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Hebrews12; The roll-call of Faith

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posted on Mar, 24 2017 @ 06:02 PM
The epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, perhaps to a specific Jewish church.
The message of the letter is that Christ has brought “completeness”.
That is, God is making available, through him, a much greater and more decisive revelation than anything they have received from him previously

This argument comes to a climax in the tenth chapter, where the writer shows how the self-offering of Christ has brought forgiveness of sin.
He has “entered the heavenly sanctuary” on our behalf.
For this reason, his readers should not allow themselves to fall away from their commitment to Christ, and their trust in what he has achieved for their benefit.
They must remain firm in their faith.

He backs up this conclusion, in the eleventh chapter, by demonstrating the central importance of Faith even under the old covenant, the one which they have always known.

He begins with a definition of Faith.
He calls it “the conviction of things unseen” (ch11 v1)
In my understanding, the essence of faith is trust, and a willingness to trust in what cannot be seen is one aspect of that.
This is partly about the existence of a world which cannot be seen with physical eyes.
But there’s also a particular emphasis on what cannot be seen yet, because it remains in the future.
So he also describes faith as the assurance or substance [HYPOSTASIS] of things which are hoped for.

The writer then takes examples of faith out of the Old Testament, from the beginning of the world to the arrival of the people in the promised land.

Faith determines our understanding of Creation.
That the world was created by the word of God, with the result that we have a visible world which was NOT made out of things which are visible.

Faith made it possible for Abel to offer a sacrifice which God found more acceptable than the sacrifice of Cain, one which demonstrated his righteousness (v4)
By faith, also, he still “speaks” after his death, as we know from God’s reply to Cain (Genesis ch4 v10).

By faith, Enoch was “taken” by God and avoided physical death (v5).
Another important point has to be noticed about Enoch. He is said to have “pleased God”. That, in itself, is evidence of faith, because he could not have pleased God without it.
Indeed, nobody would even want to please God unless they first believed that God exists, and such a belief is faith.
In other words, whatever the relationship between faith and obedience to God, faith necessarily comes first in order of time.

Similarly, Noah was building the ark by faith, because he trusted what God told him about the things to come (v7)
That is how he became “an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith”.

The common factor in the examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah, is that righteousness is combined with different forms of “continuing life”.

Examples of faith relating to the promise to Abraham;
When he was called to go out to the place of his inheritance, he obeyed, not knowing where he was going.
Even when he was living in the place of his inheritance, the consummated inheritance lay still in the future.
He was obliged to continue looking forward to the future city- not the physical Jerusalem, but a Jerusalem made directly by God himself.
And the faith of Sarah enabled her to conceive a son, and fulfil the promise of many descendants, who would occupy that inheritance (vv8-12).

All these patriarchs were, in effect, taking the whole world around them to be a place of temporary residence.
They were looking forwards, to life in “a better country”, a heavenly country (vv13-16).

Further examples of faith in looking towards the future;
When Abraham was instructed to offer up Isaac, the instruction seemed to contradict the promise that he would have many descendants through Isaac.
Nevertheless, he acted in obedience, which was another demonstration of his faith.
In effect, he showed his confidence that God could raise men from the dead.
Therefore he did, in a sense, receive Isaac “back from the dead”.
Isaac and Jacob delivered blessings, and the act of “blessing” is in itself an expression of confidence in the future.
While Joseph’s instructions about his tomb declared, by faith, that his people would return to the land of the inheritance (vv17-22).

In each case, faith challenged the natural expectation.
In the case of Abraham, that the dead remain dead.
In the case of Isaac and Jacob, that the more valuable blessing goes to the elder son (symbolising those who are “great” in the eyes of the world).
In the case of Joseph, that the Israelites would be firmly settled in Egypt.

Examples of faith in the life of Moses, which established the covenant of the Law;
His parents, hiding him.
Moses himself, choosing to identify with God’s people rather than be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
Then leaving Egypt, trusting in the God who cannot be seen.
Finally getting his people to sprinkle the Passover blood, on the instructions of the same God (vv23-28).

In each of these examples, faith was overcoming fear.
His parents were not afraid to resist the king’s demand that Israelite children should be killed.
Moses was not afraid to share the abusive treatment which the Israelites were receiving, and thus experience “the reproach of Christ”. He knew that the treasures of Egypt had no value in comparison with the inheritance which was promised.
He was not intimidated by the king’s wrath, as he prepared to take the people out of the land.
And he was not afraid of the destroying power unleashed by the Lord upon Egypt, because he knew the Lord would protect them.

Finally, three more acts of faith took the people into the promised land; the crossing of the Red Sea, the obedient action around the walls of Jericho, and the trustfulness of Rahab (the Gentile brought into God’s people).

Once they come into the land, a summary has to suffice for the rest of Israel’s history (vv32-38)
Briefly, everything that was achieved by leaders and prophets was achieved through their faith.
The climax of the list, the most important achievement, is that “women received their dead through resurrection” (probably referring to the successful faith of Elijah in 1 Kings ch17).
There were others who suffered for the Lord, just as the early church had suffered.
Again they were supported by their faith.
They would accept even torture, “that they might rise again to a better life”.

Why did these people not attain what had been promised to them?
Because they were waiting for us! (vv39-40)
God was planning a climax, in which we were meant to be included, and therefore it was fitting that God’s people should not be brought to perfection [TELEIOTHOSIN] without our participation.

posted on Mar, 24 2017 @ 06:03 PM
How James responded (perhaps) to Hebrews ch11

A comparison of this chapter with the words of James makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that James was acquainted with this letter, or at least with this eleventh chapter.

In this chapter we read “And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (v6)
In James we read “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe- and shudder” (James ch2 v19).
In both cases, the topic is “believing something about God”.
The two arguments might appear to be in conflict, but only at first glance.
In Hebrews, the point is that believing God exists is the minimum that is necessary to please God (for without that belief, nobody would bother to try to please him).
In James, the point is that believing God exists is not the maximum that is necessary- that belief needs to become trust, which is true faith, and the faith needs to be acted out.
If James thought he was correcting the statement in Hebrews, that would have been the result of misunderstanding the statement in Hebrews.

In this chapter we read “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and when he received the promises was ready to offer up his only son” (v17).
In James we read “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (James ch2 v21)
The two arguments might appear to be in conflict, but only at first glance.
In Hebrews, the point is that the act of Abraham necessarily began with faith.
In James, the point is that the faith was then acted out in obedience.
Faith and obedience are both needed, but faith comes first in order of time.

In this chapter we read “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies” (v31).
In James we read “And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot justified by her works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (J25).
Again, the two arguments might appear to be in conflict, but only at first glance.
In Hebrews, the point is that the act of Rahab necessarily began with faith.
In James, the point is that the faith was then acted out in obedience.
Faith and obedience are both needed, but faith comes first in order of time.

It can hardly be a coincidence that both examples chosen by James to illustrate “justified by works” come from the list in this chapter- roughly speaking, the beginning and the end of the main account. The choice of Rahab is particularly remarkable, since it is far from being one of the more prominent stories of the Old Testament.
It looks as though James is deliberately re-presenting these illustrations in order to shift the emphasis.

One more parallel may as well be cited.
In a previous chapter of Hebrews, the elementary teachings were said to include “repentance from dead works” (ch6 v1).
While the “faith and works” passage in James is completed by the challenging claim “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (ch2 v26).
I suggest that “dead works” in Hebrews alludes to an otherwise unknown slogan “works apart from faith are dead”, which might have inspired what we find in James.
This appears to be confirmed by the metaphor of “body and spirit”.
The version we find in James implicitly identifies works with the spirit, but it is much more natural, surely, to take the two elements the other way round; Faith is the spirit that moves the actions of the body.
I think we have to recognise, then, that the latter version must have been the original form, which James was deliberately reversing.

In a previous thread series, I set out the analysis which led me to the conclusion that James must have been familiar with Galatians.
It is well-known that both letters quote the text “Abraham believed God. and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Genesis ch15 v6), and I argued that James was consciously responding to Paul’s interpretation.
I also found very close parallels between the teaching of James and passages found in Galatians ch5, which James was apparently re-writing in his own preferred language.

Looking in particular at the parallels of James ch2; if there is one set of material shared by James and Paul, and another set of material shared by James and Hebrews, how is this to be explained?
It seems unlikely that the writer of Galatians and the writer of Hebrews read the letter of James and decided to react to different parts of the same chapter.
The more plausible supposition, to my mind, is the James was reading, and combining his reactions to, both the other two letters.
Obviously that conclusion has implications for the dating of all three letters, because the letter of James would then have to be the last in the sequence.

edit on 24-3-2017 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 24 2017 @ 06:04 PM
Incidentally, this is the twelfth thread in the series.
Before anyone starts objecting that the number in the title is wrong.

posted on Mar, 26 2017 @ 12:11 PM
There will be an Index thread for this series once we get to the end of the letter.
Maundy Thursday, I think.

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