Foundations of Biblical Theology

St. Louis Christian College extension
Dr. James Strauss, Professor


The Promise and Hermeneutic of Abraham


I.  Abraham; Promises and Blessings (Gen. 12 - 25)


     A.  Abrahamic Promises - chp 12

     B.  Abrahamic Covenant - chp 17 - Conditional or Unconditional

     C.  Grammar and Exegesis of The Promise - Reflexive or Passive?

     D.  Passive use of reflexives not late development in the history of Semitic Languages (eg.

          Assy rio-Baby Ionian Code of “Hammurabi)

     E.  Passives and Reflexives in Hebrew (verb - to bless) Hithpael, Niphal, Piel/Pual, Kal,

          passive participle (egs. Gen. 37.35; Mi. 31.23; Lam. 4.1; Ez. 19.12; I Sam. 3.14; Dt. 28.68;

          Dan. 12.10; Ps. 92.9; Jon. 3.8.

      F. Three critical passages - Gen. 12.3; 18.18; Gen 22.18; 26.4; 28.14.

      1.     Vulgate renders as passive

      2.     LXX renders as passive

      3.     Jerome renders as passive

      G. N.T. citations: Acts 3.25; Gal. 3.8

      H. Early tendency of Semitic languages, including Hebrew to develop a passive significance

           (Babylonian examples at least as early as Abraham)

      1.     Universalism of Blessing - contra tribal god presupposition of some critical views.


II. Abrahamic Covenant; Conditional or Unconditional?


     A.  Covenant Scene in Gen. 15 (chps 12-22) (cf. Rogers, Eichrodt, von Rad, McGonigal’s

          Ph.D thesis, Kline, Mitchell, and Weinfeld ‘Berith’ in TDOT 2.)


     B.  Se’lf-maledictory oath aspect of Gen. 15 is reflected in at least two extra-Biblical texts: the

          Abba’ilum - Yarimlim Treaty and the Barga’ayah -Mate’il Treaty (see esp. Kline, Mitchell

          and Weinfeld).


     C.  Use of the preposition ‘with0 in Gen. 15.18 assumes bilateral agreement rather than

          unilateral imposition, and this in turn assumes the presence of conditions.


     D.  Lev. 26.40-45 is guaranteed by the quality of everlastingness, Gen. 17.7,13;(divine

          establishment) 15.18; 17.2.7


     E.  Interhuman Covenants in Gen. 12 - 25 (see McCarthy, “Three Covenants in Genesis” CBQ

          26 (1964):179-189; also his later study CBQ 27 (1965).


          1.  Covenant of Abram with Mamre and his brothers, Gen. 14.14-24.

          2.  Covenant Abraham with Abimelech - Gen. 21.22, 23,24 (20.3-7), 14-16.

          3.  Oath by Abraham’s steward (Gen. 24) vs. 9 - oath made by the servant is called ‘my

              oath’ by Abraham in vs. 8, and °my oath0 by Abraham also quoted by the steward in vs.               41. Though the servant swore the oath, the resultant commitment was said to be that of

              Abraham; what does this have to do with covenants?


     F.  Lord’s Covenant with Abraham - Gen 12-25


      1.     Making of Covenant - cut, give, establish (15.8 ‘Lord cut0 17.2,7,19,21 - the Hif”il

             may suggest either initial establishment or continuing maintenance

      2.     Covenant Relationship (15.18; 17.4,19,21; 17.2,7,10,11)

      3.     Breaking of The Covenant - 17.14

      4.     Preservation of The Covenant - 17.9,10

      5.     Sign of The Covenant - 17.10

      6.     Lord’s Covenant Commitments

      a.    I will make you a great nation, 12.2

      b.   I will bless, 12.2

      c.    I will make your name great, 12.2

d.   I will bless them that bless you, 12.3

e.    I will curse him that be_littleth you, 12.3 (cf. rt. q-1-l-used of breaking covenant. To despise one’s oath is to belittle the gods (qullulu).


     G.  Obligations Imposed on Abram


          1.  Get out - 12.1

          2.  Be a blessing - 12.2

          3.  Walk before me - perfect 17.1

          4.  Keep my covenant - 17.9ff

          5.  Take your son - 22.Iff Essence of Covenant


     H.  Essence of Covenant


          1.  I will be God - 17.7,8

          2.  I am your shield - 15.1

          3.  For I know (yada - love) 18.19

          4.  God remembered Abraham - 19.19

          5.  God is with thee - 21.22 (Jas. 2.23; Ex. 33.11)

     I.   Covenant and Oath


     “Since a covenant is essentially a promissory oath, it is only in this way that a social group could me made” responsible to their obligations.” (Mendenhal, Law and Covenant in Israel and Ancient Near East. 1955; also IDE “Covenant”)


     J.   Multiple Fulfillments of The Land of Promise - Ex. 15.18; 23.31; Deut. 1.7; 11.24; Joshua

          1.4; 21.43; 24:14; Pss. 72.8; 80.11; Ez. 33. 23-26; 47.17-20; 48.1,28; Micah 7.11-12;

          Zech. 9.10; Judges 3.8; I Kgs. 4.20,21; II Kgs. 17.1-23; [Jer. passim]; Hebrews 11.13,16;



K  Relationship of Abrahamic Covenant to The Mosaic Covenant: Unity and Tension in the Covenants—“The connection between the Abrahamic-Davidic (re) - new (ed) covenant and the Mosaic wisdom theology in the historical development of the Old Testament as “One of the most important clarifications needed in Biblical theology today.” (Kaiser in JETS 21/1 (Mar 1978):73).


          Weinfeld refers to the Mosaic covenant as obligatory, modeled on the suserain-vassel type of treaty, and the Abrahamic/Davidic as promissory, modeled on the royal grant (Weinfeld, “berith,” p. 270). (Differences and larities of covenants - Unity of Covenant is Promise).


Kline sees the unity of the covenants in “the concept of the kingdom of God, of which there are so many manifestations.” (Kline, Oath, pp. 36-37) Freedman like Bright creates grave difficultgies between Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenant and OT treatment of Davidic Covenant:  “Can covenant bond be broken and at the same time persist? Can God sever a relationship as a It of covenant violations and nevertheless maintain it in perpetuity? (cf. 0. T. Allis is proponent of conditionality of Abrahamic covenant -Ex. 6.4-5; 32.13; Lev. 26.42; Dt. 1.8; 7.7-8).


The covenant of grace is conditioned by the reception of the promises of the covenant.  “The promises respecting salvation are on condition of faith and repentance, and no one can deny that these promises are conditional (cf.  Bright, Covenant; McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant. Rome, 1978)


II Peter 1.3-11; 3.13 “Make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”