Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions: Part 1: Introduction

This is the first of four installments on this topic, all written by David Burnett. This series is based on a paper David read at the Society of Biblical Literature. — MSH


Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions1

Abstract:

In Rom 4:18 Paul cites the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Gen 15:5 “so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου)” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations” from Gen 17:5. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship Paul sees between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants made up of Jews and Gentiles. Conversely, some early Jewish interpreters of Gen 15:5 (and related texts like Gen 22:17; 26:4) such as Philo, Sirach, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively: not merely speaking of multiplication, but also of transformation into the likeness of the stars and assumption of their power. Reading Paul’s use of Gen 15:5 in light of this qualitative interpretation would place him within the context of already well-established deification or angelomorphic traditions in Early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the divine or angelic inheritors of the nations. This tradition may provide a more fitting explanation of the relationship Paul sees between Gen 17:5 and 15:5 in the wider context of the argument of Romans 4. This reading could illuminate the relationship between a complex nexus of ideas that Paul sees implicit in the one promise to Abraham in Gen 15:5. The promise of becoming as the stars of heaven would encompass the inheritance of the cosmos, becoming a father of many nations, and the resurrection from the dead.

PART 1 – Introduction

The “One Promise” of Genesis 15

Romans 4 is rightly understood as a Pauline midrash on the narrative of the covenant promise made to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15, with particular focus on Abraham’s response of faith in the promise (ἐπαγγελία) which results in his being credited righteousness:

“Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir (κληρονομήσει); but one who will come forth from your own loins, he shall be your heir (κληρονομήσει).” And he took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And he said to him, “So shall your seed be (oὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου).” Then he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness (καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην). And he said to him “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit (κληρονομῆσαι) it” (Gen 15:4-7).2

For Paul, what was the actual content of “the promise” that is to be believed by Abraham and his seed? C. K. Barrett makes an important observation at this point when he states, “Abraham received a promise. Paul never quotes it exactly or in full, but it is important to have in mind (as doubtless Paul does) the whole of Genesis 22:17.3 Barrett goes on to quote the text of Genesis 22:17, as if to suggest that it is the text Paul is primarily drawing upon for his understanding of the promise given to Abraham in Romans 4, a text whose argument is framed by the narrative of Genesis 15. The critical point here is that much of the language used in Romans 4 is found in those reiterations of the promise in Genesis, showing that Paul more than likely read them together and sees them essentially as one promise rather than many. Of particular importance to the present study are the two that repeat the promise of star-like seed. Later reiterated to Abraham in the Aqedah, Gen 22:17 reads: “Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens (ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ οὐρανοῦ) and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess (κληρονομήσει) the gates of their enemies (πόλεις τῶν ὑπεναντίων).” Finally in the promise as retold to Isaac, Gen 26:4 reads: “I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven (ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), and will give your seed all these lands (πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ταύτην); and in your seed all the nations of the earth (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς) shall be blessed.” For our purposes it is important to note what seems to be a close connection between being multiplied “as the stars of heaven (ὡς τοὺς ἀστέρας)” and the inheritance or “taking the possession of (κληρονομήσει)” the “cities (πόλεις)” of their enemies, or in other words, to inherit “all these lands (πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ταύτην).” This will result in “all the nations of the earth (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς)” being blessed.

In reference to the meaning of the promise, Paul states in Rom 4:13, “For the promise to Abraham and to his seed that he would be heir of the cosmos (τὸ κληρονόμον αὐτὸν εἶναι κόσμου) was not through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” What seemed to refer to the promise of land in Genesis 15 was somehow interpreted to include the cosmos. The promise here also pertains to becoming a “father of many nations” which Paul links to the resurrection from the dead as he states in 4:17, “as it is written ‘I have made you a father of many nations (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν) (Gen 17:5)’ in the presence of the God whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα).” He later relates Abraham’s faith to the faith of the believers in the resurrection: “But the words ‘it was counted to him (ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ, Gen 15:6)’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (4:23-24). In keeping with the narrative framework of his argument, the ideas of becoming “heir of the cosmos (τὸ κληρονόμον αὐτὸν εἶναι κόσμου),” a “father of many nations (πατέρα πολλῶν ἐθνῶν),” and the hope of the resurrection are not separate promises, but are understood by Paul as constituent parts of (and having been subsumed under) the one promise made to Abraham in Gen 15:5 in becoming as the stars of heaven.4

 

Acknowledging an Overlooked Interpretative Problem in Romans 4:18

 The focus of the present study is here in Rom 4:18, regarding Paul’s quotation of the LXX of Gen 15:5 “so shall your seed be (οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου)” in relation to what it means in its immediate context to “become the father of many nations” from Genesis 17:5. The scholarly consensus on the relationship Paul sees between these two texts has been understood quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants made up of Jews and Gentiles. Many scholars even insert the term “numerous” or a related term into their translations of “οὕτως ἔσται τὸ σπέρμα σου (4:18)” so the construction reads, “so (numerous) shall your seed be” instead of the literal rendering of the Greek “so shall your seed be,” presupposing the quantitative reading as the only viable interpretive option for Paul.5 Philip Esler, taking for granted the quantitative only view, questions whether it actually accounts for the length to which Paul stretches the Abrahamic promise. He states,

“It is not impossible that having the world as one’s inheritance could be another way of saying that Abraham’s seed would be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen 15:5), but this may be pushing the latter promise too far … [later in referring to the argument of 4:14] The reasoning here is not easy to follow. It would be straightforward if the promise referred to were simply that in Gen 15:5 (to have descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven), which could then be related directly to Abraham’s faith in Gen 15:6. The answer, however, is probably excluded given that a promise to ‘inherit the world’ goes way beyond Gen 15:5.”6

While being fully aware of the commonly held explanations for Paul’s alleged expansion of the promise, Esler still does not find in them a sufficient answer to this problem: the promise to “inherit the cosmos” seems to go far beyond the promise to have descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven.

I agree with and wish to take seriously Esler’s contention that the promise to have descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven may collapse under the theological weight that Paul piles on it. I also agree that the answer to this problem is excluded if one is to read the promise of Gen 15:5 as merely quantitative. What this study will seek to demonstrate is that the answer to the problem isn’t excluded from Gen 15:5 per se. A possible answer to the problem, and perhaps a more viable interpretation, gone seemingly unnoticed or neglected by most modern commentators on Romans 4, can be found in a number of early Jewish interpreters of Gen 15:5 (and related promises in Gen 22:17; 26:4), who understood the patriarchal promise of being multiplied as the stars of heaven not merely quantitatively, but also qualitatively, that his seed would become star-like, assuming the life of the gods or angels.


 

  1. I would like to sincerely thank N. T. Wright, Pamela Eisenbaum, and Ward Blanton for their helpful and critical responses to the presentation of this study in the special joint session of the Pauline Epistles section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature on Sunday, November 23, 2014. I am also especially grateful to Matthew Thiessen, Michael Gorman and Edith Humphrey for their careful and constructive reading of this paper and their assistance in the editing process. Any problems or errors that remain are certainly my sole responsibility. A special thanks to Stanley Porter as well for affording me the time to make any final edits necessary after receiving feedback from my esteemed respondents at SBL.
  2. James D. G. Dunn (Romans 1-8; WBC 38a; Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1988, 197) says of the present text, “the exposition of Gen 15:6 of which chapter 4 consists is one of the finest examples of Jewish midrash available to us from this era”; N. T. Wright (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 2 vols; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013, 1 or 2:996) states that Romans 4 is a “sustained and quite detailed exposition of Genesis 15.”
  3. See C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, 2d ed. BNTC 6; Grand Rapids: Hendrickson, 1991), 88. He does note Gen 12:3; 18:18.
  4. “Paul regards the ‘Land’ promise as containing the whole complex of salvation.” See Brendan Byrne, Sons of God, Seed of Abraham: A Study of the Idea of the Sonship of God of All Christians in Paul against the Jewish Background, AnBib 83 (Rome: Biblical Institute, 1979), 160.
  5. Below is a selective, though representative, survey of major modern English commentators since 1932 that presuppose the quantitative view, many of whom insert a term like “numerous” or “many” into their translation. See e.g. C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, MNTC 6 (New York: Harper & Row, 1932), 89, 92; C.E.B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans Vol. I, ICC; London: T & T Clark, 1979), 245; Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 118, 124; Dunn, Romans 1-8, 217; Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 211; Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989), 56; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 33 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 383; Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 69, 74; Brendan Byrne, Romans, SP 6 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), 143; Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 283; Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, BECNT 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 234; N. T. Wright, Romans, NIB 10 (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001), 500; A. Katherine Grieb, The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 50; Philip Francis Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 191-192, the only scholar here to acknowledge a problem with the quantitative reading, although seemingly without awareness of an alternative; Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 178, 209,  211, 215; Ben Witherington and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 127; Leander E. Keck, Romans, ANTC (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 129; Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 336; Schliesser, Abraham’s Faith, 380; Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 743; Frank J. Matera, Romans, Paideia (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 116; Mark Forman, Paul and the Politics of Inheritance, SNTSMS 148 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 72; Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 848, 850.
  6. Emphasis added. Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans, 191-92.

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UFO Sighting in Las Cruces, New Mexico on 1982-10-12 00:00:00 – Abuduction ? a bright lighy serounged me and lost 20 min of time also i could not speek of this foe about 7 years. i only remerber before and after.

The first awareness was when i sted out my van and noticed a bright greenish light at the street near my trash cans. i though when did the city put a light there? the next thing i remember was a very bright light … then i was standing on the right side of the van looking down the street at a glowing ball with flames coming out like a tail and floting slowly away to the north east.
when i entered my home i was greeted by my wife and kid and they all asked what took me so long to come the house they said that they heard me drive up about 20 min. ago. i tried to tell them what i saw but the words would not come out and the though would leave me this went on for about 7 years.
i am now retired and 76 years old at the time i was 42 years ole and a business man in this town well respected in town and this area, i also have contracted with wsmr as camera and lab tech.

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UFO Sighting in SE Province of Khost, on 2010-06-01 22:00:00 – A series of lights which appeared suddenly in the night sky heading towards sabari, afg which borders the khost district to the south.

All dates and times are approximate. it was a warm evening, june timeframe, between the hours of 2100 and 2200 hours local, respectfully. i was outside my work area, beside the building which held the operations office, command team work space. the fob was a “blackout” fob, which means that at night the entire area is pitch black, and everyone is required to observe proper light disciple; only red lense flash lights were authorized after sunset.

while outside smoking with another nco she pointed out a series of stationary lights which had appeared above the fob. there were between 8 and 10 orange-yellow lights. they moved together in a semi-oval, or chevron shape pattern. they appeared to have come from the direction of camp chapman which is only a few kilometers from our location at the time, and seemed to be heading towards sabari which borders khost district to the south.

the lights remained at the same elevation, and brightness for several minutes. we knew this wasn’t illume rounds from sabari or from chapman because of how long the lights were stationary above, and how they seemed to shift and turn in order to pass over a nearby hill. the lights flew at an unknown height, but even as they changed direction slightly they still maintained the same level of brightness. no noise could be heard coming from whatever these lights were.

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Cheryl Costa – UFOs by the Numbers – April 10, 2017

Cheryl-Costa-photo-hsOpen Minds UFO Radio: Cheryl Costa is a native and resident of upstate New York who saw her first UFO at age 12. A military veteran, she’s a retired information security professional from the aerospace Industry. She’s been a speaker at the International UFO Congress and at the MUFON Symposium. Cheryl writes the UFO column “New York Skies” for SyracuseNewTimes.com. Besides being a journalist, she’s also a published playwright. She holds a bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Empire State College in entertainment writing.

Cheryl recently published UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America 2001-2015, which includes over 121,000 sightings. She lists the top UFO hot spots, according to the data, and sighting reports down to the county level. Anyone can use the book to find out how many sightings there have been in their area, and how it stacks up against other parts of the US. In this interview, we talk about this book and Cheryl’s discoveries while compiling the data.

Cheryl’s book can be found on Amazon. To read Cheryl’s column, visit SyracuseNewTimes.com.

Daily UFO Headlines 4/11/2017

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UFO Sighting in Kinistino, Saskatchewan on 2011-06-17 22:00:00 – Florescent like light

I had just gotten dropped off at my mothers on james smith reserve we lived 20 min walk from the village, my friend saw us pull up so he came outside to greet me. i had asked him what was going on inside he told me that my fathers fire fighter crew was inside having drinks with my parents. i didnt want to go inside well i was kind of mad that they were drinking so i stayed outside. my friend stayed with me. one of the crew members came out to use the washroom. he started peeing right off the front steps so i said to him ” damn it (crew member) why cant you use the washroom like a normal person.” he replied ” washrooms being used” as i looked off into the distance i noticed a moving light so i said ” hey whats that?” crew member said “its a plain” and went inside. i told my friend to look and it started moving faster and getting brighter and closer. with in seconds it stopped right over our fire pit that was in the middle of a tear drop shape road that leaded to our house. it hovered for i dont know how long. i told my friend “are you seeing this” he didn’t say anything so i looked at him and he was looking at the hovering light. i looked back and just stared at it and it shot out into outer space really fast. it didn’t make any noise and the light was the size of a baseball. we went inside to tell of what we saw and right away the guy that was peeing outside asked where we went. i said ” we just saw a light ” crew member said i went out to pee again and you guys were gone.” he predeceased to accuse us of getting close to each other like going for a walk to “be alone” i don’t remember much after that. i don’t even know if i told them what we saw. i asked my friend meany days later about what happened or if he remembered and said “yes but i don’t want to talk about it can you just forget about it”. i don’t know why he re fusses to talk about it, maybe he was scared i don’t know. i still see him around town and we don’t talk much but after that night our friendship seemed to grow further apart. if we were abducted wouldn’t we be positioned differently i mean i remember the whole sighting but what bothers me is what (crew member) said. when i try to remember every detail it seems so-real like it didn’t happen but it did i remember it. till this day it still bothers me i think about it before i go to bed sometimes and try to think of what else it could have been. there is no explanation. i cant think of one.

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Indiana witness illustrates UFO moving overhead

An Indiana witness at Anderson recalled a UFO event from 2015 where the object was “as big as a football field” and just 300 feet overhead, according to testimony in Case 82148 from the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) witness reporting database.

The witness said the object was as large as a football field moving overhead. Pictured: Downtown Anderson, IN. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The witness said the object was as large as a football field moving overhead. Pictured: Downtown Anderson, IN. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The witness was walking home after a third shift in November 2015 when the incident occurred.

“No cars were out,” the witness stated.“Just me walking down the middle of a major road.”

The witness saw the UFO out of the corner of his eye.

“I turned to the right and saw the huge, stretched, diamond-shaped spaceship. It had orange lights on all sides of it. It was just floating in a straight line heading east. No noise, no fumes. It was massive. Floating 200 feet above me.”

Witness illustration. (Credit: MUFON)

Witness illustration. (Credit: MUFON)

The object quickly moved away.

“It slowly flew east and I watched it until it disappeared. Breathtaking moment. Unbelievable.”

The witness provided three illustrations of the event with the report, which was filed on February 17, 2017.

Witness illustration. (Credit: MUFON)

Witness illustration. (Credit: MUFON)

Anderson is a city in and the county seat of Madison County, Indiana, population 56,129. MUFON Indiana Field Investigator Timothy D. Wagner investigated this case and closed it as an Unknown.

“This object is not a natural phenomenon,” Wagner stated in his report. “It is possibly man-made. Could be a military secret craft. This can’t be ruled out. The object most likely is not a blimp because if it was 200 to 300 feet above witness, he should have heard the blimp motors. No sound pretty much rules out any conventional aircraft as we know it. Too big to be a hobbyist’s drone. With this limited information, would recommend a disposition of Unknown – UAV.”

Witness illustration. (Credit: MUFON)

Witness illustration. (Credit: MUFON)

Please remember that most UFO sightings can be explained as something natural or man-made. The above quotes were edited for clarity. Please report UFO activity to MUFON.com.

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Daily UFO Headlines 4/12/2017

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We just had our 2nd warmest March, and with El Niño maybe rising from the dead, things could get interesting

The home planet just experienced its second warmest March on record, according to an analysis released by NASA last week. The agency’s temperature records go all the way back to 1880

From the analysis:
Last month was 1.12 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean March temperature from 1951-1980. The two top March temperature anomalies have occurred during the past two years.
Here’s how the year so far compares with the seasonal cycle for every year since 1880:

It’s still early in the

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We just had our 2nd warmest March, and with El Niño maybe rising from the dead, things could get interesting

The home planet just experienced its second warmest March on record, according to an analysis released by NASA last week. The agency’s temperature records go all the way back to 1880

From the analysis:
Last month was 1.12 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean March temperature from 1951-1980. The two top March temperature anomalies have occurred during the past two years.
Here’s how the year so far compares with the seasonal cycle for every year since 1880:

It’s still early in the

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