Thursday, June 02, 2005

The danger of substantial faith - pt 2

As stated, I have always had a problem with the misuse of Hebrews 11.1, a misuse given legs by misunderstandings implicit in the English translations themselves. This series of posts is an attempt to get at the truth.

The task before me progresses in three stages. First, I listed the three major groups of English translations as they present the text of Hebrews 11.1. In this post, I turn to the Greek text and provide both a translation and an accompanying paragraph or two of simple historical and contextual exegesis which will serve as a platform for comparison with the aforementioned English translations. This comparison will then be used to construct a conclusion based in dialogue with Paul's description of the faith of Abraham in Romans chapter 4.

The Greek text of Hebrews 11.1 is as follows:

Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων.(NA26)

which I translate:

Now faith is that state of being which results from being made absolutely certain that the things hoped for will be obtained, and this apart from being given the whole truth about them. [1]

What we have here is not a complete statement, but one coming on the heels of some previous discussion (and for this reason alone, its continued citation as "the definition of faith" is irritating.) Now, the author of Hebrews writes to encourage his readers - either Jews themselves or well-informed Gentile God-Fearers - to persevere despite persecution. In order to follow the rhetorical flow in which verse 11.1 sits, one has to go back to Chapter 2.1, 18: "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away," and "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Note, too, the warning in verse 3, "how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" These three elements: not drifting away from sound teaching; taking comfort in Christ's co-suffering; and warning against apostacy, come together in a dense, multi-layered doxology.

more to come...

[1] I am well aware that my translation sounds too philosophical and complex, as if I'm padding it to support my own preconceived opinion. Not so. Rather, the Greek itself is quite complex, referring both to a singular reality (our experience) and to the plurality of God's promises. We are certain. They are hoped for. We are convinced. They are being accomplished, and yet are unseen. The three participles - hoped for, being certain of and unseen - are passive. We aren't hoping, we are being given to hope. We aren't certain, but are being given certainty. We aren't not seeing, but are being kept from seeing, or not being allowed to see. Further, these are in the present tense, meaning that the action they describe is ongoing, describing the ongoing living of our everyday life. Combined with the modal verb "to be", which also suggests the ongoing and habitual, I felt it best to posit faith as a state of being, or, going one further, a state of human being-ness.

[2 (or some other number)] "Men are also admonished that here the term "faith" does not signify merely the knowledge of the history, such as is in the ungodly and in the devil, but signifies a faith which believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history—namely, this article: the forgiveness of sins, to wit, that we have grace, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins through Christ....the term 'faith' is accepted in the Scriptures not for knowledge such as is in the ungodly but for confidence which consoles and encourages the terrified mind." Augsburg Confession XX.23, 26
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Cf. the previous post in this series: The danger of substantial faith - pt 1

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