In Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11 this word of the prophet is quoted in the interest of justifying faith; our writer uses it as stating the necessity of faith for spiritual life. All three, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, construe alike: “The righteous—from faith shall he live,” i.e., his spiritual life has gone if faith is gone. Woe to us if Christ finds us so at his coming! The future tense is not to be referred to a future life that is yet to be received but to the spiritual life that is now rooted in faith, that springs from faith and will continue throughout the future. Here, as always, ὁ δίκαιος has the forensic sense: “the righteous one” who has this quality by virtue of God’s forensic verdict, “the one declared righteous by God.”
“And if he shall shrink back, my soul takes no pleasure in him” is the negative side. The verb means to turn oneself back secretly or in cowardly fashion, i.e., to give up one’s faith, the very thing some of the readers are inclined to do. It is a mild expression to say “my soul has no pleasure in him,” yet it is the more ominous for that very reason. The renegade shall not carry off the promise and pay-gift.
39) As he did in 6:9 but only stronger the writer inspires his readers to join him in the declaration when he says: But to us on our part does not belong turning back to perdition; on the contrary, faith for soul preservation!
This is one of the grand chapters of the Bible, a gallery of notable portraits of ancient great believers, each drawn with a master hand. They all believed the unseen, they all trusted a promise, things for which they had to wait and hope. One grand characteristic makes them all kin—faith. Things adverse, matters contradictory, painful, long, they refused to permit to quench their faith. Their names are here inscribed on an immortal scroll. So great is their number that all cannot be named, the full list is recorded in heaven.
This is a list the readers should contemplate. They are growing faint and cowardly, are thinking of shrinking back, of returning to Judaism. Let them consider that all these heroes of faith are named in the Old Testament. If they desert they do not desert to but from these men and these women and thereby place their names on that horrible list marked “Perdition” (10:39). Their names are still on the golden list; they surely aim to keep them there.
The opening statement defines what “faith” really is, this great term that was used by the writer in 10:38, 39 as well as by Habakkuk. Why quibble about the question as to whether this verse is a definition of faith or not? Why deny it even the character of a description (C.-K. 420)? We certainly agree with Delitzsch: “It seems to us that a more complete and accurate definition of faith and one that is more generally applicable could not be devised than that which is given here.” “At the commencement of such a historical summary a comprehensive and general definition of what faith is in itself … was the only definition suitable and possible.” If this is not a definition of faith, pray, what is it? Delitzsch calls it generic and not specific; it is more exact to say that we have the essence of true religious faith, the heart of what the Scriptures call saving faith. Because one can define faith in other ways (for instance as knowledge, assent, and confidence) is not a reason for saying that this is not a definition.
C.-K. Biblisch-theologisches Woerterbuch der Neutestamentlichen Graezitaet von D. D. Hermann Cremer, zehnte, etc., Auflage, herausgegeben von D. Dr. Julius Koegel.
Faith! Faith! Faith - marches through the rest of this great chapter: “By means of faith—By means of faith—By means of faith.” These datives are like flying banners that are borne in a great parade. On one golden cord all these names are strung together with the deeds that proved the faith in which they lived and died, the faith that God approved, his testimony being immortalized in Scripture. Always, always it was “this” faith as defined by the writer.
At the head of the galaxy of believers, ushering in the series of statements that begin with πίστει, the writer places one that is drawn from the first page of the Bible: By means of faith we understand that the eons have been framed by means of God’s uttered word so that what is seen has come to be not (as derived) out of things that appear.
The criticism that, after mentioning “the ancients” in v. 2, the writer should continue with Abel in v. 4 and not insert this statement about what “by means of faith, we understand,” is not well taken. The reply that the writer naturally thinks of the first page of the Bible when he starts as far back as possible, is well enough; for he surely does this. But the reply should be made stronger. All that these heroes of faith are, and all that God’s Word reports concerning them, is intended for us so that we may see the essential thing in their faith (v. 1). It is thus that the writer starts with “we” and, when he introduces this long history of faith in all these other persons, notes, first of all, that the first page of the Bible is simply believed by us. “By means of faith,” the essence of which is confidence and assurance in regard to unseen things, by this means alone we understand how the world came to be.
We read that first page and believe it; we have nothing else to go by. The writer is, of course, addressing readers who join him in this faith regarding the creation of the world; he is not speaking to the pagans of his day, nor to the skeptics of our day. He says to his readers: “In this our faith about the creation of the world we ourselves illustrate what faith really is.” It is a telling thing for the writer to begin this way. To have at once continued with v. 4 would have been a loss.
Moreover, he is taking his readers into the pages of the Bible in order to review what the Bible says about all these historical characters. He and they believe what the Bible says about these men and these women and the testimony God gives them in the Bible (v. 2) although neither he nor his readers have seen one of these illustrious persons. It would be of no use to name a single one of them if the readers do not believe what God testifies regarding them. That is why faith in what God says about creation on the very first page of the Bible is so pertinent here. It constitutes a grand sample of confidence in things unseen, a sample in the very readers themselves who believe also all else that is now to be presented to them from the same Bible about all these other believers, none of whom they have ever seen.
“By means of faith (and in no other way) we understand that the eons have been framed by means of God’s uttered word.” We were not there to see even the least thing, i.e., to hear God speak and then to see what happened. We take it all on trust. All else is excluded. He who refuses to have faith is left at sea; he cannot “understand,” have in his νοῦς or mind, a single true thing about the whole matter. How can he know, when he is left to his own guessing in a matter so stupendous, that all guessing (hypotheses, theories, speculations) is utterly vain? He can fill his mind with rubbish, which is worse than nothing, and the mind is surely not intended for that. The mind simply has to have faith. Oh, no, not faith in what other men may please to say, who themselves were not there to see; but faith in him who was there, faith in what he is pleased to tell us about it, namely that he framed the whole world and set it on its course “by means of his ῥῆμα, his uttered word.” He called all things into being.
But for his faith Enoch would not have been taken to heaven without dying. The verb means “to transfer”; by using it twice and by adding the noun the author emphasizes Enoch’s miraculous removal to heaven. As far as one is able to judge, this was instantaneous; Elijah was taken up visibly. Glorified in body and in soul like Elijah, Enoch is now in Paradise.
These two men did not undergo death; the infinitive with τοῦ denotes result, and “to see death” = to undergo or experience it (“to see” is similarly used in John 3:3). The transformation of Enoch resembles that promised in 1 Cor. 15:52 and in 1 Thess. 4:17. Delitzsch thinks that Enoch’s translation occurred in the year 987 after Adam’s creation. Adam had died, but Seth, Enos, Kenan, Mahalaleel, and Jared were still living, and Methuselah and Lamech were also living, but Noah had not yet been born. Being only sixty-five years old at the time of his translation, Enoch was young according to the ages which men reached at that time of the world’s history when God so signally distinguished his faith. “He was not being found (imperfect) because God translated him” repeats the LXX’s rendering of Gen. 5:24.
Let us not lose the force of what this means in the case of Noah. The idea that the world should perish in a flood that was mountain high seems preposterous, fantastic, impossible. When God told Noah that he would send such a flood, Noah believed God without question. He had absolutely nothing visible to go by yet trusted God’s word with full conviction. His is, indeed, a perfect example of faith as it is defined in v. 1. The great evidence of his faith is the fact that “he constructed an ark for saving his family” as God had told him (οἶκος is used in the sense of “family”).
The first great evidence of Abraham’s faith is his obedience. Being called to do so, he went out to a place which he was eventually to receive as an inheritance, and this he did, not knowing where he was going. The two points that belong to the essence of faith (v. 1) are apparent: Abraham believed God’s promise about the land he was to have as his heritage (Gen. 12:1, etc.), which = “things hoped for”; Abraham did not know the land to which he was going, which = “things not seen.” He went wholly and completely on trust.
The Patriarchs and the Heavenly City
13) In v. 10 the writer says that Abraham kept awaiting a city that has foundations, a city whose builder is God, and in v. 9 that Isaac and Jacob were in Abraham’s company, all of them being tent-dwellers. This statement about “a city” is not the language used in Genesis as the readers will most likely note. Thus the writer inserts the little paragraph (v. 13–16) in which he explains about the heavenly “fatherland” and the “city” and sets forth more fully the faith of these “ancients” (v. 2) as trusting in things hoped for and not seen (v. 1).
The present tenses continue: “wherefore God is not ashamed of them to be called their God,” i.e., “the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob” (Gen. 28:13; Exod. 3:6, 15; cf., Gen. 32:9; also Matt. 22:32). What this means is explained: God “prepared for them a city.” These patriarchs God acknowledges as his children, and so he prepared a city for them, this heavenly city being their true, eternal fatherland. The final word “a city” takes us back to v. 10 where we are told that Abraham kept waiting for this wonderful city. It is now entirely clear from the explanation given in v. 13–16.
The writer could have placed all this into the simple historical past: “When they said such things they indicated, etc. And if they had remembered they would have had opportunity, etc. They, however, aspired, etc.” He places all of this into the present and ignores differences in time, which enables the readers to think of themselves in the most direct way as having these patriarchs, as it were, right in their midst to show them what to think, to say, to expect.
Yes, the readers have tasted a measure of persecution (10:32, 33), have seen the members of the old congregation in Rome and also Peter and Paul brought to martyrdom. What if such things should recur? As former Jews Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their great examples of faith. See these patriarchs disregard everything in the way of an earthly fatherland, pass through life and die as nothing but aliens among men, aliens in fact, yea, aliens because they are ever aspiring to a better, a heavenly fatherland, the City of God, prepared for them by God. Will the readers do less?
These Old Testament men of faith are the models for all New Testament believers when it comes to what faith is and ever must be (v. 1).
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Columbus, O. : Lutheran book concern, 1938, S. 399.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph
17) The examples continue after the digression (v. 13–16), but whereas those cited in v. 4–12 refer to faith in the blessed hereafter, which we all should share, this group of four are individual illustrations of a faith that is not to be duplicated in us but is intended to inspire us to show our faith in the individual situations that come to us.
By means of faith Abraham, when being tried, has offered Isaac. Even his only-begotten he was offering, he who had accepted the promises, to whom it was said: In connection with Isaac shall seed be called for thee—having drawn the conclusion that even from the dead God is able to raise up; hence he also brought him away in the way of a parable. This presents briefly the greatest act of Abraham’s faith, his trusting in the absolutely unseen, and that at a time when he was bidden to do what seemed to conflict directly with God’s own promise.
From Genesis the writer proceeds to Exodus and dwells at length on Moses, not only because so much of faith appears in his life, but also because his readers esteem Moses so highly. They are thinking of forsaking Christ for Judaism because Judaism had Moses and all the ritual commandments given through Moses. Well, Moses himself is one of the greatest examples of faith in Christ. Let the readers, therefore, follow Moses, namely this faith of his. They will then cling to Christ as Moses did and have both Christ and Moses; otherwise they will lose both. John 5:45–47.
30) By means of faith the walls of Jericho fell, having been circled for seven days. Marching around and around Jericho seven days, seven times on the seventh day, then blowing the trumpets and making a great shout—how could such a procedure make massive fortifications fall? Who had ever heard of such a thing? How the soldiers and the commanders on those walls must have cast jibes and derision at the silent marchers as they were going around day after day! How safe they felt if the Israelite soldiers did no more than this! Yes, it took faith to carry out this mode of attack which seemed to be no attack at all; it took faith in things not seen as v. 1 describes faith. Then suddenly there came sight. Incredible sight—all the walls fell! Josh. 6:1, etc.
31) By means of faith Rahab, the harlot, did not perish with the disobedient ones, having received the spies with peace. Josh. 2:1, etc.; 6:22, etc. This pagan woman who had sunk to harlotry believed the report about the God of Israel that filled the city. She alone believed and in her still pagan way obeyed that faith and received the Israelite spies “with peace,” as friends to be protected and not as enemies of war to be delivered up. She believed that the city would fall; on that belief she acted. All the rest who lived in Jericho were disobedient; the aorist ἀπειθήσαντες states the historical fact. Unbelief is at times called disobedience because it is nothing less and is also the source of disobedient conduct. The people of Jericho laughed at the idea of surrendering their city, which was so mightily fortified, to soldiers who did not have even a ladder to scale the walls; they mocked at the very idea and perished. James 2:25 praises Rahab for her works, which were an evidence of her justification. See the exposition of James. Rahab became the wife of Booz, one of the ancestors of Jesus; see Matt. 1:5.
32) And what shall I yet say? The time will fail me recounting about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, both David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, locked the mouths of lions, quenched power of fire, escaped sword’s mouths, were brought to power from weakness, became strong in war, turned to flight the battle lines of aliens.
The list is altogether too long for the writer to give an account of the great evidence of faith in the lives of all the great personages in the past history of Israel, all of whom would deserve to be considered, about whom all the readers know. The writer has kept down to great brevity what he has thus far said about “the ancients” (v. 2); he must now abbreviate still more. In doing so he records a few more notable names to which the readers may add more. Then he adds a list of achievements and a list of sufferings and lets his readers exercise their historical knowledge in placing these terse items.
In the rhetorical question of deliberation: “And what shall I yet say?” λέγω is the deliberative subjunctive. “The time will fail me recounting about Gideon,” etc. = it will take too much time to recount. The present participle is construed with με by a fine Greek idiom. The six names that are now added are not placed in chronological order with evident purpose. The reason for this does not seem to be an effort to list them in the order of importance. Samuel is placed last so as to be able to add “the prophets.” While the four judges precede the one king, Samuel, too, was a judge and preceded David. All six ruled Israel, but this cannot be said of the prophets. The best we are able to say is that these names are only suggestive. The readers will be struck by this or by that name in the great history of faith; the writer indicates that the sequence of time is immaterial, that faith is the main thing.
33) The relative clause lists the achievements which the writer has in mind when he pens his list of notable names. Because of their contents the nine items can be divided into three groups of three. R., W. P., calls the asyndeton “sledge-hammer style.” Each item is thrown on the screen by itself. As one succeeds the other, the effect increases. Chronology does not count, only the contents do. All the tenses are aorists to express historical facts. It is left to the readers to locate the terse references at the proper place in history. Each achievement was accomplished by means of faith, διά being now used and not the dative as was done before.
R. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, by A. T. Robertson, 4th ed.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Columbus, O. : Lutheran book concern, 1938, S. 414.
34) “Locked the mouths of lions” = Dan. 6:22 (scarcely Judges 14:6, or 1 Sam. 17:34, etc.). “Quenched power of fire” = Dan. 3:27 (cf. v. 19, 22). “Escaped sword’s mouths” may apply to any escape in battle but also to Elijah’s escape from the sword of Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1–3, 10), perhaps also to the escape of Elisha (2 Kings 6:14, etc., 31, etc.). “Were brought to power from weakness” refers, it seems, to Samson (Judges 16:28), perhaps also to the courage inspired by David’s victory over Goliath which enabled Israel to triumph (1 Sam. 17:26, etc.).
It is very dramatic to make these μάρτυρες (martyrs, witnesses) spectators who are lining the ramparts of heaven, leaning over to watch us in the running of the race like the crowds in a great stadium who are watching the athletic events. The unsatisfactory feature about this idea is its spiritualistic touch: the spirits of the dead are still hovering over and around us. The souls of the saints are at rest, they are no longer concerned about the trials that occur on earth. The Scriptures teach that they behold the heavenly glories and say nothing about their beholding and watching earthly events. These saints are not “witnesses” that see our faith and testify about us; God does not ask them to testify about us. They are witnesses whose life, works, sufferings, death attest their own faith, testify to us through the pages of Holy Writ and in other history that they were true men of faith indeed (the faith defined in 11:1). Περικείμενον ἡμῖν, “lying around us,” or adverbially simply “all about us” does not refer to an earthly presence of this cloud of witnesses, which gazes down on us from every angle. Like Abel, though dead (11:2) and long ago gone to their heavenly rest (4:9), their past life and their death still speak to us about what faith really is (11:1). They have left their multitudinous testimony which speaks to us from all sides and in countless ways.
The second participle is an aorist middle that states what must first be done by us in order to run properly: “having put away from ourselves every weight or encumbrance” that would act as a handicap in our running. Καί is explicative: “in particular the easily hampering sin,” εὐπερίστατος; this word is found only here in Greek literature and is hence interpreted variously: C.-K. 1169, easy to avoid, easily surrounding or be-strickend = R. V.’s margin, “closely clinging to us,” and our versions’, “that doth so easily beset us.”
C.-K. Biblisch-theologisches Woerterbuch der Neutestamentlichen Graezitaet von D. D. Hermann Cremer, zehnte, etc., Auflage, herausgegeben von D. Dr. Julius Koegel.