LogoThe unlettered Arabian prophet pulls out his ace in the hole in his ongoing dispute with the Christians and the Jews. Let them follow their religion, but as for him, he is going to follow the religion of Abraham: "SAY: As for me, my Lord hath guided me into a straight path; a true religion, the creed of Abraham, the sound in faith; for he was not of those who join gods with God." (Koran Sura 6:162). This, in theory, is the Muslim religion: "SAY: God speaketh truth. Follow, therefore, the religion of Abraham, the sound in faith, who was not one of those who joined other gods to God." (Koran Sura 3:89):

  • "O people of the Book! Why dispute about Abraham, when the Law and the Evangel were not sent down till after him? Do ye not then understand? . . .
  • "Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian; but he was sound in the faith, a Muslim; and not of those who add gods to God. They among men, who are nearest of kin to Abraham, are surely those who follow him, and this prophet Muhammad, and they who believe on him. And God is the protector of the faithful."
  • (Sura 3:58-61).

LogoMohammed ibn Abdallah, the unlettered prophet, modestly denies his own originality: "Nothing hath been said to thee which hath not been said of old to apostles before thee." (Koran Sura 41:43). Yet this is represented as being said to a man who founded a new religion! In his own mind, the religion he preached was not new; it was the universal faith of the prophets going back to the beginning. It was, however, new.

This theme of devolution is one we'll see repeatedly in studying Abraham. Who is interested in Abraham? Especially people who dislike some aspect of Christianity or Judaism, and hope to escape its implications by time-traveling back to before it existed. Mohammed ibn Abdallah doesn't like the Trinity. Robert Lewis Dabney didn't like what the law of Moses said about slavery. Sir Robert Filmer didn't like what the prophet Samuel said about monarchy. All of these people hoped to find an escape route by going back, back to a simpler time. And wasn't Abraham God's friend? Indeed.

Abraham, called by God, went out from his home as a sojourner:

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” (Genesis 12:1-4).

Is it true that Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian? What do we know, from the Bible, which is the only reliable source that tells us anything about Abraham, about Abraham's faith?:

Circle of Acquaintance They Ate Food
No Distinction Binding of Isaac
Paul Three Hundred Eighteen
Stranger and Pilgrim

Thriceholy Radio

LogoCircle of Acquaintance

We are told he was not a Christian, yet we do know that he personally interviewed Christ. We heard about this conversation from the other party to it:

  • “Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.
  • “Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.
  • “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
  • “Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”
  • (Gospel of John 8:54-59).

LogoHis interlocutors challenge Him with having seen Abraham and He does not deny it. If Abraham did not believe in Him, although the two were personally acquainted, I wonder how he broke it to Him? It must have been disappointing. 'Hey man, I love you like a brother. . .but I just can't see following your religion.'

The Son of God eternally pre-existed His incarnation. On what occasions might Abraham, as well as other Old Testament believers, have personally interacted with Him?:

Manoah and His Wife Gideon
Moses at the Burning Bush Definition
Sacrifice of Isaac Hagar
Jacob the Wrestler Captain of the Lord's Host
Covenant Maker Wilderness Trek
Jesus the Sent One

Like many other Old Testament believers, Abraham personally encountered God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. What was the doctrinal substance of Abraham's faith? The letter to Hebrews tells us that Abraham specifically believed in resurrection: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Hebrews 11:17-18). How do we know that this is so? Because, according to the passage cited, God had promised that Abraham's line would be continued through Isaac: “But God said to Abraham, 'Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.'” (Genesis 21:12-13). Yet at the time of the interrupted sacrifice, Isaac had no children. How can a genealogical line be continued through a dead man? Plainly, only if he does not stay dead. Abraham knew that God cannot lie, but how did Abraham know that dead people do not necessarily stay dead? Otherwise he might have expected that God would provide a substitute, as indeed happened. Perhaps his friend told him.

His native region being given over to the study of astrology, commentators conjecture that his departure from that region is related to a realization that astrology is a false system:

"The man who had been bred up in this doctrine, and who for a long time had studied the philosophy of the Chaldaeans, as if suddenly awakening from a deep slumber and opening the eye of the soul, and beginning to perceive a pure ray of light instead of profound darkness, followed the light, and saw what he had never seen before, a certain governor and director of the world standing above it, and guiding his own work in a salutary manner, and exerting his care and power in behalf of all those parts of it which are worthy of divine superintendence." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XV.)

LogoWhile this is conjectural, it's a plausible enough conjecture, that Abraham's emigration was at once a change of location and a change of religion, from astrology to monotheism.

LogoThey Ate Food

Mohammed points out that Jesus (and His mother!) both ate food, which he considers the last word as to debunking any deity claims:

  • “Infidels now are they who say, 'God is the Messiah, Son of Mary;' for the Messiah said, 'O children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord.' Whoever shall join other gods with God, God shall forbid him the Garden, and his abode shall be the Fire; and the wicked shall have no helpers. They surely are Infidels who say, 'God is the third of three:' for there is no God but one God: and if they refrain not from what they say, a grievous chastisement shall light on such of them as are Infidels. Will they not, therefore, be turned unto God, and ask pardon of Him? since God is Forgiving, Merciful! The Messiah, Son of Mary, is but an Apostle; other Apostles have flourished before him; and his mother was a just person: they both ate food. Behold! how we make clear to them the signs! then behold how they turn aside!”
  • (Sura 5:76-79).

Logo Is Mohammed's test the definitive one? When did God visit man, and eat food?:

  • "When at last we are at home with Him, we shall see Him to be the One who, unseen, often communed with us, as He did with Abraham His friend, who wrestled with us as with Jacob——and with like ennobling touch, and who sought not to consume but to irradiate with His beauty, as in the bush which Moses saw. We shall see Him as the One who gave victory over the foe, as He gave it to Joshua, and who succored us in depths of discouragement, as He succored Elijah under the juniper tree. . .We shall know Him as the One who walked with us in our fiercest trial, as He did with the three Hebrews, and whose revelation was the consummation of life, as it was with Daniel. Then we will find that it was no mirage of earth that comforted us but the sight of 'Jesus at God's right hand,' as Stephen saw Him; that it was 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ' which was the treasure we carried in earthen vessels, as in Paul's experience."
  • (H. C. Hewlett, The Companion of the Way, pp. 14-15).

LogoAbraham saw three and addressed one. He is indeed a pioneer of our faith, and we should follow his example:

"And who hath a better religion than he who resigneth himself to God, who doth what is good, and followeth the faith of Abraham in all sincerity? And God took Abraham for his friend." (Koran, Sura 4:124).

The story of Abraham's visitors is told in the Koran, though the author does not know who he is dealing with:

And tell them of Abraham’s guests. When they entered in unto him, and said, ‘Peace.’ ‘Verily,’ said he, ‘We fear you.’ They said, ‘Fear not, for of a sage son we bring thee tidings.’ He said, ‘Bring ye me such tidings now that old age hath come upon me? What, therefore, are your tidings really?’ They said, ‘We announce them to thee in very truth. Be not then one of the despairing.’ ‘And who,’ said he, ‘despaireth of the mercy of his Lord, but they who err?’ He said, ‘What is your business then, O ye Sent Ones?’" (Sura 15:51-57)

However, in Sura 11, we discover that they only pretended to eat!: "And when he saw that their hands touched it not, he misliked them, and grew fearful of them." (Sura 11:73). Sura 51 is tending in the same direction:

"Hath the story reached thee of Abraham's honored guests?
"When they went in unto him and said, 'Peace!' he replied, 'Peace: — they are strangers.'
"And he went apart to his family, and brought a fatted calf,
"And set it before them. He said, 'Eat ye not?'
"And he conceived a fear of them. They said to him, 'Fear not;' and announced to him a wise son." (Sura 51:24-28)

Compare the Bible narrative:

“So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.' And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.” (Genesis 18:6-8).

This might be that rarity, a theologically motivated editorial change in the Koran. Usually, Mohammed takes whatever his sources hand him; everything is grist for his mill. He does not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, but he will happily accept stories, like the 'Clay Birds,' that were originally written to underscore the point he disputes. That Jesus ate food is, to him, an ample rebuttal to His deity. And so neither can Abraham's three visitors.

LogoNo Distinction

Mohammed began his prophetic career believing very strongly that all the prophets had delivered the very same message, and it was his message as well: that there is only one God, idolatry is vain, and there will be a judgment to come. This minimalist message was repeated over and over, he thought by the messengers God had sent to the various peoples:

"Say ye: 'We believe in God, and that which hath been sent down to us, and that which hath been sent down to Abraham and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes: and that which hath been given to Moses and to Jesus, and that which was given to the prophets from their Lord. No difference do we make between any of them: and to God are we resigned (Muslims).'" (Sura 2:130).
"Say: We believe in God, and in what hath been sent down to us, and what hath been sent down to Abraham, and Ismael and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses, and Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord. We make no difference between them. And to God are we resigned (Muslims)." (Sura 3:78).

But now we discover, 'Oh yes, we make a difference! It's Abraham or nothing!' Is this the same message Mohammed was delivering just a little while ago, or is it a different one?

"Moreover, to Moses gave we 'the Book,' and we raised up apostles after him; and to Jesus, son of Mary, gave we clear proofs of his mission, and strengthened him by the Holy Spirit. So oft then as an apostle cometh to you with that which your souls desire not, swell ye with pride, and treat some as imposters, and slay others?" (Sura 2:81).

"Say ye: ‘We believe in God, and that which hath been sent down to us, and that which hath been sent down to Abraham and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes: and that which hath been given to Moses and to Jesus, and that which was given to the prophets from their Lord. No difference do we make between any of them: and to God are we resigned (Muslims).’" (Sura 2:130).

"Some of the apostles we have endowed more highly than others: Those to whom God hath spoken, He hath raised to the loftiest grade, and to Jesus the Son of Mary we gave manifest signs, and we strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. And if God had pleased, they who came after them would not have wrangled, after the clear signs had reached them. But into disputes they fell: some of them believed, and some were infidels; yet if God had pleased, they would not have thus wrangled: but God doth what he will." (Sura 2:254).

"And when Jesus perceived unbelief on their part, He said, 'Who will be my helpers with God?' The apostles said, 'We will be God's helpers! We believe in God, and bear thou witness that we are Muslims. O our Lord! we believe in what thou has sent down, and we follow the apostle; write us up, then, with those who bear witness to him'...Remember when God said, 'O Jesus! verily I will cause thee to die, and will take thee up to myself and deliver thee from those who believe not; and I will place those who follow thee above those who believe not, until the day of resurrection. Then, to me is your return, and wherein ye differ will I decide between you.'" (Sura 3:46-48).

SAY: We believe in God, and in what hath been sent down to us, and what hath been sent down to Abraham, and Ismael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses, and Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord. We make no difference between them. And to Him are we resigned (Muslims)." (Sura 3:78)

"And in the footsteps of the prophets caused we Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow, confirming the law which was before him: and we gave him the Evangel with its guidance and light, confirmatory of the preceding Law; a guidance and warning to those who fear God..." (Sura 5:50).

"When He shall say: O Jesus! Son of Mary! call to mind my favor upon thee and upon thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit, that thou shouldest speak to men alike in the cradle, and when grown up; — And when I taught thee the Scripture, and Wisdom, and the Law, and the Evangel: and thou didst create of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by my leave, and didst breathe into it, and by my leave it became a bird; and thou didst heal the blind and the leper, by my leave; and when, by my leave, thou didst bring forth the dead; and when I withheld the children of Israel from thee, when thou hadst come to them with clear tokens: and such of them as believed not said, 'This is nought but plain sorcery...Remember when the Apostles said — 'O Jesus, Son of Mary! is thy Lord able to send down a furnished Table to us out of Heaven!' He said — 'Fear God if ye be believers.'" (Sura 5:109-112).

"Verily we have revealed to thee as we revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him, and as we revealed to Abraham, and Ismael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and Jesus, and Job, and Jonah, and Aaron, and Solomon; and to David gave we Psalms." (Sura 4:161).

"This is our reasoning with which we furnished Abraham against his people: We uplift to grades of wisdom whom we will; Verily thy Lord is Wise, Knowing. And we gave him Isaac and Jacob, and guided both aright; and we had before guided Noah; and among the descendants of Abraham, David and Solomon, and Job and Joseph, and Moses and Aaron: Thus do we recompense the righteous: And Zachariah, John, Jesus, and Elias; all were just persons..." (Sura 6:83-85).

"And remember that we have entered into covenant with the Prophets, and with thee, and with Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, Son of Mary: and we formed with them a strict covenant..." (Sura 33:7).

Logo You can watch a videotape of the carafe breaking and the milk streaming onto the ground, but you will never see a videotape of the milk streaming back up into a carafe healing, growing intact. The time line runs in one direction. If, as Mohammed is now saying, revelation is progressive and Abraham's religion was, in fact, much simpler and more basic than the religions of the Christians and the Jews, built upon later revelation, then can you simply by willing go back to an earlier point on the time line? The law came down at Sinai. It is from God. Christians don't deny it, they believe the law is a genuine revelation of God's will and character. Mohammed straddled the fence on this issue. Muslims do not observe the bulk of the dietary restrictions of the law. But, don't eat pork!

Mohammed, who at first claimed and he and his followers made no distinction between the prophets, ends with this, "For the wickedness of certain Jews, and because they turn many from the way of God, we have forbidden them goodly viands which had been before allowed them." (Sura 4:158). Notice, he finds something defective in the Mosaic covenant: "goodly viands" are forbidden, for no other reason than as a chastisement. How is this making no distinction? Now we are making distinctions aplenty. Now we discover that the earlier revelation is by no means the same as the later, as had been previously represented, but is both available and preferable. Why did he not start by saying this?

There are difficult problems to resolve in weighing the contributions of the various prophets whom God has, indeed, legitimately, sent to man. Moses delivered the law. Is it universally binding upon all people at all times? Christians believe that certain aspects of the law were intended to point to Christ, and once His mission was accomplished, they had attained their fullest fruition:

LogoThe Binding of Isaac

God laid down, in the law of Moses, requirements for various animal sacrifices. In no way was this a distinctive behavior of a peculiar people: the pagans also sacrificed to their gods. It is a natural and seemingly near-universal human hope that a substitute will be accepted. Although Islam is one of the few religions left which still practice animal sacrifice, Muslim apologists just don't seem to get it. The logic of animal sacrifice is much like the logic of the cross: a substitute pays the penalty we owe.

Abraham, strong in faith, foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christians speak of man as made in the image of God. Imaging or mirroring God, Abraham prepared to offer His beloved son, but was held back. God was never held back:

Harold Copping, Abraham and Isaac

Mount Moriah Problems
Mount Calvary Only Begotten
Traditional Jewish Interpretation Detractors

LogoWhy is Isaac Abraham's only son? In Philo Judaeus' mind, not in the sense that Ishmael doesn't exist, but rather that he is the only legitimate son, a citizen-son and heir. This son, the son of promise, was only-begotten because only legitimate: "In the second place, after he had become the father of this his only legitimate son, he, from the moment of his birth, cherished towards him all the genuine feelings of affection, which exceeds all modest love, and all the ties of friendship which have ever been celebrated in the world." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XXXV).

Under the law as it stood in Athens, back in the day, a man, a citizen, could register his male child as a citizen, if and only if the child's mother was also a citizen, not a foreigner nor a slave, and if she was married to him. So not all children are citizens and heirs. . .and those legal non-entities aren't necessarily called 'sons' either. That's harsh, and we don't do it that way; but they did. Philo lived in a Greek city, and he finds it meaningful to point out that Isaac was Abraham's legitimate son: ". . .they bestow on him a reward beyond his expectation, the birth of a legitimate son in a short time, making him a promise which is to be confirmed to him by one the most excellent of the three; for it would have been inconsistent with philosophy for them all to speak together at the same moment, but it was desirous for all the rest to assent while one spoke." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XXII).

"A legitimate son is borne to the wise man by his wedded wife, a beloved and only son, very beautiful in his person, and very excellent in his disposition." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XXXII).

Philo points out that Sarah is a citizen wife: "The same relation, then, that a mistress has to her handmaidens, or a wife, who is a citizen, to a concubine, that same relation has virtue, that is Sarah, to education, that is Hagar." (Philo Judaeus, Meeting for the Sake of Seeking Instruction, Chapter V). I don't know how you ascertain citizenship when dealing with a wandering tribe, but Philo thinks he knows, and he knows Sarah is a citizen wife, not Hagar. Philo refers to Jacob as Abraham's legitimate offspring:

“For thus, after a gentle travail, thou wilt bring forth a male child, by name Ishmael, corrected by divine admonitions; for Ishmael, being interpreted, means “the hearing of God;” and hearing is considered as entitled to only the second prize after seeing; but seeing is the inheritance of the legitimate and first-born son, Israel; for the name Israel, being interpreted, means 'seeing God.'” (Philo Judaeus, On Fugitives, Chapter XXXVIII).

None of these considerations are directly relevant to God and His children, but they do show that 'only-begotten' can be understood to mean 'only-begotten;' apparent exceptions and counter-examples are only apparent. "Since there was also Ishmael, Isaac was not literally Abraham's only son. . ." (Margaret Barker, King of the Jews, Kindle location 8828). Yes, as a matter of fact, he was Abraham's only son, not by our count, but by theirs. One might say our viewpoint is right, theirs is wrong, but then there is Deuteronomy 23:2.

Incidentally, first-born need not mean first of a sequence; the sacrificial law requires the firstborn both of man and beast, "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine." (Exodus 13:2). Mary does not wait until the birth of her second child to make the temple offering: "And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." (Luke 2:22-24). The mother might die, or never bear another child, and it would still be owing.

Notice the distinction the author of Hebrews makes:

"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
"If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
"But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." (Hebrews 12:6-8).

If sons, then not bastards; if bastards, then not sons. We don't set the dividing lines of these categories down in the same places, but people writing in Greek in the first century A.D., as far as one can judge from this limited sample, do not seem to have counted illegitimate male children as 'sons.'

So as far as what 'only-begotten' might mean, as for example when we read about Jepthath's daughter, "And Jephthae came to Massepha to his house; and behold, his daughter came forth to meet him with timbrels and dances; and she was his only child [μονογενης], he had not another son or daughter." (Judges 11:34 Brenton Septuagint), or in Luke,

"Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her." (Luke 7:12).

"For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went the people thronged him." (Luke 8:42).

"And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child." (Luke 9:38).

. . .it is by no means necessary to think these people had ten children, but they were especially fond of this one for some reason. 'Only-begotten' can mean 'only-begotten.'


It is striking to notice the way Muslims go where Christians have gone before, though apparently without realizing it. For instance, looking for an unfulfilled prophecy, a slot into which Mohammed, the seal of the prophets, might be inserted, they hit upon Deuteronomy 18:15:

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’” (Deuteronomy 18:15-16).

That's nice but Christians were there first: For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.’(Acts 3:22). Since Peter said it's Jesus, not many Christians perceive this verse as unfulfilled.

That's the case with Father Abraham as well. The Judaizers with whom Paul contended demanded that Christian converts from paganism abide by Moses' law. To follow the law is the only way to be pleasing to God, they explained. As Paul pointed out, Abraham was the friend of God, yet he lived hundreds of years before the law was given:

 Washington Irving 
Mohammed and
His Successors

"What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?
"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 
"For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  
"Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

    “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
 is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”

(Romans 4:1-8)

LogoAbraham is the man who was saved by faith. Faith in what? In a specific promise limited to his own personal situation? No, in Christ:

“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,”  who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” (Galatians 3:16-18).

This is Paul's interpretation of Abraham's faith and it is why his faith is a pattern for our own. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.' So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” (Galatians 3:8-9). Abraham believed the gospel, not some alien creed. "Paul repeatedly presented Abraham as the prototype and example of saving faith, which is not exactly motivational if he and we believe different gospels. But we don't. We all believe the same gospel." (Jesus on Every Page, David Murray, p. 16). And it's not a gospel of blood and soil. Trusting in physical descent from Abraham for salvation is a dangerous strategy. Esau was not a man after God's own heart and is not now singing with the chorus of the blest:

"Tell me, says he, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? That is, will ye not attend to the analogy of God's method of proceeding, in those very promises on which ye depend? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free woman: But he who was of the bond-woman, was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman, was by promise: Which things are an allegory, &c. That is to say, even originally, the promise was not made to all the children of Abraham, but to Isaac only, which was, from the beginning, a very plain declaration that God did not principally intend his promise to take place in (Rom. ix. 8.) Abraham's descendants according to the flesh, but in those who, by a faith or fidelity like his, were in a truer and higher sense the children and followers of that Great Father of the faithful. In like manner, and for the same reason, the promise was not made (Rom. ix. 10.) to both the sons of Isaac, but to Jacob only; and, among the posterity of Jacob, all (Rom. ix. 6.) were not Israel, which were of Israel."
(Samuel Clarke. A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God (Kindle Locations 5557-5564).)

Not physical descent, but a share in the same faith as Abraham, is the key to unlock the promises. Salvation by faith is no innovation that came in with Paul; that's the way it's always been. Many in Jesus' day trusted to biology; they were children of Abraham, and so God loved them. Follow that logic back to its source. Did God love Abraham? Certainly, Abraham was His friend. Was it in loving remembrance of Terah, Abraham's father. . .a pagan idolater? No! We come back to Abraham, and we arrive at a discontinuity, a singularity even. Abraham was not beloved for the sake of his ancestors, he was the man saved by faith:

"Again, it is because Abraham was the first to have been given various prophecies about the calling of the nations. It was before Moses’ giving of the law, and before there was a race of Jews, in fact even before circumcision, that Abraham, a member of another race, set out from Babylonia. He forsook the ways of his ancestors, and recognised the God who is over all; and it is attested that, remarkably, “he reached belief in God; and it was accounted to him for righteousness”. It was not because of physical circumcision, or of keeping the sabbath day or festivals or new moons, nor yet through any of the other traditional observances introduced by Moses, that he is shown to have been upright and loved by God; it was through his recognition of the God who is over all, through the appearance to him of the Lord whom he saw—that was our Saviour, the Word of God—, and through his pious and virtuous life. It was because he had achieved that reverent character that he had been given the promise about the nations: that one day they too, when their religious zeal matched that of God’s beloved Abraham, would also be accounted worthy of a blessing like his." (Eusebius, Gospel Problems and Solutions, To Stephanus 6, Chapter 1, p. 43, edited by Roger Pearse).

The road Abraham travelled is open to all.

Logo The fact that Islam is not the first major world religion to trace its origin and source back, before Moses, to Abraham, but the second, raises issues of precedence and legitimacy:

"And I have shown that the ideal of the new covenant must be helpful to the life of all nations: the members of its kingdom are to be restricted in no way whatever. Considerations of country, race or locality, or anything else are not to affect them in any way at all. The law and life of our Saviour Jesus Christ shows itself to be such, being a renewal of the ancient pre-Mosaic religion, in which Abraham, the friend of God, and his forefathers are shown to have lived. And if you cared to compare the life of Christians and the worship introduced among all nations by Christ with the lives of the men who with Abraham are witnessed to by Scripture as holy and righteous, you would find one and the same ideal. For they too turned their backs on the errors of polytheism, they relinquished idolatrous superstition, they looked beyond the whole of the visible creation and deified neither sun nor moon, nor any part of the whole. They raised themselves to the Supreme God, Himself the Highest, the Creator of heaven and earth."

(Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius of Caesarea: Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel) (Kindle Locations 783-789). Book 1, Chapter 5).

Henrik Olrik, Sermon on the Mount

LogoThree Hundred Eighteen

Confederate theologian Robert Dabney, in trying to make the case after the Civil War that the confederacy had been in the right all along, reached back behind Moses' law to the patriarchs. Moses' law does not work very well for slavery apologists: the term of servitude for a Hebrew slave is limited to a maximum six years. There are major league baseball players with longer contracts than that! There may be an exemption for foreign slaves, but this did not work very well for the confederacy either, because the importation of slaves into the United States had been banned for some years and the great majority of the slave population was native-born. What is a slave-owner to do? Go back to Abraham, who owned slaves. Who were these people, the three hundred and eighteen?

"Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:14).

However they came into Abraham's possession, we know the males were circumcised, because of Genesis 17:13, "He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant." Circumcision is the sign of the covenant, and a covenant is not in force between unwilling parties. And so, according to Jewish tradition, they were proselytes:

"Each altar raised by him was a center for his activities as a missionary. As soon as he came to a place in which he desired to sojourn, he would stretch a tent first for Sarah, and next for himself, and then he would proceed at once to make proselytes and bring them under the wings of the Shekinah. Thus he accomplished his purpose of inducing all men to proclaim the Name of God."
(Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 2439).

"But all these gifts did not rejoice the heart of Abraham so much as the three hundred followers that joined him and became adherents of his religion."
(Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 2257).

LogoAs even Rousas J. Rushdoony was obliged to admit, the three hundred and eighteen were members of the chosen community: "All of Abraham's household were in the covenant (Gen. 17:13), and all the males were circumcised and entered into the covenant, whether slave or free. Since Abraham fielded 318 fighting men against the kings of the east (Gen. 14:14), this means that Abraham was a ruler of a powerful household." (Rousas J. Rushdoony, Volume 2, Institutes of Biblical Law, Kindle location 5757). For that matter he was the pope of a powerful church.

According to Jewish tradition, Abraham preached to the men, Sarah to the women:

"The following citations will illustrate the nature and function of the midrash haggadah. Genesis 12:5 declares: 'And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they gathered, and the souls that they had made in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan.' Rabbi Elazar bar Zimra offered the following comment on this: 'If all people in the world should attempt to create a single insect they would be unable to breathe the breath of life into it, and here it is said and the souls that they had made in Haran. What Scripture really refers to is the proselytes they won to their way of life. And why does Scripture use the term made for the winning of proselytes? It is to teach us that whoever draws a pagan close to himself and influences him to become a proselyte, it is as though he had begotten him. And why does not Scripture use the singular he had made, instead of the plural, they had made? R. Huna suggested that it refers to both Abraham and Sarai. He made proselytes among the men, and she among the women.'"

(Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser. The Wisdom of the Talmud (Kindle Locations 411-417).)

While Jewish tradition represents Abraham's followers as proselytes, Jewish tradition has little historical value. Can we investigate their status by other facts mentioned in the narrative, like their armed defense of Abraham's cause? One notable feature of Southern slavery is that the slave-masters were careful not to let fire-arms fall into the hands of the slaves. We have a second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, safeguarding the right to bear arms, which was routinely disregarded south of the Mason-Dixon line. Slaves, or indeed African-Americans, could not own fire-arms. Why not? For fear they'd turn them on their masters. Abraham's followers, whoever they were, were armed. That undeniable fact gives us a hint as to their status.

John Brown, in seizing the armory at Harper's Ferry, hoped to put arms in the hands of the slaves of Virginia. Why did this project strike terror into the hearts of the slave-owners? Were they not confident in the good-will of their loyal slaves? Dabney disposes of this argument with a wave of the hand,

"For had they been real slaves, says he, they would not have continued so one day after getting arms in their hands. The retort most appropriate would be, that Abraham was not afraid to arm his slaves, though actual slaves, because there were no saucy, meddling Yankee Abolitionists in those days to preach insubordination and make ill blood between masters and servants." (Robert Lewis Dabney, Defense of Virginia and the South, Kindle location 1255).

If a Levantine John Brown, having managed to escape his containment at Harper's Ferry, had distributed weapons to Abraham's slaves, they would have said, 'thanks, but we already have weapons.' So the worst thing that the slave-owners of the Confederacy feared, and the reason why John Brown was a nightmare to them, was an already accomplished fact. The answer must be, they were actual slaves, but not slaves in the Confederate sense, who must not be allowed to possess weapons. Neither did Rome allow its slaves to possess weapons, nor Athens. Plato imagines a country picnic:

"Very true, I said. But imagine one of these owners, the master say of some fifty slaves, together with his family and property and slaves, carried off by a god into the wilderness, where there are no freemen to help him—will he not be in an agony of fear lest he and his wife and children should be put to death by his slaves?
"Yes, he said, he will be in the utmost fear."
(Plato, Republic, Book IX).

Not a fun picnic, if you ask me. Whatever the status of these people, Abraham did not fear, as did Rome, Athens, and Richmond, to arm them. So these two things are different, they are not the same. The Romans also did not generally venture to arm their slaves:

  • “For ever since Marcus Aquillius left it all the regulations and edicts of the praetors have been to this effect, that no slave should ever be seen with a weapon. . .They tell a story that Lucius Domitius was praetor in Sicily, and that an immense boar was brought to him; that he, marveling at the size of the beast, asked who had killed it. When he was told that it was such-an-one's shepherd, he ordered him to be summoned before him; that the shepherd came eagerly to the praetor, expecting praise and reward; that Domitius asked him how he had slain so huge a beast; that he answered 'With a hunting spear;' and that he was instantly crucified by order of the praetor.”
  • (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Against Verres, The Fifth Book of the Second Pleading in the Prosecution Against Verres, Chapter 1, Complete Works of Cicero, Kindle location 8742).

Logo We also know that manumission was not unknown to Abraham. One legal strategy for freeing a slave, in ancient times, was to make the slave the master's heir: inheriting himself, along with the rest of the property, he was made free. Abraham's designated heir, as one time, was Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2). He would accordingly have become free, had this plan not been supplanted by another of God's devising.

Aramaic memorandum from Elephantine Island in Egypt, 5th century BC, from the Brookkyn Museum. This adoption contract, in the archives of a Jewish family, allows the adoption of a boy named Jedaniah who is thus freed from slavery. 

Logo Philo suggests also that Abraham amassed his troop, not by buying up those he happened to find on the market, or capturing the unwary, but by inviting to virtue: "Why did Abraham also circumcise strangers? The wise man is as useful as the humane man, who saves and invites to himself not only his relations and neighbors, but also strangers and men of another family, giving them a share of his own habit of patient and religious continence; for these are the foundations of constancy, which is the object of all virtue, and the point at which it rests." (Philo Judaeus, Questions and Answers in Genesis, Book 3, Question 62). The discussion concerns Genesis 17:27,

"Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him." (Genesis 17:24-27).

We can visualize Abraham as a travelling teacher who gained his followers by 'inviting' them to come along. That is how Philo sees it. Realizing that this is a man who left his home on a religious quest, the latter possibility is not so unlikely as might at first appear. Or would we rather visualize Abraham as a travelling warlord? Even Mohammed ibn Abdallah, a seventh century Arabian warlord, converted the majority of his followers rather than simply impressing them into his service.

LogoIt was by means of argument and instruction, suggests Maimonides, that Abraham amassed his troop: "They guided their fellow-men by means of argument and instruction, as is implied, according to the interpretation generally received amongst us, in the words 'and the souls that they had gotten in Haran' (Gen. xii. 5)." (Moses Maimonides, A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 112). These recruits were understood as proselytes:

"'And the souls they had gotten in Haran' (Gen. xii. 5). These are they who had been made proselytes. Whoever attracts a Gentile and proselytizes him is as much as if he had created him. Abraham did so to men and Sarah to women." (Bereshith Midrash Rabbah, quoted Kindle location 4283, Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala).

Josephus magnifies the force, making the 318 into captains over an immense army: "What did Abraham our progenitor then do? Did he defend himself from this injurious person by war, although he had three hundred and eighteen captains under him, and an immense army under each of them?" (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book V, Chapter 9). At this point, if not before, plainly we are getting lost in legend.

Why doesn't the law of Moses work for slavery advocates? Surely it must be true, as every atheist knows, that the Bible commends slavery. Why, then, were the Bible-based abolitionist pamphlets so difficult for people like Dabney to refute?:

Logo As noted, the Rabbis and the Muslims think that Abraham was the first missionary, the 318 being the first trophies of grace. Bart Ehrman however thinks that there are no Jewish missionaries at all:

LogoStranger and Pilgrim

Abraham was a stranger in the land to which he went out by divine command:

  • “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. ”
  • (Genesis 17:8).

Logo In this he was a continuing prototype for all believers, who are all strangers and pilgrims:

"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. . ." (1 Peter 2:11).

So much so that he had to purchase a burial plot to inter his wife:

"I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." (Genesis 23:4).

The ties that bind us to our native land can be strong indeed, but these Abraham overcame, to follow his calling:

“He being impressed by an oracle by which he was commanded to leave his country, and his kindred, and his father’s house, and to emigrate like a man returning from a foreign land to his own country, and not like one who was about to set out from his own land to settle in a foreign district, hastened eagerly on, thinking to do with promptness what he was commanded to do was equivalent to perfecting the matter. And yet who else was it likely would be so undeviating and unchangeable as not to be won over by and as not to yield to the charms of one’s relations and one’s country? The love for which has in a manner —
'Grown with the growth and strengthened with the strength,'
of every individual, and even more, or at all events not less than the limbs united to the body have done.” (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XIV).

The tug of the familiar is strong, ". . . most powerful feeling of longing for a union with their kindred." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XIV). The letter to Hebrews explains,

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Abraham was not a 'blood and soil' type of guy. He left his native land without a backward glance. It is instructive that this is God's man:

“For, says the historian, 'The Lord said unto Abraham, Depart from out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, to a land which I will show thee; and I will make thee into a great nation.' For how can it be reasonable for him who has once been removed from his abode by the interference of Divine Providence, to return and dwell again in the same place? And how could it be reasonable for one who was about to be the leader of a new nation and of another race to be again assigned to his ancient one? For God would never have given to him a new character, and a new nation and family, if he had not wholly and entirely separated him from his ancient one. . . .For where is any longer the use of investigations into antiquity, and ancient, and long-established customs, to those in whom on a sudden, when they have no such expectation, God rains all kinds of new blessings in a mass?” (Philo Judaeus, Who is the Heir of Divine Things? Chapter LVI).

Abraham trekked, not to a well-travelled land full of welcoming places, but to a region with little of that sort of infrastructure: "The second migration is again undertaken by the virtuous man under the influence of a sacred oracle, but this is no longer one from one city to another, but it is to a desolate country, in which he wandered about for a long time without being discontented at his wandering and at his unsettled condition, which necessarily arose from it. And yet, what other man would not have been grieved, not only at departing from his own country but also at being driven away from every city into an inaccessible and impassable district?" (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XVIII).

Surprising as it may seem, there has lately be a revival of the fascist ideology of 'blood and soil', as reflected in Stephen Wolfe's book on Christian Nationalism. This book explains how important it is for there to be an intergenerational connection to the land. Is this a big thing in Abrahamic religion? You couldn't verify that it is by looking at the life experiences of the emigrant Abraham. The point isn't that we should be ungrateful to those who nurtured us when we were helpless infants, but rather that there is a higher plane to human existence, and that religion does not exist to foster tribalism, which does all right on its own and scarcely needs divine assistance to perpetuate itself.

Not that there's anything wrong with staying at home. As Philo also realized, forced emigration, i.e. banishment, can be seen as a curse rather than a blessing: "And indeed the being forced to depart from his native country, and to leave his home, and his inability to dwell in his native city, and his being driven hither and thither, and wandering about by desolate and unfrequented roads, would have been a terrible war for one who had not put his trust in certain divine oracles and promises." (Philo Judaeus, Who is the Heir to Divine Things? Chapter LVIII). Having a native land is a good thing in itself; but following God is better: