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Foundations for Christianity:
202 Foundations of Our Theology
and Hermeneutics



Our Approach: A Lesson From Abraham

Introduction
The Problem
A Lesson From Abraham
Parallelism


It is no small secret that much of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament looks back at Abraham as a sort of architype of our faith and relationship with God. Passages like Romans 4 and Hebrews 11 are a few prominent examples.

Romans 4:3 and Galations 3:6 tell us that God considered Abraham righteous because of his faith. Now the New Testament recounts several instances in the life of Abraham where he exercised faith in God.

The account in Romans 4 tells us Abraham was justified by faith when he believed God's promise to give him a son despite his old age.

James 2:21-23 also tells us that Abraham was justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar, noting that his faith was made perfect in that work. James 2:23 concludes that it is because of this act that scripture says, "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness and he was called the Friend of God."

If you have already read our section entitled "Our Approach: Parallelism" you will notice that we are using Parallelism in this study of the faith of Abraham.

Hebrews 11 goes into further detail on the instance spoken of in James 2.

Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure

To truly appreciate the situation Abraham was in we should also take a look at the initial account of these two events from Genesis.

Genesis 17:19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.

Genesis 22:1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Here is the situation Abraham is in. Notice how familiar it may seem to those of us struggling to understand the Word of God in all its size and comlexity today.

Abraham has received two words from God. 1. That God would bless him and make him a great nation through Isaac. And 2. that he was to sacrifice Isaac on an altar as a burnt offering. Now at that time, Isaac had not yet had any children. So, Abraham is in quite a dilemma.

Abraham is staring down the barrel of two seemingly contradictory statements from God. One Word from God says Isaac will produce a great nation of descendents for Abraham. The other Word from God says to kill Isaac before he has had any children. Quite a contradiction. It would seem that for Abraham to believe the second Word would prevent the first Word from coming true. And yet, if Abraham disobeys the second Word, he would simultaneously negate the authenticity of the first Word since he believed that both Words came from the same source, namely God.

So, what does Abraham do? How does he deal with this apparent contradiction? Does he ignore the contradiction? Does he just obey without thinking? Is that what the faith of Abraham was? Is that what our faith should be? Is that what kind of faith God accredits with righteousness?

No. The Bible tells us that Abraham did not act in blind faith. Nor did he ignore the contradiction. Instead it says he took an accounting. Let's look at the Greek word "accounting" in Hebrews 11:19. Here is the definition in its entirety.

3049 logizomai log-idí-zom-ahee
middle voice from 3056; TDNT-4:284,536; v
AV-think 9, impute 8, reckon 6, count 5, account 4, suppose 2, reason 1, number 1, misc 5; 41
1) to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over
1a) to take into account, to make an account of
1a1) metaph. to pass to oneís account, to impute
1a2) a thing is reckoned as or to be something, i.e. as availing for or equivalent to something, as having the like force and weight
1b) to number among, reckon with
1c) to reckon or account
2) to reckon inward, count up or weigh the reasons, to deliberate
3) by reckoning up all the reasons, to gather or infer
3a) to consider, take into account, weigh, meditate on
3b) to suppose, deem, judge
3c) to determine, purpose, decide

The first thing of note here is the spelling of this Greek word. The root word is logos, the same word used in John 1 to describe the preincarnate Jesus Christ.

In this word we also might recognize a similarity to our English word "logic." Our English word "logic" is likewise derived from the Greek "logos" referring to the aspect of "logos," which refers to reason. When we look at the many variations in this definition we see that this is precisely what Abraham is doing. Abraham is using his reason to reconcile the two seemingly contractory statements from the Word of God.

And does this use of reason interfere with his faith? No. Quite the opposite. According to Hebrews 11:17 and James 2:21-23, this process resulted in faith. It also resulted in Abraham's belief in the supernatural, that God could raise the dead.

From this simple study we have exposed and refuted the modern Christian myth that reason and critical thinking are obstacles to faith and the supernatural. Our ability to use reason comes from God and, like Abraham, he not only expects us to use it, but he commends us for doing so.

Jude:10 and Isaiah 1:3,18 further emphasize that God desires us to use our reason to consider his ways that we might be persuaded and follow him.

Isaiah 1:3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his masterís crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Isaiah 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

(Because of its prophetic significance regarding the Gospel, the most interesting aspect of Isaiah1:18 may be that it implies the entire necessity of Christ and our salvation can be deduced by simple reasoning from what we already know.)

(NIV) Jude:10 Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do undertand by instinct, like unreasoning animals - these are the very things that destroy them.

The fact is, God wants us to use our reason. He gave us that capacity and it is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals. It glorifies God for us to use it.

When we think about it, without logic, nothing is knowable. The whole process of learning is one of applying logic to things. In fact, no one can even reject the use of logic without the application of logic. Whenever we say "because" or "why?" we are applying logic and adding our testimony to its necessity. The only difference is the extent to which we are all willing to hold everything about us accountable to a logical standard.

Critical thinking is the process of applying logic to what we can see and experience to arrive at a true understanding of our world. The entire scientific process is comprised of this simple approach. In that sense, even theology is science so long as it follows this approach. The key is objectivity.

John 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

I John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

So long as we empty ourselves of bias, and seek only to know what the truth is, we will be able to see it. The Holy Spirit will teach us.

We know God is a personal being and not just a force. But it is impossible to separate God from perfect order, for He is the perfect order that governs the universe. As such, He is also perfect reason. Our reason is only an obstacle to us when we use it improperly. Our accuracy is only limited by the extent to which we are consistent, persistent, and objective in applying it to our lives.

We end this section with an appropriate quote from Justin Martyr, an early Christian writer and apologist who lived from 110-165 AD and who died for his faith.

The First Apology of Justin
Chap. CXLI - Free-Will In Men And Angels.

"I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason, that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand."
- Justin Martyr (110-165 AD)

There is much more to say on this topic. For another short study on the use of reason in the New Testament, please visit the article titled "Reason and Learning through Questions" in our In Depth Studies section.