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15 September 2021

Heir of the World

God began to redeem humanity with His covenant with Abraham, beginning with the summons for him to leave his homeland for the “land that I will show you.” Yahweh would make him into a “great nation,” and in the Patriarch, God would “bless all the clans of the earth.” And from the start, the land promise was central to the covenant.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul presents Abraham as the great exemplar of faith, the model for all men who would live from faith, as well as the “heir of the world.”

And in the Kingdom of God, the original and limited “land promise” finds its fulfillment in the New Creation, not in the small territory of Canaan. Thus, the Patriarch and all who belong to him will inherit the “world”:

  • (Romans 4:11-17) – “And a sign he received, circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised; to the end, he might be the father of all that believe during uncircumcision, to the end, the same righteousness might be reckoned to them; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of the faith while yet uncircumcised of our father Abraham. For not through the law does the promise belong to Abraham or to his seed, that he should be heir of the world, but through a righteousness from faith. For if they who are of law are heirs, faith is made void, and of no effect is the promise. For the law works out anger, but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. For this cause, it is from faith, in order that it may be by way of grace, so that the promise is firm to all the seed, not to that from the law only, but to that also which is from the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all. Even as it is written - A Father of many nations have I appointed you: before him whom he believed, God, who causes the dead to live and calls the things that are not as things that are.”


In Genesis, God declares Abraham “right” and reckons his faith as “righteousness” while he is in an uncircumcised state. Thus, he is justified by God apart from the “works of the Law,” namely, the Mosaic Law that was given many centuries later.

Consequently, Abraham became the “father” of everyone that is “from faith,” circumcised or not. All who are from that same faith are of the “seed of Abraham.”

References to the “promise” and “heir” point to future realities. For Abraham and his “seed,” the promised inheritance is the entire “world” or kosmos. Not always noticed by commentators is that Paul has universalized the original promise to include the entire “world.”

This promise was to Abraham and “his seed,” the group that includes all those who walk in the same faith that he did. The inheritance is through faith and grace, and therefore, the “promise is firm to all the seed.” Yahweh appointed Abraham to be the “Father of many nations” and not just of Israel.

Abraham believed in the word of God who “raises the dead and calls the things that are not into being.”  Paul applies this to Abraham’s belief that God would grant him the promised "seed" – Isaac - even though Sarah’s womb was “dead.” But the story of Abraham’s justification is not “written for his sake alone”:

But also, for our sake also to whom it is to be reckoned, even to them that believe upon Him who raised Jesus our Lord from among the dead, who was delivered up on account of our offenses and was raised on account of the declaring us righteous” - (Romans 4:23-25).

Thus, Paul finds the fulfillment of the original promise of territory in the gathering of men and women from every nation through the proclamation of the gospel. Therefore, the covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth and the gospel proclaimed by his followers.