Abrahamic covenant is in Gal 3:7-29, where Paul is again discussing justification by faith.  However, unlike Rom 4:13, there is in this passage no real possibility of finding in Paul’s words an analogy between the Abrahamic covenant and our salvation.  (And, to my knowledge, no commentator suggests it.)  Instead, the irrevocable Abrahamic covenant is shown to be the guarantee of our salvation by faith:

Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. … (Gal 3:7)

For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Gal 3:18)

We are sons by faith, not by law, because God promised, without qualification, sons to Abraham.

Some may observe that, at first blush, v. 18a (“For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise.”) could be interpreted to support an unmerited covenant.  This proposal means taking the sentence to read “if the promise to Abraham was made because of his obedience to the law, then it is no longer a real promise.”  But the proposal is untenable (and, again, not suggested by commentators); it is simply untrue. [39]  Many promises, both human and divine, are made in response to someone’s obedience, e.g. Jos 14:9 (Moses promises Caleb a parcel of land forever “because he followed God fully”), Jer 35:18-19 (God promises the sons of Jonadab a ministry forever “because they obeyed their father”).  Instead, Paul is saying, “if people must keep the law in order for Abraham’s inheritance to become a reality, then that inheritance is no longer based solely on God’s solemn promise.”

C. Hebrews 6:10-15.

In the Hebrews 6 passage, there is again nothing which may be construed as an analogy between the Abrahamic covenant and imputed righteousness.  Indeed, Heb 6:10-15 seems to view the covenant as a covenant of reward, bestowed upon Abraham for his steadfastness:

For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.  And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "I will surely bless you and multiply you."  And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. (NRSV) (Heb 6:10-15) [40]

Although some modern translations do not cleanly capture the thought of perseverance which is inherent in the Greek word for ‘patience’/‘patiently endure’ in vv. 12 and 15 (makrothumia/makrothumeo), it is observed by every major lexical work.  Thayer, for example, identifies the primary use of makrothumeo as “to persevere patiently … in enduring misfortunes and troubles.” [41]

In Heb 6:10-15, the writer is encouraging his readers to persevere in Christian service.  He tells them that through “diligence,” “faith and patient endurance (makrothumia )” they will join those who “inherit.”  In short, he says, perseverance results in reward.  (See also Heb 10:35-36.)  He continues his exhortation by citing an example, Abraham’s inheritance.  Abraham is one of those who “through faith and makrothumia inherited a promise.”  The specific promise to which the author refers is the Genesis 22 sub-covenant (evident because he quotes from it).  He is especially impressed by the absolute certainty of the promised reward for Abraham; so certain was the coming blessing that God took an oath on His own name.

The writer’s implication is clear: an equally certain reward awaits the readers if they persevere.  As Matthew Henry puts it, “Those who patiently endure shall assuredly obtain the blessedness promised, as sure as Abraham did.”[42]  Contrary to being a type of salvation, the covenant appears, here, to be used as a prime illustration of certain reward for faithfulness to God – it is a use wholly consistent with Gen 12, 17, 22, and 26.

 The Ultimate Significance of the Abrahamic Covenant

A. Doctrine and the Abrahamic covenant.

The idea that the Abrahamic covenant was both unmerited and a type of salvation seems now deeply imbedded in evangelical culture.[43]  This is largely because many perceive that fundamental doctrines rest on it.  It is sometimes laid as a corner stone for strongly held convictions that:

1)      Salvation is by faith alone, [44]

2)      God chooses who will be saved.[45]

I am compelled here to express my deep conviction that at least the first of these propositions flows from a volume of scripture independent of Abraham’s covenant.  Indeed, Abraham’s own salvation stands outside the covenant.  As Ross points out, “The Abrahamic Covenant did not give Abram redemption; it was a covenant made with Abram who had already believed and to whom righteousness had already been imputed.”[46]

B. A review of the evidence.

It is wise to give traditional views thorough consideration, but they must not be dispositive.  We should stand ready to examine every foundation before we build on it – and so, any consideration of the covenant must be divorced from the doctrines believed to rest on it.

Let us test the traditional proposition (that the Abrahamic covenant was unmerited) by reviewing the biblical evidence.  Several Old Testament scriptures are virtually uncontested in their affirmation of a conditional covenant; these are Gen 12:1-2, 17:1-2, 22:15-18, 26:3-5, Neh 9:8.  Abraham’s merit is not only borne out by most English translations, but is firmly upheld by Hebrew scholars.  In the New Testament, Heb 6:10-15 evinces a conditional covenant, as well.

The idea that the covenant was unmerited rests squarely on a favorable reading of Rom 4:13 (and, less materially, on favorable narrative inferences from Gen 15:6-18).  But Rom 4:13 readily lends itself to a translation/interpretation easily compatible with the bulk of scripture on the matter (and, in my judgment, much more compatible with its own immediate context).  With regard to Genesis 15 – syntax, context and historical background have led some scholars, not only to reject that unconditionality is implied, but to assert that merit is implied.

The weight of scripture attests a merited covenant – which, in turn, means that it cannot be a type of unmerited salvation.  This is not to say that the covenant is unrelated to salvation.  Instead, it is the guarantee of salvation by grace.  To bless the whole world through Abraham (by making imputed righteousness available to all) and to give Abraham an eternal spiritual seed, God could use only grace – there was no other way.

C. Abraham’s covenant of destiny is a standard for all believers. 

The Abrahamic covenant was a covenant of destiny.  It did not give Abraham eternal life; it gave him a permanent and significant place in God’s plan.  Abraham’s eternal life, like that of all believers, came through faith.  But his reward, his role in history, came through faithfulness.  Like his eternal life, his reward reveals God’s pattern for all believers.  Historical significance is part of the reward of faithfulness.  This is clearly seen in the contrasting words spoken of David and Saul.  Of Saul it is written:

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom shall not endure … because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” (1 Sam 13:13-14)

Of David it is said:

 [In response to David’s desire to build a house for God,  2 Sam 7:2-3] “The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house [dynasty] for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you … and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”  (2 Sam 7:11-13)

But for David's sake the LORD his God gave [Abijah, David’s great grandson] a lamp in Jerusalem, to raise up his son after him and to establish Jerusalem; because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life… (1 Kgs 15:4,5)

The New Testament abundantly reiterates the principle of reward and destiny for faithfulness.  A few examples may be found in Luke 6:22-23, 19:17, 2 Tim 2:12, Rev 2:26.[47]

The privilege of spending eternity with God is a gift received by faith.  The privilege of playing a meaningful role in his unfolding of history (both now and after the resurrection) is the prize of faithfulness.  It is in Abraham’s life that God first declares these two profound principles side by side: Abraham is given Christ’s righteousness because of his faith; he is given a glorious legacy and destiny because of his faithfulness. By missing the important distinction between the gift and the prize we lose one of scripture’s most profound motives for commitment and service.  We need urgently to see the distinction again in the life of Abraham, in the succession of lives God engaged thereafter, and in our own lives.  One day our Lord Jesus Christ will require an account of our lives, and will reward us in light of his findings.  As Paul writes, “… we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed … ” (2 Cor 5:10).  To Paul’s words Jesus joins his own resounding voice, “Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me ...” (Rev 22:12).  We should daily live in the exhilarating grip of this sober reality.


Endnotes

[1] Philip Schaff, et al., transls,  Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Book 5, available: www.bible.ca /history/fathers/ANF-01/anf01-63.htm.

[2] Michael J. Vlach, What is Dispensationalism?, (TheologicalStudies.Org, 2003), available: www.theologicalstudies.org  /dispen.html

[3] Even the irrevocability of the Abrahamic promise(s) is apparently in doubt in some circles, but Paul seems to put the matter to rest with finality; see Renald E Showers, The Abrahamic Covenant, (Ankerberg Theological Research Institute), available:  http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/_PDFArchives/biblical-prophecy/BP1W1201.pdf.

[4] See for example, Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, 2nd Ed. (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1992), 41.  He writes, “ ‘And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely’ (Rev. 22:17), is clearly an unconditional offer.”  In the associated endnote he adds, “By ‘unconditional’ we mean, of course, that it is freely given.  Naturally one must ‘take’ the water … to have it.”  This is the nuance of unconditional which many attach to the Abrahamic covenant.

[5] The conditional strength of this covenant reaffirmation is discussed by Dr. Allen Ross: “The basic idea in 26:1-11 was that the descendants of the obedient servant Abraham would be blessed because of him … The obedience of one man brought blessings to his descendants.” Allen P. Ross,  ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, OT edition, (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1985), 71.

[6] David R. Anderson, “The National Repentance of Israel,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 11 (1998): 21.

[7] The NIV drops the ‘And’ at the beginning of verse 2, opening the possibility in English that the promises which follow the ‘And’ are unrelated to Abraham’s leaving.  However, the conditional connector is strongly emphasized by Hebrew scholars:

The New English Translation footnote to v. 1 reads, “The call of Abram begins with an imperative … followed by three cohortatives (v. 2a) indicating purpose or consequence ("that I may" or "then I will").  Biblical Studies Foundation, New English Translation Bible (NET Bible), (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2001), available: www.bible.org (also available in print).

Gordon Wenham writes “Grammatically, the main verbs … are all subordinate to the imperative ‘Go’ (v. 1).”  “The divine intentionality could also be expressed by translating these verses ‘Go … so that I may make you … bless you … etc.’” [Ellipsis his] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 330.

Victor Hamilton concurs: “The structure in … 12:1-2 [is] imperative(s) followed by imperfects (with waw consecutive), and the imperfects express intention.  God’s intention to bless Abraham and make him a great nation is predicated upon his obedience to the divine word to leave Ur.” Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans, 1987), 463.

[8] Again, NIV drops the ‘And,’ leaving room in English for the covenant to be unrelated to the “blameless walk.”  But here again the conditional connection is impossible to deny in the Hebrew:

The New English Translation footnote to verse 2 reads, “Following the imperative, the cohortative indicates consequence. If Abram is blameless, then the Lord will ratify the covenant.”

Wenham translates “Walk in my presence and be blameless, so that I may make my covenant between me and you …” [Emphases mine].  He writes in the technical notes, “Coh following an impv … expresses ‘an intention or intended consequence’ (GKC, 108d ...)” Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 16-50, (Waco, TX: Word, 1994) 14, 15.

Hamilton translates “[W]alk in front of me and be blameless, so that I may establish my covenant between me and you…” [Emphasis mine].  His comments on the syntax are very similar to Wenham’s.  Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 458, 461-463.

It is uncertain when this part of the covenant was actually ratified.  It is likely that Abraham’s obedience in the matter of circumcision, which comes immediately after this covenant offer, fulfilled the condition.   “Walk before me and be blameless” can be understood to mean, “Devote yourself to me and you will be complete.”  (See citations in this note.)  Abraham’s circumcision was probably the sign of devotion which completed him in God’s eyes.  See Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 463 on the meaning of “walk before me.” See Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon Abridged, Hermeneutika 3.5 (Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika, 1996) on the meaning of  “blameless.”  See John Sailhamer, “Genesis,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992) 138 on the conjugation of “blameless” in this passage.

[9] Matthew Henry was impressed by the strength of the conditional language in this passage.  He writes, “God is pleased to make mention of Abraham’s obedience as the consideration of the covenant; and he speaks of it with an encomium: Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, v. 16. He lays a strong emphasis on this, and (v. 18) praises it as an act of obedience: in it thou hast obeyed my voice, and to obey is better than sacrifice. Not that this was a proportionable consideration, but God graciously put this honour upon that by which Abraham had honoured him.” [Emphasis his]  Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (1706), The Bible Collection Deluxe (Waconia, MN: ValuSoft, 2002)

[10] The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. W. A. Elwell, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996) 127, suggests “covenant(s).”  

[11] Biblical Studies Foundation, New English Translation Bible, available: www.bible.org

[12] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, 327.

[13] Biblical Studies Foundation, New English Translation Bible, available: www.bible.org

[14] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible.

[15] Parallelism with ancient political arrangements is a common feature of God’s dealings with humankind in the Old Testament.  For example, the Mosaic covenant is widely recognized as a particular form of sovereign-subject relationship (distinct from the royal land grants) known in literature as a suzerainty-vassal treaty. M. Weinfeld, “The Covenants With Abraham and David; the Royal Grant,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck & Helmer Ringren (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans, ), 270. Weinfeld distinguishes the royal land grant and the suzerainty-vassal treaty as follows: “[T]here is a vast difference between the two types of documents. While the treaty constitutes an obligation of the vassal to his master, the suzerain, the grant constitutes an obligation of the master to his servant.  What is more, while the grant is a reward for loyalty and good deeds already performed, the treaty is an inducement for future loyalty.”   M. Weinfeld, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 90 (1970): 184.

[16] M. Weinfeld, “The Covenants With Abraham and David; the Royal Grant,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 270-271.

[17] David R. Anderson, “The National Repentance of Israel,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 11:21.  He cites L. W. King, Babylonian Boundary-Stones and Memorial-Tablets in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1912).

[18] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 132.  Gen 29:3 provides an excellent example of this structure as editorial information.  The declension of aman in 15:6 is waw (consec) + hiphil perfect (= qatal).

[19] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 55.

[20] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, 324, 329. Wenham also comments that, “It is unusual for single events in past time to use [perfect] + waw …”

[21] Also supporting the conclusion that Abraham’s redemptive faith preceded Gen 12 is Anderson’s examination of the royal land grants.  He points out that, “[A] suzerain-vassal relationship was the basis for a grant.  In other words, kings did not give grants to strangers, that is, someone with whom there was no covenant relationship.  The relationship preceded the reward.” In the case at hand this means Abraham would have already had a (redemptive) relationship with his Sovereign before the first grant of land in Gen 12:1.  David R. Anderson, “The National Repentance of Israel,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 11:21. 

[22] Based on Ishmael’s age in Gen 17:25.  Ishmael was yet unborn in Gen 15.

[23] Paul apparently infers from the narrative that Abraham’s lapse of faith in Gen 17:17 was quickly overcome, as God gave him a name for the child and Abraham responded in the obedience of circumcision.

[24] Adding to the spiritual significance of the passage is the promise of “seed as the stars of heaven.”  Many understand this “heavenly offspring” to refer to regenerate men and women – e.g. Scofield, Henry, Wesley. If they are correct, Abraham is seen as one who has placed His faith in a God with the power of spiritual life.   The New Scofield Study Bible, Genesis 15,  “Abrahamic Covenant confirmed: a spiritual seed promised,” (1988), 28;  Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible;  John Wesley, Wesley’s Explanatory Notes (1765), The Bible Collection Deluxe (Waconia, MN: ValuSoft, 2002).

[25] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871), The Bible Collection Deluxe (Waconia, MN: ValuSoft, 2002).  The ritual makes no comment on what brought the parties to this point.  Hamilton provides the following fascinating historical background:  “[A] frequently cited text ... is a seventeenth-century B.C. treaty from Alalakh between Yarimlim and Abban.  Abban has just given the city of Alalakh to Yarimlim, the vassal ruler, and to cement the transaction the text says: ‘Abban placed himself under oath to Yarimlim and had cut the neck of a sheep (saying): (Let me so die) if I take back that which I gave thee!’ Not only does this text provide an illustration of an animal slaughter as a dramatized curse, but it provides the further analogy with Gen. 15 in that it is the superior party who places himself under sanctions.”  (Hamilton himself expresses some skepticism that the ritual is a dramatized curse.)  Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, 430, 431.

[26] It is worth noting that, although the covenant-binding view of the ritual is taken by most modern scholars, at least one prominent evangelical commentator, Gordon Wenham, is skeptical.  Wenham sees the ritual instead as a prophesy of Israel’s future.  He feels the animals (all sacrificial) represent Israel, and God passing through them foretells His presence among His covenant people.  Under such a view, God’s presence, without Abraham, means simply that God will protect His people long after Abraham’s passing (portrayed by his falling asleep).  God’s reasons for making the promise are utterly outside the scope of the ritual.  Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, 332-333.  Hamilton and Sailhamer both cite Wenham’s prophetic view as a reasonable possibility. See also also Keil and Delitzch, and Matthew Henry for views with similar prophetic elements.  Victor P. Hamilton (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17,  433-434) ; John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 130-131); Keil, C.F. and Delitzch, F, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, (1949); Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.

[27] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 434; note especially footnote 28;  Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, 331-332; Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible.  A vision or dream is perhaps the most common use of God-appointed sleep.

[28] H. G. M. Williamson, Word Biblical Commentary, Ezra-Nehemiah (Waco, TX: Word, 1985), as well as the New English Translation (2001) and F. Charles Fensham, New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Ezra, Nehemiah ((Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans, 1982), follow the New Living Translation in beginning verse 8, “When” (“When you found his heart faithful …,” etc).  The Jewish Publication Society translation (1988 update) reads “Finding his heart true to You, You made a covenant …, ”  Some older work also supports the stronger reading; Young’s Literal Translation (1898) reads, “[Thou] didst find his heart steadfast before Thee, so as to make with him the covenant …”

[29] G. Rawlison, The Pulpit Commentary, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ester and Job, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1985), 98.

[30] Included are modern rabbis who seek to discredit the New Testament.  See for example The Karaite Korner, The Light of Israel: www.karaite-korner.org/light-of-israel/new_testament_was_wrong.shtml.

[31] The NIV “received” is clearly an interpretive translation choice.  There is no verb in the Greek text.

[32] The syntax and vocabulary of the verse present several translation difficulties:

1)       There is no central verb.

2)       There is an awkward “or” in the phrase “the promise to Abraham or his descendents.”

3)       Epangelia may mean either ‘the promise’ or ‘the thing promised.’

4)       Kosmos has a wide range of meaning and may refer to the physical universe, the earth, humankind or some portion of humankind (UBS, Thayer’s, Friberg, Louw-Nida).

 

[33] Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Romans, (Grand Rapids: Baker,1998), 223.

[34] See E. F. Harrison, “Romans,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 51; F.F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Romans, 2nd edition (Conrad, MT: Send the Light, 1985), 111; John A. Witmer, ed. Walvoord, Zuck, “Romans,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1983), 454; L. C. Allen, ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Bible Commentary, Romans, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1979) 1324; Douglas J. Moo, NIV Application Commentary, Romans, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000); Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (1871); and Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Romans, 227, 228.

[35] E. F. Harrison, “Romans,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 51.

[36] For something closer to a translation, I prefer the following, which handles the Greek hey (or) naturally, and recognizes that the ‘inheritor’ (kleronomos) is singular.  The translation employs dynamic equivalence for cosmos: “It was not through men keeping the law that the promise of world-wide descendants was fulfilled for Abraham or for the descendants, but though the righteousness which the descendents obtained by faith.”  This translation was developed in consultation with Dr. Ernest Lee, professor of Translation Principles and Linguistics, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Dr. Bruce Turnbull, professor of Greek, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, Wycliffe Bible Translators.

[37] The gar (for) at the beginning of the verse clearly connects it to vv. 11-12 as explanatory material.  In English we are often inclined to ignore a ‘for,’ but the Greek gar carries explicit connective force.   Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Romans, 227.

[38] Alan F. Johnson, Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Romans, (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute Press, 1974), 85.  Schreiner concurs:  “Paul saw the promise fulfilled as Jews and Gentiles put their faith in Jesus the Messiah.” Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Romans, 227, 228.

[39] This proposal also gravely ignores the context.  It assumes that the “law” in the phrase, “if the inheritance is based on law,” is a moral code to which Abraham was bound.  But verse 17 unequivocally defines the “law” as the Law of Moses, which came long after Abraham’s death.  And so it is taken by commentators: The Geneva Study Bible (1560), The Bible Collection Deluxe (Waconia, MN: ValuSoft, 2002); John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (1887), The Bible Collection Deluxe (Waconia, MN: ValuSoft, 2002); Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.

[40] “And so” (versus “And thus”) is used by several translations, but is potentially misleading.  In English,“so” tends to imply result – making the verse read: “And as a result (as the outcome of the solemn oath) … he received the [things] promised.”  But outo nearly always expresses manner (as a survey of its 206 New Testament occurrences shows).  It should be read: “So in this way (by means of a solemn oath) … he received the promise.”

[41] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2000), 387.  Other works define makrothumia/meo as: “endurance, steadfastness,” (specifically citing this passage), Friberg and Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon, Hermeneutika 3.5 (Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika, 1996); “a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation,” Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon. Hermeneutika 3.5 (Big Fork, MT: Hermeneutika, 1996)

[42] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible.

[43] Although some evangelical scholars clearly hold otherwise.  In addition to those already cited in the earlier discussion of the Genesis passages, see G. H. Lang, Israel’s National Future, (Miami Springs, FL: Scheottle, 1988), 9-13; and Arthur Pink, Divine Covenants, The Abrahamic Covenant (Baptist Trumpeter, 2003)

available: http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Divine_Covenants/divine_covenants_04.htm

[44] See for example, H. A. Ironside, Romans: Ironside Commentaries, (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1998), 54.  “The promise that [Abraham] should be heir of the world … was not a reward of merit, something he had earned by obedience ([4:]13).  It was on the ground of sovereign grace.  Hence, his righteousness, like ours if we believe, is a ‘by faith righteousness.’ ” 

[45] See for example, Ralph Bouma, Sermons on Genesis,  #374 Gen 21:1-14 Symbols of Election and Regeneration, (Conrad, MT: Gospel Chapel Ministries)

available: http//www.gospelchapel.com/Sermons/Genesis/374.htm
“Abraham is the symbol to the church of God’s electing love. … There was nothing in Abraham that was the source of God’s choosing. … If we are spiritually drawn out of the power of darkness and brought into the gospel light, it is the election of God. We see the symbol of this election in the account of Abraham. … ‘[God] called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." [quoting Isa 51:2 in KJV]  Do you see God’s sovereignty and His electing love? God, alone, called Abraham; it had nothing to do with what Abraham did.  … God, in His free, electing love, chose Abraham, and he now is the symbol of the election of God.”

(Note that his argument is from Isa 51 is dependent on the KJV.)

[46] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 55.

[47] For an exhaustive treatment of historical prominence as a reward for faithfulness in the New Testament, see Joseph Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, (Miami Springs, FL: Scheottle, 1993).

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