Catacomb Resident Blog

The Faith of Abraham and Christ

28 March 2022

The New Testament says that the faith of Abraham prefigures our faith in Christ. That should mean to you that there might be lacking some fullness of implications, but the fundamental nature is unchanged. Faith is faith regardless of the context.

We need to understand what faith would have meant for Abraham. We should strive to get inside of his head. Aside from the few specific episodes of his life recorded in the Bible, all we have to go on is the broader cultural background from which he was born -- the murky depths of Akkadian, Aramean and Sumerian cultures. What can we know of such things?

They would have maintained a consciousness of two realms of existence. The realm of human living was one thing; the eternal realm was another. They were fully conscious that the human intellect is incapable of dealing with the latter. They would not have presumed to speak of eternal things in concrete human terms. Rather, they would always have used parables and symbolism. That was built into most Ancient Near Eastern languages; many of them were like Hebrew, in which the bulk of the language was inherently symbolic. In Hebrew, a parabolic reference is the default assumption until it's obvious that the literal meaning is indicated.

The burden of recognizing the boundaries of symbolism versus concrete literalism was upon the individual. It was wired into the language and intellectual assumptions of the culture. It's quite common for modern scholars attempting to translate those Ancient Near Eastern languages to miss the point, because the intellectual assumptions are so radically different from the West. You typically have public pronouncements that the ancients said and believed some of the craziest nonsense because some self-promoting scholar doesn't actually understand the culture. Most of what you hear through the MSM is from inferior scholars who don't get it.

Example: In Hebrew, the term elohim is used mostly in parable. The actual root meaning is not translatable into English. It's a reference to having a significant amount of moral authority to decide and act, conveying the idea of being the company of gods. The word is grammatically plural. It can be used to indicate many different things, depending on the context. We are used to thinking of it as a nickname for the One True God, but it was also used to indicate both angelic authorities and human authorities among other things. You are supposed to make sure you first understand all the common intellectual assumptions about the culture first, then try to understand how the word is used in a given narrative.

Another example is the Hebrew word baal. It generally translates as a generic term for lordship in the sense of feudal authority. We are used to seeing that as the nickname for a class of pagan deities. However, a Hebrew woman would address her husband as "my baal", meaning she called him "lord" in the feudal sense. It's roughly equivalent to the English usage of "Sir" as a title. If you were to see how often and where it shows up in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, you'd get lost very quickly if you tried to restrict the meaning of the word.

Hebrew language is not meant convey truth, as if words were containers. Rather, Hebrew language is sign posts to truth you must personally explore, and truth is a living being we get to know. The notion of "propositional truth" would be ludicrous to anyone from the Ancient Near East. Ultimate truth is whatever God thinks, and the whole notion includes the image of interacting with Him personally. The western notion that truth could exist independent of God would be blasphemous. There could never be "objective truth" in the Ancient Near East. Rather, truth is inherently moral in nature, not factual. One must become acquainted with truth as a Person, not as a static thing.

In both of those examples above, we see that the words are most often used in a symbolic sense. The problem is that most western Christian leaders confuse the symbolic and literal use of language in the Hebrew culture. Their instinct is to read things literally when such is seldom the intent, and take as symbolic things the Hebrews meant literally.

So Abraham would have meant it literally when he suggested that the natural world sings to him of the greatness of his God. But that's because Abraham was educated in a heart-centered culture, where the intellect is an untrustworthy part of the fallen flesh, closed by default to moral truth. The heart does hear nature sing of the glory of the Lord, in a literal sense. Meanwhile, God does not use literal hands to move things. If nothing else, the angels are His "hands" for such things.

The only way we can understand the heart-borne awareness is because some scholars have figured it out in trying to grasp what the Ancient Near Eastern writings convey. They consistently say things like, "In the Bible, the heart is the seat of the will." In this context, "the will" is the capacity for faith and commitment in full conviction. And translators realize that the Old Testament verbiage is filled with references to not trusting in what man can come up with, as a warning that the intellect is fallen.

Where we fail is that we don't embrace this fully in faith. We don't let it seep into the full range of our conscious awareness. The western world around us constantly tries to pickle us in the notion that human intellect is not fallen, but that it is the highest faculty of man. Abraham would not have struggled with such nonsense; it was foreign to his world. He would regard this mortal existence as shadowy mists, not entirely real. He would have assumed it was necessary to enter into a higher consciousness in order to see the moral truth of things. Thus, a primary duty of men in his day was to invest the time in contemplation so that the mind could be subjected to the divine and begin to recognize the moral truth of things.

This would have been the way Jesus' mind worked, as well. As the quintessential Hebrew, the ultimate human judge of what it meant to be Hebrew, this would have been His normal. Are you going to follow Christ all the way?

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