The Covenantal and Eschatological Significance of the Triad of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

The biblical archetypal figures, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, appear as the important figures in the Gospels and Pauline epistles. According to Joachim Jeremias and Craig S. Keener, they are usually invoked when addressing God’s faithfulness to his covenant to Israel. However, L. A. Huizenga points out that those figures appear particularly as a collective triad in eschatological context in Matthew. So, is the patriarchal triad used by Paul in the same way as in Matthew? To answer this question, the present study narrows the scope to Matthew 22:32 and Romans 9:6-13. My thesis is that the patriarchal triad in both texts is used to adduce God’s covenantal faithfulness with the eschatological emphasis.
First, God’s faithfulness to the patriarchs is bound up with the eschatological state in both contexts. Robert H. Gundry and David L. Turner argue Matthew 22:32 shows that Jesus reasons that the present tense “I am [είμι] the God of Abraham” indicates that God’s covenantal faithfulness to them did not end at their death, and God is still their God. God’s ongoing covenantal relationship with the patriarchs implies their eventual resurrection. On the other hand, Romans 9-11 forms the climax of Romans, as Krister Stendahl and N.T. Wright argue. Therein, Paul claims that confessing the resurrection is equivalent to acceptance of the lordship of Christ and a necessary condition of salvation (10:9). He describes the Jews’ acceptance of the gospel in the eschaton as “life from the dead” (11:15). Thus, Paul’s concern in Romans 9 about the present failure of many Jews to accept the gospel, despite God’s faithfulness to his covenant, is resolved with Paul’s the eschatological hope of their salvation, resurrection.
Second, the principle of God’s faithfulness to his promise expands to the Gentiles in both contexts. Paul deals with the present issue of the Jews’ failure of acceptance of the gospel despite God’s faithfulness to his covenant. However, as most Pauline scholars argue, the patriarchal triad in Romans 9:6-13 reveals remnant theology and God’s freedom of selection, apart from God’s faithfulness to his covenant to ethnic Israel. God’s eschatological design is put into practice only by free choice and the exercise of creative power. God’s “purpose” proceeds entirely on an “elective” basis. Such the divine design leaves open the possibility of including within the final “Israel” those who have no “works” to show for. As Thomas R. Schreiner argues, Paul asserts that the inclusion of Gentiles within the true Israel, rather than the exclusion of certain Jews. Cutting the tie with ethnic descent allows for Gentile believers to be “reckoned” among the “descendants of Abraham,” which points to the mystery of God’s saving work for the Jews and the Gentiles. This point is not clear from Matthew 22:32. However, the other example of the patriarchal triad in Matthew 8:11 shows the theme of Gentile inclusion from Jesus’ words about many coming “from east and west and reclining at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

2 thoughts on “The Covenantal and Eschatological Significance of the Triad of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”

Leave a Comment