The Arguments, 2:10-12:29

3. God's people persevere through suffering by faith, 11:1-12:24

i] Faith defined


In calling for perseverance in the Christian life, the writer of Hebrews encourages his readers by listing examples of those who did persevere. Above all, he lets his readers into the secret of their success. These "great ones" persevered by faith. They persevered by trusting the promises of God, which promises were without substance, or visible evidence. None-the-less, they regulated their lives on the basis of God's revealed truth - on his promises and commands. They did so, even though much of this truth concerned an unseen future.


i] Context: See 2:10-18. The third main argument is introduced and concludes with a digresio, a digression, which in Hebrews is in the form of an admonition, 10:26-39 and 12:25-29. The argument covering 11:1-12:24 addresses the issue of God's people persevering in times of suffering through the instrument of faith. The argument supports the proposition that Christ, our Great High Priest, was glorified through suffering and in him we are glorified, 2:5-9. Our author is aware that his readers are facing difficult times, and as a result, they are struggling with the belief that in Christ they have access into the Holy of Holies, into the presence of God. In addressing their circumstances, he wants them to know that God's people in past times have put up with their suffering because they knew that they "possessed something better and more lasting." So, he encourages his readers not to "abandon that confidence." This encouragement is supported by Habakkuk 2:4, "my righteous one will live by faith". This truth is central to the writer's third main argument. So first, he "begins with the unseen hope of the righteous (while they endure conflict, disappointment and death) and culminates by picturing hope's realization in God's heavenly city, 12:22-24", Koester.

The whole of chapter 11 is dedicated to a description of the great-ones of faith, those who were waiting for the fulfillment of the promised covenant blessings, often waiting in the most difficult of circumstances, and did so by faith. "None of them received what had been promised", yet they waited by faith and were commended for it. In similar fashion, all who struggle in a world that is "not worthy of them" must do so pistei, "by faith."

Chapter 12:1-17 bolsters "by faith" with athletic images, of striving toward the goal, the prize of being welcomed into the throne room of our God. This was the hope of the great ones of faith, and Christ, the pathfinder, made this way possible for all who follow him. So, "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us", "endure hardship as discipline"; "strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees", "make every effort ......"

Finally, in 12:18-24, our author brings us, in our imagination, to that goal, to Mount Zion, to the assembly gathered in the presence of God, "to the thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, ...... to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant. "


ii] Background: A general introduction; See 1:1-4.


iii] Structure: This passage, Faith, presents as follows:

The characteristics of faith, v1-2;

An example of faith, v3.


iv] Interpretation:

In calling for perseverance in the Christian life, the writer of Hebrews sets out to encourage his readers by identifying the secret ingredient that enables a believer to persevere. Israel's ancestors persevered by faith, they persevered by trusting the promises of God, which promises were without substance, or visible evidence. In these verses our author describes the basic characteristics of faith; "faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see", Phillips.

Faith is a uJpostasiV, "confidence / conviction", a conviction concerning our eternal hope, our acceptance in the presence of God, our welcome into eternal habitations / heaven - faith is a sticking to it, a firmness about it. This subjective treatment of the word is the most widely accepted, but some commentators understand it objectively, that which "stands under / supports" our eternal hope; "faith is the substance of what we hope for" - see v1 below. The next phrase in v11 seems to repeat, in different words, the first characteristic of faith, such that faith entails a "conviction / certainty" in things not seen, namely, our eternal hope - the NIV opts for the word "assurance." Note that Morris takes elegcoV, usually translated as "conviction", to mean "test / prove", such that faith is the means by which a believer tests all things; "what does not accord with faith is to be rejected." It is best to take the two halves of the verse as analogous.

Moving to v3 we seem to strike an intrusion in the argument in that v4 logically follows on from v2. Hughes argues that "for the eye of faith, the future cannot be separated from the past" so Hebrews has faith embracing creation all the way through to re-creation in Christ. With this approach v3 is an integral part of the writer's account of faith in action argued out in the following verses. Other commentators link v3 with v1-2, usually treating it as an example / illustration of the nature of faith. Those who have understood uJpostasiV in an objective sense, "faith is the substance of what we hope for", argue that "faith enables us to understand that the visible universe was created by something invisible, namely, by the word of God", Ellingworth, cf. also Lane. Similarly for the subjective sense, "before he proceeds to celebrate the faith of the elders, however, he illustrates in another way his statement that faith is a conviction of things not seen", Bruce.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 11:1

Faith, v1-3. i] Faith defined, v1-2. In the first verse our author defines faith, although only for the purpose of this argument - the definition is not intended as a comprehensive definition of Christian faith. For Hebrews, faith is a confident reliance on those things we hope for, a conviction about things which we cannot see. Faith is confidence in the promises of God. It is not an object given and possessed, but rather a subjective human quality, a human confidence which may be weak or strong. God is faithful to his promises and is well able to realize them, so faith finds its power in the faithfulness of God, not in the act of believing.

estin de "now [faith] is" - cf. BDF#252. The construction is probably being used of a definition; "now faith means ....", Phillips.

pistiV (iV ewV) "faith" - Other than when "faith" is used to identify Christian belief, "the faith", the word primarily means "trust", a putting one's weight on, reliance on someone or something. In the NT shades of meaning can be discerned, but the primary sense remains. For Paul, righteousness in the sight of God is found through the faithfulness of Christ pistewV Ihsou Cristou" for those who believe (touV pisteuontaV "the one's believing"), those who put their confidence in the worth of Christ's perfect sacrifice on their behalf / his faithful act (pistewV en tw/ autou aiJmati "faith in his blood"), Rom.3:22, 25. Hebrews takes a similar line. The writer's primary text is Hab.2:4 where we are reminded that the righteous will live by faith, but whose faith? Primarily we live due to the faithfulness of God to his promises, which promises are realized through our faith. So, we live by faith in the faithfulness of God, ie. faith is an undivided confidence in the faithfulness of God. The listed heros of faith all have this quality in common.

uJpostasiV (iV ewV) "being sure" - confidence / substance. The debate over the meaning of this word has a long history. Luther originally understood the word objectively as a substance, something actually possessed, a reality, a basis, a foundation, a possessio; "only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for", NJB; "faith forms a solid ground for what is hoped for", Berkeley; "The proof of things which are not seen", Wuest; "faith is the reality of things hoped for", Attridge; faith "is something necessary for hopes to come true", Attridge; "faith guarantees what believers hope for ", Ellingworth. There is certainly strong linguistic support for this sense, but as noted by Ellingworth, "it is difficult to give meaning to faith as constituting or even creating substance in things hoped for." After a debate with Melanchthon, Luther adopted the subjective sense such that the word expresses an inner "confidence", and it is this sense which prevails in many modern translations, as NIV: "confident assurance", NAB / Cassirer; "conviction", TEV; "confidence", Barclay. There has been a recent move to take up both ideas since when the word is linked with "faith" the subjective sense comes to the fore, and when linked with "what is hoped for" the objective sense comes to the fore. So, "faith is the assurance of things hoped for", NRSV, NASB. "Faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for", Phillips.

elpizomenwn (elpizw) gen. pres. part. "of what we hope for" - of being hoped for. The genitive noun pragmatwn "things", or something akin, must be assumed, such that the participle is then technically adjectival, attributive, limiting "the things"; "of [the things] which are being hoped for." The present tense is durative expressing ongoing action. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective, ie. the attainment of hoped-for goals is the object of the confidence, goals such as divine favor, salvation, eternal inheritance, the promised blessings of the kingdom, .... but it can just as easily be adjectival where "confidence" is limited by "what we hope for, a confidence which concerns a future hope"; "faith is steadfast assurance concerning what is hoped for", Koester.

elegcoV (oV) "certain" - conviction / demonstration. Functioning as the subject of an appositional clause and so paralleling "being sure." Again we have the problem of either a subjective, or objective meaning. Calvin opted for the objective sense and is followed by many with a reformed bent, cf. Lane, so "only faith can ....... prove the existence of realities that are unseen", NJB. The subjective sense is more widely accepted; "faith means ...... being certain of things we cannot see", Phillips.

pragmatwn (a atoV) gen. "of what" - of things. As above, the genitive may be verbal, objective, but it can also be adjectival, so "concerning those things we cannot see."

ou blepomenwn (blepw) pres. pas. part. "we do not see" - not having seen. The negation ou with a participle is unusual in the NT and serves to be "clear-cut and decisive", Robertson. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the things." The phrase "assurance about what we do not see" stand in apposition to "confidence in what we hope for." What we hope for is a substantial reality which, although promised, is yet unseen.


Hebrews goes on to point out that through faith the people of Israel gained God's approval and so realized his promises in their lives. The life of Israel's great-ones of faith is recorded in the scriptures and serves as an example to encourage those who follow in their footsteps.

gar "-" - for. Possibly explanatory and therefore left untranslated, but causal is possible, in the sense that faith, as defined in v1, is valid "because" on its account the ancients were approved before God.

en + dat. "-" - in [this]. Possibly instrumental, "by this means", but better local, "on this account", Lane, ie. on the basis of faith the ancients were commended. This verse serves as a bridge to the listed examples of those who were commended by God on account of their faith.

oiJ presbuteroi (oV) "the ancients" - the elders. Comparative form of "old", lit. "older" = "the great ones of the past." A term of respect for Israel's faithful ancestors.

emarturhqhsan (marturew) aor. pas. "were commended for" - were born witness to = were given approval, attested. Probably a theological passive, "received attestation from God", Lane, ie. they received God's approval and this on the basis of their faith, cf. Koester.


ii] Faith illustrated, v3. Before listing scriptural examples of the great-ones of faith, the writer illustrates his definition of faith. He has told us that faith is a firm conviction in God's promises, promises which "we hope for" and yet at present "do not see." So for example, faith is holding firm to the conviction that the Universe was made through the command of God, out of nothing, rather than out of a preexistent substance, Psalm.33:6,9. The prevailing secular view was Platonic, namely that the universe was made up of matter which was an eternal, neutral substance. This is not what the Bible says. To accept God's word, against the science of the day, is to live by faith rather than by sight.

pistei (iV ewV) dat. "by faith" - Probably instrumental, "by means of faith".

nooumen (noew) pres. "we understand" - we perceive with our mind. Indicating that "faith is not blind assent but engages man's intellect and mind", Kistemaker. A rational approach to the universe leads us to the conclusion that behind its formation there is a powerful divine being, cf. Rom.1:20. Yet, little more can be concluded by observation. Scripture reveals the nature of this divine person and that he created the universe by calling it into being ex nihilo (from what had no existence before), ie. by a word / command / instruction (not the Word / Son of God - hJrhma not logoV). It is to this revealed truth that the instrument of faith is applied. We hold that what is seen is not made out of what is visible, we hold it to be true, we rest on it, believe it, .... because it is a revealed truth from God. Such is faith, "a being certain about things we cannot see."

kathritisqai (katarizw) perf. pas. inf. "that [the universe] was formed" - to be put into the right order = to have been created. The infinitive forms an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what "we understand", as NIV.

touV aiwnaV (wn wnoV) "the universe" - the age = the transitory universe, worlds in both space and time. Accusative subject of the infinitive forming an accusative infinitive construction.

rJhmati (a atoV) dat. "at [God's] command" - in, on, by the word [of God]. The dative is most likely instrumental; "has been fashioned by the word of God", Cassirer.

eiV to + inf. "so that [ ..... made]" - so as [ ...... to have become]. This construction usually forms a final clause expressing purpose, sometimes a consecutive clause expressing result, or hypothetical result as here; "so that [the thing seeing = that which we see] did [not] become / come into being [from/out of what is not visible]" = "such that the world we can see did not came into being from what has outward appearance."

to blepomenon (blepw) pres. pas. part. "what is seen" - the thing seeing. The participle forms a substantive, accusative, subject of the infinitive, "the thing which is seen."

mh "not [made]" - The placement of the negation is unclear prompting two possible constructions: i] placed with the infinitive gegonenai, "so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible", NIV; ii] placed with the participle fainomenwn, "appearing / visible", "so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible", NRSV. It seems more likely that the negation is part of the infinitival phrase rather than the prepositional phrase ek fainomenwn "from appearing / visible." Actually the negation is somewhat confusing and so best turned into positive statement; "the visible was made out of the invisible", Moffatt.

ek + gen. "out of" - from. Expressing source/origin.

fainomenwn (fainw) pres. part. "what was visible" - from, out of visible. The participle functions as a substantive; "that which is visible." The creation did not derive "from visible things", Berkeley.


Hebrews Introduction



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