So what are we going to say? Are we going to find that Abraham is our ancestor on the basis of genealogy?
That is a huge question, that takes some unpacking. Judaism, as it was and still is traditionally practiced, a faith that is inherited, passed down from generation to generation. Every member of the Jewish faith can claim that their faith is one that belongs to their family. The families stem from the original tribes of Israel, named after the sons of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. In a very real sense, their faith is in fact a matter of genealogy.
Yet here we see Paul asking a rhetorical question that would in all other situations be answered with a logical “yes,” if he’s speaking to a Jewish audience. In this instance, though, he’s not. He’s speaking to a mixed crowd. People who are Jewish, and people who are not. So the answer is then a “no.”
For who he’s speaking to, this is huge.
This goes against the very identity of the Jewish faith. It sets up this faith in God as something that isn’t just passed on from father to son, mother to daughter. Instead, because of Paul’s new configuration of faith, faith is something that is individualized in a whole new way. It’s not something that one does–as he says,
Because if Abraham was made righteous because of his actions, he would have had a reason to brag, but not in front of God.
Abraham had faith, and that was credited to him as righteousness. Faith is not a thing one does. Faith is something one has, but can’t take credit for. Nor is it something that is genetically inherited. Because of Christ, both Jew and Gentile, or as he puts it, circumcised and un-circumcised, can now inherit the faith of Abraham.
Each of us inherits things from our parents, be they physical attributes, behaviors, or even beliefs and values. Somethings are inherited by nature, some by nurture, and often, it is difficult to tell which from which.
When it comes to religion though, what one gets from one’s parents plays a significant part, but I can’t in honesty say that simply and uncritically accepting your faith from your parents is always the case. Many folks can be raised in Christian homes and drift away from faith. Some come from non-Christian homes, and make the active choice to be Christian. Christianity is unlike Judaism in that, in Judaism, whether you believe or not, you are Jewish because that’s what you were born into. Judaism is an ethnicity and a religion, whereas Christianity is religion that transcends ethnicity.
That is something that I struggle with though. I often wonder if I would be a Christian, were I not born and raised as a Christian. The truth is, I don’t know. I might have become one, but I can’t know that for sure. All I know is that I was raised as a Christian, but I also have come to accept the faith as something that I have. My faith is inherited, but it’s not genetic.
So yeah, I can claim Abraham as an ancestor. Just not genetically.