The “Faith Of Abraham” Theme In Paul, James And Hebrews: A Study In The Circumstantial Nature Of New Testament Teaching -- By: Richard N. Longenecker
Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 20:3 (Sep 1977)
Article: The “Faith Of Abraham” Theme In Paul, James And Hebrews: A Study In The Circumstantial Nature Of New Testament Teaching
Author: Richard N. Longenecker
JETS 20:3 (September 1977) p. 203
The “Faith Of Abraham” Theme In Paul,
James And Hebrews: A Study In The Circumstantial Nature Of New Testament Teaching
The theme of the faith of Abraham is employed by three different NT writers in three quite different ways: by Paul in Galatians 3 and Romans 4, by James in chap. 2, and by the writer to the Hebrews in chap. 11. What I would like to do here is to focus attention on the varied treatments of this theme in the NT, spelling out its circumstantial employment and suggesting some implications that can be drawn for our understanding of the Christian message and for our Christian ministries today. By “circumstantial” I do not mean to suggest “incidental,” “inferential” or “unessential,” as the word sometimes connotes. Rather, I have in mind “that which relates to and is dependent upon the circumstances for its specific thrust and form.” Nor am I employing “circumstantial” as equivalent to the term “situational,” which has come to signify something with regard to the content of the message as well as its form. My use of “circumstantial” is meant to be understood solely with reference to the specific thrust and form of the Christian message and ministry.
The theme of the faith of Abraham is appropriate for a study of the circumstantial nature of NT teaching not only because it appears in the writings of three different canonical writers in three quite different ways but also because it is prominent in Jewish literature, thereby allowing us some outside control over what is happening in its NT expressions. As early as Shemaiah and Abtalion, who were the immediate predecessors to Hillel and Shammai in Pirqe ‘Abot’s line of rabbinical succession, questions as to the nature of Abraham’s faith and the relation of merit to that faith were being discussed among the Pharisees. Abraham, in fact, was often affectionately called “a bag of myrrh” by the rabbis, for “just as myrrh is the most excellent of spices, so Abraham was the chief of all righteous men” (Cant. Rab. 1:13). And Louis Finkelstein has shown that the rabbis of late Judaism and the early Tannaitic period commonly treated their own traditions, and the various themes within those traditions, in a manner that both retained the essential givenness of the traditions and also expressed those traditions in a fashion that can be characterized as “pertaining to and dependent upon circumstances”1 —a phenomenon parallel to
*Richard Longenecker is professor of New Testament at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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