The Arguments Proper, 2:10-12:29

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

ii] The great-ones of faith


Our author has called on his readers to endure for "the preservation of the soul." He now gives his readers a foundation for endurance, namely, the example of the great saints of old Israel who lived by faith.


i] Context: See 11:1-3.


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


iii] Structure: This passage, The great-ones of faith, presents as follows:

Abel, v4;

Enoch, v5-6;

Noah, v7;

Abraham, v8-12.


iv] Interpretation:

In calling for perseverance in the Christian life, 10:26-39, Hebrews identifies faith as the secret ingredient, "my righteous one will live by faith", Hab.2:4. In 11:1-3 the characteristics of faith are described as putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, ... "being certain of things we cannot see", Phillips. Our author now goes on to encourage his readers by listing examples of those who did persevere, 11:4-38. 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.


The faith of Abraham, v8-12. As the father of believers, Abraham is a central figure in the Christian story, cf. Rom.4:5, Gal.3:9, and so the author of Hebrews looks at his life in more detail, v8-12. The point he makes is that "Abraham lived with promises God had given him, and in faith he accepted their reality", Kistemaker. Note the parallels with Stephen's speech, Acts 7:2-8. There are also parallels with 1 Clement indicating the existence of a "hellenistic-Jewish tradition concerning Abraham", Lane. The tradition seems to have focused on three central acts in Abraham's life: i] the promise of a land, which promise he accepted in faith when he owned no land; ii] the promise of a great nation, which promise he accepted in faith when childless; iii] and the test of faith in God's command to sacrifice Isaac, which test he accepted in faith. Hebrews looks at the first two.


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

Text - 11:4

Examples of faith, v3-12. i] Abel, v4. Abel, the Son of Adam and Eve, and brother of Cain, serves as the first example of a man who lived by faith. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than his brother Cain. There are many suggestions as to why Cain's sacrifice was not accepted by God, but intention is most likely the issue, not the substance of the offering. Scripture declares that "without faith it is impossible to please God", so obviously, Abel's sacrifice was acceptable to God because he trusted God. It was by this faith that he was commended as a righteous man. Finally, the point is made that by faith Abel still speaks in that his life of faith is recorded in the scriptures for all to read.

pistei (iV ewV) dat. "by faith" - The dative is instrumental, expressing means; "by means of faith." For "faith" see v1-3.

pleiona (poluV) comp. adj. "better" - Comparative adjective. Obviously not "a greater sacrifice", ie. quality rather than quantity is to be preferred, "better".

para + acc. "than [Cain did]" - Here serving as a comparative; "in comparison to." Obviously Cain's offering of grain, as against Abel's offering of flesh, is not the issue, although the specific issue is undefined. Genesis 4:6-7 indicates that sin is at the heart of the matter rather than the sacrifice itself.

tw/ qew/ "to God" - Dative of indirect object; "Abel offered a better sacrifice ..... to God".

dia + gen. "by [faith]" - through, by means of [which]. Instrumental, expressing means; "by faith in the faithfulness of God ....." = "by taking God at his word ......."

emarturhqh (marturew) aor. pas. "he was commended" - he was born witness to = attested, commended, cf. v2.

einai "as [a righteous man]" - to be [righteous]. The infinitive forms an object clause / dependent statement indirect speech expressing what was born witness of Abel; "he was attested as being righteous / right before God."

marturountoV (marturew) gen. pres. part. "when [God] spoke well" - of bearing witness. Genitive absolute construction ("God" is also genitive) serving to form a temporal clause, as NIV.

epi + dat. "of [his offerings]" - Here causal; "on the basis of [the gifts he offered]." The basis remains unclear, but possibly "God looked on Abel's heart and was pleased with the motives of the giver", Kistemaker.

kai dia authV "and by faith" - and through / by means of it. Instrumental, expressing means.

apoqanwn (apoqnhskw) aor. part. "even though he is dead" - having died. The participle is adverbial, probably concessive, "though / although", as NIV. His faith still speaks in the record of his faithful life, not his shed blood, cf. Gen.4:10, contra Ellingworth, also Bruce, "Abel is still appealing to God for vindication [from the grave]", etc. "His faith made him, even after his death, a living and speaking example to us", Barclay.


ii] Enoch, v5-6. Enoch, who was the father of Methuselah, serves as another example of a man who lived by faith. Our author tells us that by faith Enoch did two things: First, by faith he walked with God, or as the Septuagint puts it, he "lived well-pleasing to God." As scripture makes clear, "without faith it is impossible to please God." Second, by faith he was not for God took him, ie., he was translated. Because he took God at his word, God took him to be with him in heaven.

The promotion to heaven of Enoch, a man dedicated to the Lord ("walked with God"), v5-6, consists of one sentence made up of five clauses with the last clause consisting of two subordinate clauses.

meteteqh (metatiqhmi) aor. pas. "was taken up from this life" - was removed. "He was translated" = transformed from his bodily form to a heavenly form.

tou mh idein (oJraw) aor. inf. "so that he did not experience [death]" - not to see. This construction, the genitive articular infinitive usually forms a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that; "Enoch, because he trusted God, was taken directly into Heaven by the invitation of God Himself, and as a result he didn't experience death."

ouc huJrisketw (euJriskw) imperf. pas. "he could not be found" - he was not found. The imperfect is possibly iterative; "he could not be found having looked for him on many occasions after his disappearance."

dioti "because [God had taken him away]" - because [God took him up]. Causal conjunction.

gar "for [before]" - Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why Enoch had been taken away.

memarturhtai (marturew) perf. pas. "he was commended" - he has received commendation, attestation. The perfect indicating a past act with continuing consequences.

euaresthkenai (euarestew) perf. inf. "as one who pleased [God]" - to have been pleasing [to God]. The infinitive forms an object clause / dependant statement of indirect speech expressing the content of the commendation. Enoch was approved of God because he pleased God, and he pleased God because he was a man of faith, cf. 6.


Here the characteristics of faith are further illustrated: a belief that God exists; and a belief that he rewards those who seek him.

de "and" - but, and. Slightly adversative, "but then ....", although more likely serving to progress the argument, "and", as NIV.

cwriV + gen. "without" - Expressing separation; "apart from."

euaresthsai (euarestew) pres. inf. "[it is impossible] to please" - The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "impossible". Only Christ, in his faithful obedience, has prompted God's good-pleasure; we, on the other hand, only prompt it through faith in Christ. "It is impossible, in the absence of faith, there should be any such thing as pleasing God", Cassirer.

gar "because" - for. Expressing cause/reason.

ton prosercomenon (prosercomai) pres. part. "anyone who comes [to him]" - the one approaching [to God]. The participle functions as a substantive. We come and rest on the living God in Christ.

pisteusai (pisteuw) aor. inf. "[must] believe" - to believe. The infinitive functions as the subject of the verb "is necessary", "to believe is necessary."

oJti "that" - that. Forming an object clause / independent statement expressing what must be believed. This last clause forms two subordinate clauses connected by kai "and"; "estin he is and ginetai "he becomes [a rewarder]".

misqapodothV (hV ou) "[he] rewards" - [he becomes] a rewarder. The reward is undefined at this point, but is obviously eternity, cf. 12:21-24.

toiV ekzhtousin (ekzhtew) pres. part. "those who earnestly seek" - to the ones who search earnestly. The participle serves as a substantive.


iii] Noah also serves to illustrate faith in action, v7. By faith Noah did two things: First, by faith Noah built the ark; he took God at his word. Noah accepted God's revelation at face value and acted on it. In so doing, he "became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" - he was accounted right in God's sight and so became an heir of those who similarly take God at his word. Second, by faith Noah condemned the world - "through his faith he put the whole world in the wrong", NEB. Noah believed and acted and was proved right, whereas his wider community did not believe, did not act and was proved wrong. Note that Genesis says nothing of Noah's faith, but it does tell us that he pleased God and "without faith it is impossible to please God", v6a.

crhmatisqeiV (crhmatizw) aor. pas. part. "when warned" - having been warned, revealed to. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV. "It was by faith that Noah, after being told by God of what was still unseen", Moffatt. The revelation to Moses obviously includes the plans for the ark, so "having been given instructions [by God]."

peri + gen. "about" - Reference / respect; "about, concerning."

twn .. blepomenwn (blepw) pres. pas. part. "things [not yet] seen" - the things [not yet] being seen. The participle serves as a substantive; "the things not seen as yet", AV.

eulabhqeiV (eulabeomai) aor. pas. part. "in holy fear" - having been fearful / reverent, respectful, careful / cautious, prudent. The participle is adverbial, possibly modal, expressing the manner in which Noah constructed the ark, "with reverential respect he constructed an ark"; "he devoutly constructed the ark", Berkeley. Yet, possibly attendant circumstance expressing action accompanying the verb "he built", taking the sense "giving due care", so "[Noah] ... took heed [of God's word] and built an ark", Cassirer.

eiV "to" - to, into. Here the preposition obviously expresses purpose, "toward" = "in order to ...."

swthrian (a) "save" - salvation. Obviously literally, but eternal salvation is also in mind.

tou oikou (oV) gen. "[his] family" - of the house of him. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective; "the saving of his household", ESV.

dia + gen. "by" - through, by means of. Instrumental, expressing means.

h|V "his faith" - of which. The antecedent is unclear, possibly "his faith", as NIV, although better in his building of the ark; "And so it was that, in doing what he did (ie. building the ark), he showed up the world as deserving of condemnation", Cassirer.

katekrinen (katakrinw) aor. "he condemned" - he passed judgement against. "He proved the error of the worlds ways", Barclay, or better, "he proved that the world was wrong in not giving due recognition to the revelation concerning the coming judgment."

klhronomoV (oV) "[he became] an heir" - one who inherits. Here of one who receives as a gift a promised inheritance. What inheritance? Usually understood as the righteousness that is according to faith, as NIV, so REB, NJB, etc. Possibly the inheritance is the world / the promised land = the promises of the covenant - those blessing appropriate to a person who is righteous by faith; "he inherited the Lord's promised blessings which belong to a person who is righteous by faith." Noah was a righteous man in his own right, Gen.6:9, although only in a relative sense when compared with his generation. Hebrews tells us that Noah became an heir of a righteousness / a full covenant standing, that was due to his faith, apart from sin.

thV .... dikaiosunhV (h) gen. "of the righteousness" - of the righteousness. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, expressing what Noah became an heir of, namely, the righteousness according to faith. "Righteousness" in the sense of right-standing in the sight of God / covenant compliance.

kata + acc. "that comes from [faith]" - according to / that is in keeping with [faith]. Expressing a standard; "the way, or the condition by which righteousness is actualized", Lane.


iv] Abraham, v8-12. Our author now comes to an Old Testament saint whom, it is explicitly said, "believed God and He reckoned it to him for righteousness", Gen.15:6. Stephen said of Abraham in Acts chapter 7, "God removed him into this land, wherein you now dwell: and he gave him none inheritance of it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: and he promised that he would give it to him in possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child." Our writer makes two points about Abraham: First, by faith Abraham possessed a land, although in his own lifetime he never possessed it. Abraham took God at his word, even expecting something more than a geographical and political entity. Second, by faith Abraham fathered a child, although he was as good as dead in the fertility department. Sarah was also past child bearing, yet the child was conceived. Abraham took God at his word, saw God as faithful, trusted him and thus, a child was born and so Abraham ended up with descendants as the stars in the sky.

kaloumenoV (kalew) pres. pas. part. "when called" - being called, summoned, invited. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal; "It was by faith that Abraham rendered obedience, when he received the invitation ..." Variant oJ kaloumenoV forming a substantive participle, "he who was called."

exelqein (exercomai) aor. inf. "to go to" - to go out to. The Infinitive forms a object clause / dependent statement indirect speech expressing the content of the invitation/call.

lambanein (lambanw) pres. inf. "[he would later] receive" - [he was about] to receive. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "was about"

eiV "as [his inheritance]" - for [an inheritance]. Semitic form where this preposition with the accusative predicate is used instead of a simple accusative, Zerwick #70.

mh epistamenoV (epistamai) pres. pas. part. "even though he did not know" - not knowing. The participle is adverbial, probably concessive, as NIV, "although he did not know where he was going", Moffatt, but possible temporal, "while he yet had no knowledge." Possibly taking the sense "he never knew on earth the realization of God's promise of a permanent home for his descendants", Ellingworth.

pou "where [he was going]" - Local.


eiV + acc. "in [the promised land]" - Here this preposition (often with a verb to dwell) is used for en, "in", as NIV.

thV epaggeliaV (a) gen. "the promised [land]" - [the land] of promise. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "land" = "promised land", as NIV.

wJV "like [a stranger]" - Comparative; "like, as."

katoikhsaV (katoikew) aor. part. "he lived" - having dwelled, lived, settled. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "lived as a stranger / sojourned .... and made his home in tents." Obviously of an impermanent dwelling in the land.

en + dat. "in [tents]" - Expressing space / sphere.

meta + gen. "as did [Isaac and Jacob]" - with [Isaac and Jacob]. Expressing association / accompaniment; "together with Isaac and Jacob, the fellow heirs of the same promise." Possibly "with no more home than the tents which he shared with Isaac and Jacob", Phillips.

thV epaggeliaV (a) gen. "of the [same] promise" - [fellow heirs] of the [same] promise. The genitive is adjectival appositional / epexegetic, limiting by defining / making specific "heirs, inheritors", "namely, of the same promise."


gar "for" - for. Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why Abraham lived as a stranger in a foreign country.

exedeceto (ekdecomai) imperf. "he was looking forward to" - he was waiting expectantly for. The imperfect is durative expressing an ongoing wait. For Hebrews, Abraham is waiting for an eternal city, something that transcends bricks and mortar.

ecousan (ecw) pres. part. "[the city] with [foundations]" - [the city] having [foundations]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "city", "a city which has foundations." Probably referring to the fortifications of the city wall such that the wall rests on a secure rock-bed, or large stones. So, the reference is to a city with secure fortifications, and thus a safe city to dwell in.


pistei (iV ewV) dat. "by faith Abraham / by faith even Sarah" - The dative is instrumental, expressing means. The subject of the verb elaben "was enabled" is unclear. Literally it is Sarah, so "through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised", AV. Yet, the context favors Abraham as the subject of this verse, as NIV. So, the reference to Sarah is usually treated as a parenthesis, as NIV. It is possible that auth Sarra is dative (the iota subscript was not used in early MSS, so auth/ Sarra/; "by faith Abraham (assumed) received / was given the power to procreate (katabolhn spermatoV "establish a posterity") together with Sarah herself (Dative of accompaniment) who was past child birth (steira, "barren").

epei "because [she considered him faithful]" - Here the conjunction is causal, as NIV.

ton epaggeilamenon (epaggellomai) aor. part. "who had made the promise" - the one having promised. The participle functions as a substantive. Again faith is defined as a reliance on the faithfulness of God, a dependence on the worth of his promises.


dio "and so" - therefore. Drawing a logical conclusion.

eJnoV masc. adj. "[from] this one man" - one. Being masculine, Abraham is intended; "from one man / Abraham."

kai tauta "and he" - and these ones / and this one. Emphatic; "and indeed this one man." The use of the plural here may just serve as a general reference to the "one man" and is usually translated as such, but it may serve to include both Abraham and Sarah in the state of being too old to have children.

nenekrwmenou (nekrow) perf. pas. part. "as good as dead" - having been put to death = having been reckoned as dead. The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal "while as good as dead", or concessive, "although as good as dead."

egennhqhsan (gennaw) aor. pas. "came descendants" - were born. "There came a host of descendants".

wJV "as" - like, as. Establishing a comparison.

hJ anariquhtoV adj. "numerous ..... countless ...." - innumerable. The adjective functions here as a substantive and serves as the subject for both phrases. Both phrases are Old Testament allusions, Gen.15:5, 22:17.

thV qalasshV (a) gen. "[the sand] on the seashore" - [the sand] of the sea. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting sand; "the sand which is on the edge of the sea" = "the sand by the seashore", ESV.


Hebrews Introduction



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