Testament of Isaac

Originally written in Greek, this testament is only know in translation. The book is dependent on the Testament of Abraham and therefore must be dated after the first century. While Stinespring dates the book to the second century A.D., he also notes the popularity of the book among Coptic Christians and speculates the book may have had an origin in the Coptic Christian church, requiring a much later date. In the end he settles for an original form in Greek, written by an Egyptian Jew which has been Christianized at a much later date (OTP 1:903-904). If the book can be dated to the second century, then it would contain a very early Trinitarian statements such as the opening verse (Father, Son and Holy Spirit in apposition with “One God”).

Image result for Isaac Bible BanquetAfter a two-verse introduction we read that Isaac has called his family together in testament-like fashion. He tells his family the one who has a pure heart and faith in God will be an inheritor of the kingdom of God. God is compassionate and has received thieves and tax-collectors to himself (the thief on the cross and Matthew, Zacchaeus, presumably.) This is an example of the obvious “christianizing” of the text.

Just as in the Testament of Abraham, chapter 2 begins with Michael the archangel dispatched from heaven to visit Isaac before he dies. Isaac thinks the angel is his father Abraham, but eventually he figures out this is an angel. Isaac is concerned for his son Jacob since this appears to be after Jacob has offended him. The angel responds that Jacob will be protected by the Supreme God as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit (a rather Trinitarian thing for a Jew to say!) He does not want Jacob to hear the news he is about to die.

Jacob comes to his father and is ignorant of his impending death (ch. 3). Jacob wants to go with his father, but Isaac explains he is about to die and cannot change the decree. In verses 17-19 there is an odd bit of prophecy of twelve giants, then Jesus the Messiah will come from a virgin named Mary. God will be incarnate in him until the completion of a hundred years. This is a very odd text indeed since we cannot really know what we are to make of the “giants.” If these are “kings,” then we would have a typical run of Roman emperors, but there were clearly not twelve prior to the incarnation. Nor is there a convenient run of twelve kings among the Herodians, Hasmoneans, or earlier kings. That God will be incarnate is obviously Christian, but the period of a hundred years cannot be a reference to the life of Jesus unless the author was ignorant of the facts of Jesus’ life.

When people begin to gather when they hear a man of God has visited, Jacob asks Isaac to begin a discourse to comfort him (ch. 4). The rest of this lengthy chapter is a moral exhortation which in some ways is Jewish (“do not present an offering when you are not ritually clean”) yet in other ways distinctly Christian (“guard your body, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” similar to 1 Cor. 6). This blending may be the result of an incomplete “Christianizing” of a Jewish document.

While crowds are impressed with Isaac’s speech, an angel comes and takes him up into heaven. Isaac has a short “heavenly journey” including a river of fire and the “overseer of punishment” of Hell. This journey section continues as Isaac ascends into heaven to see Abraham. Isaac is brought before the throne of God and he worships along with Abraham. The Lord commands Isaac to not profane the body since it is in the image of God. The Lord takes Isaac’s soul from his body, which is snow white, and he places it on his holy chariot and they ascend into the heavens.

According to chapter 8, the day this happened was the twenty-eighth day of Misri, a day the writer still commemorates. The one that keeps this day will be blessed and will be present at the millennial banquet. This is clearly a Christian gloss, since the writer describes the kingdom as the kingdom of “our God and our King and our Savior, Jesus the Messiah.”

Testament of Isaac 8.6 Whatever person has manifested mercy in the name of my beloved Isaac, behold I will give him to you in the kingdom of heaven and he shall be present with them at the first moment of the millennial banquet to celebrate with them in the everlasting light in the kingdom of our Master and our God and our King and our Savior, Jesus the Messiah.

Abraham’s Heavenly Journey – Testament of Abraham 10- 14

Many apocalyptic texts include a heaven journey. For example, in the Book of the Watchers Enoch passes through the heavens and sees various locations. He sees the “high places” and storehouses of the earth where the rains and snows are kept. In Chapter 18 he sees the storehouse of the wind, the cornerstone of the earth, and the pillars of heaven. He also sees a “dark pit” with heavenly fire, described as a “desolate and terrible place.” Second Enoch also has a heavenly journey in which he sees the orderliness of the universe.

Image result for Abraham Bible visionIn chapter 10 Abraham’s “heavenly tour” begins. He sees various things happening all over the world, including many sinners (robbers, immorality, etc.) He asks the Lord to open the earth and swallow them up, which it does. This sort of thing reoccurs several times. We are told Abraham has never sinned, therefore he has no mercy on sinners. Michael then takes Abraham to a place where he can see two ways, a narrow way and a broad and spacious way (ch. 11). There are two gates here, one leading to the broad way, which is destruction and the other to the narrow way, which leads to life. This motif of “two ways” is common in the testament literature.

Abraham sees two terrible angels appear and drive people with fiery lashes who have entered through the broad gate. Within the broad gate Abraham sees a terrifying throne and the books open for judgment (cf. Rev 20). Abraham asks who the judge and angels are. The one seated on the throne is the “Son of Adam” – Abel, the first formed. This is an interesting use of a phrase which might be taken as “son of man” which does not refer to a messianic figure in quite the same way as 2 Baruch. At the time of the Parousia every person will be judged by the twelve tribes of Israel and will receive a judgment which cannot be changed. This eschatological outline is familiar from other apocalyptic in the pseudepigrapha, but also from the New Testament.  On either side is an angel who records either good or bad deeds.

An archangel, Purouel, holds a balance in his hand to test the works of those being judged. This angel, we are told, is in charge of the fire by which he tests the works of men. C. W. Fishburne has argued that Paul was aware of T.Abraham in his description of judgment in 1 Corinthians. The verbal parallels noted by Fishburne are fairly general and may be a reflection of a similar topic rather than Paul’s knowledge (and use) of T. Abraham.

Abraham asks about the soul in the hand of the angel in the middle of the scene (ch. 14). It is lacking one righteous deed more than its sin in order to be saved. Abraham prays for the soul, and it is saved as a result. Perhaps this added to the popularity of the Testament of Abraham in the medieval period since it implies the prayers of the righteous are effective for the dead.


Zambia Trip Update: The Conference Begins


I have posted a few updates to the Zambia 2017 blog.  The conference started this morning, I taught three sessions on the first chapter of Ephesians, and there were a total of twelve parallel sessions on various theological and pastoral topics.

The Zambian pastors and leaders were very engaged and asked many questions, sparking quite vigorous conversations. I was amazed to have deep theological questions on election and predestination, including limited atonement and double predestination as well a a long discussion of eternal security. I appreciated the thoughtfulness of these pastors as well as their insights on how to communicate the important theological themes of Ephesians in an African context.