The Faith of Abraham 


Thus Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

The Scriptures often have interesting ways of phrasing things. Some lines require you to stop and think about what they could possibly mean as a literal reading leaves more questions than answers. In the above quote from St Paul for example, it says that the “scripture” foresaw that “God would justify the Gentiles by faith.” We of course think of scripture as being inanimate written words and so not able to see let alone foresee anything. Not only did the scripture foresee what God was going to do but St Paul says the scripture also “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” – it says not that the scripture was preached but the scripture did the preaching!  And “the scripture”, which for St Paul would mean the Jewish Scripture/the Old Testament, preached “the Gospel” to Abraham hundreds of years before the Gospel was written!

It is interesting on so many levels. St John Chrysostom for example was impressed with Abraham’s faithfulness because Abraham acted faithfully before the Law was given to the Jews and before there was any scripture to teach him (Romans 4:12 says “follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised”—Abraham had faith before there was any Law). We might wonder with Chrysostom how the scripture could have preached to Abraham since the scripture as such comes into existence only long after Abraham’s death (Moses was believed to have been the author of the Abraham narrative and he wrote 500 years after Abraham had died). These scriptural ‘irritants’ cause us to slow down in our reading of the Bible and to realize God puts far more into the text than any casual or literal reading can realize.


Of course, the above text became emphasized after the Protestant Reformation which focused on every text dealing with faith and so perhaps ignored some of the irritants in the text because it assumed it knew what the text was about. Even if we look to the text to help us understand the importance of faith in the Christian life, we still have to contemplate what faith is. Bishop Alexis Trader writes:

… the mode of faith resembles the way in which people perceive external reality, rather than the mental process of conceiving an idea. In fact, the Saint [Isaac the Syrian] notes that the mode of faith involves a ‘perception of what is hidden’ or initially invisible, that later by divine vision becomes visible as well. Consequently, the mode of faith is more refined than the mode of reasoning, even as thought is subtler than action. Through faith, believers see God’s providence, protection, and care in their lives; they understand how thoughts are interrelated and perceive where bad thoughts lead. This in turn brings them to the realization that they must pray to God for all things, both great and small.  (ANCIENT CHRISTIAN WISDOM AND AARON BECK’S COGNITIVE THERAPY, p 118)


Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov reminds us that faith is different than commonly conceived as he notes that faith, rather than virtue, is the opposite of sin:

Asceticism has nothing to do with moralism. The opposite of sin is not virtue but the faith of the saints. Moralism exerts natural forces, and its fundamental voluntarism submits human behavior to moral imperatives. We know how fragile and ineffective every autonomous and imminent ethical system is, for it is not a source of life. We can respect the law, but we can never love it as we love a person – Jesus Christ, for example. Christ is not the principle of good but good Incarnate. That is why in the tragic conflicts of existence, in the depths of some overwhelming sorrow or loneliness, moral and sociological principles are powerless. They do not have the power to say to a paralytic: ‘Get up and walk!’ They cannot pardon or absolve, wipe out a fault or raise the dead.  (AGES OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, p 153)


Faith moves us beyond mere obedience for it puts us into relationship with the divine. Faith is not simply adhering to a set of rules and regulations to govern our moral lives. Faith is what makes us servants of God, receptive to the Gospel and the forgiveness of our sins. Faith transforms us and makes it possible for us to love God and neighbor and to be God’s children imitating God and behaving like God.

And his name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. (Acts 3:16)