Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Promises, Promises! (Part 1)

A comparison reading of Romans 4:13 and Genesis 12:7 show us the eschatological mind of Paul's understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (And when I use the term "the gospel," I mean by it, "the good news about just what the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah of Israel affects/renews--individually, corporately, and as we'll soon see, cosmically.)

Romans 4:13 reads, "For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith" (NRSV).


Genesis 12:7 reads, "Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land'" (NRSV).

All that YHWH promised Abram in Gensis 12 was the "land of Canaan." Now, I don't know of a scholar who would say that the use of ha erats (the land) in the book of Genesis (particularly this verse in Gen 12) should be understood as "the entire earth," (cf. Walter Breuggemann's, The Land). What makes reading ha erats "globally" in Genesis 12:4 more difficult is that Abram is standing on the threshold of Canaan--a single plot of land in the Ancient Near East.

But of course Paul blows the doors off what all ancient commentators (both Jewish and Christian) believed about this passage. Paul's use of ho cosmos (the world) in Romans 4 goes far beyond the literal, physical earth. Moreover, it goes far, far beyond the promise given to Abram in Genesis 12. Paul now sees the gospel as an affectual and renewing means of "the entire cosmos!" Furthermore, Paul sees the gift as something far beyond Canaan, which is far beyond the original garden-gift to Adam. Paul would have said that Abram, Moses, David and every Jewish commentator (especailly Rabbinic) thereafter were extremely short-sighted! Why? Paul coundn't help but recognize the eschatological implications of the gospel. In Paul's mind, the gospel was nothing less than cosmic in it's scope (cf. Colossian 1).


Mark Traphagen said...


This insight couldn't have come at a better time. I spoke with a seminary student just yesterday who was quite upset that her Reformed systematics teacher told her nothing we do for this present world counts for anything, since it is going to be completely destroyed and God is going to create a whole new world.

If I am reading your insight correctly, that would mean (according to Paul) God going back on his promise to Abraham. Do I have your implication correctly?

Matthew Paul Buccheri said...

Yup! You got it Mark. (And tell that "Reformed systematics prof" to read Revelation 21 (not Reformation 21).