Covenant Partners: An Egalitarian Reading Of Genesis 17:15–16 -- By: Josiah M. Callaghan

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 33:4 (Fall 2019)
Article: Covenant Partners: An Egalitarian Reading Of Genesis 17:15–16
Author: Josiah M. Callaghan


Covenant Partners: An Egalitarian Reading Of Genesis 17:15–16

Josiah M. Callaghan

Josiah Callaghan received a BA in biblical and theological studies from Bethel University and is currently an MA student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a committed member of an Anabaptist house church network.

Personhood is deeply intertwined with the names we are given. In the biblical narrative, names of characters brim with meaning. Such meaning is enhanced in those instances in which a person takes or is given a new name.1 A rare example of a woman undergoing a name change is Sarai, who takes on the new identity of “Sarah” in Gen 17. This transpires within the various iterations of God’s covenant with Abraham (the Abrahamic covenant) found in Gen 12–17. What makes Gen 17:15–16 of particular interest is not only Sarai’s name change, but her inclusion in the promise of blessings. The primacy of Abraham correlates with the patriarchal ordering of society in the ancient Near East, and God’s covenantal interactions with Abraham reflect this social reality. When God does speak regarding Sarah, Abraham functions as the intermediary.2 However, this does not imply that Sarah is any less of a covenant partner or inheritor than Abraham.

This article begins with careful consideration of both the covenant and the narrative elements within Gen 15–18 that undergird a sense of movement toward egalitarianism. The resulting interpretation of Gen 15–18 will place Gen 17:15–16 as its thematic center. Lastly, implications of the egalitarian progression in Gen 17 will be applied in family and church contexts.

Tracing The Covenant

The Abrahamic covenant has a triad of iterations in Gen 12–17. The covenants detailed in chs. 12 and 15 include God’s promise to give Abram and Sarai both territory and progeny. Genesis 17 reiterates these promises, but they now become contingent upon adherence to the covenantal sign of circumcision (introduced in 17:9–14).

Terence Fretheim notes the parallels between chs. You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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