Why Did Paul Choose Abraham?

By Robert W. Clanton

It is commonly held among scholars that the Epistle to the church of Rome, from the Apostle Paul titled "Romans" , is sent to believers in Christ from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. The sure evidence of this is contained within the context of the Epistle. The damage done by the Judaizers in Galatia may of prompted portions of the letter in order to head off at the pass the Judaizers who had started in Galatia.   As in nearly all of Paul's epistles, the Judaizing problem presents itself because Moses has them which preach Moses in every city (Acts 15:21) and were condemned of the apostles. 

The first two chapters of Romans present a condemnation of both Gentiles and Jews.  The Gentiles are first to be shown their sins of rebellion in Chapter one. But, the Jews who have the law are then shown to be no better off than the Gentiles, conclusively in Rom.3:9  9What then? are we (Jews) better than they (Gentiles)? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.  Again the Paul confirms "all of have sinned and come short of the glory of God"  (Rom.3:23).  Repeatedly, throughout Romans chapter 2 and 3 we see the contrast between the Gentiles, who did not have the circumcision and the law and the Jews, who did possess the covenants of both circumcision of the flesh and the Law of Moses (Mal.4:4). 

In this light we can begin to see that by "the law" ,  refers to the law of Moses at Mt. Sinai that God had given to the children of Israel, Mal.4: 4Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.  This point is key for understanding why Paul would choose Abraham as the example of righteousness of faith which saves.  The term "the law" occurs 69 times and circumcision 15 times in the epistle of Romans.  The words "Jew" occurs 8 times,  "Jews" 3 times and "Israel", 12 times.   The contrast between the Jews who have the law of Moses and circumcision and the Gentiles races who do not and did not have any such covenant becomes magnified throughout the Epistle.  It is perfectly correct to see that the term "the law" the Epistle of Romans, means all the covenant law of Moses.  Once this is established it becomes abundantly clear why Paul choose Abraham in Romans 4 as the Model of Christian faith. 

After Paul convincingly demonstrates that both Jews, who had circumcision and the law of Moses and the Gentiles, who did not, "in no wise" better the Gentiles (Rom.3:9,23).   The Jews which had taught "Moses in every city" often had spoken of the covenant of law of Moses and circumcision of the flesh as a means of obtaining further Grace from God and a way of increasing the righteous standing before God over the Gentile.  Paul is busily refuting that teaching, throughout Romans 2-3.  These verses have become most popular among the evangelist, "20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:20 Salvation by law keeping would require perfect obedience.  If we offend in a single point,  we become guilty of the whole (lev.18:5, James 2:10). Therefore, by the law-keeping alone, one cannot be justified. The many laws under the covenant with Moses arouses the knowledge of sin (7:7-11).

21But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

Paul must from here on out, illustrate for the Jews, that righteousness which God has ordained is "apart from the law" of Moses manifested in the books of the law for both Jew and Gentile, "there is NO difference" having previously proved, "23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; "

24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;   26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

Rom.3:31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." The covenant of the Law of Moses had established the law as a means of showing that "none could be justified by his works of the law".  It was not empty, void, or without purpose. It prepared the Jew and the Gentile, the whole world for the coming of Christ so that they might accept Him.  That "… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. ", Jew and Gentile alike.   The Judaizer's often lift verse 31 out the context to imply that the Law of Moses is binding upon Jew and Gentile. So far from Paul's mind is that.  The context demonstrates that law of Moses was the means used by God to condemn both Jew and the Gentile, "that every mouth may be stopped and that the whole world may become guilty before God" (3:19).  So, that they might seek the salvation by the righteousness of faith, "apart from the law" by faith in Christ Jesus. 

Becoming righteous by obedience without faith, keeping God's laws, natural or Mosaic, as a legal instrument fails.  Becoming righteous is possible through faith that works, apart from the law (vs 21).  Faith has always been accessible,. But only now, in Christ is it revealed fully, through faith in Christ (vs 22) which we receive as the gift Eph.2:18. Now we are prepared to understand Abraham as the model of Christian faith.

Abraham as Model of the Faith.

Abraham lived 500 years before the covenant laws of the Jewish Sabbaths, Holy Days and meat distinctions for food were given to "the Children of Israel" in the covenant of Mount Sinai.   There were no Jews or Israelites on the earth during Abraham's time.  Abraham is one of the nations, he is a Gentile from which the Jewish race and the Israelites will come.  He may therefore be said to be a Gentile and yet father of the Jewish and Israelite race.   As descendant from Noah, to live righteously before God, he is required to keep the laws of the covenant with Noah.  Gen.9:3 " 9And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you. ".  That is all the nations, races and all people everywhere on earth after the flood of Noah, (See my article on Acts 15 and the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles).   Abraham knew nothing of weekly Sabbath, the Jewish Passover and other Jewish Feasts that were yet to be revealed in the covenant with the children of Israel, so many centuries after him. Abram never heard of the Ten Commandments written in stone.  Yet, because Abraham is a man of faith and righteousness as was Noah, God chose this Gentile to become father of the Jews or Israelites.  For this reason, Abraham becomes the model of faith, not only for the Gentiles, because he was a Gentile, but also for the Jew, because he is the father of the Jews or Israelites.  Both, Jew and Gentile are able to learn from the example of Abraham's faith.

Rom.4: 1 "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. "

First, Paul declares that Abraham was not able to glory before God, either by works or by he the deeds none in the flesh.  He places Abraham on the footing of the Gentile and the Jew in the same condition being unable to boast.  Paul, then proceeds to write: 3For what saith the scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. "  This often debated scripture between Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Christian becomes the pivotal focus of first century gospel of the Church. We shall see that Abram's faith and walk with God is incomplete until he believes in the promised seed, Christ. We must first look at the life of Abraham.

 Abram's Personal Relationship With God.

 Beginning at Gen.12:1, we find the Lord speaking to Abram (later changed to Abraham) commanding him to leave his country, his kindred and his father's house.  Abraham keeps the commandments and charge of the Lord along with the covenant laws of Noah (Gen.26:5) and leaves taking Sarah, his wife and Lot his nephew and all their belongings based upon the promise from God, that God would make him a great nation from which all nations of the world would be blessed.   He is at age 75 years old.   Chronologically in scripture, we follow Abraham, who has victory over Lot's enemies and redeems Lot and his family. Abraham then pays a tithe of the spoils of war to the High Priest of God, " Melchizedek ".   Abraham is exercising faith in God as when he first did when he left his own country.  Without stating when, but long before Gen.15, we are already introduced to Abrams "personal relationship to God". 

 In Genesis 15:1, Again after so many years Abram having left his country, kindred and family, the Lord appears to him. The Lord reassures him, that He will defend and shield him and the Lord will be his exceedingly great reward.  From all that has gone before, we see Abraham as acting and living in faith.  Long before it is said to him, "his faith is accounted as righteousness" in Genesis 15:6. 

 We come to that pivotal scripture, the foundation to the faith of Christianity.  Abram has not doubted God but complains that he is yet barren. " 2And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless," thou he has a personal relationship with God for so many years, he is yet barren and childless.  Then the Lord makes this promise; " 5And he (the Lord) brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. "

 Abraham is shown the stars, unable to number them, so shall he bring forth as many as be because of "thy seed" .  When Abram believes fully in his heart in the promised "seed" that shall come and produce as many as the stars in the heavens, it is then "accounted to him for righteousness".  6And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.   Though, Abram had a personal relationship with the Lord for the many years, it is not until he is thoroughly convinced in his heart that the promise of  "His Seed" is the means of the furnishing of so many innumerable children. We see that Abram's faith and walk with God is incomplete until he believes in the promised seed, Christ.  So will those who refuse to believe be incomplete in the walk with God, until they believe in the promised, "seed" .  The promise of the seed, was not through the covenant of the law of Moses, but through the action of faith in the promise, 500 years before Moses and the law.  Romans 4: 13For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: ".  The coming of the covenant law of Moses, the ten commandments and the feasts of the Jews is another 500 years later and would not contribute to the promise of the fruit of faith in Christ because the promise was 500 years before the covenant.  The law would only show both Jew and Gentile the need for Christ. 

 From the epistle of Galatians we read:3: " 16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. " Paul interprets, "thy seed" to mean Christ.  And the inheritors obtain not a piece of land in the middle east but "the world" (Rom.4:13).  Again, Paul continues to show that the Mosaic covenant with its laws for Israel or the Jews, 430 years later, has no part one way or the other in the fulfillment of the promise of salvation to the Christian whether, Jew or Gentile.  Gal.4:17And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. " .  

 The belief in the promised seed, is the means by which all men are justified and accounted righteous, whether Jew or Gentile, under the law or without the law.  Even though, Abram had a personal relationship with God for so many years before, Genesis 15, it was not until he fully believed in his heart in the promised seed, Christ that his faith was "accounted for righteousness" . 

 Returning to Romans 4, Paul begins to show that those who are laboring under the law to attain righteousness, shall not receive it until they receive it by the grace promised through Christ. Rom. 4:4Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.  Because, the law has shown that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it was not through the covenant of law, that men would be saved, but through the promised seed, Christ.  That through belief in him, Grace and mercy would abound.  Rom.4: 6Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."

 Paul uses the King David, who reigned over Israel, indeed a man after God's own heart, yet one whom had sinned and fallen short as going outside the covenant of Moses to seek the promise of the forgiveness of sin, by which all men would be justified in Christ Jesus.  After seeking forgiveness for sin in the promised seed himself, King David expresses the righteousness which is found in Christ as "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" .

 This faith not only predated the Mosaic Law (Rom4:1-5) it was active during the time of the law.  King David made the same discovery that Abraham had, that being forgiven of sins comes from God by repentance and faith (Ps.32:5, 10), and the resulting righteousness (v.6) is as real as the forgiveness of sin.  And so it is that everyone, Jewish or Gentile must come to believe in everlasting life and forgiveness of sin in Christ, the promised seed of Abram, before his faith can be accounted as righteousness. 16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

 Returning to Romans. 4: 9Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised." 

 Rom.4:11, 12 Abraham was living by faith when he was 75 but not circumcised until he was 99 (Gen.12:4, 17:24). Abraham was the father of the Gentiles who without circumcision and the law of Moses, and the ten commandments cast in stone, lived by faith before he became the father of the Jews.  Circumcision was the sign and seal for Israel and the Jewish Sabbaths the sign of the covenant with Israel through Moses (Exodus 31:12-19).  But Abraham was saved by faith without circumcision of the flesh and without keeping the Jewish Sabbaths.  Yes, 500 years before a Jewish Sabbath had been ever introduced to the Jewish people.

 Romans 4:13-18, Righteousness is not through physical descent. For if one has to be come Jew or Jewish to inherit the world (God's Kingdom v.13) Abraham's salvation, based on his faith and God's promise is made void (v.14).  The covenant of law which requires physical descent or circumcision of the flesh and the vow to keep all the commandments brings wrath (v.15); only grace has the power to satisfy the law, so there is "no transgression".  The righteous, then are those of faith, not those of the law (v.14) that is those given the law under Moses, physical descendants of Abraham. Abraham's true offspring are spiritual, he is the father of ALL who believe, Jew and Gentile like, with or without the law of Moses.

 Thus, Paul chose Abraham to be the model of faith both for the Jew and for the Gentile.  Abraham was a Gentile, one the righteous among the nations, that became father of the Jews, who first believed in Christ the promised seed, 500 years before the laws of the covenant of Moses, the ten commandments and the Jewish Sabbaths, New Moons, and meat distinctions were ever given.  Before, I leave this subject, I think it right to also to say, that Paul as with Abraham, by no means thinks that a Christian then has a right to live lawlessly under grace.  The natural laws given orally by God to Noah (Gen.9:10) and passed down to Abraham to keep were there to prevent any idea of man being able to walk according to the lusts of the flesh and claim the promise of inheritance through Christ. Repeatedly, throughout the Epistle of Romans and Galatians, the Apostle Paul warns men not to live according to the lusts of the flesh. Rom.6: 11Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. To the Apostle Paul, sin consists of "obeying the lusts of the flesh".

 Paul writes further, "13Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.  14For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. 15What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. 16Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  18Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. 19I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. 20For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.  21What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. 22But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. 23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. "  

 The yielding of the members unto uncleanness and unto iniquity, isn't speaking of breaking of Jewish Sabbaths or meat restrictions, but it is speaking of the immoral uses of the lusts of the flesh and the actual members of our body. Sin is not to reign in "our mortal body".  That is where sin actually resides and may reign if we so let it.   It comes out of the heart of man, Mk. 7:19 " That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:  23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man."  With the promise of the salvation through Christ was also the promise of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is to be used to overcome the fleshly heart of man and its wickedness that truly defiles him which leads to death. Gal.5:22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.  25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. "  Abraham who had no Ten Commandments cast in stone, nor Jewish Feasts days, walked by righteousness of faith trusting in the promised seed, Christ. He lived a righteous life, through the Spirit and faith, apart from the law of Moses which was yet five hundred years a far off.  Thus, he became the model of both Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised that looked for the blessed hope in the promised seed, Christ and walked by faith and not by sight.  Abraham did indeed, become the father of the true spiritual Israel, the nation called, the church consisting of both Jews and Gentiles all one in the promised seed of Christ.