How did Avraham discover that God exists? Was because of logic or tradition since Adam? If was by logic, why do we call him Ivri (from Ever, his grandfather). Please bring sources.


2 Answers 2


There is a midrash in Bereshit Rabbah 39 where Avraham deduces the existence of God who created the world, and only then did God call out to Avraham lech l'cha. A summary of the midrash from my notes after a class:

Mashal: One day a man was traveling and he saw a tower (birah) "on fire" (doleket). He said, this tower has no owner? A man peeked out and said "I am the owner". Nimshal: The traveler is Avraham Avinu, who said: this world has no owner? And Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu peeked out at him, saying: I am the ruler of this world.

(My notes from the class:) According to this midrash, God didn't reveal himself to Avraham until Avraham reasoned that the world must have a creator/ruler and went looking. Avraham was a seeker; God didn't just speak to him out of the blue and say "lech l'cha".

So according to this midrash, Avraham was inquisitive enough to deduce the existence of, and then seek out, the Master of the Universe.

Another midrash (B'reishit Rabbah 42) offers a few different explanations for the name Ivri (h/t Menachem). One of these, attributed to R. Nechemiah, is that it comes from Eber, from whom Avraham learned the monotheistic tradition (passed down from Shem). That interpretation contradicts the midrash above. The other two explanations there are not related to this. R. Yehudah says that it is because Avraham worshiped one God unlike those around him, and others understand it geographically, because Avraham "crossed over" and wasn't a native.


No doubt, tradition played an important part of Abram's first obedient response to God's command to get up and move from Haran, where he and his father's family had moved after leaving polytheistic Ur of the Chaldeans (Bereshit 11:31). Abram was not born into a "religious" vacuum, even though his father may not have been a believer in YHWH, the one true God.

Moreover, Abram was an intelligent man, capable of rational thought and logic. On more than one occasion he asked God intelligent and penetrating questions (see, e.g., Bereshit 15:2-3 and ff.). Then too he was a prosperous, blameless man (though not a sinless man) with a spotless reputation who lived in the midst of a culture of polytheism for much of his life. He had "smarts" enough to go against the four kings of Genesis 14 and defeat them, after which he refused to receive a gift from the king of Sodom, saying

And Abram said to the king of Sodom: 'I have lifted up my hand unto the LORD, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say: I have made Abram rich. (Bereshit 14:22-23).

God would not have appeared to Abram had he not been both a believer in God and a sensible believer at that! When YHWH made the promise to Abram to make his descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven, the Tanakh said, "And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness." (Bereshit 15:6).

I'd like to think that Abram had heard, through the lineage of Shem (Bereshit 11:10 ff.), the story of the one true God who had by His word brought the created universe into existence ex nihilo, and that the story had been passed down from generation to generation, sometimes being met with faith and at other times not.

Even if Abram had not heard of the one true God, and there is no particular reason to believe he had not, there is such a thing as "the witness of God in nature," or "natural revelation," as some theologians call it.

In the Tanakh, the Psalmist David put it this way,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork; Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night revealeth knowledge; There is no speech, there are no words, neither is their voice heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Tehillim 19:2-5).

In other words, unbelieving men and women are without excuse. What is known of God is clearly evident to them; they choose, however, to suppress the truth and do what they consider natural by following their own lusts. The prophet Isaiah called such people "sheep," each of whom has "gone astray" and "turned to his own way" (Yeshayahu 53:6). If we all are honest with ourselves, we all (believers in the one true God and unbelievers alike) tend to stray from what we know to be right and choose to do what God commands us not to do. (See Tehillim 53:1-3.)

One of the "arguments" agnostics and atheists use as a smokescreen (from my perspective, anyway) is the old

"But what about the heathen? If they have never heard of the one true God, how can God hold them accountable for something they have never heard of?"

To that question, I suggest they at least consider what King David said in numerous Psalms (not only Tehillim 19, but also Tehillim 8 and Tehillim 33:6-9 ff.).

In conclusion, then, Abraham, the great patriarch of faith, knew in his heart that there was one true God, the Creator and the Sustainer of all the earth. He knew, moreover, that God is a just God. That is why in Bereshit 18:25, he asked

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?

All I can say to that is, Amen!

  • Did not get any answer here... "No doubt, tradition played an important part of Abram's first obedient response to God's command " and "God would not have appeared to Abram had he not been both a believer in God and a sensible believer at that". My question is how he was a believer.
    – juanora
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 9:46
  • 1
    @rhetorician As far as everyone here is concerned, including any NT portions in an answer will by definition weaken your argument. Removal is to your advantage.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 18:40
  • Gotcha! Makes sense. Don Larter, rhetorician Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 21:02

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