Was Abraham Justified Before Men or God?

Question: Was Abraham justified before men or God?


Jam 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? Jam 2:22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, Jam 2:23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. Jam 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

One of the tactics used by prot apologists to undermine the clear literal meaning of James 2:24 is to claim that it is actually referring to justification of one’s righteousness before MEN, not before God. This allegation is based on a narrow interpretation of James 2:18-

Jam 2:18 But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

They claim that men cannot see one’s faith unless it is manifest in works. They further alleged that by the Akedah (sacrifice of Isaac) Abraham was showing his faith before men, NOT God. But is that what the text in Genesis 22 says?

Gen 22:1 After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” Gen 22:2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori’ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Gen 22:3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Gen 22:4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Gen 22:5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” Gen 22:6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. Gen 22:7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Gen 22:8 Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. Gen 22:9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Gen 22:10 Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. Gen 22:11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” Gen 22:12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Note a few things.

First of all, Abraham is given the command to sacrifice Isaac in secret. There is no indication that he has told anyone about it beforehand including Isaac. He even tells his young men that he and Isaac will return TOGETHER after they worship God. If the Akedah was to make Abraham look righteous before men, then why was he so secretive about it? It appears that only God was aware of what Abraham was about to do. This was not a public act of faith by which men could know Abraham’s righteousness.

Secondly, if Abraham had told everyone what he was about to do, would they have considered him to be righteous as a result? Killing one’s own children without just cause is an abomination. While some cultures accepted child sacrifice, most did not. And even those cultures that did accept child sacrifice usually had a way for rich people to substitute someone else’s children for their own (usually a poor child, a slave, or a captive). The whole point of a sacrifice was to give up something to a god. Something that it HURT to give. In return one might be expecting the God’s favor, good fortune or even to avoid suffering themselves at the hand of the god. Viewed in this context, it HARDLY seems like a moral act on the part of a father to kill his child in order to profit by it.

Thirdly, Isaac was Abraham’s only legal heir born to him and Sarah miraculously in their old age. He was a singular, beloved child. Abraham had longed for such a child all of his life. If he were to kill this child, people would not have considered him righteous no matter what excuse he had given. They would have considered him to be MAD. In those polytheistic days, it would have been more fitting for Abraham to switch allegiance to another less blood thirsty god to preserve his legacy. Only Abraham knew WHO and WHAT El Shaddai really was and that disobedience was not an option.

Finally, we have the clear statement in Gen 22:12 – “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Abraham did not prove his righteousness before men according to the text. He proved it before God! By citing Gen 22, St. James made it clear that righteousness before God was not a one time punctiliar action, but a willingness to do whatever God calls one to do no matter how painful. By this GOD may know that we truly fear him.

Once again, the the prot heresy about justification “by faith alone” is shown to be contrary to Scripture and their interpretation of Scripture is shown to be incorrect.

By Art Sippo

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The Case for Catholicism - Answers to Classic and Contemporary Protestant Objections
Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs
Catholic Bible
Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture New Testament Set
Liturgy of the Hours

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