Flesh vs Faith: Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

This is part of the continuing series I have called Flesh vs Faith. It started as a study in Genesis from the creation, to the rebellion and through the life of Abraham. I also included some other biblical characters. In defining Faith, I have noted that Faith, as described in the popularly called “Hall of Faith” (Hebrews 11), is a response to revelation. I think this is important. For many, Faith is barely different from wishful thinking. Others see Faith as a characteristic they have in varying degrees of fullness and must will (or some other form of personal effort, even prayer – Luke 17:5,6) into themselves. Still others place their denomination or teachers or church leaders or tradition in between themselves and the revelation and call the relationship with their intermediary “Faith”.

Also, I observed that in the Old Testament, the word “Faith” is not used in the same way as the New Testament. Rather, the Old Testament concept corresponding to New Testament “Faith” is “The Fear of the Lord” and the shortened “Fear” (ie I fear God=I worship God – Genesis 42:18). The point is not “God scares me” as much as “What God says matters to me”.

In this article, I want to look at the well-known characterization of “Faith” found in Hebrews 11:1 quoted above. My inspiration for wanting to look at this was an interesting translation of the verse found in the Anchor Bible commentary series – Now faith is [the] groundwork of things hoped for, [the] basis for testing things not seen. (George Wesley Buchanan, The Anchor Bible: To The Hebrews, p. 177)

As Buchanan translates this verse, both words – “groundwork” and “basis for testing” – have foundational components. In other words, faith is something one builds upon. One lives his life out of, rather than in pursuit of, Faith. The Greek behind these translations are both fairly technical words.

The first, translated “groundwork” by Dr Buchanan, is ὑπόστασις. It was used in philosophy as a technical term for essence or existence. It is found in Hebrews 1:3, who [the son=Jesus] being the effulgence of his [the Father] glory, and the very image of his substance (RV) and also in 3:14, where it is commonly translated “confidence”. It would seem, based on the parallelism with 1:3, that faith has a similar revelatory relationship with “things hoped for” as Jesus with the Father. That is, just as Jesus shows the reality of the Father, so Faith shows the reality of our hope – hope, that is, in the sense of confident looking forward and not wishing. In other words, as will be shown by the rest of Hebrews 11, The Revelation presents a future hope and by Faith, that hope is substance or reality upon which to act.

The second, translated “basis for testing’ by Dr Buchanan, is ελεγχος is a technical term from the scientific and legal realms meaning evidence. More than evidence, which can be believed or disbelieved, it is evidence which has been established. Thus, this word is often translated “reproof” (2 Timothy 3:16), your actions are against what is established by evidence (the Word of God). Hence, by Faith, the Revelation evidences what is not seeable and becomes the basis for testing what is seeable.

In both of these clauses, Faith is neither a subjective persuasion nor any personal effort. As one writer says, the reference is to the presence of the groundwork or basis, not their achievement. He goes on to summarize, “A faith which of itself contained or offered proof of things unseen would not be the faith of Hebrews, which stands on the Revelation, Word and the promise of God and has nothing but what it receives. Thus faith is confidence in what is hoped for because it is the divinely given conviction of things unseen.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II p. 476)

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One Response to Flesh vs Faith: Hebrews 11:1

  1. This article appeared in December 2012’s edition of the Christian Carnival! Readers can vote for their favorite submission here: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups=#!topic/christian-carnival-ii/51ZCxfBvioo Winner will be posted on the Christian Carnival blog on December 15.

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