Hebrews 11:1-3 – Faith is Being Sure…

One of the more common characterizations of Christians is that they live by “faith” not facts.  Sometimes this is said in the context of a “faith versus science” debate.  Scientists (we are told) hold to facts proven to be true, Christians believe in things that cannot be proven by facts.  If a Christian is telling the story, then the scientist (probably an atheist Democrat) is too close-minded and too prejudiced to accept things he cannot explain rationally.  If a scientist is telling the story, then the Christian is a soft-headed uneducated person (probably a Republican from Texas) who believes in childish things.

I am reminded of a rather funny passage in Douglas Adams’ classic Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  All science fiction stories have to come up with some explanation for why everyone in the future distant reaches of space all speak English.  Star Trek has a universal translator, for example.  In his story, Adams describes the Babel Fish, a tiny fish which, when inserted in one’s ear, translates all languages into what every language the host person thinks.  This fish is so complex it could not have possibly evolved naturally, so it is a clear proof of the existence of God.  Adams goes on to say:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.” “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly disappears in a puff of logic. “Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

As funny as this is, it points out a misunderstanding about faith.  Faith is not believing in things you know to be untrue, or impossible, or strange.  Having faith in the Easter Bunny does not make him real.

The writer of Hebrews defines faith is being sure of what we believe in.  When a Christian talks about having faith, they are certain what they believe is built on a proper foundation and is objectively true.

“Sure” here is an important word, used only two other times in Hebrews (1:3 and 3:14).  The NIV renders this word in three different ways, although the difference between Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 11:1 should not be as great at the NIV translates (substance vs. sure). Literally, the word means that which stands under, or foundation. The word began as a medical or scientific term, although nothing of that meaning remains in the New Testament usage.  The word then was used in philosophy to describe the reality of something, as opposed to the philosophical “being.”

BAGD identifies ὑπόστασις as “substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality…”  The meaning here in Heb 11:1 is most often given as “realization” or “reality.”  Or as Louw and Nida comment, faith is “that which provides the basis for trust and reliance – trust, confidence, assurance.”   The NIV’s “sure” tries to combine these meanings, the substance of hope is the thing that gives one confidence that the hope for goal will occur, something that gives assurance of an abstract concept, something that is not necessarily provable, without substance.

The “substance/proof” is for things that are hoped for, not seen.  Hope is “to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial.”  In the New Testament, it is Jesus Christ that provides the basis for that hope, first in his work on the cross, and secondly in his promise to return.   In the other five occurrences of the word in Hebrews, hope is rooted in salvation, each verse is talking about the content of our salvation, and in each case that hope is certain.

Hope in modern use tends to be more “wishful thinking.”  I hope this is over soon, I hope I get that for Christmas, I hope my kids grow up right, etc. Biblical hope is an expression of something that will happen at some point in the future and it is so certain that I can live my life on the foundation of my hope.

16 thoughts on “Hebrews 11:1-3 – Faith is Being Sure…

  1. I appreciate the first point you make with the “atheist Democrat” and the “Republican from Texas”. In society today it can be so difficult to be a Christian. People need to see proof for everything, or it is not true. This mindset that has overtaken society is negative. I believe that when the author of Hebrews makes it known that “Faith is being sure what we believe in”, the author is trying to have people stray from the doubtful way of thinking. I also really liked what you mentioned about what Faith means. “Faith is not believing in things you know to be untrue, or impossible, or strange.” This is a great way to put it. Personally, the way I have experienced people discussing Faith is usually in the conversation of “we do not know heaven is for real, but we have to have faith.” Faith is not an act of question, but an act without a shadow of doubt. Just as confident as an atheist is in their scientific proof, a Christian can be just as confident in their Faith. The book of Hebrews lets its readers know that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice and the He should be the main person in our lives. With the sureness in our Faith the need for defining proof is unnecessary

  2. This blog post was very thought-provoking for me, and it was very interesting. I think it would be beneficial for all Christians and those walking in faith of the Lord should read and understand the message of this blog post, as well as the message of Hebrews 11:1-3. Faith is a word that is thrown around in Christian communities and the world in general. However, is faith a word that we truly understand the meaning of? According to Gupta (2016), faith can be defined as: “Reliance upon and trust in God; a central emphasis of Christianity” (p. n.d.). This is a relatively common definition of faith in a Christian community and from a Christian perspective and mindset. That being said, I think the definition of faith goes deeper than that, and it seems as if Hebrews 11:1-3 is an indication that he/she believes the same thing.

    Something that caught my attention from this post was the point from the blog post that highlights the misunderstandings of faith. Faith has nothing to do with believing in false and untrue things, concepts, or people. Faith in God is nothing like this. The author of Hebrews claims that faith involves our understanding of God and His ability and creation (Hebrews 11:3). Having faith in God involves knowing and strongly believing and adhering to those understandings and senses of knowledge in regards to God.

    Additionally, the difference in how the word “hope” is interpreted in the Bible and how it is interpreted in today’s culture is interesting and something that people must notice and consider. Hope is another word that is talked about and discussed often in Christian discussion. In the Bible, hope carries more significance than it does in today’s culture. The blog post makes that evident. I think this is something that must be considered when studying the Bible. Moreover, when studying the Bible, Bible students should seek out and be aware of other words that may be different in modern culture than they are in the Bible.
    Gupta (2016) claims that the Bible does not want faith to be boiled down into a sense of religion and religious practices (p. n.d.). Faith in the Bible refers to belief in what one knows about God. I consider myself a person of faith. This means that I have faith in what I know about who God is, what God is capable of, what God has done, and what God will do. This considers the aspect of covenants in regards to faith that Gupta (2016) mentions (p. n.d.).

    Gupta, N. K. (2016). Faith. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

  3. I was hoping this blog would end up giving some questions to answer, so I must come from a different perspective on how to give my thoughts in responding to this blog. First of all, I was brought up in believing that science was a tool of the enemy to use when questioning a Christian faith in God. Atheists would use science as a method to discredit the Bible of being unreal or inaccuracy. I discovered from reading books by Dr. Caroline Leaf, who is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, has explained that science was made by God to use for proofing his existence through creation. If scientists are to hold to facts proven to be true, with actual evidence is just another way of proving that God exist. If faith is being sure of what we believe in, could faith prove with science that both are parallel to a degree that leads to the main source, God? We have faith in science, because this method proves things that exist through studies and theories with actual facts. We are always studying God in one way or another, even if the human is atheist, in some weird human reality, he or she still carries the image of God. that is proven fact through science and through faith.

  4. In a recent chapel at Grace Christian University it was pointed out that when discussing faith in Jesus Christ with an unbeliever a Christian should not try to pin faith against science because science will prove true easier than faith. This is why Hebrews 11 has such great importance in the Bible. Hebrews 11 gives readers example after example of believers in the Bible lived by faith and God displayed His faithfulness and fulfillment time and time again. The writer of Hebrews knew that believers would struggle in society, no matter what era they lived in. Therefore, this passage is included in Hebrews to encourage struggling believers who many doubt their faith in Christ. Facts in what an individual believes, religiously or not, give comfort and hope that they believe in the truth. Christians need to first of all, believe that the Bible is truth in order to trust in the facts that they read within the Bible. Jobes in the book, “Letters to the Church” writes about the reward believers will receive after running the race of life and persevering in the faith that they cannot always prove true (Jobes, 2011). Christians need to understand that they may not always be able to bring an unbeliever to the faith that they believe in so deeply, but that gives room for God’s work and grace in their life.

  5. “Hope in modern use tends to be more “wishful thinking.” I hope this is over soon, I hope I get that for Christmas, I hope my kids grow upright, etc. Biblical hope is an expression of something that will happen at some point in the future and it is so certain that I can live my life on the foundation of my hope” (Long). This is something that I believe to be true and agree with so much. We as a generation of young believers have such “wishful thinking” of hope, instead of Biblical hope. If we read Hebrews 11, we can see how we must persevere and believe what the Bible says is true. That we know where we stand in our faith in God and we know that our Hope for the future will come true, not that we just want it to, that we truly believe that will happen. Story after story we have seen the faithfulness of God to his people, we hope that this is true for us. Personally, I know that my God is faithful and will remain to what his word says, and that is to have confidence in him, and that we are assured by what we do not see.

  6. The first question that comes to my mind when reading the definition of faith as seen in Hebrews 11:1, is how can we ever be sure, or confident, about something; when is doubt or suspicion is overridden? P.Long started this post with a quick summary of the science versus faith debate that many Christians face. Proverbs 3:5 says that we should trust God with all our heart and not based on our own understanding. This verse seems to be dealing with the science versus faith battle because it refers to the lack of consistent human knowledge and understanding and points back to God as being the foundation of all things.Since we believe in God the Creator, we believe that he created all things including the theories and discoveries that make up our understanding of the sciences. Is it possible for science and faith to point back to each other and to work together to prove God’s existence, as per the Babel fish example found in the original post? Jobes describes faith as resting in God’s character “… of which there is nothing more certain and constant” (Jobes 2011). This automatically sets faith on a different level than science because it takes the responsibility off comprehension of man’s shoulders and gives it to God as the provider of stability and consistency of our lives.

  7. Based on P.Long’s perspective of hope,what do you think is the opposite of it? What does it look like for reasonable doubt to creep into a believers mind, when their heart clings to a promise or an idea given in scripture but they can not find logic or reason in it? I struggle, like many other Christians, with knowing a concept presented in scripture but being able to actually implement it into my daily life and my conscious thoughts. By default I assume that I have hope for the future because of my faith and my active relationship with God, but am still trying to figure out what exactly that looks like in real life outside of my brain.
    To comment on you last bit about God’s faithfulness, Hebrews 10:23 says “Let us hold unnervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful”. Jobes referenced this verse in her section on perseverance and apostasy because it talks about our consistent need to cling to the hope that we cannot see but that is promised to us by the Faithful one. I think it is a brilliant foreshadow of the faith definition given in Hebrews 11 while still recognizing that perseverance is necessary because we will still face hardships and the fog can rise between us and the promises of God.

  8. I often find the word ‘faith’ to be confusing. Our belief in the Lord is based on faith. We have not seen Him with our own eyes, yet we have faith that he exists, created us, and saved us. In theology classes we often speak of revelation or how God has revealed himself to us. So I think it is a misconception that faith in God is a blind faith or because we cannot see. He has showed himself to us, in His word and in His creation. In verse 3 we see that God has made things seen, even if He is not visible. I do not want to discredit 2 Corinthians, because Paul is right in saying we live by faith and not by sight (5:7). Paul is making a statement here, not a command. We live by faith now and not by sight, but I think that’s to say that someday we will see what we have longed to set our eyes upon: the glory of the Lord. What we see is not the basis for our faith, but God has revealed Himself to us and I think that is to give us no excuse. His creation demands a creator. I think of the children’s song that we are to build our house on the rock, and not on the sand. Our faith is not wishy washy and swept away easily by the tide, but it stands firm even in the face of strong winds and trials.

  9. I always find it interesting when the so-called debate on science vs. faith is brought up. This is a poorly titled debate. More times than not, when one pits “science” against faith, they mean to be pitting macro-evolution against faith. As a science major who comes from a long line of doctors and scientists, it is sad to see this. To me, truth exists within the same realm. The proven truths of science are not in contradiction to faith at all. The conflict and disagreement arise between proposed theories or hypotheses yet to be proven such as macro-evolution. If there were a true conflict between science as a whole and faith, one would have to be right and the other would have to be wrong. Therefore, the believer would have to deny all of the sciences including medicine, research, and technological advances.
    Personally, I believe that science is one of the best proofs of faith. To me, it leads one closer to the belief that there is a God because of its infinite complexity. For example, atoms were originally believed to be indivisible which is literally where the name came from in Greek. Now, most people are familiar with the fact that atoms are made up of neutrons, protons, and electrons; however, those aren’t even the smallest particles in existence. Now we know that neutrons and protons can be further divided into quarks. Another great example to look up is the complexity of genes and epigenetics. To me, all this complexity and detail doesn’t point one towards random chance but rather to an intelligent designer that we can therefore, have faith in. It makes me surer that there is a God.

    • Timmer,
      You took the words out of my mouth! This is so true and I agree wholeheartedly with your post. In my personal opinion (as you), science does not contradict or “debunk” the Christian faith or God. I think science helps the Christian faith and it truly allows you to open your eyes and see the perfect design God has made. If you look at the earth, at the moon, the stars, the sun and how everything is so perfectly fit and everything is so perfectly designed, it’s truly amazing. The only thing that Christian do not approve of (as you said) is the theory evolution. Looking at humans and the way our bodies work and how the world works and how even animals works and how everything is perfectly set in motion and here for us to survive, it makes it known that God is real and that He was the one that set this all in motion, there is and is not anyone or anything other than God himself who could have made a perfect design like humans and earth.

  10. First of all, this blog post started extremely bold and anti-politics and I loved it. I was shocked at first because it is not 2012 anymore. In 2020, it seems as though we are a bit less harsh. At least your political comments have become more kind. Anyways, I would like to comment not on the word usages but the implications of the faith that the author is talking about. You put it so well when you called today’s idea of home “wishful thinking” When in all reality that is not biblical hope at all. Biblical hope is concrete belief of the future promises. This type of hope changes the way a believer behaves, or at least it should. This is also why having strong doctrine is so important because when we have a clear understanding of what we believe we begin to live it out. This faith changes our lives, more specifically, the way in which we live our lives. The author of Hebrews is adamant about solidifying faith. It is the understanding of the beginning of all things and the looking forward to the future of what is to come (11:3).
    This clear, formational, foundational understanding of faith whether for a Jewish-Christian living in 60 A.D. or a Christian in America today shapes the way in which life is lived. It shapes what you spend your time and money on. It shapes the importance of your religion. It shapes your ethics as an individual. Basically, this faith and hope in the future changes everything. That is why people call the Gospel of Jesus Christ transformation. This is how we become set apart from the world. It is our faith that leads us to action that is contrary to the world’s norm. As believers, the future we have faith in is a concrete fact to us. The truth is worth living differently. The truth is worth persecution. This truth that I have faith in is worth dying over.

  11. Faith as a confident belief without having to confirm it as stated in Hebrews 1 gives deeper understanding of the faith shown by the individuals listed later in the chapter. Most striking to me is the example given by Abraham concerning his willingness to sacrifice Isaac. In Hebrews 11:19 it is said that Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. This show of faith is remarkable as Abraham did not have the full revelation of God’s word that we have today and God raising the dead would not be a known concept to him through this. Unless Abraham reasoned that God had the power to raise the dead because God had already made life (Isaac) from those that were already as good as dead (Abraham and Sarah). I can’t help but think that if this level of faith was more common that far less people would struggle with their Christian walk.

  12. When I was in eighth grade we read and watched Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the only thing I honestly remember about that was the Babel fish. I thought it was ridiculous and as we read the book I could not figure out how it would fit in your ear, that is beside the point. Faith is an easy word to throughout when someone is going through a difficult time, “have faith, it’ll get better” they say. It is an interesting thing to say to someone and typically it does not help. Faith is more than that, it is the basis for trust. It is not a blind trust, our faith has evidence that we get from the Bible. The second part of this is hope. I believe Hope is not talked about enough. I have hope in everything, as small as my car starting to waking up tomorrow. I have hope and faith that God has my whole life planned and He is working through me. I know it’s true because of the Bible, but it is the extra step of believing that He’s got my life beyond the words written. These things are so prevalent in our relationship with God because it is our belief in Him and what He has done past and present. Honestly, it is okay to have some small doubts at moments in our life. The problem is when those doubts build up like a snowball and we never dig deeper into understanding them. Doubts should be asked, they should be studied, so that we as believers, can continue walking and growing in our relationship with God.

  13. I agree with the fact when you say “Christians believe in things that cannot be proven by facts”. Many people around us that aren’t Christians find it hard to believe in Jesus because the only proof there is, is what is read in the Bible. I like when you talk about how Hebrews defines Faith as being sure of what we believed in, because I believe this statement to be true. You can have believe in anything you want, but without faith then your belief is something that you believe in and have no faith that it is actually true. (If you get what I’m saying). I believe society has a negative outlook on Christians as we believe in a God that we cannot see or have no proof of being true, but it’s the faith that keeps the Christian belief going.

  14. Faith is believing without seeing. As you described in the blog, it’s not believing in things we know to be untrue, impossible or strange. According to Gupta (2016), faith can be defined as: “Reliance upon and trust in God; a central emphasis of Christianity” (p. n.d.).
    Having faith is more than an action, faith is believing in more than what we know is true or untrue. As Christians, we have not seen heaven, but we believe there is heaven and have faith that Christ went to prepare for us in heaven so we can live with Him forever. The book of Hebrews lets the readers know that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice and that He should be the Main person in our lives. With the sureness in our Faith the need for defining proof is unnecessary. In Hebrews 11:3, the author claims that faith involves our understanding of God and His power through all that was created.

  15. Mixing religion and philosophy always leads to no where. As a Muslim, I look to the revealed book Quran and to our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God on him) or Hadith the sayings of the Prophet himself. Imaan, which can be loosely translated as Faith was taught to us through angle Jibraeel as “belief in one God, belief in Prophets, belief in angles, belief in His books which were revealed to Prophets, and the day of judgement. Rest is a way to this truth. Hope you get there.

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