Was Abraham Saved By the Law?

The short answer to this question posed by a reader is, no. The Law had not yet been given. Moses delivered the Law to the children of Israel 430 years after Jehovah made His promise to Abram. 

In Abram’s day there were no Jews or Israelites. Abram was both a Semite (descended from Noah’s son Shem), and a Hebrew (descended from Shem’s son Eber). Jehovah extended His promise to Abram’s son Isaac; and again to Isaac’s son Jacob whom the LORD renamed Israel. [Jews descended from Judah, one of Israel’s twelve sons.]

If Abram could not be saved by the Law, how then was he justified? The Apostle Paul teaches very clearly that no one can be saved by works lest any man should boast; but many people have told us that they believe God will save them simply because they are a good person. If this were true then:  

The grace of God is nullified, and Christ’s death on the cross was meaningless.

We read in Genesis (chapter 15) that God told a mystified Abram his reward would be great. Abram replied that he had no children for an inheritance so the LORD took him outside and said:

Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be (Ge 15:5).

The Bible says that Abram believed the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abram was 85 years old. It wasn’t until Abram was 99 years old that the LORD commanded him to be circumcised.

We read that the LORD declared to Abram:

I am God Almighty…I will establish My covenant between Me and you…No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham (or father of many nations). And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Ge 17:1-5, 11).

We have seen that Abraham was already deemed righteous by God apart from the Law, and that circumcision was a sign of that covenantal relationship much like baptism is today.

Some readers see a division between the Apostle Paul and James  (half-brother of Yeshua) regarding the faith of Abraham. Both New Testament writers point to the Genesis account that Abram’s belief was counted as righteousness, but James adds that by his works Abraham’s faith was justified.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas 2:18).
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and he was called a friend of God (Jas 2:21-23).

The offering of Isaac is an interesting study of faith. It’s a common misconception that Isaac was but a lad when Abraham offered him to the LORD. The Hebrew word for lad—used also to describe the accompanying servants—can also be translated young man.

Also, Abraham instructed Isaac to carry the stock of wood up the mountain to burn at the altar; a difficult task for a little boy, but not so for a grown man. Additionally, the historical references in Genesis suggest that some time had passed before Jehovah had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son whom some historians determine was in the range of 20-33 years of age.

More important to consider is that human sacrifice is an abomination to the LORD; and killing Isaac would effectively dissolve the covenant Jehovah made to Abraham. Abraham had faith that the LORD would either provide a substitutionary atonement, or that He would raise Isaac from the dead. It was a test of faith that Abraham stretched out his hand to slay his son when the Angel of the LORD (pre-incarnate Christ) called out:

Abraham!, Abraham! Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your only son from Me (Gen 22:12).

A reader with faithful discernment will see that the offering of Abraham’s son pre-figures the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son—the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

Next: Did James Contradict Paul?