J.R. Daniel Kirk, Romans for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Misused, Problematic and Prooftexted Letter in the Bible (Perkiomenville, PA: The Bible for Normal People, 2022), 52:
When I was working on my PhD, I had a theology professor who was famous for saying, “When I say ‘God,’ what I mean is ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'” Can I get a quick show of hands from any Muslims out there who’d agree? Right. That would be zero…..
While we’re counting noses, can I get a quick show of hands from any Biblical writer who, when they said “God,” meant “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”? Still no hands. That doesn’t mean that the Christian conviction about God being Trinity is wrong. It just means that it’s a much more audacious claim than we sometimes realize.
What happens if we approach the question of God’s identity somewhat differently? If, instead of articulating God’s identities in static theological categories, we ask about the character in the story: Do we worship the creator God who is also the God of Abraham? Now the hands go up from every Christian, Muslim and Jew, from every writer of the Bible, every interpreter of the Koran, every trident of the Torah.
2 thoughts on “J.R. Daniel Kirk: The God of Abraham”
Taking this a step further into more historical than literary territory, did anyone in the time period associated with Abraham actually “worship the creator God who is also the God of Abraham,” as we understand him?
Probably not, by my reckoning. We have no contemporaneous evidence of monotheism generally–and Yahwism specifically–during the early second millennium BCE, long before the Hebrew people, culture, and language started to emerge from and in the Canaanite world. And even the earliest identifiably Israelite communities were monolatrous, worshiping El/Yahweh as the patriarchal king-god of their nation while acknowledging that other nations had their own gods.
In fact, there’s evidence of actual polytheism among at least some Hebrew groups prior to the Exilic Period. Several passages in the OT depict them worshipping Ba’al and other gods (although in unremittingly derogatory and condemnatory terms, as we would expect, given the monotheistic zeal of the authors/redactors). Moreover, William Dever and several of his colleagues have described inscriptions and other archaeological indications of an early first millennium belief in “Yahweh and his Asherah,” apparently referencing the consort/wife-goddess adapted from the older Canaanite pantheon.
If there was an Abram/Abraham from Ur ca. 1900 BCE, my guess is that his god had more in common with Ashur, Enlil, or Enki than with post-exilic Yahweh. 😉
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I agree. I’m skeptical there was an Abraham but even if there was it seems more likely he’d be acquainted with the deities he grew up with than with this relatively new god Yahweh. The biblical authors are just projecting back into the narratives their current beliefs to find justification.