Probably, the most comprehensive definition of faith given in scripture is found in the Hebrews letter: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” ( Heb. 11:1 ). The phrases“things hoped for” and “things not seen” have thrown many people who misunderstand what is meant by those words. They see faith as a belief without merit. They see those phrases as describing faith itself to be the only evidence, hope and substance, and since their personal understanding of faith is simply a belief, then they see Christian faith as being baseless.
What they miss is the true statement of the verse as a whole. Instead of focusing primarily on the phrases “things hoped for” and “things not seen,” they should zero in on the words “substance” and “evidence.” When those words are properly understood, any perceived problem with the following phrases vanishes.
Notice some other translations of the Greek rendered “substance” inHeb. 11:1 . The ASV, NASV and NASB all translate as follows:“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for…” The NIV reads,“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for…” The concept communicated by the word assurance is not the idea of a baseless wish. Similarly, being sure is exactly the opposite of a blind leap in the dark based on some unfounded and unrealistic hope.
The same word is found in Heb. 1:3 where Christ is described as “the express image of His (God’s) person …” The ASV actually translates the word in that text as “ substance .” The NIV renders it “His being ,”and the NASV and NASB have it, “the divine essence of God…” These terms convey certainty and reality.
The second word used in Heb. 11:1 to define faith is “evidence.” It is translated “conviction” in the ASV, NASV and NASB and “certain”in the NIV. Certainly, the idea of evidence is one of facts, proof or demonstration upon which something is shown to be either true or false. Or, it can refer to the conviction arrived at within the mind of an individual upon seeing the facts demonstrated. This understanding fits exactly Paul’s statement that true faith is arrived at upon reading, understanding and believing the facts brought out in God’s word ( Rom. 10:17 ). Paul was consistent, using that very line of reasoning, in pointing out the evidence of God’s existence through observation of the creation itself. Any inmate in any prison can give a succinct definition of evidence .
“Things hoped for” needs to be understood from the biblical perspective of hope . It is not simply a wish, a desire or a dream. As used in scripture, hope certainly conveys the idea of a desire , but it isdesire coupled with assurance . The longing is there, to be sure, but that longing is not left hanging in the wind, on its own. It is combined with the confident expectation that God will stand behind His promises. Its sureness is described as “an anchor of the soul” ( Heb. 6:19 ).
When these basics within the text of Heb. 11:1 are properly understood, the rich meaning of true New Testament faith comes alive. No wonder it is likened to a mighty shield with which we “will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” ( Eph. 6:16 ). Truly, through such faith we can stand steadfast…
Gary L. Hutchens