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    Dr. Bob Gonzales's Avatar
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    I Believe—Help My Unbelief! Abraham’s Faith in Genesis 15

    Some modern evangelicals, however, part company with the Reformation tradition of sola fide and interpret Abram’s faith in the active sense as faithfulness or conformity to the covenant. Don Garlington, for examples, writes, “The point of Genesis 15:6, as taken up by Romans 4, is that Abraham was regarded as a righteous, that is, covenant keeping, person when he continued to place his trust in God’s promise of a seed.” Garlington then defines Abraham’s faith as “fidelity to God” and equates his divinely reckoned “righteousness” as “conformity to the covenant relationship,” that is, “faithful obedience.” “Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper,” 49, 52.

    It’s mistake, however, to paint Abram’s faith in too rosy a hue. The exercise of faith does not preclude lingering pockets of unbelief (Matt 28:17; Mark 9:24). Hence, after Abram rejects the tempting offer of material enrichment from Sodom’s king, God appears to him in a vision and declares, “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (15:1). The admonition against “fear” does not refer primarily to the dread induced by a vision of deity but to circumstances in Abram’s life that were giving rise to anxiety. Abram identifies these circumstances as the lack of an heir (15:2–3) and an inheritance (15:8). God addresses the patriarch’s fears by reiterating the promises of an offspring (15:4–5) and inheritance (15:7). While Abram responds in faith to this promise (15:6), his faith seems to demand more than a bare word. The appeal “Oh, Lord God, how am I to know I shall possess it?” (15:8) suggests that Abram’s faith needed greater assurance. Accordingly, God condescends to his weakness and places himself under a self-maledictory oath (15:9–21; Heb. 6:13–18). Thus, the accent of chapter 15 falls on God’s faithfulness rather than on Abram’s faith. This observation is critical to a proper interpretation of Genesis 15:6. According to a traditional Protestant reading of the text, Abram’s faith is passive or receptive in character and the focus is on Yahweh’s faithfulness.

    For a further rebuttal and critique of Garlington’s interpretation, see John Piper, “A Response to Don Garlington on Imputation,” Reformation & Revival 2:4 (2003): 121–29; and Samuel Waldron, Faith, Obedience, and Justification: Current Departures from Sola Fide (Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2006), 185–223.

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    Bob Gonzales
    Last edited by Dr. Bob Gonzales; 11-29-2009 at 06:01 AM.
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    timmopussycat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Bob Gonzales View Post
    Some modern evangelicals, however, part company with the Reformation tradition of sola fide and interpret Abram’s faith in the active sense as faithfulness or conformity to the covenant. Don Garlington, for examples, writes, “The point of Genesis 15:6, as taken up by Romans 4, is that Abraham was regarded as a righteous, that is, covenant keeping, person when he continued to place his trust in God’s promise of a seed.” Garlington then defines Abraham’s faith as “fidelity to God” and equates his divinely reckoned “righteousness” as “conformity to the covenant relationship,” that is, “faithful obedience.” “Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper,” 49, 52.

    It’s mistake, however, to paint Abram’s faith in too rosy a hue. The exercise of faith does not preclude lingering pockets of unbelief (Matt 28:17; Mark 9:24). Hence, after Abram rejects the tempting offer of material enrichment from Sodom’s king, God appears to him in a vision and declares, “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (15:1). The admonition against “fear” does not refer primarily to the dread induced by a vision of deity but to circumstances in Abram’s life that were giving rise to anxiety. Abram identifies these circumstances as the lack of an heir (15:2–3) and an inheritance (15:8). God addresses the patriarch’s fears by reiterating the promises of an offspring (15:4–5) and inheritance (15:7). While Abram responds in faith to this promise (15:6), his faith seems to demand more than a bare word. The appeal “Oh, Lord God, how am I to know I shall possess it?” (15:8) suggests that Abram’s faith needed greater assurance. Accordingly, God condescends to his weakness and places himself under a self-maledictory oath (15:9–21; Heb. 6:13–18). Thus, the accent of chapter 15 falls on God’s faithfulness rather than on Abram’s faith. This observation is critical to a proper interpretation of Genesis 15:6. According to a traditional Protestant reading of the text, Abram’s faith is passive or receptive in character and the focus is on Yahweh’s faithfulness.

    For a rebuttal and critique of Garlington’s interpretation, see John Piper, “A Response to Don Garlington on Imputation,” 121–29; and Samuel Waldron, Faith, Obedience, and Justification, 185–223.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales

    You appear to be citing chapters or articles by Piper and Waldron, but you don't tell us the book involved. Or are these two separate books by each man?
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    Abraham's life was anything but an uninterrupted exercise in personal Covenantal faithfulness. Sadly, today, it is common for people to question the conversion of men like Abraham and Israel early on in their lives based on actions that come later. This evidences the poverty in understanding on Justification and how "rough cut" the Saints of God look during the ongoing process of sanctification.

    I'm exhorting on Gen 21 today and the theme that keep emerging throughout is the Promise of God.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Semper Fidelis View Post
    Abraham's life was anything but an uninterrupted exercise in personal Covenantal faithfulness. Sadly, today, it is common for people to question the conversion of men like Abraham and Israel early on in their lives based on actions that come later. This evidences the poverty in understanding on Justification and how "rough cut" the Saints of God look during the ongoing process of sanctification.

    I'm exhorting on Gen 21 today and the theme that keep emerging throughout is the Promise of God.
    Rich,

    The unfaithfulness of men such as Moses (striking the rock twice), Abraham (lying), Joseph (conceit), Elijah (depression and lack of faith), David (conspiracy and murder) etc. tells me that the process of sanctification continues throughout our life. I find great comfort in that because my acceptance by the Father is not on the basis of my faithfulness, but Christ's. And while my unfaithfulness in my Christian pilgrimage is never acceptable, it has been forgiven. In fact, it causes me to cling even firmer to the cross, lest I lose hope.
    Bill Brown
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    And here I am preparing notes for teaching on Ephesians 2:8-10 this morning, and these same thoughts are running through my head as well... the law requires perfect obedience - something impossible for Moses, Abraham, David, etc., to have attained to, both by imputation, nature and commission. Salvation must be and is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. Why is it this way? Ephesians 2:7, so that the immeasurable riches of God's glorious grace might be shown forth to all. Assurance, if grounded in performance of good works, must fail; if grounded in Christ's person and work, is great comfort to God's people.
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    Quote Originally Posted by timmopussycat View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Bob Gonzales View Post
    Some modern evangelicals, however, part company with the Reformation tradition of sola fide and interpret Abram’s faith in the active sense as faithfulness or conformity to the covenant. Don Garlington, for examples, writes, “The point of Genesis 15:6, as taken up by Romans 4, is that Abraham was regarded as a righteous, that is, covenant keeping, person when he continued to place his trust in God’s promise of a seed.” Garlington then defines Abraham’s faith as “fidelity to God” and equates his divinely reckoned “righteousness” as “conformity to the covenant relationship,” that is, “faithful obedience.” “Imputation or Union with Christ? A Response to John Piper,” 49, 52.

    It’s mistake, however, to paint Abram’s faith in too rosy a hue. The exercise of faith does not preclude lingering pockets of unbelief (Matt 28:17; Mark 9:24). Hence, after Abram rejects the tempting offer of material enrichment from Sodom’s king, God appears to him in a vision and declares, “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (15:1). The admonition against “fear” does not refer primarily to the dread induced by a vision of deity but to circumstances in Abram’s life that were giving rise to anxiety. Abram identifies these circumstances as the lack of an heir (15:2–3) and an inheritance (15:8). God addresses the patriarch’s fears by reiterating the promises of an offspring (15:4–5) and inheritance (15:7). While Abram responds in faith to this promise (15:6), his faith seems to demand more than a bare word. The appeal “Oh, Lord God, how am I to know I shall possess it?” (15:8) suggests that Abram’s faith needed greater assurance. Accordingly, God condescends to his weakness and places himself under a self-maledictory oath (15:9–21; Heb. 6:13–18). Thus, the accent of chapter 15 falls on God’s faithfulness rather than on Abram’s faith. This observation is critical to a proper interpretation of Genesis 15:6. According to a traditional Protestant reading of the text, Abram’s faith is passive or receptive in character and the focus is on Yahweh’s faithfulness.

    For a rebuttal and critique of Garlington’s interpretation, see John Piper, “A Response to Don Garlington on Imputation,” 121–29; and Samuel Waldron, Faith, Obedience, and Justification, 185–223.

    Your servant,
    Bob Gonzales

    You appear to be citing chapters or articles by Piper and Waldron, but you don't tell us the book involved. Or are these two separate books by each man?
    Tim,

    I'm actually citing from neither. The exposition of Genesis 15 is mine. However, I listed Piper and Waldron because they deal with Garlington and the conflation of faith and obedience more fully--Piper from a biblical and Waldron from a historical theology point of view.

    I also gave fuller bibliographical information. Sorry for the oversight
    Bob Gonzales Jr., Dean and Professor of Biblical Theology
    [URL="http://rbseminary.org/"]Reformed Baptist Seminary[/URL]

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    Quote Originally Posted by Herald View Post
    The unfaithfulness of men such as Moses (striking the rock twice), Abraham (lying), Joseph (conceit), Elijah (depression and lack of faith), David (conspiracy and murder) etc. tells me that the process of sanctification continues throughout our life. I find great comfort in that because my acceptance by the Father is not on the basis of my faithfulness, but Christ's. And while my unfaithfulness in my Christian pilgrimage is never acceptable, it has been forgiven. In fact, it causes me to cling even firmer to the cross, lest I lose hope.
    I would like to counter what I think is a common view, respecting the bolded portion above.

    I would certainly cite Joseph as an example of a sinner, saved by grace. I think his obvious sin is shown in Gen48:17, when he is "displeased" with his father for blessing Ephraim over Manasseh. He fails to recognize and honor the Word of the Lord.

    Which is instructive for the passage in ch37--I think this is what you are alluding to, Bill--where Joseph relays his dreams. I don't think a close reading of that passage bears out the "conceited" view of Joseph at all. What is a prophet supposed to do with his vision, keep it to himself? Because it will offend the hearers?

    No, but the wicked brothers hate their brother for his father's favor, and the more for his doctrine. Which is exactly the analogy Stephen draws between those men and the "brethren" who hated Christ (Acts 7:9, and see the rest of his sermon). And as for his father, he prevents Joseph's sin of the same stripe, when he seems to question the Word of the Lord to him also.

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    Bruce,

    I appreciate your feedback (and I don't think you conceited for sharing it!).

    I've always seen the younger Joseph as one who parlayed his father's favor by making himself odious to his brothers. I could be wrong in that assessment, but even if I'm not it doesn't excuse his brother's actions.
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    “The point of Genesis 15:6, as taken up by Romans 4, is that Abraham was regarded as a righteous, that is, covenant keeping, person when he continued to place his trust in God’s promise of a seed.” Garlington then defines Abraham’s faith as “fidelity to God” and equates his divinely reckoned “righteousness” as “conformity to the covenant relationship,” that is, “faithful obedience.”
    So when Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands by having Abraham father a child with a maid, this is considered evidence of great faith and fidelity to God' requirements?

    I too am relieved that the great saints of old are shown with all their warts -- and that we are all saved (and sanctified!) by grace alone!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Contra_Mundum View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Herald View Post
    The unfaithfulness of men such as Moses (striking the rock twice), Abraham (lying), Joseph (conceit), Elijah (depression and lack of faith), David (conspiracy and murder) etc. tells me that the process of sanctification continues throughout our life. I find great comfort in that because my acceptance by the Father is not on the basis of my faithfulness, but Christ's. And while my unfaithfulness in my Christian pilgrimage is never acceptable, it has been forgiven. In fact, it causes me to cling even firmer to the cross, lest I lose hope.
    I would like to counter what I think is a common view, respecting the bolded portion above.

    I would certainly cite Joseph as an example of a sinner, saved by grace. I think his obvious sin is shown in Gen48:17, when he is "displeased" with his father for blessing Ephraim over Manasseh. He fails to recognize and honor the Word of the Lord.

    Which is instructive for the passage in ch37--I think this is what you are alluding to, Bill--where Joseph relays his dreams. I don't think a close reading of that passage bears out the "conceited" view of Joseph at all. What is a prophet supposed to do with his vision, keep it to himself? Because it will offend the hearers?

    No, but the wicked brothers hate their brother for his father's favor, and the more for his doctrine. Which is exactly the analogy Stephen draws between those men and the "brethren" who hated Christ (Acts 7:9, and see the rest of his sermon). And as for his father, he prevents Joseph's sin of the same stripe, when he seems to question the Word of the Lord to him also.

    In my new book Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with a Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives, I argue that Moses spends as much if not more time highlighting the sins of the patriarchs and matriarchs as he does their piety. Unfortunately, the tendency of Jewish, Early Church, and even many Protestant commentators has been to minimize the faults of the partiarchs while magnifying their virtue and obedience. This tendency has fallen into the hands of some of the NPP folk.

    However, in the particular case of Joseph addressed above, I do agree with Bruce. Joseph brings Jacob a negative report concerning his half-brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (37:2). At this time, Joseph was seventeen years old and apparently served as a shepherd alongside his brothers. Although the text does not explicitly reveal the brothers’ reaction to Joseph’s disclosure, the subsequent flow of the narrative suggests that Joseph’s negative report contributed to unfriendly relations with his siblings. Because the Hebrew terminology employed to describe Joseph’s “bad report” is commonly employed for a false or negatively biased report (Num 13:32; 14:36, 37; Ps 31:14; Prov 10:18; 25:10; Jer 20:10; Ezek 36:3), some commentators charge Joseph with slander or accuse him of being a tattletale.

    But several considerations suggest that the reader view Joseph’s report in a more positive light. The noun dibbah with the modifier ra'ah may, in this case, refer to a negative yet accurate report concerning the “evil” deeds of his brothers. On the other hand, one may interpret the pronominal suffix affixed to the noun as a subjective rather than an objective genitive. In this case, Joseph is reporting the slanderous things his brothers are saying rather than acting as the perpetrator of slander himself.

    The subsequent narratives that portray Joseph as a man of integrity and contrast his moral behavior with that of his brothers would seem to constrain a more positive interpretation of his actions here. Moreover, Joseph’s “bad report” concerning the “sons of Bilhah and Zilpah” fills out the overall negative picture of Jacob’s sons. Moses has already portrayed Simeon, Levi, and Reuben in a negative light (34:13–31; 35:22a). Here, he exposes the sons of the concubines (37:2). Judah still remains, and Moses will expose his negative character later in the narrative.
    Bob Gonzales Jr., Dean and Professor of Biblical Theology
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    Bob,
    That is very nearly my view. May I add one more line of evidence?

    It is stated particulary that Israel loved this son. I think that the covenant name is to be especially noted in this case, as we look for theological meaning behind Moses' choice of terms. Jacob/Israel continues to be referred to under both identities for the duration of his life, which itself is instructive as to each of our dual-identities, dual citizenships.

    As an aside, note that in the course of the narrative, it is precisely when the brothers bring back the blood-stained coat that "Jacob tore his clothes," (v34, his heart failed him, and he lost faith); and ch.45:27-28:
    27When they told him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Then Israel said, "It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die."
    So, continuing, I think it quite clear in the passage that Joseph is the one son in whom Israel recognizes a kindred-Spirit. Israel is rapidly aging, he cannot know how long he has to live. His own father, Isaac, had by this time of life gone blind, and was not wisely choosing the proper recipient of the birthright, the mantle of covenant leadership in the people of God.

    So, we should understand that "coat of extremities" given to Joseph as the mantle of spiritual-headship in the home, and not a sign of thoughtless favoritism on the part of a doting father.
    Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan
    ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, CentralLake, MI

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