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Hebrews 11.1-7 Exegetical Study Notes

Hebrews 11.1-7 Exegetical Study Notes

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Published by: jgelatt on Sep 12, 2009
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The following study notes were part of my weekly sermon preparation as I preached through Hebrews. They are provided for those who wish to dig deeper into the passage at hand. These were intended for my private use, which explain problematic issues such as grammar mistakes, technical language, and interaction with the original languages. Readers may wish to skip the“Exegetical Notes” section and move directly to the “Explanatory Comments”. Also while these notes contain my own insights, I have freely quoted from others. May God bless and keep you as you study his holy word.
– The authorship of the letter has been an object of speculation since the time of theEarly Church period. Though the author was known by the original recipients (cf 13:22ff), theletter itself nowhere bears his name. Whoever the author was he was not part of the first wave of  believers. In 2:3 the author notes that the Gospel message was
“declared at first by the Lord”
and then later was
“attested to us by those who heard”
. This implies that the writer of the letter was someone who was familiar with one or more of the original apostles (or at least withsomeone who had personally heard Jesus’ teachings). Though advocates for Pauline authorshiphave been found throughout history, such an appeal to secondary authority is in marked contrastto Paul’s direct appeals to his encounter with the risen Christ (Gal 1:1, 12). Furthermore, thestyle and vocabulary are unlike anything else we encounter in Paul’s writings. Over the last1,800 years over a dozen names have been offered as possible authors, including Luke, Apollos,Priscilla (and Aquilla), Clement of Rome, Barnabas, and Stephen.
Audience – 
In order to determine the original audience of the letter we must rely on internalevidence alone. The title of the work, ‘To the Hebrews” (
Pro;~ JEbraivou~
) goes back at least tothe end of the second century and was probably an editorial label applied to the document whenthe Pauline epistles were beginning to be collected into a standard corpus.
As with the author,the audience had never met or heard Jesus directly, but heard of the Gospel from some who hadsat under Jesus’ teaching ministry (cf 2:3). For at least many of them, persecution began almostimmediately after their conversion to Christ (cf 10:32). Though for this particular group the persecution had not yet risen to the level of martyrdom (cf 12:4), it did presumably include manyother difficulties and discriminations (typical acts would have included public abuse,imprisonment, looting of their property, etc).That the letter was written to self-professing Christian believers is clear. Moreover, a sizeable portion of the group is still spiritually immature (cf 5:11-14) and even perhaps in danger of slipping away from the faith (3:12; 6:1-6). Some have even become lax in meeting for Christianfellowship (10:25). The highly-Jewish tone of the letter, with its frequent reference to Old
This label is found in
, the oldest extant codex of the
corpus Paulinum.
Clement of Alexandria, though not referring to the formaltitle, does speak of the letter as having been written “for Hebrews”
, found in the extract from his
quotes byEusebius,
 Hist. Eccl. 6.14.3, 4
). Tertullian, in his treatise
On Modesty
, refers to the letter by title (though he uses its correspondingLatin title,
ad Hebraeos
Joshua S. Gelatt, © 2009
2Testament scripture and Jewish cultic practices, is strong evidence suggesting the epistle waswritten to a group of Jewish Christians. This makes the issue of persecution all the moreenlightening, and the pressure to revert back (to Judaism) becomes understandable. F.F. Brucewrites,“Very probably they were reluctant to sever their last ties with a religion whichenjoyed the protection of Roman law and face the risks of irrevocablecommitment to the Christian way. The writer, who has known them, or knownabout them, for a considerable time, and feels a pastoral concern for their welfare,warns them against falling back, for this may result in falling away from their Christian faith altogether; he encourages them with the assurance that they haveeverything to lose if they fall back, but everything to gain if they press on.”The use of the Greek LXX, without exception, throughout the letter has led many to believe that both author and audience were part of an Hellenistic Jewish subpopulation far removed fromJerusalem.
– There is very little evidence by which any firm judgment can be made. The letter wasknown by Clement of Rome, whose own letter is traditionally dated around 96
. In 13:23 theauthor refers to Timothy’s release from prison. No other place in Scripture records animprisonment of Timothy, so we must assume this came later during his active ministry (perhapseven after the death of Paul). Granting that Timothy could have been born as late as c.
30,this would make the latest possible date c.
90. If the persecutions mentioned in 10:32-34 and12:4 (which involved no loss of life) occurred before the state-sponsored persecutions of Nero in
64 (which did involve martyrdom), then the letter could be referring to the milder  persecutions under Claudius c.
Context of Hebrews 11
– The book of Hebrews was written in the context of persecution. Asthe Exegetical Notes below will point out, some believers had begun questioning their faith andothers were tempted to abandon it altogether. In the final verses of chapter 10 we see the author of Hebrews urging his readers not to “throw away your confidence” or “shrink back” but insteadto “persevere”. This exhortation includes a promised blessing as well as a warning. Those whohold to the faith will “please God” and be “richly rewarded”. Conversely, those who abandonthe faith thus shut themselves off from its promises and will therefore by “destroyed”. Yet thisfaith is not beyond the grasp of any believer. Before continuing with his exhortation to passionately follow God, the author offers a long list of Old Testament biblical figures whomanifested the very faith of which he speaks.
Notes and Comments on Hebrews 11:1-2
Verse 1
  [Estin de;pivsti" ejlpizomev nwn uJpovstasi", pragmavtwn e[legco" oujblepomev nwn
(“Now faithis the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of 
things not seen”).
 The copula (
) is omitted in the translation because it is not included in the original text, perhaps indicating a parallelism.
is transitional (not contrastive as in 10:39). Having just given an exhortation to be faithful (cf 10:39),complete with warnings for letting go of faith (cf 10:26-31), the author now proceeds to offer a definition of faith.The phrase
e[stin de;
followed by an anarthrous noun, is a standard definition formula, although many debate the
Joshua S. Gelatt, © 2009
quality of this “definition”. Ellingworth refrains from acknowledging it as an actual definition “especially in theabsence of any immediate reference to God or Christ.”
DeSilva disagrees, stating that “it is not ‘Christian faith’ thatthe author defines but ‘faith’ in general”.
Yet such a Christless definition of faith would be at great odds with whatis overwhelming a Christocentric letter. Gouge is most certainly correct when he notes that “here is meant a true justifying and saving faith”.
But it is not the act of justifying itself which is in view here, but rather its residualvalue in the life of a believer.
The author is probably not giving a full definition of faith, but rather highlights thoseaspects of faith that his readers currently lack but desperately need.
To get a better understanding of what the author is attempting to accomplish let us look at the defining words used to describe
, ‘faith’).The first defining term is
 uJ povstasi"
). It is used five times in the New Testament. Its basic meaning isthat of ‘substance’ or ‘underlying essence’. During the latter part of the Early Church period, particularly due to theinfluence of the Cappadocian Fathers, this meaning of the word became increasingly important in the Trinitarian andChristological controversies. This sense is found in Hebrews 1:3 where the Son is said to be the very image of God’s
(AV “person”). The word can also carry the meaning of a “firm persuasion of the truth”. In 3:14 believersare said to “share in Christ” if we hold our original
(AV “confidence”) firm to the end. Paul also uses theterm twice in 2 Corinthians with the sense of ‘confidence’ (Cor 9:4; 11:17). Taking the second meaning, the NIVincorrectly turns this noun into a participle with the translation “being sure” (ESV better renders this “confidence”),whereas the AV follows the first meaning with its translation “substance” (though note the AV’s use of the secondmeaning in 3:14). The difference isn’t monumental, though it is somewhat significant. Donald Guthrie correctlycaptures these two shades of meanings when he writes:“If the [first meaning] is right the statement would signify that faith gives reality to the thingshoped for. If the second meaning is right…the sense is that faith consists of the conviction thatwhat is hoped for will happen.”
 Perhaps better yet is Bruce’s distinction between the objective sense (‘substance’) and subjective sense(‘assurance’).
Taken subjectively, the term is either rendered ‘assurance’ or as ‘substance’ which is then takenmetaphorically to denote a ‘firm footing’ (e.g. confidence, expectancy).Those that take the objective sense see faith as expressing the reality and demonstrating the truth of those thingswhich are hoped for. This view was common among the patristic writers and still finds supporters today.Oecumenius’ notes that “Faith is the
of these things, and their subsistence, causing them
to be
and to
be present 
, because it believes them”. The Geneva Bible’s marginal notes offer a similar message: “Faith is that whichcauseth those things to appear in deed which are hoped for”. Pushing the idea into philosophical territory,Theophylact views this as a statement that “Faith is the essence of those things which yet are not; the subsistence of those which in themselves do not yet subsist”. In a sense, “confident expectation gives our hopes a kind of presentor actual being.”
Faith lays hold of the promise and brings about the first fruits of our future reality. As a believer then grows in faith she opens up more of herself to God’s present grace and future glory. Taken this way, faith is‘other worldy’ in that it reorients the believer to the reality of God’s eternal kingdom and seeks to live out as much
, 566 (also quoted in DeSilva,
 Perseverance in Gratitude
, 381).
 Perseverance in Gratitude
, 381.
William Gouge,
 Epistle to the Hebrews
(1655), Chap. XI, p 2. See also William Perkin’s work titled “A Cloud of FaithfullWitness…a commentarie upon the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews.” On the term ‘faith’ in the first verse Perkins differentiates between three kinds of faith. The first is ‘historical faith’ which is “not only knowledge of the word, but an assent of the heart to thetruth of it”. This type of faith was possible within carnal man (cf James 2:19, ‘even the demons believe’). The second is ‘miraculousfaith’, which is “an inward persuasion of the heart wrought by…the Holy Spirit”. Like Judas, this may lead to behavior and actionswhich are clearly of the Lord, even though they may be performed by someone who is unregenerate (such as Judas). The third kind,which Perkins believes is in view in Hebrews 11:1, is ‘saving faith’, which is “a special persuasion of the Holy Ghost in the heart of those who are effectually called” (1622 edition, p 3).
John Owen: “It is therefore justifying faith that the apostle here speaks concerning; but he speaks not of it as justifying, but as it iseffectually useful in our whole life unto God, especially as unto constancy and perseverance in profession” (
The Works of John Owen,Vol XXIII {An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol VII}
, p 7).
Calvin: “It is hence also evident, that greatly mistaken are they who think that an exact definition of faith is given here; for theApostle does not speak here of the whole of what faith is, but selects that part of it which was suitable to his purpose”
, 225.
Cf Bruce, 277.
Thomas Manton,
Sermons Upon the Eleventh Chapter of Hebrews
, Sermon 1.

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