Saturday, September 20, 2014

Where Does Paul Get the Idea That Abraham Will Inherit the World? (Rom. 4:13)

"For not through law is the promise to Abraham, or to his seed, of his being heir of the world [kleronomon auton einai kosmou], but through the righteousness of faith," (Romans 4:13)

Where does Paul get this idea that Abraham would inherit the world?  Doesn't Scripture merely say that Abraham's descendants will inherit simply the Land of Israel?  

Actually, Scripture says quite a bit more than that.

First, note that in Genesis 28:4 Abraham's blessing goes to Jacob/Israel.  And then in Gen. 28:14 we see a hint that the borders of Israel will encompass the four quarters of the world:

"...and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring."

This is also how Philo interpreted this passage:

"And this, in accordance with the Divine promises, is broadening out to the very bounds of the universe, and renders its possessor inheritor of the four quarters of the world, reaching to them all, to East, and West, and South, and North; for it is said, 'It shall spread abroad to the West and to the South and to the North and to the East."

Isaiah also speaks of Abraham's offspring inheriting the nations:

"(1) Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth, and shout, you who are not in labor!  Because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her that has a husband, for the Lord has spoken.  (2) Enlarge the site of your tent, and the coverings of your curtains; make it firm; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. (3) because you must spread out to the right and to the left, and your offspring will inherit the nations and will inhabit the cities that have become desolate," (Isaiah 54:1-3)

The imagery of the tent expanding to cover the world indicates that the household of Abraham will encompass the world.  This is why all the nations will go up to Jerusalem to learn Torah (Isaiah 2, Micah 4) because, as members of Abraham's household, they must live according to the rules of their father.  In fact, with all the nations going up to Jerusalem and the Temple being a House of Prayer for all peoples, Isaiah indicates that all the peoples obey the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision because it says:

"Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean," Isaiah 52:1

EXCURSUS:  Didn't Paul say that circumcision was "nothing"?  We see the following:

"Circumcision is nothing [ouden], and uncircumcision is nothing [ouden], but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God," 1 Cor. 7:19 
"Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing (ouden)," Gal. 5:2

In reality, Paul was saying that physical circumcision doesn't matter for salvation (see Gal. 6:15 as a parallel for 1 Cor. 7:19).  And in Gal. 5:2, Paul was again addressing a false, anti-grace variety of circumcision doctrine.  To be against circumcision Paul would've had to be against the Torah but we know that this was not the case (Acts 21).  


So this idea of Abraham inheriting the world wasn't just something that Paul made up.  It's an idea buried deep in Torah, later expounded by the Prophets, and described all throughout the Intertestamental literature.  It's the idea that Israel will "enlarge" its tent to encompass the world.  This global Israel will be an Ekklesia/Kahal (a.k.a. "Church"):

"And God almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may be a congregation [kahal] of peoples," (Genesis 28:3)

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