Heb 11:1-40

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Home > The New Testament > Hebrews > Chapter 11
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  • Heb 11: Chapter overview: Faith and action. Perhaps more than any other section of scripture, this chapter of Hebrews makes clear that faith is not merely an intellectual exercise. Time after time in these verses and the ones that follow, faith is always mentioned in terms of what people did.
The examples given are many: Abel, who gave a sacrifice (verse 4); Enoch, who pleased God, presumably by his actions (verse 5); Noah, who built the ark (verse 7); Abraham, who obeyed in several ways (verse 8); Isaac, who blessed Jacob (verse 20); Jacob, who blessed the sons of Joseph (verse 21); Moses' parents, who protected him (verse 23); Moses, who didn't succumb to pressure (verse 24); those who marched around the walls of Jericho (verse 30); Rahab, who welcomed the spies (verse 31); Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel and the prophets, who took all sorts of decisive action; and unnamed others (verses 35ff) who were tortured and martyred.
  • Heb 11:1: Substance. The Greek word hupostasis is translated in verse 1 as "substance." It is often rendered in modern translations as "assurance," which is also the word used in the Joseph Smith Translation.
  • Heb 11:3: Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. The Greek phrasing here might be more literally translated as "what is seen did not come into being from things that are visible" (see the NET note here).
  • Heb 11:4. Based on the rather terse account of Cain and Abel in Gen 4:4-5, it is not clear why Abel's sacrifice was accepted while Cain's was not. Two common views (confirmed by Jewish tradition, see for example the commentary on this verse in the Word Biblical Commentary volume for Hebrews) consider both the content and the attitude that the offerings were offered. It seems here that the author is interested in the difference in attitude since in verse 6 faith is described as requiring the belief that God "is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
Interestingly, the first two examples of faith given here do not involve (at least explicitly) a response to God's call as described in the other examples (this seems to help explain the explanatory interruption in verse 6).
It is also not clear in what manner Abel "obtained witness that he was righteous." Some traditions say that Abel's sacrifice was taken up in flame whereas Cain's was not. The Greek word for the KJV "obtained witness" and "testifying" in this verse, martureo, is the same word used in verse 2 for the KJV "good report" (see lexical note above). In both cases, the attestation (cf. "witness" in Ether 12:6) is described as a consequence of faith. Accordingly, it seems that faith is not something that is only given by God. That is, although faith is an assurance (per verse 1), it seems that it is an assurance in which the individual himself participates, whether actively or passively. Thus, whether it is Abel's exertion of faith or reception of faith (as a gift), either way Abel participates in this faith/assurance in a way that Cain does not, and perhaps it is this participation that makes Abel's sacrifice more excellent than Cain's.

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  • Heb 11:1: Faith and hope. Faith here is defined (or at least talked about) in terms of hope, and in a way that seems to make faith go beyond hope, or at least presupposes hope. That is, if faith is "the assurance of things hoped for," then it seems faith would not make sense unless we first hope for something. So if faith, according to this verse, is something that assures of us what we hope for, might we think about hope preceding faith, contra the faith-hope-charity order in which these terms are usually articulated?
  • Heb 11:2: Obtained a good report. The Greek means here, more literally, "were attested." What is the relationship is being suggested here between faith, hope, and attestation? Are the elders being praised for faith that they exerted? Could this mean that the elders received testimony of God by faith?
  • Heb 11:3: Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. What are "things which do appear" (or, more literally, "things that are visible--see lexical note below)? Isn't God something that appears (or is visible)? Is this verse assuming that God is not visible, or is this drawing a distinction between God himself and God's word, or something else entirely?


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