Sunday, December 16, 2012

Do You Belong to Abraham's Household?

The Hebrew word for house or household can have different connotations.  The "House of David" for example refers not to a literal house per se but rather an enduring legacy or dynasty.  It also carries some covenantal overtones.  For example, Acts 16:31 talks about how if someone believes in Yeshua then he will be saved and his entire household.

I'd like to talk about the meaning of "household" as it used in the story of Abraham.  G-d commanded Abraham to circumcise even "those who are not your offspring", the servants of Abraham's household. For example, Genesis 14:14 talks about Abraham's army composed of trained servants who were born in Abraham's household.  These guys weren't literally born in Abraham's house.  They weren't even related to Abraham by blood.  They were probably the sons of servants that Abraham had purchased and they were trained to be warriors.

There is an ancient Semitic tradition for making someone a servant for life.  The master would pierce the ear of the servant which was a metaphor for opening his ears to the master's instructions.  Also, blood was a symbol of family/kinship.  Abraham most likely performed a similar tradition with his servants.  He considered them family.  And the covenant (Gen. 17) required him to circumcise these servants.

So how about Gentiles?  Do Gentiles belong to this covenantal family of Abraham?

Galatians 3:5-9
So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

So do the Gentiles join by faith or through circumcision?

Romans 4:9-12
...We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

So Abraham is the father of the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised.  What does it mean that Abraham is the father of the Gentiles?  It means that his children are automatically in covenant with him.  The Abrahamic covenant applies so that those born into Abraham's household must be circumcised. 

Or am I wrong?  Let's discuss!  : )


  1. I follow the same reasoning. If you are a son of Abraham whether natural or adoption then circumcision applies. I believe in keeping the commands as a adopted son, through faith in the Messiah, upholding the covenant and the sign(circumcision). To not, is to assimilate back into the heathen world where many once were.

    1. You bring up an excellent point. Circumcision means that you've committed to transmitting the faith of Abraham to your offspring. It's directly connected to procreation.

      One thing that's interesting though is that Peter immersed Cornelius but didn't circumcise him. it's interesting because at that time the proper sequence was to have the convert circumcised first and then have him immersed afterward. And it's almost as if Peter understood that he had to accept this Gentile (Cornelius) as he was--in his state of uncircumcision. However, this emphasis on accepting Gentiles in their state of uncircumcision seems to create a tension with the imperative to abide by the rules of the Abrahamic household. Perhaps first century Jews were more comfortable with such tension?

  2. Just like Abraham was in covenant with God before circumcised, so also these gentiles can do the same.