Why is the Akedah account so important within Christian history?

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Published on September 20, 2007 at 11:01 pm  Comments (14)  

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  1. Within parts of the Jewish tradition it is believed that Isaac actually died and was then resurrected. Issac was the only son of Abraham, the father of all Israel, and was given to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. Therefore, the Akedah account is seen as a resurrection account.
    Abraham is being tested by Satan, by the death of the chosen one, Satan was defeated. Another allusion to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    Therefore, we see that the account of the Akedah was an important predecessor, at least in the minds of the Jews, to the coming death and resurrection of the Messiah.

    AMC (Anne)

  2. Thanks for getting us started here, Anne!

  3. Another way the Akedah account could be important to the Christian community is the parallel between Jesus laying down his life for the sheep (John 10:15) and Isaac laying down his life. Jesus said in John 10:18, “No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” In the Akedah account, Isaac is not a young boy, carried by Abraham and put on the altar against his will but an adult, (some sources say age 37), indicating it was of his own free will to carry out the will of his father on earth and Father in heaven (The Last Trial, 103).

  4. Besides important passion/resurrection typology (see comments above)the Akedah serves as a continuing, if sometimes painful, reminder to the Church of what Israel could never forget, that God remains hidden even at the point of revelation. The story concludes with this enigmatic comment in the passive (niphal): “As it is said to this day, on the mount of the Lord, it (or he) shall be seen.” But never clearly – only in a mirror, dimly. Often in paradox. Sometimes in a word that seems to contradict or at least call in question God’s own promise. But somehow through that struggle God continues to bless graciously. Paul, citing another OT passage in a slightly different, but not altogether unrelated context, could only marvel at the mystery:
    O the depth of the riches and and wisdom and knowledge of God!…”For who has known the mind of the Lord?…(Rom 11:33-36).

  5. To expand on my earlier comment, the Akedah account is so important within Christian history because much of Christianity has perceived it as a foreshadowing of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and its vivid portrayal of Christian themes: God working through human history and events, obedience to God, faithfulness (God’s and Abraham’s), sacrifice of one for the world, grace and mercy, God’s mysterious ways and trusting in God’s promises. Though many questions arise in the midst of this shocking and mesmerizing story, Christians believe we have indeed received and are receiving the blessing of God promised to Abraham and his descendants and the world (blessed to be a blessing) through Jesus, God’s only Son and his death and resurrection, connecting us not only to this particular story but our Jewish history and God’s saving love.

  6. The Akedah is important in Christian history because it shows an evolution of early Jewish exegesis building many details from the original text that appeared in the Torah. The Akedah narrative also provides some surprising (to me) insights about the role of Isaac (fully cooperative and willing sacrifice of by a young man instead of young child, and ?resurrection. I was also impressed in Spiegel’s book with that the Akedah might have served to teach that animal/human sacrifice is not required. Many years ago I asked my Pastor whether Jesus would have died for our sins if Abraham reneged. She responsed “Don’t even go there.” Our study has helped me understand her response.

  7. I guess this pertains more to Judaism, but I liked that Rabbinic source on the site which ends the story with Abraham scolding God, where he says, “Thus mayest Thou, when the children of Isaac commit trespasses and because of them fall upon evil times, be mindful of the offering of their father Isaac, and forgive their sins and deliver them from their suffering.”

    When you consider that Christianity is built on Judaism, I guess you could extend that interpretation to Christians as well as Jews. There’s a sort of parallel there (to reiterate) between that and the Passion: in essence, we ask God to remember the suffering of Jesus and forgive us with that in mind, just like Abraham asks God to forgive with the sacrifice of Isaac in mind.

    Also, there’s another parallel between Abraham’s devotion to God to the point of sacrificing his only son (and only hope) and God’s devotion to us to the point of sacrificing God’s only son (or rather perhaps God’s devotion to having a relationship with us).

  8. I believe the Akedah is important within the history of Christianity because of the values and themes that we find in the story which can be applied to our journey in faith today. Throughout the readings it was actions that were attributed to this story and which were applied to life at that time or future times. These actions were piety, faith through works, testing, obedience which brings blessings, faithfulness shown by loving the Lord, righteousness through faith, love the of master ( God), denial to self and a general sacrifice of one’s life and ideals. I also think this story is important because of the giving up of one’s life which can be and has been connected to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

  9. To follow up on Jason’s comments above, I agree that the themes that seem to emerge in the Akedah account and other readings provide significant food for thought in our lives today. Throughout the readings, I kept coming back to the idea of “being tested.” This is clearly a theme in the Bible, and how does God test us today? Or, does God test us today? And the question in the apocryphal texts section that Dr. Vitalis Hoffman raises is an interesting one–Why does God test people? I feel like there are many tests (not of the pen and paper kind!) as we move through our faith journeys, and our discernment processes. Each step in the candidacy process could be seen as a “test.” But to ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is pretty bold. Would we do what Abraham did? An important contribution within Christian history that the Akedah account offers is a clear description of an ultimate “testing” situation. Figuratively, the bar is set with the father/son sacrifical theme in a literary sense.

  10. Resonating with me is “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your might,” the Shema, which we recognize as what the God requires of us, certainly which in the Akedah Abraham illustrated in his obedience to God. Abraham’s motive of love, trust (and fear?) of God, and “special” obedience to God all played into what was described in Philo’s writings as an example of extreme piety. Abraham’s actions in response to God’s testing were further exemplified so “the whole world would know Abraham’s faithfulness to God.” Here again, the obedience of the father’s son (Isaac) is affirmed in the Epistle of Barnabas as it is suggested the unfinished act begun by Isaac was completed with Jesus’ crucifixion in his sacrifice for our sins. Aspects of relationship are evidenced throughout the OT and the NT culminated in God’s extreme love for humanity which was evidenced in the death of his only Son upon the cross.

  11. The importance of the Akedah story to Christianity is varied and multi-layered. As has been noted already (see comments above), the Talmudic, Mishnaic, and Midrashic commentaries on this story give us a sense of a much deeper fullness to Scripture than is apparent in a literal read. I especially enjoyed (and was overwhelmed) by the many ways in which the Sages,Rabbis, and Church Fathers wrestled with the question of how God could ask Abraham to do such a thing as offer up his son, his only son, that were assembled and presented in Shalom Spiegel’s, The Last Trial. It also should be noted and provide Christianity perhaps with caution, as we see how the very same text can be interpreted so differently [i.e., from Abraham offering up Isaac in a burnt offering (the fire, than the wood, than the sacrifice-The Last Trial, 36) to Isaac’a soul flying clean of him and then returning after Abraham recited the Resurrection of the dead benecition (30), to the bearing his own cross imagery beloved by the Church Fathers (84), to the claim that Isaac was a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus (85)]. The Akedah discussions served (and still serve) to help us look at the question that is ultimately asked (ans we as pastors are asked to address) how could the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob allow bad things happen to good people of faith.

    A few questions (or just musings) that I had at the end of the readings and of our class discussions: 1) If the Akedah was intended to end the sacrifice of first-born sons in favor of animal sacrifice, why was the practice of offering up first-born children still prevelant in Paul’s time, even by Christians (Carthege is said to have a huge burial place where the ashes of these sacrifical children were placed)?, 2) In the last few chapters of Spiegel’s book, he recounts how the various martyrs of the Crusades, as they took the lives of their own children and then their own lives, were connected with the Akedah. Spiegel’s work was in 1950 and even with all the fire, ash, and children’s lives being ended, why did he not mention a bigger issue of his day, the Holocaust?, and 3) If Jesus’ sacrifice was supposed to be connected to the Akedah, where is the fire?


  12. Good questions, Dot.
    I’m not sure, but I have to believe that the Holocaust (remember that this very word refers to a whole-burnt offering; the Hebrew word is used in Gen 22.3) is certainly a subtext for his account.
    I’m unfamiliar with the Carthage sacrifices. Perhaps secular traditions were hard to avoid… (I believe that there are a few secular traditions that we observe today that probably don’t have or even contradict our Xn heritage.)
    As for your 3rd question, here’s where you can see how typology works better than allegory. (Allegory would require some corresponding “fire” element in the crucifixion accounts.) As I pointed out in class, there is a certain flexibility even in the Xn tradition: Is Isaac the type for Jesus? Or is it that ram which was ultimately sacrificed?

  13. More positive comment from Luther than in my previous blog: Had a tape of Bainton reading one of Luther’s sermons on the text. Luther concludes it this way:

    We say, “In life we are in the midst of death.”

    But God says, “No, in the midst of death, you live!”

  14. There is so much to summarize in a few sentences. There is a lot going on, as some have already mentioned: testing, the hiddeness/revealing of God, binding and loosening, atonement, sin, law, grace; the Akedah is packed full of these themes. Maybe it is because this account is so packed full that was of importance to the New Testament writers, and to the Christian Church today. One can certainly look back on this account and draw many parallels to the Christ event as we seek understanding of how we relate to and understand God and God’s characteristics. Key themes that interested me was the reason for God to test Abraham, as well as Abraham’s and Isaac’s faithfulness (trust/willingness). For me, the actions of Abraham and Isaac point more to a truth about who God is, than the divine bidding or angel who stopped Abraham’s hand.

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