Our Father Abraham

Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith : is the best reference book on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith availble. I reach for my well worn copy (with sticky notes sticking out a dozen pages) at several times a week.

It is invaluable. This acclaimed volume explains the link between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old and the New Testaments, and calls Christians to a more biblical lifestyle.

Marvin R. Wilson, PhD, Ockenga Professor of Biblical Studies, Gordon College, author of Our Father Abraham I was fortunate to hear him speak several times. Dr. Wilson gives a balanced look at the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Abraham is father of us all, as Paul wrote to the Romans (Rom. 4:16). He is father of believing Jews, and he is father of believing Gentiles (Rom. 4:11, 12). So if we belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29). We have that wonderful Abrahamic connection.

To some people it comes as a surprise that the roots of Christianity run so very deep into the soil of Judaism. It seems they believe the Church was invented out of whole cloth. No, it was born in a Jewish cradle in Jerusalem, on a Jewish holiday, and the forebears of our faith were Jews.

Our debt as Christians to the Jewish people is immense. Seventy-seven percent of the Bible is the Jewish Scriptures or the Hebrew Bible, and the remaining 23 percent, the New Testament, essentially consists of Hebraic theological concepts in Greek dress. So the theology of the New Testament is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Bible.

Indeed Christianity is very, very Jewish.

Since it was first published, Our Father Abraham has reverberated loudly through any Jewish-Christian dialogue that is concerned with developing a better understanding between these two faiths. Christian Century magazine listed Our Father Abraham as an “all-time best seller” in its field. Touching on areas of history, Jewish thought and tradition, this book seeks to help Jews and Christians better understand one another and attempt to build bridges regarding our sizable pool of common belief .

The book is broken down into five parts. They are:

  1. A New People: Abraham’s Spiritual Children
  2. The Church and Synagogue in the Light of History
  3. Understanding Hebrew Thought
  4. Jewish Heritage and the Church: Selected Studies
  5. Toward Restoring Jewish Roots

Within each of these areas are a variety of sub-points that will enhance your study and understanding of the Bible. Its goal is to help the reader see the strong link between Judaism and Christianity and the Old and New Testaments. By seeing and understanding this link, it is hoped that the reader will be able to develop a more authentically Biblical lifestyle.

Our Father Abraham is highly regarded and highly recommended. Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee says the book “…is a stunning achievement. Marvin Wilson’s superb scholarship is combined with many concrete suggestions for building a new relationship between the church and the synagogue, between Christians and Jews. Our Father Abraham is a must for educators, clergy and the laity.”

Carl E. Armerding of Regent College commends Wilson for “…throwing down a theological gauntlet, challenging Christians of all kinds to reform a 2,000 year history of misunderstanding Jews and misinterpreting our own sources. This book does not pretend to be the last word in the dialogue, but it is a powerful first salvo.”

Our Father Abraham Excerpt

Since their beginning, the people of God have stressed the importance of understanding their uniqueness, of knowing from whom they have come. Roots were always important, for Israel’s faith was deeply imbedded in history. Thus knowledge of beginnings is central to Biblical thought. The Old Testament opens with the book of Genesis, which in Hebrew is entitled bere’shit, “in the beginning or “by way of beginning.” This foundational source contains many genealogical tables that fix the beginnings of the Jewish people within a specific ancient Near Eastern setting. Likewise, the New Testament begins with the Gospel of Matthew tracing the line of Jesus. Matthew introduces his account with these words: “A record of the geneology of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). To be cognizant of one’s past was essential for establishing confidence about the future.”Look to Abraham Your Father”

God’s sovereign plan in history was to establish his covenant through a man called Abraham (of Abram, as He was originally known). Abraham was a Semite, a descendant of Noah’s son Shem (Gen. 11:10-32). The patriarch Abraham was the first person in the Bible to be called a “Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13). All Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham as father of the Hebrew nation. Accordingly, the Lord proclaimed through his prophet, “Look to the rock from which you were cut…look to Abraham, you father” (Isa. 51:1-2).

Genesis 12 records the call of Abraham. God told him that his offspring would inherit the land of Canaan (v.7;cf. 13:15;17:8) and that he would have numerous descendants (12:2;cf. 13:16;15:5). God also promised Abraham, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3;cf. 18:18;22:18). In the New Testament, Peter’s speech to his fellow Jews gathered near the Temple indicates that they, as physical descendants of Abraham, are heirs of this promised blessing (Acts 3:25;cf. 3:12). But the New Testament also indicates that gentile believers-those who are spiritual rather than lineal descendants of Abraham-likewise share in this Abrahamic kinship (cf. Gal. 3:8). Indeed, all Christians find their origin in Abraham the Hebrew, for, as Paul states, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed” (Gal. 3:29).

The biblical phrase “our father Abraham” (John 8:53; Acts 7:2) thus expresses the family relationship that every person of faith has with “the man of faith” (Gal. 3:29). The New Testament writers argue that those who display Abraham’s faith and deeds are Abraham’s true offspring (John 8:31-41). James reminds his readers that Abraham, as father of the the faithful, is called “God’s friend” (Jas. 2:23; cf. 2 Chr. 20:7). Furthermore, James links all Christians to this exemplary patriarch by speaking of him as “our ancestor Abraham” (2:21), a man whose “faith was made complete by what he did” (v. 22). Indeed, the New Testament emphasizes that before Abraham was circumcised, he believed God and acted upon that belief (Rom. 4:9-12). In sum, according to the book of Hebrews, Abraham’s faithful obedience, from the moment God called him (Heb. 11:8ff.), serves as an inspiring witness to the Church (12:1), that new people of God both rooted in Abraham and numbered among his children.

The question of origins is a question of roots. Since the American public became absorbed with a moving television documentary called “Roots” a number of years ago, many people have been more conscious about their own roots. Considerable interest in tracing family, ethnic, and national ties has resulted in a recent flood of literature on this subject.

At the same time, however, many Christians seem to have little knowledge about their biblical roots. They have never really penetrated the inner world of biblical thought. Christians can converse intelligently about the latest automobiles, fashions, music, and sports, but too few give evidence of a deep understanding of their spiritual heritage. At best, their grounding in biblical soil is both shallow and shaky. Hence, they usually embrace an uncritical conformity to the prevailing spirit of today’s world. As children of Abraham, Christians should be asking, “What does it mean to claim spiritual kinship with Abraham and the Jewish people?”
God’s people are called to be different from the world, through the “renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). Every Christian must seriously heed Paul’s warning, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould” (Rom 12:2, Phillips). Thus a Christian mind is one in the process of being renewed according to divinely revealed thought patterns and values.

A Christian’s frame of reference must be constructed of sound building blocks derived from Scripture. But God’s people can scarcely be expected to heed Paul’s admonition to “work out” their salvation (Phil. 2:12) with that biblical frame of reference unless they know how that frame is constructed. How does today’s Christian learn to think and approach life as Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets did, and as Jesus, Paul, and the apostles did? This knowledge comes only by uncovering the overarching mind-set that the writers of Scripture reflect. We must enter their world and become conversant with their culture. We too must “look to Abraham our father.

Description from The Publisher:

Although the roots of Christianity run deep into Hebrew soil, many Christians are regrettably uninformed about the rich Hebrew heritage of the church. This volume delineates the link between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old and the New Testament, and calls Christians to reexamine their Hebrew roots so as to effect a more authentically biblical life-style.

As an introduction to the world of Hebrew thought, Our Father Abraham is biblical, historical, and cultural in nature. At the same time, the writing is personal and passionate, reflecting Marvin Wilson’s own spiritual pilgrimage and his extensive dialogue with Jews.

The book develops a historical perspective on the Jewish origins of the church sets forth the importance and nature of Hebrew thought discusses how the church can become more attuned to the Hebraic mind-set of Scripture offers practical suggestions for interaction between Jews and Christians

The study questions at the end of each chapter enhance the book’s usefulness as a text and also make it suitable for Bible-study and discussion groups. All Christians and Jews too will profit from Wilson’s sensible treatments of biblical texts, his thorough understanding of both the Christian and the Jewish faith, and his honest historical analysis of the general failure of the Christian church to acknowledge and understand its relation to Judaism.

Book Review from Jerusalem Perspective by David Pileggi

Our Father Abraham begins with a useful survey of the Jewish origins of the Church and provides some fresh perspectives on the early relationship between Jews and the Jewish disciples of Jesus. For example, Wilson points out that according to recent historical research from Israel, the bir·kat ha·mi·nim (a first-century prayer against heretics) was not specifically formulated for use against Jewish followers of Jesus, as has often been maintained. The book also clears up a number of popular misconceptions about Judaism. One of the most widespread is the belief that Judaism teaches salvation by works, when in fact Judaism in the time of Jesus, and today, maintains that it is only through the mercy of God that salvation is obtained.

Wilson continues with a review of anti-Semitism, primarily emphasizing the de-Judaization of the Church. This process was completed by the end of the second century and resulted in a tidal wave of Christian anti-Judaism. Wilson focuses on what the twin diseases of anti-Semitism and de-Judaization have cost the Church. Spiritually severed from its Jewish foundations, the Church adopted much of the Platonic thought that prevailed in the Greek world.

Perhaps the best example is the influence of Platonic thought on Christian understanding of sex and marriage. Platonism sees the body as imperfect and a source of evil, while the spirit is viewed as something pure that demands release from the body. Because of this, celibacy came to be considered a holier state for the Christian, with marriage reserved for the spiritually weak and those unable to control their “earthly passions.”

The Hebrew concept of marriage is quite different. From biblical times until today, Jewish teaching has consistently affirmed the goodness of marriage and family. As Wilson notes, “the Song of Songs celebrates sexuality and human love in bold terms. The Hebrews were far from those who displayed an indifference or blandness about life. Though not hedonistic, their life-style was physical and robust.” Except for the Essenes, it was almost unknown in Jewish tradition to remain unmarried. With this in mind, Wilson points out, “it is not surprising that biblical Hebrew has no word for ‘bachelor.’”

The author warns that once the Church strays from its Jewish heritage, distortion is bound to follow. He illustrates this with selected studies on community, family life and discipleship. In each of these areas he shows how the Church has lost sight of the biblical/Jewish ideal.

Wilson offers a number of helpful suggestions that will enable Christians to adopt “a Hebraic orientation toward life and the world.” He suggests three general areas for this: personal interaction, personal education, and personal action or righteous living. As regards the latter, the author states: “Orthodoxy (correct or straight thinking) must lead to orthopraxy (right doing)…. Christianity must be careful that it does not allow dogma (the way to believe, prescribed by creed) to overshadow halakhah (the way to walk or live). Both concepts must be held in balance.”

Developing a Hebraic orientation after 1900 years of de-Judaization is not easy. One needs what Wilson calls “a Jewish heart … a personal living feel for the world of Judaism.” Ultimately this will allow Christians to gain a fuller understanding of what the Bible teaches, and a richer appreciation of life.

Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

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