Christ Fulfills the Promise to Abraham

aagesonOn the Sunday before Christmas, the Gospel reading in the Orthodox Church is Matthew 1:1-25, the genealogy of Christ.  James Aageson in  his book WRITTEN ALSO FOR OUR SAKE: PAUL AND THE ART OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION offers some thoughts on the importance of Christ’s ancestry for St. Paul.   

  “In Galatians 3:16, Paul identifies Christ as the offspring of Abraham. The apostle makes a direct link between the promise given to the patriarch and the fulfillment of that promise in the birth of Jesus Christ. Virtually any Jew in the first century would have known that Isaac was the fulfillment of the promise made to forefathers2Abraham and would have been perplexed, probably offended, by the suggestion that Christ somehow epitomized the completion of God’s word to the patriarch. Although Paul does not explicitly use the language of promise and fulfillment in the development of his Christology, it is clearly implied in the identification of Christ with the seed of Abraham. According to Paul, that which has been promised to Abraham has now been brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. … Paul is asserting that Christ is the son of Abraham in a unique sense. He is not the offspring of Abraham simply by virtue of his Jewishness but because he is the Christ. … Furthermore, this connection allows the apostle to identify those who are ‘in Christ’ (and therefore descendants of Abraham) with the people of God (Gal. 3:26-29). … Paul is convinced that Christ is the fulfillment of God’s intention for the salvation of humankind. With that Christological presupposition in mind, he can assert that God’s word to Abraham is in effect the promise to which Christ is the fulfillment. … At the heart of Paul’s reflection on the Abrahamic material is a concern for the inclusion of Gentiles into the community of Christ. This is what drives Paul’s understanding of Abraham. His primary concern is not personal salvation or a private relationship with God. Paul’s interest is corporate. It has to do with the community of Christ and the way a person becomes part of that community. It is by faith and not works that Gentiles enter into the fellowship of Christ and become part of his body. This is Paul’s gospel of inclusion. Those on the outside, the Gentiles, through faith are made members of the body of Christ.” 

Aageson’s comments on how St. Paul ‘reinterprets’ the Old Testament – seeing Jesus not Isaac as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham – is significant in St. Matthew’s genealogy as well.  For unlike St. Luke whose genealogy traces Christ’s ancestry to Adam, St. Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus only to Abraham, and probably for the same reason that Aageson finds in St. Paul.  The promise that all the nations of the world would be blessed trough his descendants was given to Abraham not to Adam.  All humans might trace their ancestry to Adam, but the promised blessing to all peoples comes through Abraham’s descendants.  St. Matthew in his Nativity Narrative makes the connection to the blessing promised to all nations through the Persian Magi who come to worship the Christ child.  St. Luke on the other hand has “the great joy which will come to all the people” announced by the angelic heralds to the shepherds.    In both Nativity Narratives, Jesus is seen as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham – but a fulfillment not only for the Jews but for all peoples.  St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, to the nations of the world, understood that Christ indeed is the very blessing that God promised to Abraham.  The blessing which the people of God hoped for and looked for and which came into the world in the fullness of time, when the Virgin Mary was ready to receive the Word of God and to allow Him to bear fruit for the salvation of the world.

The Christian Witness B.C.

On the Sunday before Christmas the epistle reading takes excerpts from Hebrews 11:9-40, the great crowd of witnesses whose faith through adversity is testimony to their hope in God.  In a previous blog, The Heroes of Hebrews 11, I commented on this Epistle Lesson.   As Orthodoxy understands the Old Testament, even before Christ came to earth, the saints who encountered God’s Word and the prophets speaking God’s Word, had already encountered Christ and spoke about Him.  Christ is the key to understanding the Old Testament.  We honor in our Church those who witnessed to Christ before He became flesh.

St. Silouan the Athonite writes of this great cloud of witnesses which we learn about on the Sunday before the Nativity, all of those chosen people of God who worked for Christ, long before he came to earth:

forefathers1“O how infirm is my spirit. A little wind can blow it out like a candle; but the spirit of the saints glowed with fire like the burning bush, fearless of the wind. Who will give me such fire that I know rest neither by day nor by night from love of God? The love of God is a consuming fire. For the love of God the saints bore every affliction – it was love of God gave them the power to work miracles. They healed the sick, restored the dead to life. They walked upon the waters, were lifted into the air during prayer, and by their prayers they brought rain down from heaven. But all my desire is to learn humility and the love of Christ, that I may offend no man but pray for all as I pray for myself.”