The Bedrock of Faith Hebrews 11:1–3
The author of Hebrews revealed in chapter 10 that salvation is established on the bedrock of Christ’s sacrifice and not through the Levitical system. Christ’s death for sin and His abiding priesthood opened a new and living way for all believers to acquire direct access to God without going through an earthly priesthood (10:1–21).
Having come to Christ, believers are to persevere in their new faith. They are to do this by focusing all their attention on Christ. Earlier in the epistle, the author had encouraged them not to be apathetic in their faith, but to imitate others who demonstrated great faith in God’s promises and endurance, especially during times of trial.
To maintain a strong faith commitment, these Jewish believers would require encouragement from others through fellowship in the local church. For this reason, the author issued a strong warning to his readers not to abandon assembling together in their local church (v. 25).
He knew that some Jewish believers were thinking of leaving the church and returning to Judaism because of the severe persecution they were under. Such a decision would trample Christ underfoot, counting the blood of the New Covenant as common and insulting the Spirit of grace. Such a decision would also subject them to God’s judgment (vv. 29–31).
To encourage his readers, the author exhorted them to remain strong in their faith by remembering a major persecution they had endured at the time of conversion. Since they were able to stand strong at that time, they could now exercise the same boldness of faith in their present crisis.
He challenged them not to cast away their confidence in Christ, for the Lord will reward their faith and endurance at His Second Coming. What they needed was not more faith, but to exercise the faith they already possessed, which would give them strength to endure. He reinforced his point by quoting from Habakkuk 2:4: “The just [righteous] shall live by faith” (Heb. 10:38). Righteous people must live by faith in the midst of persecution and not draw back in disobedience.
Having exhorted and warned these Jewish believers, the author now parades a host of men and women from the Old Testament as examples of great faith. He did so to illustrate how their forefathers exercised the same faith in the midst of great persecution; hopefully, this generation of Jewish believers would be encouraged to do likewise.
The voluminous testimonies from the lives of these Old Testament saints should speak to the heart of each reader. Many of these Old Testament saints who were faithful to the Lord did not live to receive their rewards, but will receive them in the future. Likewise, these believers must patiently live lives of faith until the Lord rewards them.
Essence of Faith
The author began by describing the distinctives of faith, not by defining its meaning. He was not specifically referring to the faith one exercises at the time of salvation, although that is included, but faith as a general principle exhibited by a believer as he trusts God for unseen future events in his life.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (v. 1). The word now looks back to Hebrews 10:38, which functioned as an introduction to the subject of faith in this chapter.
Faith is described by two words, substance and evidence. The word substance (Greek, hypostasis) literally means to “stand under,” referring to something supporting a foundation, like solid ground standing beneath a foundation. In this context, Christ is the solid ground on which one builds the foundation of his or her faith and hope.
The word hypostasis can also be translated “assurance.” The Greek term was used in reference to signed papers that gave grounds to prove a person’s ownership of a property, thus a legal title-deed giving one assurance and proof of ownership. Therefore, faith functions as the title-deed that gives existence, confidence, or assurance to future events that are “hoped for” from the time of salvation and onward in a Christian’s walk. In other words, the act of putting faith in Christ functions as the title-deed that guarantees and assures the believer that God will fulfill all the benefits He promises Christians.
The word evidence (Greek, elegehos) means to have proof of something through testing it to be true. It can also mean that a believer is inwardly convinced of a thing’s reality (i.e., something already finished), which gives him an inner conviction of its certainty although it is a thing “not seen [i.e., not visible to the physical eye].”
Although there are many things concerning God’s promises that have already been done for us or are yet to be completed—that we cannot see in our Christian experience—the exercise of faith makes them real to us in the present. These include all the Christian’s benefits of salvation, Christ’s high priestly ministry, access to God in prayer, understanding how God works through believers’ prayers, and how we grow spiritually in our walk with the Lord. The angelic beings in heaven, who are at the beck and call of God to serve and minister to humans on Earth, are another example of things we cannot see (1:14). People of faith believe all these things do exist.
The words substance and evidence are not to be thought of as independent from each other, but they work together in describing how biblical faith works in a believer’s life. True faith, as presented in the Bible, has the inner assurance and conviction that God’s Word is true and should be believed and appropriated.
Elders of Faith
In verse 2 the author provides a summary statement of men who, in the past, exhibited great faith in the Lord: “For by it the elders obtained a good testimony” (11:2). The word for is used to connect what has been said about faith in verse 1 with upcoming examples of the nature of faith that are to follow throughout the chapter. “By it” literally means “in this,” or “by means of this,” referring to the sphere and exercise of faith. The word elders (Greek, presbuteroi) does not refer to old men or men in places of official position, as in a church, but to these believers’ Jewish forefathers who were men of faith mentioned in the Old Testament. As the author moves through the chapter, he chooses outstanding men of faith as examples to study and follow for the believers he is addressing. These are the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.
These elders “obtained a good testimony” (11:2). Scholars have interpreted this phrase in different ways. Some believe it refers to the elders receiving approval and praise from God. Others believe that by demonstrating their faith, they experienced the inner witness with-in themselves that God’s Word and promises are true. Still others believe that the faith these forefathers expressed bore testimony to their generation and beyond. This third interpretation is correct: The life these forefathers of faith lived was observed by others, testifying that their faith was genuine.
Evidence of Faith
Although the author might begin by enumerating a list of Old Testament men as examples of faith, he does not. He first takes readers back to before the universe was created, providing one more example of faith: creation itself. This creation illustration helps believers grasp what it means to believe in things that are invisible: “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (v. 3).
The word understand means to perceive by intellectual reflection, not by physical senses like sight. That is, we perceive with our spiritual intelligence that God created the world although we see neither Him nor the act of His creation.
The word referred to as “worlds” literally means “ages” and encompasses much more than the material universe that was created. “Ages” takes in all of time and space; things invisible and visible; the past, the present, and what is eternal. This word includes God’s administration of all that exists from its inception to its termination.
God “framed” or outfitted and prepared the universe by making all its parts fit and work together in a harmonious, organized system for His purpose; and He will continually maintain the world throughout the ages. Creation was all done “by the word of God.” The term word is not the Greek word logos, which is used with reference to the Son of God (Jn. 1:1), but rhema, which means “utterance.” That is, God simply spoke; and creation appeared in six literal days (Gen. 1:1–27). In other words, God didn’t create the material universe with anything that previously existed but created it ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Since God spoke the material universe into existence out of nothing, it follows that “things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3). A literal Greek translation would be, “so that not out of things which appear hath that which is seen been made.” This phrase means that nothing in creation we see today evolved into existence, not even matter; but God simply spoke all things into existence.
The author is arguing, “Had the visible world been formed out of materials which were subject to human observation, there would have been no room for faith. Science could have traced it back to its origin. Evolution only pushes the statement a stage back. There is still an unseen force that does not submit itself to experimental science, and this is the object of faith.”1
There are only two positions one can take on creation: Embrace the speculative theories of philosophy or science on how the material world came into being, or accept the explanation from the revelation of God’s Word on how the world was created. Whatever position a person chooses to believe, he must accept it on the basis of faith.
All philosophy and science can do is put up plausible theories on how the world was created; but throughout the history of mankind, they have been proven to be false or, at best, pure speculation. God has warned through His Word, “Beware [be on your guard] lest anyone cheat you [carry you off captive or enslave you] through philosophy [vain speculation] and empty [vain, devoid of truth, futile] deceit [trickery or artful deception], according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
If a person wants to know what happened at creation, he must by faith totally rely on the invisible God to reveal it to his understanding as presented in Scripture. Is it not a matter of the will to believe or not believe the Bible’s revelation on creation? Yes, it is. It’s the only way to learn the ultimate answers to life’s questions on creation and man’s destiny.
- K. S. Wuest, Logos Bible Software edition of Kenneth Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, 1997.