Sunday, April 9, 2017

Isaac, Abraham's Only Son?

I had a second discussion today as well. I preached on Gen 22 last week, and an observant person noted that while the text says Isaac is Abraham’s “only son,” he actually had another son at the time, Ishmael.

This is a classic example of where we need to read a term in context to understand it. The term “only” is יָחִיד (yā·ḥîḏ). If we take it literally, there is a clash with Gen 16, where Ishmael is born. However, when we come to a term like “only” or “all” in Scripture, we shouldn’t just immediately think that every time it has a pure “same as everywhere” meaning. So, for example, in 1 Tim 4:10, Jesus is “the Savior of all people.” If we literalise this, we end up with universalism; Jesus saved everyone, period. However, when we consider all of Paul’s theology, clearly he did not believe this. What he means is that Jesus is the savior of all people who believe. Potentially, he is savior of all, if they will yield. So, we have to take care to interpret “all” here in context (especially of those who believe.”

Here in Gen 22, “only” does not mean his only descendant, but he is Abraham and Sarah’s only son, and he is Abraham’s only son of promise. More broadly, Ishmael is his son too, and God will bless him. But it is through Isaac, that God will fulfill his promises to Abraham’s seed.

So, some lexicons list the potential meaning as “only unique child” (Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 3495.


This and my previous blog, indicate that we have to interpret Scripture carefully, taking note of the context, and the wider theology of the writer in mind. This is a great example. While Abraham has another son, he and Sarah only had one son of promise, Isaac.

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