According to Paul, the land promised to Abraham envisioned the inclusion of the entire world – Romans 4:13.
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, He 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 presented 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.” In the Kingdom of God, the original and limited “land promise” finds its fulfillment in the New Creation. Thus, the Patriarch and all who belong to him 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: 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.”
God declared Abraham “right” and reckoned his faith as “righteousness” while he was still uncircumcised, and thus apart from the “works of the Law.” Consequently, he became the “father” of every man who is “from faith,” circumcised or not, whether Jew or Gentile. 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, and NOT the limited territory of Canaan. Not always noticed is how Paul has universalized the original promise of land to include the entire “world.”
This promise was to Abraham and to “his seed,” the group composed of all who walk in the same faith that he did. The promised 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 applied 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 was 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 saw the fulfillment of the original promise to Abraham of territory in the gathering of men and women from every nation through the proclamation of the gospel. And this process will culminate in the resurrection of the dead and the New Creation. In short, the covenant of Abraham finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the gospel proclaimed by him and his apostles.