Hebrews 11


(For those who are visiting this page from the topical studies page, this is a continuation of the study on Biblical Belief.)

You may be asking why I felt it necessary to review nouns and prepositions.  The noun pistis is used as the object of the preposition "by" throughout the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.  I wanted to make sure each of us understood the role this phrase is playing as we examine this chapter.  Pistis is not the subject of the sentence in this chapter, but is telling us something about the subject of each sentence.  The prepositional phrase "By faith" tells us something about the relation of the sentence subject to the verb.  I would like for us to look at each verse where the writer uses the prepositional phrase "by faith" and determine what it tells us about the subject.

Verse 1"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  Unlike the rest of this chapter the writer uses pistis as the subject of the sentence in this verse.  He then proceeds to tell us that faith is two things:

  1. The substance of things hoped for

  2. The evidence of things not seen

Hupostasis is translated "substance" in this verse.  It is actually used 2 other times in the book of Hebrews.  In 1:3 it is translated "person", and in 3:14 it is translated "confidence".  Paul uses the word in 2 Corinthians 9:4 (translated "confident") and 11:17 ("confidence").  If you link to the online Greek lexicon you'll learn that hupostasis indicates "that which has actual existence".   How often is that for which we hope something without actual substance to us?  Oftentimes we have no confidence in things hoped for, because there is always the possibility that our hopes may be dashed.  This is not the case with Biblical faith.  The things for which one with true faith hopes have actual existence!  One with true faith has confidence in the spiritual things for which they hope.  The Hebrews writer continues with this thought when he says that faith is "the evidence of things not seen".  Elegchos is translated "evidence" and means "a proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested".  We live in a "prove it to me" world today.  Many people seem to have the attitude that if something cannot be perceived with one or more of the 5 senses then it doesn't exist.  Faith is the proof for the existence of something that cannot be perceived by the physical senses.  These things are just as real as those which can be seen, felt, tasted, heard, or smelled!  Think for a moment about the electromagnetic spectrum.  There is a very narrow portion of this spectrum that is visible to our physical sense of sight.  However, the fact we cannot see infrared or ultraviolet light does not mean they don't exist!  We've developed instruments which are capable of detecting these wavelengths of light.  In the spiritual realm faith serves as the instrument which proves the existence of things we cannot perceive with our senses.

So we learn in verse 1 that through faith we have absolute confidence in things for which we hope, and proof for the existence of things we cannot know with our physical senses.

Verse 2:  "For by it the elders obtained a good report."  The Hebrews writer now introduces faith as the object of  the preposition "by".  In verse 1, faith serves as the subject and is defined by the writer.  Now he begins to tell us the relationship between a different subject and its associated verb by using faith as a prepositional object.  We need to clearly understand this relationship before we can understand Biblical belief.  Let's break down verse 2.  The subject of this sentence is "elders".  The verb is "obtained".  Did the elders (forefathers) obtain a good report?  Yes.  Why?  Because of faith ("by faith").  Did they have hope?  Yes.  Was their hope some nebulous wish that was just as likely to fail as to come true?  No!  Did they obtain a good report because of something they could perceive with their physical senses?  No!  (Recall the definition of faith:  it is the confidence that that one hopes for will be realized, and the proof of the existence of something which cannot be known by the physical senses.)  Would the elders have received a good report had they placed their trust in their physical senses?  No!  This would not have been faith, and the Hebrews writer tells us that it was by faith that they received a good report.  Let's keep these important points in mind as we consider the actions of the forefathers as recorded in the remainder of Hebrews 11.

Verse 3:  "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."  The writer tells us something extremely important about faith in this verse:  I gain understanding by faith!  The Greek word translated "understanding" is noeo, and means "to perceive with the mind, to understand, to have understanding".  But what do people oftentimes say about faith?  When it's impossible for us to understand something, then we believe it because of faith!  This is NOT Biblical belief!!  The Hebrews writer tells us that true faith leads to understanding.  Faith is not what is left over when I'm faced with something I cannot understand!  When people make such a statement, upon what are they relying for understanding?  Their physical senses!  For example, why do I understand that fire is hot?  Because I've experienced the pain with my physical sense of touch.  Because of this experience my mind understands the nature of fire.  In verse 3 of this chapter we learn that faith is just as valid a tool to mental perception and understanding as are my five physical senses.  To say I have faith when I don't understand something is to make a false claim.

The Hebrews writer reinforces this point through the example he uses in verse 3.  He tells us that, by faith, we understand (noeo) that the worlds were not made of things we can see.  If we rely on our physical senses for our understanding of the origin of the universe then we do not have faith!  Does this mean we cannot use our senses to understand what has been created?  No!  However, we cannot rely on our senses to determine the origin of the universe.  Our senses help us understand what God has created, but they cannot help us understand where these things came from!  This understanding comes only by faith.  However, this understanding is no less valid than that I gain by my physical senses as I study the universe He created.

As a physician I've been in the audience at several scientific meetings where the speaker has used the following phrase:  "It's no longer science but religion".  This phrase is extremely offensive to me!  This phrase is generally used to refer to a scientist who believes something to be true, but can't prove it scientifically.  What is the one who uses this phrase saying?  Religion is void of proof!  It may well be that many scientists believe something for which no proof exists, but such is NOT the case in true religion!  Faith is as valid a proof to those who wish to please God as is an experiment to a scientist.  In fact, faith is MORE valid a proof than is many scientific experiments!  Science is continually being rewritten as new discoveries are made.  The proof which comes by true faith is valid throughout eternity.

Verse 4:  "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh."  In this verse the writer tells us something else extremely important about faith:  when one has faith, an appropriate action results.  "By faith Abel offered..."  Because of Abel's confident hope and the proof he knew existed despite lack of physical evidence he offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.  Did Cain have a living faith?  NO!  What did Abel's sacrifice do for him?  It served as a witness that he was righteous!   Recall again from our study of righteousness that only God can declare one righteous.  The Hebrews writer confirms this fact when he says, "God testifying of his gifts".  Why did God consider Abel righteous?  Because of the action that resulted from his faith!  Abel had true belief (pisteuo) in God.  He knew God existed, he surrendered to His will, and his actions reflected his surrender.  Cain did not believe in God.  Oh yes, Cain knew God existed.  However, he failed to surrender to His will and his actions reflected his lack of surrender.

Let's return to James 2 for a moment.  Recall James 2:23, which says, "And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness:  and he was called the Friend of God."  But James continues in verse 24:  "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."  What did Cain have?  He had faith only!  His only tribute to God was his mental understanding of His existence.  He did NOT believe in God!   God WILL NOT impute righteousness to one who fails to surrender to His will and manifest works consistent with such surrender.  Such a one WILL NOT be called a friend of God.  Please consider how James closes chapter 2:  "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (verse 26)  The one who believes in God's existence but does not fully surrender to His will has a DEAD FAITH!

Verse 5:  "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God."  As we'll see throughout this chapter, we have the prepositional phrase "by faith".  This phrase is telling us something about the relationship between the subject (Enoch) and the verb (was translated).  So, by faith Enoch was translated.  But who translated him?  God!  Why did God translate him?  Because he had received testimony that he pleased God.  Martureo is translated "testimony" in verse 5.  The Hebrews writer has already used the word three times so far in chapter 11 (verse 2, translated "good report"; verse 4, "witness" and "testifying").  With what is God pleased (Greek euaresteo)?  Euaresteo is used in verse 5, and also in Hebrews 13:16.  This verse reads, "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."  Here we see that God is pleased with action (to do good and to communicate), not simply with one's testimony that they believe in the existence of God.  The Bible doesn't give us specific actions performed by Enoch that pleased God, but we know from the context of Hebrews 11, and also from 13:16, that there must have been actions demonstrating Enoch's surrender to the will of God before God would consider him pleasing and translate him directly to heaven.

Verse 5, however, tells us something else about faith:  It is by one's faith in God that one receives spiritual blessings from God!  Let's read the first few words of verse 5 again:  "By faith Enoch was translated..."  Who had faith?  Enoch.  What happened to Enoch?  He was translated.  Who translated him?  God.  Why did God translate him?  Because of his testimony that Enoch pleased God.  How did God translate him?  By faith!  The word "by" means "through the agency or instrumentality of".  So, through the agency or instrumentality of faith Enoch was translated by God.  Not only is true faith associated with an appropriate action on man's part, it also results in action on God's part!  Without faith there is no agent through which God can work in the lives of men.  Let's move on to verse 6, and the Hebrews writer will emphasize this point again.

Verse 6:  "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."  In my opinion, this is one of the most well-known and often-memorized verses in the New Testament.  But how many of us who've committed this verse to memory truly understand what it says?  In verse 5 the writer gave us an example of one who pleased God, and how his faith resulted in a miraculous action by God.  However, in verse 6 he tells us how one will not be pleasing to God.  One who does not have faith CANNOT please God.  It is impossible, the writer says.  Let's enter what we've learned about faith in place of the word faith.  One who does not have full confidence in hope cannot please God.  One who relies only on their physical senses for understanding cannot please God.  If you've gone through some of my other studies you know how I emphasize the importance of the coordinating conjunction "and".  In the next phrase the writer tells us two things that the one who comes unto God must believe.  These two things are joined together by "and".  (As you know, this word tells us that the word or group of words on the left side of "and" is of equal importance to those on the right side.)  The one who comes unto God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.  In this phrase we again see the fallacy behind the "faith only" doctrine.  It's not enough for one to simply believe that God is.  One who comes unto Him must also believe that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.  He doesn't reward just anyone.  One must diligently seek Him to be rewarded by Him.  Ekzeteo is translated "diligently seek" and means "to seek out or after, to search for".  Paul says something similiar in his sermon on Mars Hill.  Acts 17:24-28 says, "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring."  Paul uses the word zeteo ("to seek, to seek for") in verse 27.  The Hebrews writer tells us that action MUST accompany a belief in God's existence before one will be rewarded by Him.  The one who simply believes but does not seek God in order to find Him will not be rewarded by Him.  In Hebrews 11 we've already considered a man who had faith only:  Cain.  When he failed to accompany his belief in the existence of God with appropriate action he failed to be rewarded by God.

Verse 7:  The writer in these next several verses gives examples of those in the past who, by faith, demonstrated an action consistent with their faith.  I'd like for us to consider these examples and apply the principles we learned in the first few verses of Hebrews 11 to understand the role of faith in their lives.

"By faith Noah prepared..."  Again we have faith (pistis) serving as the object of the preposition "by".  It is telling us something about the subject (Noah) and the verb (prepared) of this sentence.  So, through the agency or instrumentality of faith, Noah prepared an ark.  Noah's faith resulted in action.  But that's not the only "by faith" in verse 7.  The writer continues, "by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."  How did Noah become heir of righteousness?  By faith!  But who declares one righteous?  God!  So, through the agency or instrumentality of Noah's faith he was declared righteous by God and became heir of righteousness.  His faith in God was required before God could declare him righteous, since it is by faith that one becomes heir of righteousness!  Again we see faith serving as the agent by which one receives blessings from God.

Verses 8-10:  By faith Abraham obeyed and went out; by faith Abraham sojourned.  God called Abraham to leave his home and journey to a place, not knowing where he was going!  Here again we see faith in action.  Abraham could not have been trusting his physical senses, since God didn't tell him were he was going.  Abraham realized that God's word was just as valid as the information he gained by his senses, and he acted upon this realization.   The writer tells us where Abraham was looking as he sojourned in the promised land:  "For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."

Verses 11-12:  Through faith Sarah received strength.  Abraham and Sarah were promised a son, yet they were well past childbearing years.  It was through Sarah's faith that she received the strength from God to conceive Isaac.  If Sarah had not had true faith, God could not have given her the power to conceive!  It was through her faith that she received this power from God.  Again we see the requirement of faith before God can reward those who diligently seek him.  Consider what can result when one refuses to rely solely on their physical senses for understanding and obeys the commandments of God:  "Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable."

Verses 17-19:  By faith Abraham offered up Isaac.  The son that God had promised Abraham and Sarah, who was born in their old age, through which all nations of the earth would be blessed, was about to be sacrificed on an altar.  How many of us have that kind of faith?  What must Abraham have known about God to do such a thing?  God was able to raise Isaac from the dead!  Not only was God able, God would absolutely have to raise Isaac!  Abraham had absolute confidence in God's promises (if he hadn't, Isaac would never have been born), and God promised that it would be through Isaac that all nations would be blessed.  If Isaac was dead, this couldn't have happened.  Therefore, had Abraham sacrificed Isaac, he would have to have been raised from the dead.

Consider the subject and verb in each of the following verses...

Verse 20:  By faith Isaac blessed...

Verse 21:  By faith Jacob blessed...

Verse 22:  By faith Joseph made mention and gave commandment...

Verse 23:  By faith Moses was hid...

Verses 24-26:  By faith Moses refused and chose...

Verse 27:  By faith Moses forsook...

Verse 28:  By faith Moses kept...

Verse 29:  By faith they passed...

Verse 30:  By faith the walls of Jericho fell...

Verse 31:  By faith Rahab perished not with them that believed  not...

Verses 32-38:  "And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:  Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.  Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:  And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:  They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."

Consider everything these people did through faith!  This is not a dead faith!  The true faith of one who is pleasing to God is truly living!

(If you joined this study from the topical studies page, click this link to return.  You're certainly welcome to continue our study of Biblical Belief, if you wish.)


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