The Abrahamic Covenant -- Backbone of the Gospel

In “Eternity in their Hearts,” Don Richardson talks about the backbone of Christianity, the Abrahamic Covenant, made by God to Abraham 4,000 years ago and recorded in Genesis 12:1-3. Dr. Ralph Winter, director of the United States Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California, explains that everything before Genesis 12 is just introduction and that the main theme does not get underway until God utters “the promise” or “the promises” to Abraham. This theme, this promise, is the backbone of Christianity because it explains the motivation behind everything occurring in this narrative which is now 4,000 years in the making.

Richardson explains that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8) is not an after-thought of Jesus, but is a continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant, and that He had been preparing His disciples for it for the length of His ministry.

So, there are three points I want to flesh out in this thread, which are made in three different chapters of Richardson’s book (which I strongly recommend you purchase, as it covers how God has prepared minds in other cultures for His message – truly fascinating and eye-opening). 1. Jesus’ Great Commission of all Christians is rooted in and is a continuance of the Abrahamic Covenant. 2. A central goal of Jesus’ ministry was preparing the apostles’ minds to understand the all-peoples perspective of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Great Commission. 3. After Jesus’ ascension, it took a while, but the apostles did eventually grasp and accept the all-peoples perspective of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Great Commission.

  1. Jesus’ Great Commission of all Christians is rooted in and is a continuance of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Genesis 12:1-3…

The top line: “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.”


Zondervan NASB Study Bible note on vv.2-3: “In various ways and degrees, these promises were reaffirmed to Abram (v.7; 15:5-21; 17:4-8; 18:18-19; 22:17-18), to Isaac (26:2-4), to Jacob (28:13-15; 35:11-12; 46:3) and to Moses (Ex 3:6-8; 6:2-8). The seventh promise (Ichthus: all-peoples) is quoted in Acts 3:25 with reference to Peter’s Jewish listeners (see Acts 3:12)—Abram’s physical descendants—and in Gal 3:8 with reference to Paul’s Gentile listeners—Abram’s spiritual descendants.”

Richardson muses, “We sense immediately that the God who would speak such words is no petty tribal god. He is a God whose plans are both benign and universal, spanning all ages and cultures. If He retaliates against enemies of Abraham, it is not just to protect Abraham, but also to keep the enemies from extinguishing a fire kindled to warm the whole world!”

Richardson points out that Old Testament events are not limited to the Israelites/Hebrews/Jews:

Ichthus: I’m going to add one more (and I’m sure there’s more):
14. In addition to Rahab (see #3) and Ruth (see #4), both Gentile women, in the genealogy of Jesus, there is Tamar, also a Gentile woman, and Bathsheba, “thought to have come from among the Hittites (see 2 Sam 11:3),” (Richardson). Zondervan NASB Study Bible (1999) note on Matthew 1:3 says that “Bathsheba was probably an Israelite (1 Chr 3:5) but was closely associated with the Hittites because of Uriah, her Hittite husband. By including these women (contrary to custom) in his genealogy, Matthew may be indicating at the very outset of his Gospel that God’s activity is not limited to men or the people of Israel.”

Ichthus: see also Isaiah 2:2-4; 56:3,6-7; Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; Micah 4:1-5. “There are also more than 300 declarative passages in the Old Testament which amplify God’s oath-sealed promise to bless all nations on Earth (see, for example, Ps. 67 and Isa. 49:6),” (Richardson).

“Moving forward now to the New Testament, do we find God still adhering to His ancient commitment to both the top and bottom lines, or drifting from it?” (Richardson). See Galatians 3:8, 14, 16, 19, 29. “We Christians have generally failed to appreciate the fact that Paul and the other apostles saw the Abrahamic Covenant as basic to everything Christ came to accomplish,” (Richardson). See Acts 3:22-26; Eph 3:6; Rom 16:25-26; Col 1:25-27; Rom 15:8-9; Rev 5:9-10; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6 [“God will pursue His ancient purpose to the very end,” (Richardson).]

But “do the four Gospels reveal that [ Jesus ] manifested awareness of the covenant as foundational to His ministry? Read on…

  1. A central goal of Jesus’ ministry was preparing the apostles’ minds to understand the all-peoples perspective of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Great Commission.

For warm-up, see Luke 1:54-55, 72-73,78 [“references to people ‘living in darkness’ and in ‘the shadow of death’ were commonly understood by Jews as designating Gentiles, see Matt 4:15-16,” (Richardson)]; 2:30-32; 3:4,6,8-9.

In claiming to be “I AM” (Ex 3:14) of the Jews, Jesus was claiming to be the God who made and keeps the Abrahamic Covenant (John 6:35; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7,9; 10:11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5; Matt 27:43; Mark 14:62; John 8:24,28,58; 13:19; Rev 1:8, 17-18).

Jesus honored the Gentile region of Galilee with His first public sermons. “Mathew, one of Jesus’ disciples, recorded this fact as a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s comment about ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’: ‘The people living in darkness have seen a great light: on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’ (Matt 4:15-16; see also Isa 9:1-2). / ‘Large crowds form Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed’ Him, Matthew comments (4:25). ‘News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill…and He healed them’ (v.24).” (Richardson)

“Consider, for example, how compassionately Jesus exploited the following encounters with Gentiles and Samaritans to help His disciples think in cross-cultural terms … Surely Jesus’ example of compassion for a Roman centurion (Matt 8:5-13), a Syrophoenician mother (Matt 15:21-28; Mark 7:26-30), a Samaritan leper (Luke 7:11-19), a Gadarene demoniac (Matt 5:1-20), a Syrian general like Naaman and the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:23-30), the men of Nineveh who repented (Matt 12:41), and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who perished without a clear call to repentance (Luke 10:13)—must now prove sufficient to melt prejudice from their hearts, replace that prejudice with ‘peoples consciousness,’ and send them on their way to the ends of the earth!” (Richardson). Ichthus: Richardson also mentions Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-34), Jesus’ mention of the “Queen of the South” (Matt 12:41-42), Jesus’ driving out the moneychangers from the Court of the Gentiles, defending our right to have our spiritual need represented in it (Matt 21:12; Mark 11:17-18; Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11), Jesus’ parables which are world-centered (all peoples), not just Israel-centered (see pp. 165-172, and see also Matt 13:24-30,33, 36-43; 21:18-20, 33-43; Deut 32:21; Rom 10:19; Mark 12:12), Jesus’ run-in with Jewish leaders trying to pit Him against Gentiles (Matt 22:17; Luke 21:24; 20:26), when Greeks sought audience with Jesus at a feast at Jerusalem (John 12:32), and his defense of Mary’s anointing Him (Mark 14:9).

“Meanwhile Jesus, though still ministering blessings to Jews on every hand (as required by the ‘top line’ of the Abrahamic Covenant), kept informing His disciples that they themselves must shortly minister to Gentiles as well. Once, for example, He sent them out on a training mission explaining that although at the moment He was sending them, not to Gentiles or Samaritans, but to ‘the lost sheep of Israel,’ later they would be ‘brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles!’ (Matt 10:5-6,18, emphasis added). / Jesus most likely placed this temporary restriction upon His disciples, not to encourage disregard for Gentiles and Samaritans, but because His disciples were still spiritually and mentally unprepared to undertake a cross-cultural mission,” (Richardson).

“Elsewhere Jesus forewarned His disciples that the end of the age could not happen until the gospel had first been ‘preached to all nations’ (Mark 13:10),” (Richardson). Ichthus: see also Matthew 24:14.

“The crucifixion, meanwhile, took place in that same ‘region of Moriah’ where Abraham—1,900 years before—once stood prepared to offer his son, the innocent Isaac, at God’s command. This time, however, there was no ‘ram caught in a thicket’ to take the place of the innocent Son. Instead, the ancient prophecy—‘in the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’—was fulfilled. / And Jesus was that provision. John, one of His disciples, later realized the significance of what happened that day, and wrote: ‘Jesus Christ, the Righteous One,…is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:1-2). / This, then, was the first of the blessings which Abraham’s singular Descendant would share, not only with Jews like John, but with ‘the whole world’!” (Richardson)

Jesus explained it all to his bewildered disciples, after His resurrection, but before His ascension. “‘Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise form the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:45-48). But He still has not commanded them to go.

“And here is the wording of the command which the Abrahamic Covenant had already foreshadowed for 2,000 years, and which Jesus for three long years had been preparing His disciples to receive: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt 28:18-20).” (Richardson)

“Still later, moments before He ascended back into heaven from the Mount of Olives (near Bethany), He added a further promise: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…’ Then followed Jesus’ famous formula for the exocentric progression of the gospel: ‘…in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).” (Richardson)

Richardson’s cliff-hanger to the chapter reads, “Jesus’ all-out effort to change 11 clannish Jews into cross-cultural apostles floated belly-up in defeat, until… Ah, but let us not get ahead of our story!”

  1. After Jesus’ ascension, it took a while, but the apostles did eventually grasp and accept the all-peoples perspective of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Great Commission.

“Hundreds of millions of Christians think that Luke’s Acts of the Apostles records the 12 apostles’ obedience to the Great Commission. Actually it records their reluctance to obey it,” (Richardson).

Of the filling with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the audience being the Jews of the Diaspora (the scattering), returning from “at least 15 different regions of the Near and Middle East…gathered in Jerusalem for a feast called Pentecost,” Richardson writes, “Seen in the context of Jesus’ ministry and His clearly articulated plans for the whole world, the bestowal of that miraculous outburst of Gentile languages (despite a common knowledge of Hebrew and/or Aramaic) could have only one main purpose: to make crystal clear that the Holy Spirit’s power was and is bestowed with the specific goal of evangelization of all peoples in view!”

Jerusalem down (Acts 5:28; 6:7) – the rest of the world to go.

“By the end of the seventh chapter of the book of Acts we find, however, that all of the apostles and their thousands of converts are still clustered in Jerusalem. … God’s solution was very simple, if painful: He scattered the Christians through persecution”–but “even persecution could not dislodge the apostles from home base” (Richardson) (see Acts 8:1). It was Philip (not the apostle, see Acts 6:1-5), a “layman”, who had broken Samaritan ice for the apostles (namely, Peter and John; see Acts 8:25). And it was Philip, the layman, who witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:25-40) who was reading Isaiah 53:7 (but see also the “strongly cross-cultural directive found in” Isaiah 18:2,7). “…in Acts 9:32 to 11:18, we find Peter again following in Philip’s footprints…” and God sets him up with a Roman centurion named Cornelius (Acts 10-11:18). Peter’s words in Acts 10:43, spoken to Cornelius’ and his family, sum it up well: “All the prophets testify about Him that everyone [the word “everyone” is unqualified] who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” / “And at that moment the Holy Spirit overwhelmed Peter’s wistful Gentile audience just as He overwhelmed believing Jews on the day of Pentecost and outcasts of Samaria who were awakened first by deacon Philip’s ministry,” (Richardson). Peter had to defend himself to his Jewish-Christian critics (Acts 11:1-18) – and it looks like they finally started to understand. But apparently Peter had only partially-digested this lesson, as he and Paul have a disagreement concerning legalism, in Galatians 2:11-21.

But, for a number of possible reasons, the apostles suffered “headquarters fever” – sending out Barnabas as a deputy to Antioch. It was for the purpose of filling in where the other apostles were lacking that Jesus converts Saul/Paul (Acts 9) for the cause (Acts 13:2-3; Gal 2:6-7,9). At least the first apostles were not opposed to sending out others in obedience to the Great Commission, even if they themselves found it hard to do.

“Paul and Barnabas were fully assured that Gentiles who believe become ‘heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus…and are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit’ (Eph 3:6; 2:19,22).” (Richardson) / “Paul would even dare to say, as he wrote later in his epistles, that in Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…[but those who believe] are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28). For Christ ‘has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ (Eph 2:14). See also Acts 13:46-47; 14:27.

After one of the church councils wherein Peter affirms, lesson learned, that “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:9-11) and James adds that “[Peter] has described to us how God at first showed His concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself” (v.14), continuing with “The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent…that the remnant of men may see the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name’” (vv.15-17), --“it is possible that some of the original apostles, Palestine-bound—at least until that conference—finally began to open their eyes at this point to the possibilities of ministry among faraway Gentiles.” (Richardson) Richardson gives examples of how far certain apostles (John, Peter, Thomas, Andrew) ventured out, and some possible factors which may have contributed to their out-reaching.

Richardson’s conclusion to the book includes, “We hold in our hands the possibility of bringing God’s 4,000-year-old promise to final fruition.” (Ichthus: refer to Mark 13:10, Matthew 24:14 and 2 Peter 3:9.)

The phrase “I Am” of Exodus 3:14 is found in our English bibles. The Hebrew is “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH”. It’s meaning, probably some variant of YHWH, is debated among Hebrew scholars.

There is no English or Greek equaivalent for EHYEH ASHER EHYEH. When they translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek in about 200 B.C. they chose “ego eimi o On” for “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH”.

The New Jewish Version bible reads:

"And God said to Moses, “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH”. He continued, "Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘EHYEH sent me to you.’ " (Exodus 3:14)

The Greek-English translation of the Septuagint by Lancelot Brenton reads:

“And God spoke to Moses saying, I am THE BEING (ego eimi o On); and he said, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, THE BEING (o On) has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)

The King James Bible reads:

"And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. (Exodus 3:14)

The Schocken bible translates EHYEH ASHER EHYEH as “I will be there howsoever I will be there” and EHYEH as “I will be there” in Exodus 3:14

So it went from the Hebrew EHYEH ASHER EHYEH, to the Greek “ego eimi o On” (I am THE BEING). And when they made the KJV and subsequent English versions they wrote “I AM THAT I AM”.

So, in the NT verses you quote above Jesus never says “ego eimi o On” (I am THE BEING) as appears in the Greek Septuagint of Exodus 3:14.

If Josephus Flavius were here today and introduced himself I suppose he could say “I am (ego eimi) Josephus”. But that would not mean Josephus is claiming to be God would it ?

I AM not as educated in these matters then you are so my argument is more simple.

Your explanations are proof that Jesus was not Christian but Jewish.
In my view Christianity for the unsophisticated Christian is based on the New Testament and the ‘activities’ of Jesus.
I would go even further to assume that the morality of these teachings are independent from the existence of God .
A fundamental Christian would live by it’s principles regardless of haven&hell or not.

The origins or the intentions of Jesus are irrelevant.
Only the example of his actions.

Actually, my explanations were meant to show that the phrase “I AM” in Exodus 3:14 does not say Jesus is God as Ichthus and other Christians try to say.

I do understand what you meant. Even more I agree with you deeply.
The thought never occurred to me to consider the son of God to be God itself.

On a lighter note:
The question of I AM … translation a child book popped into mind.
In that the Spirit say ‘I AM THAT IS’. I find it more meaningful.

On a more serious note:
Have you seen poems translated by different individuals.
It is all question of interpretation and not translation.
For me the same goes to the ‘word of God’ principle.
Even if the ‘words’ were literally spoken by God the scripture is still an interpretation of those words by the writer and the editor and the translators and …, oohh God tell me what should I do? - or – what do you say man?

When scholars translate text’s, any text, from one language to another there are rules of language that have to be followed. Usually it’s sraight forward. For example, the Hebrew word “eretz” is “ge” in Greek and “land” in English. Words like man, house, food, female, sun, etc. are common.

But take an English word like “unalienable right”. Maybe there is no Hebrew equivalent for that word. So, if they were translating the Declaration of Independece into Hebrew or Arabic what semitic word, or group of words, would they choose for “unalienable right”?

I sort of see it that way with the Hebrew name Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh (Ex 3:14). Even if I AM WHO I AM is the best English translation it is a fallacy to claim that Jesus said he was God on the grounds that he said “I am” the light (John 8:12) or “I am” the gate (John 10:7), and since “I am” is used in Exodus 3:14 Jesus said he was God.

Paul said “I am”(ego eimi) an apostle to the gentiles (Romans 11:13). But Romans 11:13 is not used as a proof text to show that Paul is God.

There is also bias among the translators. For example, read Romans 9:5 in the New International Version then read it in the New Revised Standard Version. The NRSV is a better English translation.

There’s a book “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” by Bart Ehrman that goes into detail on this subject of alterations of bible manuscripts.

Paul’s message was that “gentiles” (Greeks and others who were not Hebrews by descent) were to become one, joined together, with the Jews. What happened was that over time the groups of the first century split into what became Rabbinical Judaism and so-called Christianity.

The core doctrine in almost all Christian groups is the Trinity which says the father is god , Jesus is god and the holy spirit is god, and that this is one God. The core doctrine in Judaism is the Shema, that says “YHWH is our God, YHWH is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). These two ideas of God are mutually exclusive.

Jesus was asked “what is the most important commandment”. He answered by reciting the Shema (Mark 12:28-31). Neither Jesus or Paul introduced a “new kind of god”. The idea that God became a man in Jesus is a later development.

Interesting research there tunis. It really does show that translation plays a big part in the conception and belief in a thing. Due to poor translation, Christians have mistakenly taken a simple misunderstanding as a literal truth. I am very interested to know at this point which translation Ichthus has been using.

The Church powers probably figured out that their translations were wrong at one point and decided it were best to not only ignore the real truth, but encourage and further the lie that was discovered to claim: “Oh, what we think it says is what should have been said in the first place; and since we decree that what we say must be true, then no false-truth has been found!!”

That really is quite interesting though, as not only have I learned something new today, but I have learned of a new piece of evidence that disproves the validity of Christianity. The Greeks were like Bill Murray… lost in translation…

Thank you for your replies. As they are not directly on-topic, and are definitely worthy of their own discussions, I have answered them elsewhere –

As to Jesus’ claims to divinity (though Tunis, in an incomplete representation of Matthew 22:23-46, Mark 12:18-40, and Luke 20:27-47, tries to say He disclaims divinity by talking about God, who is One – but what do you think is meant by His reference, in that very same discourse, to Psalm 110:1? If you want to discuss that, follow the link… please… I answer your other points there, as well), go here: … 48#1860148

And as to Biblical criticism and interpretation (written with Ravencry4all in mind), go here: … 47#1860147

You might also enjoy this thread about the Old Testament (Dead or Alive?): … 49#1860149

Thank you for your patience.

I agree. Excellent analysis Sage. I loved Lost in Translation