Some Thoughts on the Calling of Abraham’s Family

I’m reading ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth’ by J. Richard Middleton, and therein he makes the Wright-esque claim that Abraham’s family was called to ‘set things to rights’ or some variant on that theme – to paraphrase Middleton, it is through Abraham’s family that the nations will be blessed or find blessing. While there is indeed a sense in which this is true, I do not think that it is true in the sense that Middleton wants it to be, namely that such blessings and calling relate to salvation.

As I read the verses which Middleton cites in defense of this thesis (Gen. 12:1-3, 18:17-18, 22:17-18, 26:4-5, 28:14) I’m struck by a couple of things, the first of which is this: the promises to Abraham from God are all that those in his seed or in him (in Abraham) will be blessed. I see this, off the top of my head, as pointing to or anticipating when Jews and Gentiles will be part of the one family of Abraham and not a declaration that Abraham’s family is the agent by which redemptive blessings flow.

Secondly, I really see very little evidence that Abraham’s family was called to set to rights the problem of Adam’s sin or undo Adam’s sin. I honestly think one has to strain fairly hard to really get that from the Genesis texts – the overwhelming sense I get is that Abraham’s family is called to be a witness/light to the nations, not the bearers of salvation. Salvation will come through Israel, not from Israel. In a word, Abraham’s family is not called to be the agent of salvation but a light  to the nations and a witness to the One God – neither of which is the same as being the world’s saviour.

There is, it seems to me, an eschatalogical element here in that, as noted above, the promises of God to Abraham look ahead to when in the fullness of time both Jew and Gentile will be brought into the one family of God. These are cursory sketches and stand in need of development but the basic gist should be clear: the thesis that Israel is the means by which the world is set to rights at the very least can be challenged on the grounds of textual evidence

For a more developed critique along these lines, see this helpful summary of Hurtado and Witherington’s thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Calling of Abraham’s Family

  1. jamesbradfordpate March 28, 2015 / 12:06 am

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
    Reblogging for future reference.


  2. jamesbradfordpate March 28, 2015 / 10:17 am

    Hi Whitefrozen! I want to share with you something I wrote a while back on this topic. I had just listened to Christine Hayes’ Yale lecture series on the Hebrew Bible, and that got me thinking about the significance of Abraham in the Hebrew Bible. What I say may be simplistic in areas, but I think what I was trying to say was valid. I’ll just quote the relevant part from my post:

    “There was something in particular that Christine Hayes said that stood out to me, though. In one lecture, she said that, in Genesis, God gets tired of dealing with all of humanity and decides to work with one group, Israel. That happens when God chooses Abraham. That stood out to me because I had just read T. Desmond Alexander’s From Paradise to the Promised Land, which is an evangelical work about the Pentateuch, and Alexander stresses that God intended to bless the nations through Abraham’s seed, the Messiah. Christians emphasize the part of God’s promise to Abraham that said that Abraham’s seed would bring blessings to the nations because that coincides with aspects of their belief system—-that God loves the Gentiles, too. I have wondered, though, if they place more emphasis on this theme of Abraham blessing the nations than Genesis or the Hebrew Bible itself does, and if they are actually interpreting that theme differently from how it was originally intended to be understood. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, there is a salient theme of God blessing the nations, but God also has a close, special relationship with Israel. I think that one can legitimately question whether God in the Hebrew Bible chooses Israel as a means to the end—-to restore creation, or to bring the nations to God—-even though that is part of the plan.”

    Thanks for the link to the Hurtado and Witherington thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • whitefrozen March 28, 2015 / 1:55 pm

      Thanks for the comment! Your last sentence seems right on to me – obviously there is a global element of blessing that will come through Abraham, but as far as I can see, Israels vocation was not be the worlds saviour but to witness to the saving actions of God. On a more theological level, schemes like Wrights really seem to decentralize Jesus in salvation, since in principle, salvation could have been (and was indeed supposed to be) accomplished by someone else, namely Israel. Wright is quick to critique what he takes to be a Plan B scheme – since the law didn’t work out, God sends Jesus – but he seems to be doing rather the same thing – since Israel didn’t work out, God sends Jesus. There’s some legitimate christological issues there. But yes, I think Israel’s status as the agent of salvation can be and should be questioned!

      Liked by 1 person

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