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The First Great Commission in Genesis (Part Three)

Posted on September 22, 2013 at 7:41 PM Comments comments (0)
Text: Genesis 12: 1-3, “The Lord  had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing, I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you.’”

In Part Two of The First Great Commission in Genesis, I discussed that Abraham’s call to greatness in the sight of God was not done overnight.   He went through developmental stages in his walk with God.  The final major point on this topic is controversial. Biblical scholars have disagreed on the transition of Genesis 12: 3a.  This Journal will present the various views, and conclude with my thoughts about this debate.  We have already studied the first point in Part One: the Messianic seed-bearers (as promised in Genesis 3:15), and Part Two: Abram grew in his blessing.  The third and final major point to be discussed is the blessing of the world through Abraham.

3.   The blessing of the World through Abraham

There is a scholarly debate regarding the translation difficulties in Genesis 12:3a.  The Hebrew text could be interpreted in either of two ways:[1]

“First, God could be promising that Abraham will be a blessing to the nations by going out and testifying to them.  His message was about the true God, who has revealed Himself to him.  In this case, Abraham’s leaving and blessing the nations with the true knowledge of God would be for missionary and evangelistic purposes.

“Second, the alternative interpretation takes Genesis 12: 3a in a reflexive manner; it means that the people would bless themselves by believing and imitating Abraham’s faith and example.  If this reflexive view is the right translation as Vos and others believe, then the passage speaks of the effect in the lives of the people who are impacted by Abraham’s life and faith.  I hold to the former interpretation―that God sent Abraham to bless the nations by making His name known to the whole world.

“Another bigger picture of the debate in Genesis 12: 3 among evangelicals and other Christians, is whether or not the Jews in the Old Testament were universally called to be missionaries.  My position is God elected the Jews to be His witnessing people in an informal sense.  In this way, the whole world might come to know the true God.  One cannot conclude (though I know some do) that every Jew in the Old Testament was called to be a missionary in a formal sense.  Many of the Jews, however, were called to be missionaries in the formal sense of being called to bring God’s Word to the nations, e.g. Jonah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Amos. A corollary of this position is that it is unbiblical to claim that every Christian is called to be a missionary in the formal sense of the world.  However, every Christian, by virtue of his faith in Christ, is expected to be a faithful steward of the Gospel.  He is to bear witness to Jesus Christ everywhere.”

Scholarly debate, within the body of Christ, is not new.  It helps us to understand that only the Holy Spirit can help us to know God and understand His Word. 

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[1] R. Zarwulugbo Liberty. Growing Missionaries Biblically: A Fresh Look at Missions in an African Context (Bloomington, IN.: iUniverse, Inc., 2012) 64-65.