What is the gospel according to Abraham? Using passages in Genesis and Romans, Dr. Nicholas Reid explains how we see justification by faith in the Old Testament account of God’s covenant with Abraham.
If you were growing up around church, you probably came across the song “Father Abraham Had Many Sons and Many Sons Had Father Abraham.” That’s reflective of the biblical truth that Abraham is the father of all who believe. And if he’s the father of all who believe, apart from works, as Paul says in Romans 4, then it’s a good question to ask: what did Abraham believe? Or we could ask it a little bit differently: what is the gospel according to Abraham?
The Abrahamic Covenant
When we think about studying the life of Abraham and the gospel according to Abraham the most essential thing to grasp is that Genesis 17 is after Genesis 15. Paul makes a really big deal about this in Romans 4. In Genesis 12, God said to Abraham that he was going to bless Abraham (or Abram at this time) and that he was going to make him into a blessing. He was going to be the object of God’s blessing, and he was also going to be the instrument of God’s blessing.
Abram is the father of all who believe, whether circumcised or uncircumcised.When we get to Genesis 15, the focus there is on how God will be blessing Abraham, how Abraham will be blessed by God. It begins with talking about the seed. At this time, Abram is childless. His wife, Sarah, is barren, and God promises to him that he will have a seed as numerous or descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens. It says in Genesis 15:6 that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” As that passage continues it talks about the land. The blessings that are isolated in chapter 15 are that God will bless Abram with both a seed and with a land.
Circumcision and Justification by Faith
Now it’s only when we get to Genesis 17 that we get the rite of circumcision. This is when he receives a covenant sign or a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith. That’s based on the language that Paul uses in Romans 4:11. So what’s going on there is that Paul makes a big point about how Genesis 15 precedes Genesis 17. Of course, he doesn’t use that terminology, but that’s precisely what he’s talking about. In Romans 4 he says that justification by faith, apart from works, is in that section of Scripture. In Genesis 15:6, he believes God and it is credited to him as righteousness. It’s only after that that he receives the sign of circumcision.
Paul says that this is really, really important for understanding the gospel. He says if 17 was before 15, then Abram would have a work and he would only be the father of those who had been circumcised. But because 15 (justification by faith apart from works) precedes Genesis 17, Paul says that Abram is the father of all who believe, whether circumcised or uncircumcised. Already we see in the early chapters of Genesis, Genesis 15, Genesis 17, the relationship of the gospel and the teaching of justification by faith.