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Friday, October 07, 2005

the meaning of "faith" in Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11:1 is translated this way in the New King James Version:

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
I sometimes hear people use this verse to support the view that faith does not involve works. They focus on the beginning and end of the verse: Faith is ... not seen. But they misinterpret the meaning of the verse by overlooking a key part of it: Faith is the substance ..., the evidence ...

By the way, there are hundreds of doublets in the New Testament, in which two or more words express the same or similar meaning. The phrases the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen constitute a synonymous doublet.

Throughout chapter 11 the author of Hebrews illustrates James’ assertion (James 2:20-24) that works are an integral component of faith:

By faith ...
... Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain
... Noah prepared an ark
... Abraham obeyed & went out, not knowing where he was going
... Sarah bore a child
... Abraham offered Isaac
... Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God
... the people of God passed through the Red Sea on dry land
In this context, faith conveys the idea of following God’s advice, so I’ve clarified verses 1-3 for my target audience as follows:

Our ancestors demonstrated long ago that following God’s advice is the only way the world can be restored to the way it was when God originally created it.

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At Fri Oct 07, 01:05:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

In this context, faith conveys the idea of following God’s advice

Dan, it seems to me that you have clearly demonstrated that obedience to God, including acting in dependence upon him and his promises, is a central part of faith. Your phrase "following God's advice," I think, is intended to cover all that, yes?

At Fri Oct 07, 02:56:00 PM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Right on, Wayne. Thanks for the clarification.

At Fri Oct 07, 04:14:00 PM, Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

Dan, when you say that you've "clarified" verses 1-3 with the sentence you quote, do you mean that you've translated them that way and the translation clarifies their meaning? I'm confused as to whether the sentence that begins "Our ancestors..." is your translation of the verses or a clarifying note appended to them. If this is the translation itself, would you then substitute something like "following God's advice" for faith throughout the chapter?

At Tue Oct 11, 12:16:00 PM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Good questions, Mark.

The answer to your first question is “yes”. The sentence that begins “Our ancestors …” is my translation of verses 1-3, and I do use the expression “following God’s advice” for “faith” throughout the chapter. For example, “Noah followed God’s advice and built a large boat that saved his family.” “Abraham followed God’s advice when he traveled to the land God promised his descendants.” “The walls surrounding the city of Jericho crumbled when the people followed God’s advice and walked around them for seven days.”

At Tue Nov 22, 10:28:00 AM, Blogger Rich Tatum said...

When dealing with pistis in sermons or discussion, I find using the word "faithfulness" (like "obedience") seems to communicate better. People understand faithfulness to be a response to God, as you have aptly illustrated.



At Sun Jan 15, 07:35:00 PM, Blogger M.E.A. said...

I have a problem with Sindlinger's "clarification." It constructs a meaning that can be understood, yet it's questionable whether it is the exact meaning of the text to be rendered. Why can't we simply return it to the literal translation, that it is a substance, i.e., a transport medium ? I have thought this for quite a while, it is like a connector between God and man (or even God and God in a case I could site). Therefore the works of the person are not nearly as important as what work God will perform based on the faith displayed. For example when the woman simply spoke the words "But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table", Jesus conceded that this clinched it and the healing was done.

At Sun Jan 15, 08:36:00 PM, Blogger M.E.A. said...

I just checked James 2:20-24, and all it imparts to me is a set of examples that one's actions must be consistent with the article of faith. Taking Noah as an example, he needed the faith that he could construct a very large boat and not fail. On top of that he wouldn't need any boat unless he believed God. So I don't see how people can find evidence that no works are required. However works are not the "stuff" or substance of faith. I apologize if I miss the point or seem overly argumentative.

Noah was selected for survival because of his past works, true. But on the other hand, there is the story of the Centurion. This person's job was to go around killing people and destroying villages at the whim of his superiors. Yet he got his servant healed because he fully believed that Jesus could do it.


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