Faith – Hebrews 11:1-3

                a.      The Argument of this Passage
Coming from the statement in 10:36 and 39 (“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” and “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” respectively), the author now proceeds in ch.11 with an exposition of examples of the OT of people who “by faith” (the pist– word group appears 26 times in this chapter!) persevered and held on to the promises of God (this is further developed in ch.12; Lane, 312). This ‘faith-theme’ is further connected with the “reference to the readers’ early Christian experience (10:32) and their need to hold fast to their faith in Christ” (Ellingworth, 558).
b.     Structure
There are different approaches as to how the structure of this chapter is to be developed. Ellingworth (561; cf. Guthrie who similarly divides this chapter, except for the introduction having vv. 1-3; and vv. 32-40 are see as one unit; 984) for example puts forth the following structure:
     vv. 1–2,          introduction
     vv. 3–12,        first pistei [“by faith”] series
     vv. 13–16,      interim comment
     vv. 17–31,      second pistei [“by faith”] series
     vv. 32–38,      rapid survey
     vv. 39–40,      final comment
The following inclusio brackets the exposition of ch.11 (Lane, 320; again in a chiastic manner with which the author so often already showed his stylistic excellence):
vv. 1-2:           “Now faith [pistis] is…for by it the people of old received their commendation [emarturēthēsan]”
v. 39:               “and all these, though commended [marturēthentes] through their faith [dia tēs pisteōs]…”
Having seen these preliminary remarks, we are now ready to further examine the passages under consideration.
c.      Exposition

                                                              i.      Vv. 1-2
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.
As already mentioned, the author now elaborates on faith he just mentioned in the previous section (10:38-39). As Lane comments on the characterization of faith in this passage, “[i]t is not intended to be exhaustive in scope, but underscores the objective basic for the security characteristic of faith” (328; cf. Hughes, 438). 
Moffat maintains that the term “assurance” is to be understood as “a sure confidence” (159). Hughes is right in seeing that this term may have a multiple meaning and quotes Moulton and Milligan who point out that despite the different interpretation “the same central idea of something that underlies visible conditions and guarantees a future possession” (440).
            Morris insightfully writes that the “meaning is that there are realities for which we have no material evidence though they are not the less real for that” (113).  Only faith enables us to see the things hoped for and we can be confident (have conviction) of the things not seen. There are both subjective and objective aspects to it. Yes faith enables us to see, but not only because we believe the Gospel is true, but also because the one who spoke is trustworthy (10:23; cf. 12:25).
            That these people of old (i.e., the forerunners of our faith) were acknowledged and approved by faith is made sufficiently clear by the proceeding verses.
                                                            ii.      V. 3
3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

This verse is like an illustration (Bruce, 278), a picture of what he meant in vv.1-2. It is by faiththat we understand (note that the author does not know any dichotomy between what we would call “faith and science”; Lennox once stated in an interview on Moody Radio that this is a wrong dichotomy anyway, since the issue is Weltanschau-ung (our worldview), and not “faith and science”) that God created the world/universe not made out of things that are visible.
This might refer to creatio ex nihilo. Here then the author uses OT allusions to the Genesis account (ch.1; “God said…”) and Ps. 33:6,9where we read: By the word of the Lordthe heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. […] For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
But it might very well be that not made out of things that are visible refers to the Word of God (thus by the word of God would be parallel). The author would claim then “that God’s word is an invisible power that produces visible results” (O’Brien, 402; Hughes, 452).
A chart provided by Guthrie (985) will be given, so further study: at your own leisure:
OT Allusion
(* = quotation)
Ps. 33:6,9; Gen. 1
The creation accomplished by the word of God
Gen. 4:1-10
Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain, obtained God’s witness that his gifts were superior, and spoke via his blood crying from the ground
Gen. 5:24
Enoch taken by the Lord
Gen. 6:13-22
Noah prepared an ark
Gen. 12-17
Abraham called to a new land, and Sarah given an ability to have a son
Gen. 22:17*
God promised Abraham numerous descendants
Gen. 22:1-10
The binding of Isaac
Gen. 21:12*
The promise of descendants though Isaac
Gen. 27:27-29
Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau
Gen. 47:31
Jacob blessed his sons
Gen. 50:22-26
Joseph foretold the exodus and gave order concerning his bones
Exod. 2
Moses’ parents hid him at birth; when he grew up, he chose solidarity with God’s people
Josh. 6
The walls of Jericho fell, and Rahab was protected
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Ellingworth, P. The Epistle to the Hebrews : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids; Carlisle England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993.
Guthrie, George H. “Hebrews.” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Ed. G.K. Beale and D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007.    
Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1977.
Lane, William L. Hebrews. 9-13. Word Biblical Commentary, v. 47B. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1991.
Moffat, James. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Edinburgh: Clark, 1948.
Morris, Leon. “Hebrews.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. With the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Hebrews–Revelation Volume 12. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, v. 12. Ed. Frank Ely Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; 2010.

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