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Hebrews Chapters 11 and Faith, Part 1 (of 2 Parts)

by Karl Kemp  
3/23/2015 / Bible Studies

All quotations were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Sometimes I make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious. I am using straight quotation marks ("), hyphens (-) instead of dashes, and a few other things like this because some of the internet sites where I post these articles require it. Also they don't allow footnotes. Cf., e.g., means "compare, for example."

INTRODUCTION. We can learn a lot about faith from Hebrews chapter 11. For one thing, the word faith is used twenty-five times. The use of the word faith in this chapter strongly confirms that faith is something we do, but not something we do apart from the grace of God; for one thing, we respond to, and cooperate with, the grace of God by faith. God must receive all of the glory for every aspect of our salvation! (See my "A Paper on Faith" that is on my internet site [Google to Karl Kemp Teaching].) I should mention the tie to the last verses of chapter 10, where the readers are exhorted to press on in faith to the end, so that they may preserve their souls and receive their heavenly rewards.

Some years ago when I was doing a verse-by-verse study of Hebrews chapter 11, I came up with a definition for the word faith, based on its use in this chapter: Faith is an attitude of the heart where we put God first (and the things associated with God), which includes trusting Him, believing what He says, and obeying Him. This definition doesn't tell us all we need to know about the meaning of the word "faith" in the New Testament, but it is very helpful. I believe that this definition covers all twenty-five uses of the word faith in Hebrews chapter 11, in the other eight uses of the word in the book of Hebrews, and most of the other two hundred and five uses in the rest of the New Testament. (The Greek noun "pistis" is translated "faith" 238 times in the NASB; it is also translated "faithfulness" three times; "pledge" one time; and "proof" one time.)

I'll quote and briefly discuss the other eight uses of the word faith in the book of Hebrews before we start Hebrews chapter 11:

HEBREWS 4:2. "For indeed we have had good news [the good news of the gospel of new-covenant salvation] preached to us, just as they also [[referring to the people of Israel who were not able to enter the promised land because of their unbelief and disobedience (see Heb. 3:7-4:13); they didn't hear the fullness of the good news of the gospel of new-covenant salvation in their day, but they needed to submit by faith to the word that God gave them and obey that word]]; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by FAITH in [or, with] those who heard." We must take God's Word into our hearts and act on it as required, by grace through faith. The writer is exhorting his original Christian readers with the need for them (and all Christians) to have faith in God and His Word, a faith that perseveres. We must (we have the privilege to) be united with God and His Word by grace through faith. We cannot have faith in God's Word without having faith in Him; and if we have faith in Him, we will trust Him and obey Him. Faith includes making God and His Word the top priority in our hearts and lives.

HEBREWS 6:1. "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance and of FAITH toward God, (2) ...."

HEBREWS 6:12. "so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through FAITH and patience [we must continue in faith with patience] inherit the promises [the things promised]."

HEBREWS 10:22. "Let us draw near [to God] with a full assurance of FAITH, having our hearts [faith is of the heart (cf., e.g., Mark 11:23; we must resist doubting in our hearts)] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water." Our conscience must be clean for us to have a "full assurance of faith" before God. To have a clean conscience we must know that we are forgiven, that we have repented as required, and that we are committed to walk in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God by His enabling grace in Christ.

HEBREWS 10:35-39. (See under these verses in my paper on Hebrews chapters 8-10 on my internet site [Google to Karl Kemp Teaching].): "Therefore do not throw away your confidence [confidence comes with faith], which has a great reward [heaven and all that comes with it, including being glorified and beginning to reign with the Lord Jesus in a never-ending reign]. (36) For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God [by grace through faith], you many receive what was promised [heaven and all that comes with it]. (37) 'For yet in a very little while, He who is coming [The Lord Jesus is coming to save and to judge.] will come, and will not delay. [Hab. 2:3] (38) But [And] my righteous one shall live by FAITH [[The Greek has the words translated "by faith" before the verb translated "shall live" and this is important here. The writer of Hebrews is taking these words from Hab. 2:4 in the sense that because of the faith of the righteous ones [those who are righteous and stay faithful to God by grace through faith] they "shall live," that is, they will be glorified and inherit the fullness of eternal life when the Lord Jesus returns. They will not suffer the fate of "those who shrink back to destruction [eternal death]" (Heb. 10:39). (There is widespread agreement that the words "will [or, shall] live" in the context of Hab. 2:4 prophesy of living before God instead of being removed by judgment.")

We have spiritual/eternal life now as born-again Christians, but we will not inherit, or be born into, the fullness of eternal life until the Lord Jesus returns ((cf., e.g., 1 Tim. 6:12, 19; Titus 3:5; and Rev. 12:5 [This verse (and other verses) speaks of our being born into the fullness of eternal life; see on Rev. 12:5 in my book "The Mid-Week Rapture" and my recently published e-book, "Introduction to the Mid-Week Rapture," which should be read first (both books are available at])).]]; And [But] if he shrinks back [instead of pressing on by faith], my soul [God says] has no pleasure in him.' [Those who shrink back will, as the next verse shows, participate in "destruction [eternal death]," not in the glories of spiritual/eternal life in heaven.] (39) But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction [which is the opposite of being saved by the grace of God in Christ], but of those who have FAITH [faith in God and His Word, which includes trusting Him, believing what He says, and obeying Him] to the preserving of the soul." To preserve your soul is to not lose your soul to eternal death (cf., e.g., Matt. 16:26; James 1:21 [on James 1:21 see pages 12-14 of my paper "Spirit and Soul" that is on my internet site]; James 5:20).

HEBREWS 12:1, 2. (These verses are discussed in more detail in my "A Paper on Faith," which is on my internet site): "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us [referring to those spoken of throughout Hebrews chapter 11. They all persisted in faith to the end of the race and made it to heaven.], let us also lay aside every encumbrance [or, weight] and the sin which so easily entangles us [Every encumbrance or weight makes it more difficult to run the race, but sin causes more serious problems for those running the race. It causes runners to stumble and fall, which is dangerous for those running the race.], let us run with endurance the race set before us [persisting/enduring in faith to the end of the race with a top priority by the saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ against the opposition of the world, the flesh (the old man who wants to continue in sin), and the devil and his hosts], (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus [[We care about the great cloud of witnesses, but "[we fix] our eyes on Jesus," who is the perfect example of a man (the God-man) perfectly running the race and who is the only One (God the Son, the Lamb of God, our High Priest, our Savior and Lord) who can enable us to rightly run our race and finish the race that ends in glory. For one thing, He is "a forerunner for us." I'll quote Heb. 6:19, 20: "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil [into the presence of God, beyond the veil], (20) where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek [cf. Psalm 110:4; Heb. 2:17; 5:6]."]], the author [In the margin the NASB says, "or, leader." I would translate "leader" or "pioneer," which fits the context of running the race, and many commentators agree (cf. Heb. 6:19, 20, quoted above).] and perfecter of faith [[First and foremost, He is the perfecter of faith in that He perfectly ran and finished the race by faith. I say this because this is what the writer of Hebrews goes on to speak of in the rest of verse 2 and in verse 3. But also, He is able to make us strong in faith and victorious in every area as we appropriate the sufficient saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ through faith. I'll quote a sentence from F. F. Bruce (New International Commentary on Hebrews): Not only is Jesus the pioneer of faith; in Him faith has reached its perfection."]]. Who for the joy set before Him [[This speaks of the joy set before Jesus that would result from His fully accomplishing the Father's will, especially referring to His atoning death. First we should think of the joy of knowing that He had done the Father's will. But also, He knew that by doing the Father's will He would be saving God's people (all believers) and that He would be causing the overthrow of sin, of Satan and his followers, and of death (spiritual death and physical death).]] endured the cross [It would be difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the difficulty of this assignment, especially in the spiritual dimension.], despising the shame [[I would translate "disregarding the shame" (see the BAGD Greek Lexicon on "kataphroneo"). We must keep our hearts fixed on the eternal glory reserved for us at the end of our race. The trials of this age, which are very real, are very small in comparison to the eternal glory reserved for us. To keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the eternal glory reserved for us is part of what it means to walk by faith. Compare, for example, Rom. 8:17-39; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10]], and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." When we are glorified we will begin to reign with Christ Jesus (and the One who sent Him) in a never-ending reign (cf. Rev. 3:21; 22:5).

HEBREWS 13:7. "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result ["outcome" (NIV; NKJV)] of their conduct, imitate their faith." Those leaders stayed faithful in their lives and ministries and ended up in heaven by grace through faith. The original recipients of this epistle (and all of us) are being exhorted to imitate their faith. Their faith included having an attitude where they put God first (and the things associated with God), including trusting Him, believing what He said, and obeying Him.


"Now FAITH is the assurance [[or, confidence; in the margin the NASB has, "or, substance"; the KJV and NKJV have "substance"; "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for" (NIV). The same Greek noun ("hupostasis") is translated "assurance" by the NASB in Heb. 3:14, "For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance until the end." The NIV; KJV; and NKJV have "confidence" in Heb. 3:14. This Greek noun is used five times in the New Testament. The NASB translates "assurance" two times; "confidence" two times (2 Cor. 9:4; 11:17); and "nature" one time (Heb. 1:3; the NIV has "being" in Heb. 1:3; the KJV and NKJV have "person").

I believe the translation "assurance" or "confidence" or the equivalent was intended here (and in Heb. 3:14; 2 Cor. 9:4 and 11:17). If we translated "substance" or "reality," which I wouldn't, the idea would probably be that our faith in God and His Word enables us to see as real the things we have not seen, the things we hope for. (With this translation for "hupostasis" we have to supply a few words like "[faith] enables us to see [the reality]"; see the added words supplied in the following sentence. I'll quote part of what Phillip E. Hughes ("A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews" [Eerdmans, 1977], page 439) says on this point: " lays hold of what is promised and therefore hoped for, as something real and solid, though as yet unseen." (As I mentioned, I believe the translation "assurance" or "confidence" or the equivalent was intended here and in Heb. 3:14; 2 Cor. 9:4 and 11:17.) I'll quote part of what Hughes says on the meaning "confident assurance" for "hupostasis": "in the sense of [Heb.] 3:14...and 2 Corinthians 9:4 and 11:17. It is the meaning favored here by Erasmus ('certitude'), the Reformers, and most modern commentators, and reflected in our version [the RSV] ('faith is the assurance of things hoped for') and Phillips [in his translation] ('faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for'). Of the three [possibilities Hughes lists, he says] this ["confident assurance"] is the most satisfactory...."

Faith doesn't make the things hoped for real [God makes them real, in accordance with His promises], but faith enables us to see them as real, which they are, based on the reality of God and His Word. Faith in God and His Word, which includes trusting and obeying Him, enables us to have the assurance/confidence "of things hoped for" because those who have faith in God know that He told us the truth regarding the things we hope for, especially referring to the eternal glory we will inherit, and by faith in God we know that He is well able to do what needs to be done for us to receive, at the right time, the things we hope for (the things that He promised). The word "hope" does not infer doubt in a context like this (like the word "hope" typically does in our day: "I hope it doesn't rain"), but the things we hope for are, by definition, future. We don't hope for things we already have (cf. Rom. 8:24, 25), but it is biblical to say that in a very real sense we have them now by faith.

"Hupostasis" is used in a totally different context in Heb. 1:3: "And He [the Lord Jesus] is the radiance of His [God the Father's] glory and the exact representation of His nature ["hupostasis"], and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." The NASB translates "nature"; the NIV translates "being"; the KJV and NKJV translate "person."]] of things hoped for [[The things we hope for are the things God promised in His Word. The primary thing we hope for is eternal glory (cf., e.g., Heb. 10:34-39; 11:10, 13-16, 26, 35; Col. 1:5, 27; Titus 3:7). However, as Hebrews chapter 11 confirms, throughout this present life we receive by grace, through faith, everything we need to live and accomplish the will of God for our lives, with an emphasis on living in His truth, righteousness, and holiness, with the victory over sin (in the ideal case the victory over all sin). I should mention that the believers discussed in this chapter, who all lived in the days before the cross, still had to wait for the sin problem to be solved by the Lamb of God (cf. Heb. 11:39, 40).]], the conviction [In the margin has, "or, evidence." For those who have faith in God, His Word is super-solid, incontrovertible "evidence" of the truth/reality.] of things not seen. [The "things not seen" here include the "things hoped for" mentioned earlier in this verse. We can have a rock-solid, incontrovertible "conviction" regarding the things not yet seen, things like God's New Jerusalem (cf. 11:13-16), because we have God's Word telling us that these things are real. By faith we can, in a very real sense, see the unseen (cf., e.g., 11:7, 13, 27; 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7).]] (2) For by it [FAITH] men of old gained [God's] approval. [[See 11:39. The NIV has: "This is what the ancients were commended for." They pleased God by faith and He rewarded them (cf. 11:6). These words confirm that saving faith is something that people do, not something that God gives us; but faith does not earn God's grace, and it is nothing for man to boast about. We receive and cooperate with grace through faith.]] (3) By FAITH we understand that the worlds ["universe" (NIV); F. F. Bruce says, "literally ages; in both places [Heb. 1:2 with 11:3] the universe of space and time is meant."] were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. [[All things that exist (including the cherubim, angels, etc.) were created by God, including physical matter. He, the Creator, our God, the God of the Bible has the authority and power to do what He says He will do, including saving His people, the ones who submit to Him and live for Him by faith. Here we have an illustration of being able to see the unseen by faith. Since the Bible informs us that God created the world by His Word (Genesis chapter 1), and since we have faith in God and His Word, we can know about God's creating the world. We can see, for example, that this present physical world is subsequent to, inferior to, and less substantial than God's invisible kingdom (at least it is invisible to us now). This world is also temporary, unlike God's eternal kingdom.]] (4) By FAITH Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain [[Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice, a sacrifice that was pleasing to God, because he was a man of faith; he didn't just have faith when he made the offering. He lived his life with God and His will being top priority. Cain, on the other hand, was not a man of faith. Having faith includes having a right heart attitude toward God, an attitude of submission/putting God first. As Hebrews chapter 11 shows, faith includes trusting Him, believing Him, and obeying Him. Genesis 4:5-9 show that Cain's heart was not right toward God; his actions demonstrated this. I'll quote Gen. 4:7a from the NIV: "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" He didn't show any signs of checking up on himself, or repenting, when God rejected his offering, or even when God warned him that sin was ready to devour him; instead, he killed his brother ((cf. 1 John 3:12 ("not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew this brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous."); Prov. 15:8 ("The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD [Yahweh], but the prayer of the upright is His delight.")). Then Cain lied to God and spoke disrespectfully to Him (Gen. 4:9).

Some say that God rejected Cain's sacrifice because it was not a blood/animal sacrifice; it is possible that this was a factor in God's rejection, but I rather strongly doubt it. There is no evidence that a blood sacrifice was required, or that this was a sin offering. I assume it was appropriate for Cain to bring an offering "of the fruit of the ground" since he was "a tiller of the soil" (Gen. 4:2, 3). But God doesn't accept offerings from those who don't first give Him their heart; in other words, it must be an offering of faith, like Abel's was.]], through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts [[God testified about Abel's gifts by accepting them. God may have manifested His acceptance of Abel's sacrifice by consuming it by fire from heaven. God wouldn't have accepted his offering if Abel wasn't "righteous" (cf. Matt. 23:35) by faith. Genesis 4:4 says, "And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering." These words, along with the words "he obtained the testimony that he was righteous" confirm that the life of Abel is in view, not just his offering. Also note Gen. 4:5, "but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard."

Quite often, as here (and see Heb. 11:7, 33; 12:23), believers from pre-Christian days are called "righteous." By faith they lived relatively righteous lives, but I'm sure that each one of them will testify that they are dependent on the salvation from sin (that includes receiving the imputed and imparted righteousness of God in Christ) that comes only through new-covenant salvation. See 11:39, 40. We will discuss these verses as we continue, and these verses are discussed in my "A Paper on Faith." That paper deals extensively with the use of the word faith in the New Testament. It is one of the most important words used to speak of new-covenant salvation. It is the most important word used to describe our role. Faith is something we do in response to God's saving, sanctifying grace, but we couldn't have faith without God's taking the initiative in our salvation and through His enabling grace being provided on a continuous basis. He must receive all the glory for our salvation from the beginning to the end!]], and through FAITH, though he is dead, he still speaks [[For one thing, faith in God brings people into the eternal dimension; they become part of the family of God's people; such people never really die - they live! One thing he says as he speaks is that God always takes care of those who submit to Him and walk before Him in faith.]] (5) By FAITH Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP [See Gen. 5:21-24.]; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was well pleasing to God. [This mention of Enoch's being "well pleasing to God" comes from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) at Gen. 5:24.] (6) And without FAITH it is impossible to please Him [[The writer of Hebrews just told us that Enoch was "well pleasing" to God. Now he tells us that this proves Enoch was a man of faith, because "without faith it is impossible to please Him." These words demonstrate the importance of, and necessity for, God's people to walk in faith. It is vitally important for us to understand faith, and for us to continually walk in faith.]], for he who comes to God must believe that He is [[We certainly can't have faith in God without the full assurance that He exists. Some of us start from a place of not being sure that God exists, but as we begin to cooperate with His grace through fellowship with His people, through getting into His Word, through prayer, etc., we come to the assurance of His existence, and more.]], and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. [[Every true Christian must know that God rewards those who seek Him (in faith). Some of the primary things we must seek Him for are the new birth; His wisdom, including learning the balanced truth of what His Word teaches; and the authority and power to live in His righteousness and holiness and to accomplish His will for our lives. These things are "rewards," and there are many other rewards as He provides everything we need for this life; however, the primary reward centers in the eternal glory reserved for us in God's heavenly kingdom, which includes reigning with Him in a never-ending reign.]]

We will finish this verse-by-verse study of Hebrews 11 in Part 2.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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