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Hebrews 11



Faith By Faith We Understand Roll Call of Heroes and Heroines Faith The Exemplary Faith of Our Ancestors
11:1-2 11:1-3 11:1-3 11:1-2 11:1-2
11:3 Faith at the Dawn of History   11:3 11:3
11:4-7 11:4-7 11:4-7 11:4 11:4
      11:5-6 11:5-6
  Faithful Abraham   11:7 11:7
11:8-12 11:8-12 11:8-12 11:8-10 11:8-10
  The Heavenly Hope   11:11-12 11:11-12
11:13-16 11:13-16 11:13-16 11:13-16 11:13-16
  The Faith of the Patriarchs      
11:17-22 11:17-22 11:17-22 11:17-19 11:17-19
      11:20 11:20-22
  The Faith of Moses   11:22  
11:23-31 11:23-29 11:23-28 11:23 11:23-29
  By Faith They Overcame 11:29-31 11:29  
  11:30-40   11:30-31 11:30-31
11:32-38   11:32-38 11:32-35a 11:32-40
11:39-40   11:39-40 11:39-40  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Chapter 11 is a series of OT examples of those who were faithful in difficult situations (the opposite of II Peter 2 and Jude). These are meant to encourage the original readers and believers of every age to remain faithful no matter what physical circumstances may confront them (cf. 10:32-39).


B. Also notice these are not initial professions of faith, but lives of faith under the Old covenant. The faithful end is the evidence of a true beginning. Believers start in faith, continue in faith, and die in faith. The author of Hebrews evaluates the believer's life from its faithful conclusion as well as its faith beginning.



  1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2For by it the men of old gained approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 4By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. 7By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

11:1 "faith" This is not a theological definition of faith, but a picture of the practical outworking of it. The term is used twenty four times in this chapter. From the OT the primary idea is "faithfulness" or "trustworthy." This is the opposite of apostasy. The Greek term for "faith" (pistis) is translated by three English terms: "faith," "belief," and "trust." Faith is a human response to God's faithfulness and His promise. We trust His trustworthiness, not our own. His character is the key.

NASB, NRSV"assurance of things hoped for"
NKJV"substance of things hoped for"
TEV"to be sure of the things we hope for"
NJB"guarantee the blessings that we hope for"

This Greek term for "assurance" (hupostasis) basically means "to place under" or "to stand under" thereby giving the underlying basis or foundation of something. It, therefore, had a wide variety of meanings in the ancient world. It was especially common in Greek philosophical writings to denote the clear manifestation of something. It was that which was real and true versus the unrealized.

1. in Heb. 1:3 it refers to essence

2. in Heb. 3:14 it refers to the reality of the believers' confession/profession

3. in Heb. 11:1 it refers to the promises of the gospel lived out in the present, but not consummated until the future

This term has been found in the Egyptian papyri meaning "a title deed" (cf. NJB). In this sense it reflects Paul's usage of the Spirit as an "earnest" (cf. II Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:4).

The Greek terms used in the LXX suggest it regularly translates tōhelet (The Cambridge History of the Bible, p. 9), which denoted "an attitude of patient and confident waiting for something, a state of confident expectation" (i.e., hope). Remember the NT authors were Hebrew thinkers writing in the Koine Greek and using the translation traditions of the Septuagint.

Some have seen the clearest meanings in this context reflected in the OT quote in 10:38 (Hab. 2:2-4). Chapter 11 is a list of examples of those who did not "shrink back." This text is the opposite of what the first readers were in danger of doing.

"conviction" This word occurs only here in the NT. It refers to "proof by test." The two phrases in v. 1 are parallel (both present passive participles); therefore, "assurance" and "conviction" are tied closely together and out of them the faithful live their lives.

"things not seen" The following examples are of people who live in (1) hope in the present and future acts of God and (2) confidence in the spiritual promises of God (cf. 10:23). Their worldview guides their daily decisions, not circumstances, materialism or self-centeredness.

Physical reality is subservient to the unseen spiritual reality (cf. v. 3). Physical reality is known by the five senses, and is not eternal, but fleeting. True, eternal reality is unseen (cf. v. 27) and; therefore, must be held by faith, not sight. However, it is so real and true to believers that it controls and demands their priorities.


NASB"gained approval"
NKJV"obtained a good testimony"
NRSV"received approval"
TEV"won God's approval"
NJB"are acknowledged"

This is similar to Paul's use of "faith" in Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11. Their lives of faith did not save them, but evidenced God's Spirit in them (cf. James 2:14-26).


TEV, NIV"the universe"
NJB"the ages"

This is one of two Greek terms (kosmos, cf. 1:6 and aiōn, here) used to designate this present physical realm. This "ai ōn" refers to spiritual times and seasons including both physical and spiritual realms (cf. 1:2; 6:5; Rom. 12:2; I Cor. 1:20; 2:6,8; 3:18; II Cor. 4:4; Eph. 1:21; 6:12). See Special Topic at 1:2.

"the word of God" This is not the Greek term logos but rhēma which is used of the spoken word. This then refers to creation by fiat, the spoken word (cf. Gen. 1:3,6,9,14,20,24; Ps. 33:6,9). From Heb. 1:2 we know that the logos of God was the Father's agent of creation (cf. John 1:1,10; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16).

This faith affirmation becomes the worldview out of which believers live their earthly lives. This does not reject scientific research, but puts it within a faith perspective. Believers allow science to discover the mechanisms of the created order (natural revelation), but affirm ultimacy to God alone (see John L. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis, Who is revealed in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ.

"so that what is seen is not made out of things which are visible" This is not primarily an affirmation of creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), but an example of the reality versus unreality of v. 1. Believers affirm what they have not personally seen or experienced based on the revelation of God. This is not so much a creedal theology as a life of faith and hope.

11:4 "Abel" This was Adam and Eve's second child, who was killed by his brother, Cain (cf. Gen. 4:3ff).

"a better sacrifice" It was not the type of sacrifice which Cain and Abel offered which caused the distinction, but the attitude (faith) in which it was given. This cannot be a proof-text to the superiority of a blood sacrifice.

"though he is dead, he still speaks" This is recorded in Gen. 4:10; Heb. 12:24. In context this is an affirmation of faith that faces death and triumphs over it. The readers were shrinking back from persecution. They must, like Abel, have faith.

11:5 "Enoch" He was the first man after the fall not touched by death (cf. Gen. 5:24). The OT does not elaborate on the circumstances but asserts that he "walked" with God.

"was taken up" This means "moved to another spot." This is not a "resurrection" but a "translation" like Elijah (cf. II Kgs. 2:11). There is a clear distinction in the Bible between

1. people brought back to life (resuscitation)

2. people taken to heaven without physical death (translation)

3. Jesus having a new spiritual body (resurrection)


"he was pleasing to God" This follows the Septuagint, but the MT has "walked with God."

11:6 "without faith it is impossible to please Him" This is the key assertion of this literary unit. It is not just initial faith, but persevering faith that pleases God. All of these examples remained faithful to the end of life, no matter how that end came. Faith is the way that humans believe, receive, accept the promises of God. Salvation and discipleship are both impossible without faith. Faith in God's actions in the past (creation, revelation); faith in God's presence in the present (persecution, suffering, even death); faith in God's promised actions in the future (salvation, heaven).

For "impossible" see full note at 6:6.

"must believe" The Greek word pistis is translated by three English terms: "faith," "believe," and "trust." The focus is not on cognitive facts alone, but personal trust in God's trustworthiness; faithing His faithfulness! It is not just an affirmation, but a lifestyle.

The term "must" is a present active indicative, which means "it is binding," "it is necessary." Faith is necessary!

▣ "He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" This refers to both an initial faith response and a continuing faith response

11:7 "being warned by God about things not yet seen" Here is the faith pattern. These OT saints acted on what they had received from God. Their actions proved their faith was not mere words! Can you imagine the ridicule and humiliation Noah experienced in building such a large boat, so far from the water, to hold animals!

"ark" This was not a maneuverable boat, but a vessel meant to float like a log. The term was used of a "chest" like the ark of the covenant.

"by which he condemned the world" How did Noah condemn the world? There are two possibilities: (1) by his faith actions and (2) by his preaching (cf. II Pet. 2:5).

"became an heir of the righteousness" In Genesis 6-8 Noah is the first man in the Bible called "righteous" (cf. II Pet. 2:5). It does not mean sinlessness but that Noah walked in the light he had in faith and trust in God. As Abraham's faith was later accounted to him as righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6), so too, was Noah's. For a word study on "Righteousness" see Special Topic at 1:9.

 8By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

11:8 "Abraham. . .obeyed" In some ways these cameos are idealized representations of these men's lives. The OT is unique in ancient literature in that it records both the positive and negative about its characters. Abraham was a strange mixture of fear and faith

1. Fear

a. God said leave your family; he took his father and Lot

b. God promised a child; he tried to produce a child through Sarah's servant and later tried to give Sarah away to both an Egyptian and a Philistine king in order to save his own life

2. Faith

a. He did leave Ur

b. He did believe God would give him descendants

c. He was willing to offer Isaac (cf. Gen. 22)

God is not looking for "super-saints," but for flawed humans who will respond to Him in repentance and faith and live for Him regardless of the circumstances.

11:9 "he lived as an alien in the land of promise" This is the term "sojourned," which means he did not have rights as a citizen (cf. v. 13).

11:10 "he was looking" This is an imperfect middle (deponent) indicative. He kept looking!

"the city" This is a common biblical metaphor (cf. 11:16; 12:22; 13:14; John 14:2; Gal. 4:26; Rev. 3:12; 21:2), which refers to the place of God's dwelling with humans again, as in Eden.

Abraham lived his life by faith looking not at current reality, but promised reality. Faith says "this world is not my home"; faith says "God's promises are sure"; faith says "reality is not what I see, but what God says"!


11:11 "Sarah" Some ancient Greek manuscripts (P46, D) add "barren." It is significant that none of the patriarch's wives (except Leah) could conceive without the help of God. Also, none of the first born children were the heirs of promise. God acted to show that He was in charge!

Sarah, like Abraham, was a mixture of fear and faith. She gave Abraham her servant; she also laughed at God's promise (cf. Gen. 18:12).

11:12 "as the stars of heaven in number and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore" This was part of God's promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 32:12). Remember all of their wives (except Leah) were barren.

"she considered Him faithful who had promised" She acted based on God's promise, not current reality. This phrase is similar to 10:23 (cf. 6:17-18). The readers are also to act in this way.

 13All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.

11:13 "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises" This is the heart of the comparison of the OT people of faith in chapter 11 to the believing Jewish recipients who were on the verge of "shrinking back" (cf. 10:38; also II Pet. 2:20-22).

▣ "but having. . .and having. . .and having" Note the three descriptive, parallel phrases!

▣ "they were strangers and exiles on the earth" Literally, alien residents who had no rights as citizens (cf. LXX Gen. 23:4; Ps. 39:12; Phil. 3:20; I Pet. 2:11). Physical reality is not the true, eternal reality. This world was not their home.

11:15 "if" This is a second class conditional sentence called "contrary to fact." They did go out and they did not go back!

11:16 The true reality is spiritual, as seen in the metaphor of a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God (cf. 11:10). God responds to trust and faith (cf. 2:11; 11:2,39; 13:14). "Country" and "city" (v. 10) are theologically parallel as places prepared by God for His faith children!

 17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18it was he to whom it was said, "In Isaac your descendants shall be called." 19He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. 20By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. 21By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. 22By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.

11:17 "he was tested" When one compares Gen. 22:1 with Matt. 6:13 and James 1:13-14, there is a seeming contradiction. However, there are two words in Greek for "test" with different connotations. One is to test toward destruction (peiraz ō) and the other is to test with a view to approval and strengthening (dokimazō). See Special Topic at 2:18.

God provides opportunities for His children to demonstrate and grow their faith (cf. Gen. 22:1; Exod.15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Deut. 8:2,16; 13:3; Jdgs. 2:22; II Chr. 32:31). Tests become either a stumbling block or a stepping stone.

"was offering up his only begotten son" The level of Abraham's faith is seen in his willingness to give back to God the child of promise he had waited for for thirteen years (cf. James 2:21).

The use of monogenēs ("only begotten") in relation to Isaac cannot mean "only begotten" since Abraham had other children. It surely means "the child of promise," "the unique child." This is also the meaning of John 3:16.

11:18 This is a quote from Gen. 21:12, which came before the test!

11:19 "raise men from the dead" Abraham expected Isaac to return with him (cf. Gen. 22:5). The text does not state how this would happen. Hebrews asserts that he may have expected a resuscitation.

"as a type" The author has been using the OT as a type or foreshadowing of current reality (cf. 9:9; 10:1; 11:19). Here the type seems to be that as Abraham offered the son of promise, so too, did God offer His Son as a demonstration of His love, mercy, and grace!

11:20 Isaac's blessing of his sons is found in Gen. 27:27ff, while Jacob's first blessing is in Gen. 48:14 for Joseph's sons and later his second blessing in Genesis 49 for his other sons. The blessing once given was not revocable. This is an example of how the author is treating OT history in a selective way (like Chronicles). He is only mentioning the positive aspects.

11:21 "leaning on the top of his staff" This is a quote from the Septuagint of Gen. 47:31. The Masoretic Hebrew Text has "bowed at the head of the bed." The Hebrew words for "bed" and "staff" have the same Hebrew consonants, (mth), only the later vowel points are different. From the OT context Jacob is somehow recognizing the fulfillment of Joseph's dream (cf. Gen. 37:5-11), thereby recognizing Joseph's civil authority through prophecy or acknowledging Joseph as a "deliverer" of His people, as Moses and Joshua and the coming Messiah.

11:22 "gave orders concerning his bones" They were to be carried out of Egypt and buried in the Promised Land after the exodus (cf. Gen. 50:24-25; Exod.13:19; Josh. 24:32).

 23By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict. 24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. 29By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.

11:23 "His parents" The Septuagint has "parents," while the Hebrew Masoretic Text has only "mother."

"because they saw he was a beautiful child" Jewish tradition says Moses was a physically beautiful child. What parent does not think their child is beautiful? But this is not the theological point. This was a special, God-sent child.

"they were not afraid of the king's edict" The author mentions this phrase with an eye toward his current readers (cf. v. 27).

11:24 "son of Pharaoh's daughter" This was an official Egyptian designation and title of authority.

11:25-26 Again the author makes a connection to the temptation facing his readers. They must keep their eyes on the future, sure promises of God, not on current circumstances. Loyalty to Christ is ultimate!

11:27 "left Egypt" This seems to refer to Moses' flight to Midian, not the Exodus (cf. Exod.2:14-15). Again the author is drawing a rather idealized picture of Moses' purpose.

"as seeing Him who is unseen" The Israelites believed that to see YHWH caused death, because of His holiness (cf. Gen. 16:13; 32:30; Exod.3:6; 33:17-23; Jdgs. 6:22-23; 13:22; I Kgs. 19:11-13; Acts 7:32).

11:28 This is an allusion to Exodus12. This last plague affected all of Egypt including the land of Goshen. Even the Hebrews had to obey God's instructions and act in faith in order to be spared the visitation of the death angel.

"firstborn" See Special Topic at 1:6.

▣ "he who destroyed" This refers to the Death Angel (cf. LXX, Exod.12:23; II Sam. 24:16-17).

11:29 This is a summary of the account found in Exod. 14:21ff..

 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.

11:30 "Jericho fell down" (cf. Josh. 6:20; II Cor. 10:4)

11:31 "Rahab the harlot" This Canaanite became a believer (James 2:25). It is even possible that she is the one listed in the line of the Messiah in Matt. 1:5.

 32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38(men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

11:32 "Gideon" (cf. Jdgs. 6-8)

"Barak" (cf. Jdgs. 4-5)

▣ "Jephthah" (cf. Jdgs. 11-12)

▣ "David" (cf. I Sam. 16:1)

"Samuel" (cf. I Sam. 1:20)

11:33 "Righteousness" See Special Topic at 1:9.

▣ "shut the mouths of lions" This could refer to Samson, David, Daniel, or an unknown event.

11:34 "quenched the power of fire" This reference to rescue from fire may refer specifically to Daniel 3 or to some other unknown historical event. There is even a possibility that this rescue is mentioned in I Cor. 13:3. However, there is a Greek manuscript problem related to I Cor. 13:3. The ancient Greek manuscripts P46, א, A, and B have "that I should boast" (kauchēsōmai) or C, D, F, G, K, and L have "that I should be burned" (kauthēsomai). The first has (1) the better manuscripts and (2) the term is used often by Paul.

▣ "from weakness were made strong" (cf. II Cor. 12:9)

11:35 "Women received back their dead by resurrection" Theologically speaking this is not resurrection, but resuscitation (cf. I Kgs. 17:17-23; II Kgs. 4:31-37). There has only been one resurrection that resulted in an eternal body, Jesus.

NRSV"a better resurrection"
TEV, NJB"a better life"

The reference is the honor and victory of a martyr's death. In the mystery of God's plan and will for this fallen planet some are physically restored (i.e., "women received back their dead by resurrection") and some are not. The first is great and wonderful, but the second is an even more powerful testimony of faith, faith to the end.

This may relate to spiritual rewards, but if it does the key is the heart of faith, not the circumstances of one's death. Believers are called on to live boldly for their faith (in YHWH and Jesus). The victory is their faithfulness! YHWH is faithful to His promises; Jesus is faithful in His actions; believers must be faithful in their walk of faith. For "better" see full note at 7:7.

11:36 "mockings and scourgings" This is possibly a reference to the Maccabean period (cf. I Mac. 1:62-64; 7:34; II Mac. 6:18-20; 7:1-42).

11:37 "They were stoned" Tradition says that Jeremiah was stoned in Egypt by the Jews. A priest (not the OT writer) named Zechariah is recorded as being stoned in II Chr. 24:20-21; Luke 11:51.

▣ "sawn in two" Tradition (Ascension of Isaiah 5:1-14) says that Isaiah was put into a hollow log and sawed in two by Manasseh's order.

"They were tempted" This seems a rather general statement amidst several very specific statements of persecution and torture. The ancient Papyrus manuscript P46 omits the phrase. Textual critics have conjectured that since the connected phrase "they were sawn in two" (epristhēsan) is very similar to this phrase "they were tempted" (epeirasthēan) that possibly a scribal addition occurred early in the textual traditions. There are many variations in the Greek manuscripts (order of the terms, tense of the terms). The United Bible Societies' fourth edition Greek text omits the phrase.

▣ "put to death with the sword" (i.e., I Kgs. 19:10,14; Jer. 2:30; 26:23).

11:38 This describes the terrible history of the persecution of God's followers. Why should the current readers be surprised at their persecutions?

 39And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

11:39 "having gained approval" This links back to v. 2 (cf. 2:11). Lives lived out in faith even amidst terrible circumstances, please God.

11:40 God's promises unite all believers of all ages, all races, all socio-economic strata, all educational levels (cf. Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). All these OT persons looked forward to God's new day. It has come in Christ at Bethlehem and will be consummated in Christ from heaven bursting open the eastern sky! His resurrection is the hope to which all believers, OT and NT, look forward in faith (cf. I John 3:2).

"better" See full note at 7:7.

"perfect" See full note at 10:1.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Define the Hebrew and Greek words for faith.

2. What do the words fiat and ex nihilo mean?

3. Does God test believers (cf. 11:17 versus James 1:13-14)?

4. Is there special honor for persecution? Are all Christians persecuted?

5. Why does the author of Hebrews write this roll call of faith?


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