Educating Father Abraham: The Meaning of Wife

First Things, November 1994.


It is not exactly traditional to speak about the education of Abraham. Pious tales of the patriarch regard him as a precocious monotheist even before God calls him, a man who smashed his father’s idols, a man who sprang forth fully pious and knowledgeable about the ways of God. But, in my view, a careful reading of the biblical text shows otherwise: Abraham indeed goes to school, God Himself is his major teacher, and Abraham’s adventures constitute his education, right up to his final exam, the binding of Isaac.

To appreciate God’s education of Abraham, it is necessary to grasp the pre-Abrahamic, which is to say the natural and uninstructed, human condition and to see just what needs educating and why. The necessary background is in fact presented in the opening eleven chapters of Genesis, and their proper study is indispensable for appreciating what follows.

First Things