Hebrews 11:1-2,39-40: Faith Defined

Read: Hebrews 11:1-2, Hebrews 11:39-40

The English word “faith” can be confusing at times. Often times, atheists and skeptics define faith as believing things without evidence or proof. Such “faith” merely accepts what it sees, credulously and regardless of its actual truth. There is also the notion of faith though: allegiance to a person. One may assert that they have faith in their spouse or faith in their friends, expressing their loyalty and fidelity to these individuals. Hebrews 11 has been called the “Hall of Fame of Faith” because it contains a list of people who had faith in God. But the author of Hebrews launches into this list and closes this list explaining the nature of faith. He defines faith using two phrases that have been translated any number of different ways such as “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things unseen”. There are several key words in the Greek:

  • υποστασις (hupostasis) – this is the word is translated “assurance”. It carries the idea of something being placed under another object as a foundation is placed under a house. In the abstract sense, it is firm trust or confidence in something.
  • “ελπιζω” (elpizo) – this is the world translated “hoped” and carries very much the same meaning. For this reason, most all English translation all translate this word the same.
  • “ἐλεγχος” (elegchos) – this word is translated “conviction”. It could be translated as “proof” or “evidence”. The idea here is that something is being tested to be true.
  • “βλεπω” (blepo) – This word is the general Greek verb that means to “see”, both metaphorically and literally.

The author asserts before he launches into the list in verse 2 and closes the list in verse 39 that through faith the people in the list obtained a “testimony”, “good report” or “approval” from God. The object of the faith of the people in this list is a person, not some set of facts. Rather, Hebrews 12:2 tells its readers to fix their eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of the faith. In other words, he is the beginning and the end of faith. The faith of believers is forward looking with confidence and conviction to what is “hoped” for and what is “unseen”, namely the promises and works of the Person of the faith.

Given this, faith does not merely believe that God exists. But even so, believing that God exists is not without good reason either. Paul says that the nature of God is revealed through the created world (Romans 1:20). He also basis his faith in the person of Jesus based on the facts of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-14). Without the facts of the resurrection, the faith of Christians is void. James carries this a bit further when he differentiates between merely asserting that God exists and trusting in the person of God. He says that even demons believe that God exists, but they do not trust him (James 2:19). Faith, then, is more than merely believing that God exists – it is trusting in God with assurance and confidence.

The author of Hebrews is trying to spur his readers on to confident faith in Jesus. He has already shown them from their own lives that faith is of great value (Hebrews 10:32-36) and he is showing them through the lives of their ancestors the value of faith. Christians today are still living between Jesus’ first coming and his return. Attacks come on every side and for any number of reasons Christians can be tempted and begin to falter in the confidence they have in Jesus. They may begin to trust only in themselves or in things other than Jesus. Ultimately, anything other than Jesus will disappoint, because Jesus offers a real hope. Trust in that, because it is of great value!

Lord, help me to be confident in you!