Many Christians refer to Genesis 15:6 to demonstrate that Abraham was righteous only by faith and not by following the commands and laws of God. How can we respond to this?
This topic is covered extensively in EP Sanders’, “Paul, the Law and the Jewish People”, which I would strongly recommend for those trying to understand the use of this passage to justify Christian beliefs in regard to salvation, or in trying to understand their soteriological perspective.
Genesis 15:6 says as follows, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” the argument from this which is normally given, is that this verse never mentions works, commandments or laws. It specifically mentions faith only, therefore it is perfectly acceptable to believe that Abraham was righteous solely by his faith and nothing else. This is the same form of argument used by Paul in Romans 3:27-29, 4:9-25. Unfortunately for those who use this verse to argue their case of righteousness only by faith, they are appealing to the argument from silence – a fallacy. Simply because it is not mentioned in this verse, does not mean that Abraham is solely righteous by faith.
In fact, God in other places directly ascribes Abraham’s blessing/ righteousness due to his obeying of God’s command/ the law. We read, “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:18, and we also read from Genesis 26:4-5, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”
Therefore, while Genesis 15:6 does mention that Abraham was righteous due to his faith while mentioning the promise of his descendants being as numerous as the stars, Genesis 22:18 and Genesis 26:4-5, while speaking of the same promise, mention Abraham’s righteousness and blessing by God due to his obeying of commands and laws. It is quite probable that the Christian had not read all of the related passages or were solely taught this one proof text that related to the teachings of Paul in Romans. Either way, the related texts clearly contextualise what Genesis 15:6 was saying.
and God knows best.