I once watched on CNN President Obama’s appearance and speech at the Mosque in Baltimore, USA. President Obama talked about tolerance. He is a Christian and so part of Christianity, but as the first citizen of the United States of America, he was addressing fellow Americans from the religion of Islam (Muslim). He has not done that previously during the almost eight years of his presidency although he has spoken at Jewish and Christian places of worship. So that was good of him to address the Muslim citizens of America at a time when there has been some backlash in America against those of Islamic faith because of terror attacks.
I was alerted when President Obama said that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all lay claim to Abraham as the father of their faith.
I have heard this statement made on previous occasions by others about how Abraham is the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It always niggled me but I never really thought about it seriously until I listened to that CNN broadcast. Make no mistake, I have a lot of respect for President Obama and believe he is a very intelligent and perceptive man.
But I asked myself the question, “is that correct? Is Abraham really the father of these three religions?” I turned to the Bible, the book that tells us the history of Abraham. (Please read Genesis chapters 16 to 21 if you are unfamiliar with it.)
Historic, biological roots
The Bible teaches that Abraham had a slave wife called Hagar and a free wife called Sarah. His first child, Ismael was his child from Hagar, the slave woman. Ismael is not the “child of the promise” which God promised to Abraham but rather came about because Sarah offered her slave, Hagar to Abraham to ensure an offspring for him. Ismael is the branch from Abraham which the Arab nations in the Middle East claim as their origin. Note that Ismael is their historical, biological forefather and not from where their religion Islam comes from. You cannot find that anywhere in the Bible. The prophet Muhammad (circa 570-632 A.D.) is credited with the introduction of Islam in 610 A.D.
Abraham’s second child, Isaac was born from Sarah the free woman according to God’s promise to Abraham namely, “I will make you the father of many Nations.” The twelve tribes of Israel as known in the Old Testament are the historic offspring from the free woman’s child, Isaac’s son Jacob. Abraham is, therefore, the historic forefather of the Jews “according to the flesh” (Romans 4:1), not the origin of Judaism. The religion of Judaism can be traced back to the Law as given to Moses but by the time Jesus lived among the Jews, it had become a religion with thousands of “laws and rules” without roots in the “law of Moses” added by religious leaders over hundreds of years.
So we see that both the Arab nations and Israel can trace their historic, biological roots back to Abraham. (Genesis chapters 16 and 21 and Galatians chapter 4: 22 – 24). However, there is no factual proof that Abraham was the father of their respective religious faith.
Spiritual father of Christians
Christians, however, have no historic, biological root in Abraham. No our bond to Abraham as “our father” lies in the fact that he is the “father of our faith” and as such Christians who are predominantly gentiles (according to the Jews) or infidels (according to the Arabs) are the “spiritual offspring or children of Abraham.” (Romans 4:16 – 17; Galatians 3: 7 – 9 and 26 – 29).
Christianity originated after Jesus ascended into heaven. His followers who were taught by the twelve apostles were called “followers of the Way” or Christians and in the beginning were predominantly Jewish who accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. The persecution by Jewish religious leaders as well as by the Romans advanced the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ to other countries and cities outside Jerusalem and thus non-Jewish people (gentiles) believed, were baptised and became Christians.
So Abraham is the spiritual father of all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, died for their sins, was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God the Father from where He will come to judge the living and the dead. (Galatians 3: 26 – 29). Thus Abraham can be called the father of the Christian faith because Abraham was the first mentioned in the Bible whose “faith was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4: 3), just as Christians faith in God’s redemption plan through Jesus Christ is counted to them as righteousness.
The Apostle Paul states emphatically that “all those that are born of the Spirit are children of Abraham – whether Jews or Greeks.” So to be called “children of Abraham” changed with Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for the sin of the world and, therefore, only Christians (no matter what ethnicity one is from) can call Abraham the “father of our faith.” (Rom. 4:11; 4:16-17)
So yes, to Jews and Arabs Abraham is biologically and historically their forefather but he is not the father of their faith, namely Judaism and Islam. I believe it is important to know the truth about this.
When the Jews told Jesus that “we are the offspring of Abraham” he said “if you are Abrahams’s children, do the deeds of Abraham” (John 8:37 – 39), alluding to the fact that Abraham was a man known for his deeds of faith.
I, therefore, believe it is incorrect to state that Jews and Arabs have Abraham as the father of their faith, unless they are Christians. Only Christians can claim that Abraham is the “father of our faith”.
When God said to Abraham “you will be the father of many nations”, did he mean physically or spiritually? I believe he meant spiritually because Christians are made up from many nations all over the world and do not have a particular ethnicity or race. (Rom. 4: 17 – 18).
It is important to understand that half truths like the statement that “Abraham is the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam” can lead to statements such as “because Abraham is the father of all of us, we should hold hands and pray together”, or, “because Abraham is the father of us all, we should be united”. It leads to false teaching and false beliefs, and eventually to compromising our faith.
That is why I believe it is important that we question broad statements made, especially when it tries to put the different religions under one umbrella.