“Abram” translates to “exalted ancestor”. “Abraham” translates to “ancestor of a multitude”. While Ismael was Abraham’s son (the son he had with Sarah’s servant), it didn’t quite connect with Abraham as Ishmael wasn’t a result of him and Sarah (his wife and love).Both names had their own sting. “Exalted ancestor” requires more than just the son of a servant, but grandchildren. “Ancestor of a multitude” probably stung worse, for that would seem to imply even more. He had only one.
Yet, as Scriptures attest to (and Paul recapitulates) Abraham trusted God, and Paul notes that God “attributed” to Abraham righteousness. The strong implication for many commentators was that God “considered” Abraham righteous because of his faith/trust, not because of his actions. In addition, many infer that it also means that God viewed Abraham as righteous in spite of any possible failings or sins that Abraham had.
Circumcision was the act that in some respects “remembered” the covenant that God made with Abraham. One could view it as God choosing Abraham’s descendants, setting them aside, and treating them as righteous, even when they weren’t. The Israelites were set aside for God. The males bore the mark.
The similarity between circumcision and baptism are often drawn. Especially in the Christian traditions that baptize infants, it is quite simple. Even in the traditions that perform believer’s baptism, the imputation of righteousness is still there.
When we are baptized (as infant or believer), the righteousness we receive is that of Jesus. It isn’t ours. Just as in circumcision, or even infant baptism, the promise is performed before the child has a choice.
The reality is that almost the entirety of our relationship with God…the entirety of our becoming more like God…is because of God.
Paul draws baptism and circumcision together. Paul needed his Jewish brethren to understand that baptism was a valid entrance into the family of God. He also needed the Gentiles to understand that baptism was part of tradition that went back in time, tying them to a tradition and people and God they were only beginning to understand.
- What traditions family, cultural, and/or religious tie you to the past? Why is being rooted in the past helpful when going forward?
- The majority of church traditions/theology (there are outliers) believe in only one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Why do you think that is?
God, your word goes to a past we do not fully know. Your word also goes forward to a time we cannot see. Thank you for the guidance that your word provides us, and may we share the gift of your word to others. Amen.