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Genesis 22, Hebrews, and a Hermeneutic of Faith
James Swetnam, S.J.

[Lecture given at the Pontifical Biblical Institute on November 5, 2003 at the conclusion of his academic teaching]

 

One of the key texts in the Old Testament, both in its own right and as viewed by Christian authors, is the account of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham in Genesis 22,1-18. Footnote The present essay will attempt: 1) to understand the meaning of Genesis 22,1-18 (Part I); 2) to study how the Epistle to the Hebrews interprets Genesis 22,1-18 (Part II); 3) to outline how Cardinal John Henry Newman’s book, A Grammar of Assent, may justify a faith-centered hermeneutic with regard to the exegesis of the first two parts of this paper (Part III).Footnote
 

Part I: Genesis 22,1-18

The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham has proved a veritable storm center in the later history of biblical criticism. Footnote With the coming of the Enlightenment the sacrifice has often been viewed as an immoral action. Footnote But such condemnations are normally based on a view of Abraham’s decision to sacrifice Isaac which is divorced from its context. In the way in which Genesis 22,1-18 is customarily interpreted as part of the canonical text of the Old Testament alone or of the Old Testament and the New Testament together in various religious traditions, the verses present no insuperable difficulty in this regard. Footnote

There are three broad headings which seem to commend themselves in a brief discussion of the implications of Genesis 22,1-18 within the canonical text of the Old Testament: 1) Covenant; 2) Sacrifice; 3) Faith. Taken together, these three headings provide a convenient way of entering into the text.

A. Covenant

For a proper understanding of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac it is crucial to keep in mind the covenant setting of the canonical text. V. 1 states that God is “testing” (ebr.: nsh, gr.: peirazein) Abraham. That is to say, God is arranging a test to discover if his son is “faithful” (ebr.: n’mn, gr.: pistos). Footnote The text of Genesis 22 is the climax of a progression involving call, promise, covenant and oath. Footnote The call is found in Genesis 12,1-3, and consists of elements involving blessings: 1) a blessing which involves a land and nation (vv. 1-2a), 2) a blessing which involves a dynasty (v. 2b), and 3) a blessing which involves the entire world (v. 3 with v. 2). Footnote These three elements seem to correspond to the three covenant episodes presented in Genesis 15, 17 and 22. Footnote In Genesis 15, the episode with the divided animals represents a covenant in which Abraham’s descendants will live as a nation in a particular land. In Genesis 17 the emphasis is on Abraham’s great “name”, i.e., there is question of a dynasty. And in Genesis 22,16-18, the climax, there is question of a blessing to all nations. Footnote Thus Genesis 22,1-18 can be viewed as the culmination of Abraham’s life as it is portrayed in the canonical text of Scripture. Afterwards he enters into the story only in relation to the death of Sarah (Genesis 23) and the marriage of Isaac (Genesis 24). His definitive life and destiny in terms of his relation with God are outlined in Genesis 22. Footnote The oath sworn by God to Abraham can be considered the concluding high point in the series of covenant episodes. Footnote It incorporates, so to speak, the successful outcome of Abraham’s test into the blessing given to all nations, so that Abraham’s faith is now a part of the destiny of his offspring. Footnote

The context of the covenant in Genesis 22 is fundamental for ascertaining the precise point of the passage. For Abraham is being tested with regard to his faith in God and his pledge to give him the blessings involved in the covenant despite the apparent contradiction of his command. Further, Abraham must have been aware that this was a test, that he was being faced with a cruel dilemma in which his filial affection was secondary. What was at stake was not only the meaning of his God-centered existence but the meaning of the God-centered existence of Isaac and of all who were to be descended from him. Footnote The command from God to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, in other words, was a deadly serious affair for Abraham and for God. Footnote

That the command of God to Abraham was a serious affair for God as well as for Abraham has perhaps not been sufficiently noted. For in ordering the test God is implicitly endangering the whole enterprise of His covenant with Abraham. In terms of the story, God is waiting to see the result of Abraham’s free reaction to the test: a refusal by Abraham to sacrifice Isaac would show that Abraham had not passed the test of his faith. Footnote Hence the covenant enterprise and everything associated with it would, presumably, collapse, and salvation history would have to take a radically new turn.

B. Sacrifice

A second major perspective according to which Genesis 22 should be interpreted is that of sacrifice. Sacrifice here is tied in with the place in which the action of Genesis 22 occurs. There is ample reason to take the place (“Moriah” [mryh] in v. 2) as Jerusalem. Footnote If this is so, then Genesis 22 becomes the basic Old Testament text for the understanding of animal sacrifice as practiced in the temple of Jerusalem. This, in turn, would solve the puzzle as to why so little is said in the Pentateuch about the meaning of such sacrifice. Footnote The principal type of sacrifice indicated in Leviticus and Deuteronomy is the whole burnt offering (ebr.: ‘lh, gr.: holokautôma, holokauston). Footnote This is precisely the type of sacrifice which Abraham is called on to make of Isaac and actually does make of the ram at Genesis 22,2.13. Footnote

The relevance of sacrifice in the interpretation of Genesis 22 has not always been given the importance it should. This lack of attention to the dimension of sacrifice distorts the interpretation of Genesis 22 which must have guided generations of faithful readers in Israel. Further, this lack of attention distorts the possible relevance which Genesis 22 should have for the modern reader of the canonical text. By showing exactly how sacrifice can have a purchase on human existence as personified in Abraham, Genesis 22 is of crucial importance in the understanding of God’s revelation as contained in the Bible.

C. Faith

The perspectives involving covenant and sacrifice indicate the centrality of faith in Abraham’s response to God. Covenant and sacrifice are focused on God as He manifested Himself to Abraham (covenant) and as Abraham replies to God’s command (sacrifice). It is faith that motivates Abraham. Footnote To have faith is to treat God as reliable (ebr.: h’myn, gr.: pisteuein), to trust Him, to believe that He will faithfully and lovingly keep His promises and honor His obligations. Footnote Because Abraham’s faith was based on his covenant with God, he was aware of what was at stake, and was cognizant not only of what was expected of him (obedience) but what God expected of himself (fulfillment of the promises): Abraham’s faith was a type of knowledge. And it was this knowledge which enabled Abraham to withstand the test God had prepared for him: Abraham knew that God would somehow provide a solution to what, outside the realm of faith, was an insoluble problem. In other words, Genesis 22,8 (“God will Himself provide a lamb for a burnt offering”) is to be taken not simply as the anxious words of a distraught father to a questioning son, but as an expression of certainty based on faith.

In seeking the relevance of Genesis 22 for the reader of today, faith is thus the crucial element. It is this element which provides the basis for the religious significance of the original text for any application of that significance to a world contemporary with a reader of any time. Footnote Hence any attempt to read Genesis 22, if it is to come to grips with the core relevance of the text for the contemporary world, has to be based on Abraham’s faith.

But there are two basic ways in which Abraham’s faith can be approached by the contemporary reader. The reader may so stand with regard to the text that he or she is inside the loop of Abraham’s faith, or outside it. That is to say, the reader may share Abraham’s faith insofar as possible as Abraham lives the events portrayed in Genesis 22, or the reader may be simply an onlooker of the events portrayed. Right here is the crucial hermeneutical challenge of Genesis 22.

There is nothing within the text which will force the reader to opt for a reading in which he incorporates Abraham’s faith into his own life. The stance here has to be dictated by the reader’s own free choice. God’s freedom in calling Abraham and in putting him to the test and Abraham’s freedom in responding to this call and test are mirrored in the freedom which every reader enjoys before the text as it stands. But this is not something peculiar to Genesis 22; it is a choice which faces every reader of the Bible. It is the peculiar merit of Genesis 22, though, which sets forth the choice in all its starkness.Footnote
 

Part II: The Epistle to the Hebrews and Genesis 22

The Epistle to the Hebrews pays particular attention to Genesis 22. This attention can serve as a guide in understanding how the early Christians interpreted this key text in their search for understanding the reality of Jesus Christ.

A. Hebrews and the Faith of Abraham

Hebrews singles out Abraham’s faith in its understanding of Genesis 22:

17By faith Abraham, in the act of being tested, stands as offering Isaac, that is, he attempted to offer up his only son in sacrifice, he who had received the promises, 18he to whom it had been said that
In Isaac will your seed be named,
19having concluded that God was able to raise from the dead, and as a result he received Isaac back as a symbol (Hebrews 11,17-19).Footnote

The text is theologically rich. “Faith” (pistis) is highlighted. In Chapter 11 of Hebrews faith is attributed to a variety of Old Testament heroes, and is described in 11,2-3.6. Footnote

The word “offer [in sacrifice]” is used twice in v. 17. The first use is in the perfect tense (prosenênochen, “stands as offering”), i.e., Abraham’s sacrificial stance is the chief point of Genesis 22 which the author of Hebrews wishes to choose as the basis for his understanding of the whole text. The second verb is in the imperfect tense (prosepheren, “attempted to offer”). This conative imperfect describes how Abraham was “in the act of being tested” (peirazomenos). The terms of the testing are made clear: he was offering up his “only son” (monogenê) as “one who had received the promises” (ho tas epaggelias anadexamenos). The promise in question is specified: “he to whom it had been said, ‘In Isaac will your seed be name’” (pros hon elalêthê hoti en Isaac klêthêsetai soi sperma). These remarks indicate that the author of Hebrews has read the text of Genesis 22 with care, and has set out the parameters of the test with precision. What follows is a remarkable interpretation of the reasoning behind Abraham’s faith in God: “having concluded that God was able to raise from the dead” (logisamenos hoti kai ek nekrôn egeirein dunatos ho theos).

The apparently matter-of-fact way in which the author of Hebrews attributes belief in the resurrection from the dead to Abraham should not distract one from realizing the implications of what is being affirmed. First of all, Abraham’s inference would seem to be plausible, given his previous belief in the birth of Isaac from his own “dead” body and Sarah’s “dead” womb. Footnote In view of Abraham’s heroic faith, there is nothing forced or artificial about the exegesis. If God’s promise of offspring through Isaac (v. 18) had to be believed without qualification, and the command to sacrifice Isaac was, for Abraham, required by God, then belief in the resurrection would seem to a possible, indeed, perhaps even the only possible inference. Secondly, the attribution of belief in resurrection from the dead to Abraham is remarkable. He stands at the very fountainhead of Old Testament belief and practice, and this belief and practice is traditionally understood as being agnostic with regard to resurrection from the dead. Footnote Here, a Christian writer who had clearly reflected long and deeply on the Old Testament antecedents to his Christian faith clearly states that Abraham believed in resurrection from the dead. Footnote Thirdly, if Abraham’s interior attitude in sacrificing Isaac is to be understood as being paradigmatic for the interior attitude of all subsequent Old Testament worshippers, this is a startling statement about what the author of Hebrews regards as implicitly standing behind all Old Testament sacrifice. The author of the epistle seems to be attributing this attitude, at least implicitly, to all those offering sacrifices in the Old Testament.

What seems to be happening in Hebrews 11,19 is that the author of Hebrews, guided by his faith in the resurrection of Christ (cf. Hebrews 13,20), is extrapolating this belief into the world of Abraham. But the extrapolation is perfectly in keeping with the words of the Old Testament text, i.e., it does no violence to the parameters of the text as it stands. Further, in the context of Abraham’s presumed heroic faith in God there is nothing out of character for such a belief on Abraham’s part. The second part of Hebrews 11,19 confirms the view that the author of Hebrews was thinking of the restoration of Isaac with relation to the resurrection of Jesus, for he states that the restoration is a “symbol” of the resurrection of Jesus. Footnote

B. Hebrews and the Oath Sworn to Abraham

Hebrews alludes to the sacrifice of Isaac at 6,14 with a citation from the text of Genesis 22,17. The context of Hebrews is revealing:

13For God, having made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater to swear by, swore by himself, 14with the words: With blessing shall I bless you, and with increase shall I increase you. 15And thus, having endured, did Abraham receive the promise. 16For men swear by that which is greater; and at the end of every controversy among them comes the oath as a confirmation. 17Thus God, wishing to show more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable nature of his design, intervened with an oath. 18The purpose of the oath was that, through two unchangeable things in which it is impossible that God lie, we have a strong source of comfort, we who have fled, so as to lay hold of the hope before us (Hebrews 6,13-18). Footnote

These six verses, Hebrews 6,13-18, are cited to support the exhortation of the author of Hebrews that the addressees show the necessary diligence and concern to imitate the heirs of the promises and receive the promises through faith and endurance. Hence the presence of the introductory “for” in v. 16.

That Genesis 22 is in the mind of the author of Hebrews is seen, not only from the citation of v. 17 of that chapter at Hebrews 6,14, but also from the allusion to the oath of Genesis 22,16 in Hebrews 6,13. This suggests that for the author of Hebrews the oath has a close relation to the blessing and multiplication of Abraham’s offspring. The precise content of the “two unchangeable things” mentioned in Hebrews 6,18 is much canvassed. Footnote The text at Hebrews 6,13-14 would seem to furnish the first step towards an answer: the “two unchangeable things” are the oath of Genesis 22,16 and the promise of Genesis 22,17. They are juxtaposed in Hebrews just as they are juxtaposed in Genesis. The words of the promise speak for themselves with regard to the content: they have to do with the multiplication of Abraham’s progeny. Footnote The oath serves to reinforce this promise, so that when Abraham receives the promise at the conclusion of his heroic show of patience at the call to sacrifice Isaac (6,15) the promise has been reinforced by an oath. Abraham is thus portrayed as having received the promise. But it is clear from the way the author of Hebrews uses the verbs epitugchanô (6,15—cfr. 11,33) and komizô that even if Abraham had received epitugchanô (6,15—cfr. 11,33) the promise reinforced by an oath, he had not received (komivzw) the thing promised—progeny (cf. 11,13.39). Footnote The mind of the author of Hebrews is revealed by the fourth and final use of komizô: at 11,19 the author says that Abraham received (komizô) Isaac after the attempted sacrifice “as a symbol” (parabolêi). In other words, the thing promised to Abraham at the sacrifice of Isaac—progeny—is received only with the coming of Christ: Christ himself is that progeny.

If the content of the promise to Abraham is Christ, then the oath sworn to Abraham by God is an oath which at the most profound level is reduced to a symbolic action foreshadowing the definitive granting of the thing promised which is Christ. That is why the author of Hebrews emphasizes the oath sworn by God to Jesus at the moment of His resurrection (cf. 7,20-21). This is the oath which was foreshadowed by the oath of God at the sacrifice of Isaac and which results in the actual granting of that which was promised in connection with this oath: definitive progeny. Christ is the definitive progeny promised by Abraham, and the oath at Christ’s resurrection is the oath of which the oath to Abraham was a symbolic foreshadowing. Footnote

By identifying the oath of Psalm 110,4 with the fulfillment of the oath of Genesis 22,16, and by placing the oath in the explicit context of the multiplication of Abraham’s seed, the author of Hebrews has brought about a profound transformation in the nature of this seed. For the true and definitive offspring of Abraham is effected not through his physical child Isaac, but through His spiritual offspring Jesus Christ of whom Isaac was a “symbol” precisely with regard to Jesus’ resurrection (and, in the context of Hebrews, also with regard to the accompanying oath of Psalm 110,4). The author of Hebrews thinks that this offspring can be best described by evoking the Old Testament figure of Melchizedek in the context of whom Jesus Christ emerges as the definitive high priest. As the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek Jesus Christ replaces the Levitical high priesthood which had heretofore given identity to Abraham’s descendants (cf. Hebrews 7,11). This new high priest is the Son of God Himself (Hebrews 7,3). Footnote He is the source of the definitively better hope which is the cause of the addressees’ encouragement. The one through whom God made the ages (Hebrews 1,2) is the one through whom God definitively blesses and multiplies Abraham’s offspring. Through Christ’s risen priesthood a new people has come into being (cf. Hebrews 7,12), one coextensive with the entire human race. Through a Son who transcends time, Abraham’s offspring is extended to all men who have ever lived and who will ever live—to those who existed before Abraham as well as those who existed after him. This is the way the author of Hebrews understands the meaning of Genesis 22,17, with its promise that God will bless and multiply Abraham’s offspring.

C. Hebrews and the Relevance of Faith

Just as the reader is faced with the choice of a hermeneutic when confronted with Genesis 22, so the reader is faced with the choice of a hermeneutic when confronted with the interpretation of Genesis 22 in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The reader may opt to share in the obvious faith the author of Hebrews had in the Christian relevance of Genesis 22, or he may not. That is to say, the reader may opt to be a participant in Christ’s role and in Abraham’s role in Genesis 22 as seen by the author of Hebrews, or he may opt to be a spectator. Right here is the crucial hermeneutical challenge of Genesis 22 as presented in Hebrews.

Every reader of Hebrews comes to the text with a certain set of presuppositions, just as every reader comes to Genesis with a certain set of presuppositions. And such presuppositions determine in large measure the reader’s choice of a hermeneutic. A Christian who lets his Christian faith enter into every facet of his life will identify automatically with the Christian author of Hebrews. For such a believer identification with the faith of Abraham as presented in Genesis 22 will be subsumed into the faith of the author of Hebrews in the Christ who gives to the story of Genesis 22 a new dimension. According to the interpretation of the author of Hebrews, with the coming of Christ the account in Genesis 22 assumes a more profound meaning: the faith of Abraham becomes a faith in the power of God to raise from the dead, and the oath made to Abraham finds its fulfillment in the oath made by God to Jesus at the moment of His resurrection so that His earthly priesthood can become a heavenly priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, that is, a priesthood which transcends human limitations.

One final, crucial truth about the faith of Abraham as seen by the author of Hebrews should be noted: the obedience of Abraham is rewarded by God with the gift of Isaac as symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus the faith-trust of Abraham enters into the Providence of God in achieving the role of Christ as high priest for all of humanity. According to Hebrews 11,17-19 Abraham received Isaac back “as a symbol” (en parabolêi), Footnote that is, he received Isaac is a symbol of the eschatological reality which is the risen Christ. Footnote Abraham reasoning is expressed in Hebrews 11,19a: “. . . having believed that God was able to raise from the dead”. Then the text goes on to say, “whence (hothen) he received him back as a symbol” (Hebrews 11,19b). Footnote In other words, Abraham’s trust (Hebrews 11,17), which leads him to posit belief in God’s ability to raise from the dead (Hebrews 11,19a), is rewarded not only with the gift of Isaac but with the gift of Jesus who is prefigured by Isaac. Since Hebrews 11,17-19 is found in a section in which faith is presented as resulting in God’s becoming a “rewarder” (misthapodothês—cf. Hebrews 11,6), the inference is to be made that the supreme gift of the resurrection of Jesus and all that follows from it is in a sense a “reward” for the faithfulness of Abraham who has passed the test imposed by God. Footnote Thus the oath of God as the final act of Genesis 22 contains something new for the author of Hebrews: the role of Abraham’s faith enters into the gift of the risen Jesus and hence into all that the risen Jesus implies for humanity, as outlined above. Footnote God has taken cognizance of Abraham’s covenant faith and has responded in the language of His own covenant loyalty. And He has done so in a way which was completely unexpected.

There is one final step needed to sketch a satisfying hermeneutic of Genesis 22 and Hebrews: the preconceptions which prompt the Christian believer to believe in a Christian interpretation of Abraham’s faith must be explored.
 

Part III: The Preconceptions of Christian Belief and Cardinal Newman’s Grammar of Assent

 

No one approaches any written text without preconceived ideas. And if this is true of any written text in general, all the more so is it true of a religious text such as the Bible. And in particular it is true of Genesis 22 and the Christian interpretation of Genesis 22 in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was argued above that the only proper way to approach the interpretation of Genesis 22 is on the basis of its place in the larger context of Scripture. For the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham was intended by the author of Genesis 22 to be understood in a much broader context than the text itself. Footnote And this broader context takes in such fundamental questions of religious cult and morality that Genesis 22 frequently serves as a focus of discussion on man’s relations with God. Footnote Given the fundamental nature of the questions involved in Genesis 22, it is impossible that the reader not approach the text with certain preconceptions. These preconceptions may be of a believer or of a non-believer. But whatever their nature, they are present, and their presence, since it inevitably involves subsequent interpretation of the biblical text, should be taken explicitly into account.

It was argued above, in dependence on the basis of a contemporary hermeneutics, that hermeneutical stance is a matter of choice: one chooses one’s approach to a text. Footnote But this choice is not made in a vacuum of values: one’s preconceptions are inevitably the basis for one’s choice of hermeneutical stance. Hence the choice of one’s hermeneutical stance must be investigated in the light of one’s preconceptions.

It is in this context that it seems appropriate to introduce John Henry Newman’s An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. Footnote The book was finished in January of 1870. Footnote The core insight which enabled Newman to bring the book to a conclusion is the core insight of the book itself—that the act of assent of the human person is not the result of a reflex act which is called certitude, but the act of assent which is the result of a variety of contributing causes working together in what he calls the “illative sense”. Footnote The illative sense, for Newman, is the personal use of reason about some concrete matter. Footnote He insists on the personal nature of any such use of reason. Footnote As authorities for this view he cites Aristotle and Scripture. Footnote Given the personal nature of any such use of reason with regard to some concrete reality, the role of conscience in religion is for Newman unavoidable:

Our great internal teacher of religion is . . . our Conscience. Conscience is a personal guide, and I use it because I must use myself; I am as little able to think by any mind but my own as to breathe with another’s lungs. Conscience is nearer to me than any other means of knowledge. Footnote

The use of the word “knowledge” in the last sentence should be noted: conscience, in matters of religion, is a means of knowledge. From this it follows that Scripture is not merely a collection of abstract truths, but an authoritative teaching.

And the whole tenor of Scripture from beginning to end is to this effect: the matter of revelation is not a mere collection of truths, not a philosophical view, not a religious sentiment or spirit, not a special morality . . . but an authoritative teaching, which bears witness to itself and keeps itself together as one, in contrast to the assemblage of opinions on all sides of it, and speaks to all men, as being ever and everywhere one and the same, and claiming to be received intelligently, by all whom it addresses, as one doctrine, discipline, and devotion directly given from above. Footnote

This view, of course, is the result of Newman’s own exercise of conscience as a means of knowledge. He comes to the judgment above about the whole tenor of Scripture as a result, in part, of the personal guidance of his conscience, and to this judgment he gives real assent. Footnote And he concludes his book by showing his own reasons for believing in the Catholic Church as God’s providential gift to be accepted by faith, Footnote a faith, however, which is associated with an accumulation of probabilities which yield the certitude which results from the legitimate use of the illative sense. Footnote
 

Conclusion

The present study began in Part I with a presentation of Genesis 22 with all its attendant challenges to interpretation. Because of its explicit connections to covenant and cult, an exegesis was advanced based on the acceptance of that covenant and cult as part of the religious dispensation whose written record is the Old Testament. The proper response to Genesis 22, it was argued, is one of faith mirroring the faith of Abraham. This interpretation of the propriety of faith was occasioned by the content of Genesis 22, not mandated. It was argued that the acceptance of Genesis 22 in a spirit of faith was the result of a hermeneutics of free choice.

In Part II an interpretation given to Genesis 22 by the Epistle to the Hebrews was suggested. This interpretation revolved around the faith of Abraham and the oath of God sworn to Abraham following the successful outcome of his test. The faith-inspired interpretation given by the author of Hebrews was seen as a function of faith in Jesus Christ. And the propriety of a reading of the text accompanied by faith was proposed. Again, this faith was seen as the result of a hermeneutics of free choice. The Old Testament faith of the believing Jew was subsumed into the New Testament faith of the Christian.

Finally, in Part III, an attempt was made to ground this hermeneutics of exegetical choice on a hermeneutics of exegetical preconceptions. John Henry Newman’s A Grammar of Assent was invoked to show that the “illative sense” proposed by the author was a key factor in understanding the preconceptions of a Christian believer (in the case of Newman, of the Catholic believer). Because of the importance of conscience in the formation of the preconceptions which underlie the Christian’s act of faith, the role of moral choice is evident here as well.

Thus, when all is said and done, it is the person who is responsible for the exegetical stance adopted for the interpretation of a given text of Scripture, first with regard to the preconceptions which govern his choice of an exegetical approach to a given text, and then with regard to the choice itself. It is clear that Genesis 22 portrays Abraham as a man of faith; it is clear that the Epistle to the Hebrews portrays Abraham in Genesis 22 as a man of faith and presents Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of that faith. But whether the exegete will put himself into tune with this faith is a matter of his own choosing, a choosing both remote and proximate.

In attributing hermeneutical stance to personal choice one should not neglect the bias built into the biblical text itself: the text itself is an invitation to believe as its authors believe. It is clear from the way Genesis 22 is framed, and from the way that the Epistle to the Hebrews enters into a development of Genesis 22 in terms of Jesus Christ, that the authors of these texts are believers and have written the text for other believers, actual or potential. The author of Hebrews speaks frequently of “we”, i.e., “we believers” (cf. 1,2; 2,3; 3,6; etc.). He believes, and writes to others who believe. At the most profound level, these texts call for participation in the faith of those portrayed, not simply a contemplation of that faith. As Kierkegaard remarks about the biblical passage involving the widow’s mite (Mark 12,41-44), acceptance of the story on its own terms, i.e., presupposing the faith of the widow, transforms the gift “into much”. This faith-challenge is the challenge of Genesis 22 in its Old and New Testament guises as well.

. . . that sympathetic person who accepts the book and gives to it a good place, that sympathetic person who, by accepting it, does for it through himself and through his acceptance, what the treasury did for the widow’s mites: hallows the gift, gives it significance, and transforms it into much. Footnote

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