Galatians 3: Why Abraham?

[Sorry for the delay in posting this week’s notes.  Just a bit busy early this week.  In other blog news, the last post was post #200, a milestone I did not think I would reach when I started.  As usual, the audio for this week’s evening service is available at, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

Paul uses Abraham as an example in both Romans and Galatians.  Why select Abraham as his model of Faith?  It is possible that the agitators have been using Abraham in their teaching.  But the experience of the Galatian believers is not unlike that of Abraham, who believed and “it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gal 3:7-9).   Paul is creating a biblical argument, focusing on the phrase “credited as righteousness” in Genesis 15.  In this story, Abraham believed in the word of God as revealed to him and God considered him “right with God” as a result.

At this point, Abraham must be considered a Gentile, by the rules imposed by the Agitators in the Galatian churches.  He was uncircumcised and Food and Sabbath laws have not been given yet.  Since he believes in the God who called him out of his father’s land, he a “converted pagan,” just like the Galatian believers.

This is in contrast to other views of Abraham in Judaism of the Second Temple Period. For example, Sirach 44:19-21, Jub. 23.10 and CD 3.2 all make the promise contingent on his obedience to God’s command, specifically circumcision.

Sirach 44:19–21 Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory. 20 He kept the law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him; he certified the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he proved faithful. 21 Therefore the Lord assured him with an oath that the nations would be blessed through his offspring; that he would make him as numerous as the dust of the earth, and exalt his offspring like the stars, and give them an inheritance from sea to sea and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth. (NRSV)

Jubilees 23:10 For Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life; and behold, he did not complete four jubilees in his life, when he had grown old by reason of the wickedness, and was full of his days.

CD 3:2-3a Abraham did not walk in it, and was counted as a friend for keeping God’s precepts and not following  the desire of his spirit.

The Apocalypse of Abraham makes Abraham out to be the perfect proto-Jew. The first seven chapters of the book are a narrative of Abraham’s realization the gods his father Terah crafts are nothing but wood and stone. His father asks him to sell five idols of Marumath, but Abraham loses three in the river.  Later, while cooking his father’s dinner he sarcastically asks the god Barisat to watch over the cooking fire while he went to ask his father what he should cook.  When he returns, the fire was still going an the god was burning himself. Abraham and Terah argue over this; Abraham says the god is nothing and says the gods are only honored because Terah made them well.  Abraham is pondering the gods when a voice from heaven calls to him and says he is the God of gods and commands him to leave the house of Terah (chapter 8).

Paul does not rewrite scripture, as much of the literature of the Second Temple Period did.  He reads Abraham as a Gentile who was made right with God by faith in what God told him, not by works (either circumcision or the Law).  Abraham is therefore the perfect model for Paul to use since he was justified before the Law:  he was justified by faith not by the act of circumcision.

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