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Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Spring 2017

 

Study Theme:  VICTORY

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus for this week's study is on looking specifically at how victory comes through faith.

 

Mar. 05

Jesus, Our Victor

 

Mar. 12

Victorious Hope

 

Mar. 19

Victory Over Sin

X

Mar. 26

Victorious Faith

 

April 02

Victory Over Fear

 

April 09

Victory Shared

 

April 16

He Is Risen

 

LIFE IMPACT:

My faith in God makes me victorious.

FOCAL PASSAGE:

Hebrews 11:1-6

LESSON OUTLINE:

I.    

II.

III.

Faith Lead Us To Trust and Rely on God (Heb. 11:1-3)

Faith Responds in Worship to God (Heb. 11:4)

Faith Responds with Obedience (Heb. 11:5-6)

THE SETTING:  

  The Epistle to the Hebrews has some mystery to it in that the author is not identified by name and the identity of the Hebrew recipients is not clear.  Opinions vary on both points.  While we may refer to it as an epistle, it lacks some features of first-century letter writing, such as an opening subscription.  The document does include some closing comments as a letter, but overall the literary style is that of a theological sermon.  Throughout is a challenge to the readers to be faithful by living by faith.

Chapter 11 is perhaps the most well-known chapter on the book.  Since faith is required for the new covenant to become efficacious in the life of the believer, understanding what faith is and how it works is essential.  In chapter 11, the writer provides a definition of faith and offers a roll call of the victorious faithful of the past who have lived by faith in God and His promises.  In this study, we will consider three characteristics of victorious faith.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

INTRODUCTION:

Faith is only as good as its object.  Many people have faith in their old car.  They think, ‘I believe this car will get through another year.  But on the way to an important out-of-town meeting, it happens—it dies on the highway.  Faith is not a hopeful wish.  It must be placed in something that is worthy of that faith.

Like blindly optimistic car owners, Christians place their faith in many things.  Some place their faith in pastors, but then the pastor lets them down and their hopes are dashed.  Others put their faith in themselves, but they have trouble living up to their own standards.  Some put faith in friends.  Others put their faith in their jobs or their families or their churches.  While all of these objects of faith are important in our lives, they are not worthy of our faith.  The only object of our faith that is worthy is God.  He alone deserves our faith.  He alone is completely trustworthy.  Unlike the old car, He never breaks down.  The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to put their faith in God!

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

I.

Faith Lead Us To Trust and Rely on God (Heb. 11:1-3)

1 Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 2 For by it our ancestors won God’s approval.3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.   What are some things you can’t see but you know are there?

2.   How would you describe the relationship between faith and proof or evidence (v. 3)?

3.   How is faith defined in verse 1?

4.   How would you describe what faith is not?

5.   What does the word reality mean in relation to faith (v. 1)?

6.   What does the word proof mean in relation to faith (v. 1)? 

7.   In your own words, how would you describe what faith is? (see “Faith” in Digging Deeper and article “Faith” in Additional Background Reading.)

8.   What do you think it means that the ancestor won God’s approval (v. 2)?

9.   What do you think faith really does for the believer?

10.   What do you hope for? (see Heb. 10:23-23; 35-39 for comparison.)

11.   Why does my faith in God makes me victorious?  Explain your answer!  Victorious over what?

12.   How would you explain “Faith” to a non-believer?

13.   What do we know about the faith of our ancestors (v. 2)?  (See all of Hebrews 11, especially vv. 39-40.)

14.   Why is trust in people difficult to earn, and easy to lose?

15.   Do you think reflecting on creation enhances one’s faith?  If so, how?

16.   Why do you think faith causes us to accept the way God created the universe (v. 3)?

17.   How do you think the creation around us can fuel our faith in an unseen God?  (see Rom. 1:19-20.)

18.   What compels you to have faith in God even though you’ve never seen Him?

 

Lasting Lessons in Heb. 11:1-3:

1.  Faith sees what cannot be seen with the human eye.

2.  God loves to see faith in His children.

3.  Even creation itself requires faith in a Creator.

 

II.

Faith Responds in Worship to God (Heb. 11:4)

4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.

1.   What’s the difference between Cain’s and Abel’s sacrifices?

2.   Why do you think that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s?

3.   Do you think faith played a role in this?  Explain your answer!

4.   Why did Cain kill his brother in a jealous rage?

5.   What part do you think attitude played in the brother’s offerings? (see John 3:12; Jude 10-11; Gen. 4:6-7.)

6.   What do you think makes attitude an important part of a believer’s offering to God? 

7.    What part does faith play in the attitude we bring when we come to worship God?

8.   Why do you think were the reasons Abel was approved as a righteous and his gifts were accepted?  (see Advanced Commentary for this verse.)

9.   What is the relationship between faith and genuine worship?

10.   What do you think constitutes a “sacrificial” offering?

11.   What makes a “sacrificial”  offering acceptable to God?

12.   Why do you think the heart of a worshiper speaks to future generations?

 

Lasting Lessons in Heb. 11:4:

1.  A sacrifice of worship requires a heart in tune with God.

2.  Faith is required for God to accept our gifts.

3.  The heart of a worshiper speaks to future generations.

 

III.

Faith Responds with Obedience (Heb. 11:5-6)

5 By faith Enoch was taken away, and so he did not experience death. He was not to be found because God took him away. For before he was taken away, he was approved as one who pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

1.   Who was Enoch and what do we know about him (v. 5)?  (see Digging Deeper and article Enoch  A Portrait of Faith.)

2.   Why did Enoch not experience death (v. 5)?

3.   What type of faith did Enoch have that was pleasing to God? (see Advanced Commentary for this verse.)

4.   How would you describe the kind of faith that pleases God?

5.   Why is not possible to please God without faith?

6.   What do you think believers can learn from the example of Enoch’s faith? (see Advanced Commentary.)

7.   How do you think Enoch’s life shows that we don’t have the answers for how to trust God and act on His Word?

8.   Why is faith necessary for pleasing God?

9.   Why is it impossible to please God without faith?

10.   What two conditions must exist for a person to believe God (v. 6)? (see Advanced Commentary)

11.   What must believers do over time to be closer to God?

12.   What do you think are the characteristics of a person who walks with God?

13.   What does Hebrews 11:39-40 add to this discussion?

14.   How can we have the type of faith that makes us victorious?

15.   Do we really faithfully worship God by surrendering our best gifts, including our time, talent, and treasure, to Him with Joy?

16.   In summary, what does it mean to you to live a life of faith?

 

Lasting Lessons in Heb. 11:5-6:

1.  We please God when we live a life of faith.

2.  Belief in God’s existence is required for faith.

3.  Belief in God’s goodness is required for faith.

 

CONCLUSION:

  Hebrews 11:1 is the closest the Bible comes to providing a complete definition of faith.  Faith gives reality to the hope we have in the Lord and assurance that what He promises, we can count on!  The Scriptures are filled with story after story of men and women who demonstrated that kind of faith.  Their examples remind us how practical faith is even in the most difficult of times.  More important than memorizing a comprehensive, well-worded, intellectual definition of faith is acting out faith in our relationship to God and in the manner in which we live.

So, the question is, how strong is your faith?  Does your life demonstrate a faith that pleases God?  Does your daily lifestyle demonstrate that you are faithfully walking with God?  On a scale of 1 (sometimes) to 10 (in step), how would you rate your faithful walk with God?  Want to walk closer with our Lord?  Ask Him to help you to develop a closer walk with Him.  He will!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.

 

Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

FOCAL PASSAGE: 

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:  Hebrews 11:1-6

Hebrews 11:1-6 (KJV)

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. 4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. 5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

 

New King James Version:  Hebrews 11:1-6

Hebrews 11:1-6 (NKJV)

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But 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 diligently seek Him.

 

New Living Translation:   Hebrews 11:1-6

Hebrews 11:1-6 (NLT)

1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. 2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. 3 By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. 4 It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith. 5 It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. 6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

 

 (NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament,Believer's Bible Commentary,The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and “Advanced Bible Study Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

 

Lesson Outline — “Victorious Faith” — Hebrews 11:1-6

I.

II.

III.

Faith Lead Us To Trust and Rely on God (Heb. 11:1-3)

Faith Responds in Worship to God (Heb. 11:4)

Faith Responds with Obedience (Heb. 11:5-6)

COMMENTARY:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament:  Hebrews 11:1-6

Faith:  The preceding section introduced the thought of faith, and the subject is now continued in one of the classic treatments of the topic. In a passage of great eloquence and power, the author unfolds some of his thoughts on this most important subject for Christians. He is sometimes criticized for failing to convey the idea of warm personal faith in Jesus Christ that means so much to Paul. Such criticisms are, however, beside the point. Granted that the author does not follow the thoughts of Paul, yet what he says is both true and important in its own right. Nor is it of any less value because it is not what another would have said had he written at the same length on the same subject. The writer does not contrast faith with works as Paul sometimes does, nor does he treat it as the means of receiving justification. Instead, he treats faith not so much with reference to the past (what God has done in Christ) as to the future. He sees faith as that trust in God that enables the believer to press on steadfastly whatever the future holds for him. He knows that God is to be relied on implicitly. So the writer’s method is to select some of the great ones in the history of the people of God and to show briefly how faith motivated all of them and led them forward, no matter how difficult the circumstances. The result is a great passage that not only encouraged his readers but also has encouraged hosts of Christians through the ages.

The Meaning of Faith (11:1-3)

The chapter begins with some general observations on the nature of faith. They do not constitute a formal definition; rather, the writer is calling attention to some significant features of faith. Then he proceeds to show how faith works out in practice.

11:1.  In the Greek the verb “is” (estin) is the first word. Faith is a present and continuing reality. It is not simply a virtue sometimes practiced in antiquity. It is a living thing, a way of life the writer wishes to see continued in the practice of his readers. Faith, he tells us, is a hypostasis of things hoped for. The term has evoked lively discussion. Sometimes it has a subjective meaning, as in 3:14 where NIV translates it as “confidence.” But it may also be used more objectively, and KJV understands it that way in this passage by translating it as “substance.” This would mean that things that have no reality in themselves are made real (given “substance”) by faith. But this does not seem to be what the writer is saying. Rather, his meaning is that there are realities for which we have no material evidence though they are not the less real for that. Faith enables us to know that they exist and, while we have no certainty apart from faith, faith does give us genuine certainty. “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for” (TEV). Faith is the basis, the substructure (hypostasis means lit. “that which stands under”) of all that the Christian life means, all that the Christian hopes for.

There is a further ambiguity about the word elenchos, which usually signifies a “proof” or “test.” It may be used as a legal term with a meaning like “cross examining” (LSJ, s.v.). Some take it here as “test” and some see its legal use, while many prefer to understand it in much the same sense as the preceding expression (e.g., NIV). This may well be the right way to take it, though “test” is far from impossible. The meaning would then be that faith, in addition to being the basis of all that we hope for, is that by which we test things unseen. We have no material way of assessing the significance of the immaterial. But Christians are not helpless. They have faith and by this they test all things. “What we do not see” excludes the entire range of visible phenomena, which here stand for all things earthly. Faith extends beyond what we learn from our senses, and the author is saying that it has its reasons. Its tests are not those of the senses, which yield uncertainty.

11:2.  “The ancients” more strictly means “the elders” (hoi presbyteroi), a term that may be used of age or dignity. Here it refers to the religious leaders of past days and means much the same as “the forefathers” in 1:1. These men had witness borne to them (emartyrethesan) on account of their faith. As this chapter unfolds, the writer will go on to bring out some of that testimony and link the heroes of old specifically with faith. This is an example of a type of literature that recurs in antiquity. A well-known example is the passage in Ecclesiasticus, which begins, “Let us now praise famous men” (44:1-50:21). But this chapter in Hebrews is distinguished from all others by its consistent emphasis on faith. Other writers see a variety of reasons for the success of those they describe. Here in Hebrews one thing and one thing only is stressed—faith. Single-mindedly the author concentrates on that one splendid theme.

11:3.  “By faith” runs through the chapter with compelling emphasis. For the most part it is attached to the deeds of the great ones of previous generations. Here, however, the writer and his readers are involved in the “we.” Faith is a present reality, not exclusively the property of past heroes. Faith gives us convictions about creation. Belief in the existence of the world is not faith, nor is it faith when men hold that the world was made out of some preexisting “stuff.” (In the first century there were people who did not believe in God but who held to some kind of “creation.”) But when we understand that it was the Word of God (“God’s command,” NIV) that produced all things, that is faith. The emphasis on God’s word agrees with Genesis 1, with its repeated “And God said.” The point is emphasized with the explicit statement that the visible did not originate from the visible. For the author the visible universe is not sufficient to account for itself. But it is faith, not something material, that assures him that it originated with God. His view is none the less certain because it is based on faith, and he does not qualify his statement as though any doubt were possible. This world is God’s world, and faith assures him that God originated it.

The Faith of the Men Before the Flood (11:4-6)

The author proceeds to demonstrate the universality of faith in those God approves. He selects a number of men and women universally regarded among the Jews as especially outstanding (though we cannot always see why he has chosen one and not another). He begins by looking to remote antiquity and showing that faith was manifested in the lives of certain great men who lived before the Flood.

11:4. The first example of faith is Abel, who brought God a more acceptable sacrifice than did his brother Cain (Gen 4:3-7). Bruce (in loc.) canvasses a number of opinions as to the reasons for the superiority of Abel’s offering: it was living, whereas Cain’s was lifeless; it was stronger, Cain’s weaker; it grew spontaneously, Cain’s by human ingenuity; it involved blood, Cain’s did not. But all such suggestions seem wide of the mark. Scripture never says there was anything inherently superior in Abel’s offering. It may be relevant that there are some references to Abel as being a righteous man (Matt 23:35; 1 John 3:12), while the author of Hebrews insists on the importance of Abel’s faith. Abel was right with God and his offering was a demonstration of his faith.

Once again, NIV’s “commended” represents the passive of the verb “to witness”: “it was witnessed” or “testified” that he was righteous (cf. v. 1). This is explained as that God “bore witness” to (NIV, “spoke well of”) his offerings. This indicates the importance the author attached to Abel’s sacrifice offered in faith, for very rarely is God said to have borne witness. The meaning may be either that on the basis of Abel’s sacrifice God testified to his servant or that God bore witness about the gifts Abel offered. We should probably accept NIV’s “And by faith he still speaks,” though the Greek is simply “through it,” where “it” might refer either to “sacrifice” or to “faith.” Whichever way we resolve this problem, the main point is that Abel is not to be thought of as one long-since dead and of no present account. He is dead, but his faith is a living voice.

11:5.  In Jewish apocalyptic thought, Enoch was a very popular figure, and several books are ascribed to him. But in the NT he figures only in Luke 3:37, Jude 14, and here. The Hebrew OT says nothing of the manner of his departure from this life, only that God “took” him (Gen 5:24). But the author follows LXX in speaking of him as “transferred,” which indicates that he did not die, a truth made explicit in the words “he did not experience death.”

The passive of the verb “to find” (heurisko) is sometimes used with the meaning “no longer be found, despite a thorough search = disappear” (BAG, s.v.). The author follows this up with the active metetheken (lit., “God transferred him”) instead of the passive metetethe he used previously, a change that brings out the divine initiative. There is an air of permanence about the use of the perfect of this verb. There was no going back on it. For the fourth time in this chapter NIV avoids translating the verb martyreo with “witness” or “testify,” preferring “he was commended.” But this must be understood to mean that testimony was borne to him, the content of the testimony being that he was “one who pleased God” (Gen 5:22, 24, LXX).

11:6.  Though the OT does not say that Enoch had faith, the author goes on to explain why he can speak of it so confidently. It is impossible to please God without faith, and Enoch pleased God. Thus it is clear that he had faith. Notice that the author lays it down with the greatest of emphasis that faith is absolutely necessary. He does not say simply that without faith it is difficult to please God; he says that without faith it is impossible to please him! There is no substitute for faith. He goes on to lay down two things required in the worshiper (“anyone who comes to him” renders the participle of the verb proserchomai, used, as in 10:1, of one who comes near in worship). First, he must believe that God exists. This is basic. Without it there is no possibility of faith at all. But it is not enough of itself. After all, the demons can know that sort of faith (James 2:19). There must also be a conviction about God’s moral character, belief “that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” As Barclay puts it, “We must believe, not only that God exists, but also that God cares” (in loc.). Without that deep conviction, faith in the biblical sense is not a possibility.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers

 

Believer's Bible Commentary: Hebrews 11:1-6

11:1. This chapter deals with the vision and endurance of faith. It introduces us to men and women of the OT who had 20/20 spiritual vision and who endured tremendous shame and suffering rather than renounce their faith.

Verse 1 is not really a formal definition of faith; rather it is a description of what faith does for us. It makes things hoped for as real as if we already had them, and it provides unshakable evidence that the unseen, spiritual blessings of Christianity are absolutely certain and real. In other words, it brings the future within the present and makes the invisible seen.

Faith is confidence in the trustworthiness of God. It is the conviction that what God says is true and that what He promises will come to pass.

Faith must have some revelation from God, some promise of God as its foundation. It is not a leap in the dark. It demands the surest evidence in the universe, and finds it in the word of God. It is not limited to possibilities but invades the realm of the impossible. Someone has said, "Faith begins where possibilities end. If it's possible, then there's no glory for God in it."

Faith, mighty faith the promise sees,

And looks to God alone;

Laughs at impossibilities

And cries, "It shall be done."

Author unknown.

There are difficulties and problems in the life of faith. God tests our faith in the crucible to see if it is genuine (1 Pet. 1:7). But, as George Müller said, "Difficulties are food for faith to feed on."

11:2. Because they walked by faith and not by sight, the OT worthies received divine approval. The rest of this chapter is an illustration of how God has borne witness to them.

11:3.  Faith provides us with the only factual account of creation. God is the only One who was there; He tells us how it happened. We believe His word and thus we know. McCue states: "The conception of God pre-existent to matter and by His fiat calling it into being is beyond the domain of reason or demonstration. It is simply accepted by an act of faith."

By faith we understand. The world says, "Seeing is believing." God says, "Believing is seeing." Jesus said to Martha, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see..." (John 11:40). The Apostle John wrote, "These things I have written to you who believe... that you may know" (1 Jn. 5:13). In spiritual matters faith precedes understanding.

The worlds were framed by the word of God. God spoke and matter came into being. This agrees perfectly with man's discovery that matter is essentially energy. When God spoke, there was a flow of energy in the form of sound waves. These were transformed into matter, and the world sprang into being.

The things which are seen were not made out of things which are visible. Energy is invisible; so are atoms, and molecules, and gases to the naked eye, yet in combination they become visible.

The fact of creation as set forth here in Hebrews 11:3 is unimpeachable. It has never been improved on and never will.

11:4.  Adam and Eve are bypassed in the honor roll of faith. When Eve had to decide whether God or Satan was telling the truth, she decided that Satan was. However, this does not deny that they were subsequently saved by faith, as pictured by the coats of skin.

Abel must have had some revelation that sinful man can approach God only on the ground of shed blood. Perhaps he learned this from his parents who were restored to fellowship with God only after He had clothed them with the skins of animals (Gen. 3:21). At any rate, he exhibited faith by approaching God with the blood of a sacrifice. Cain's sacrifice was one of vegetables or fruit and was therefore bloodless. Abel illustrates the truth of salvation by grace through faith. Cain pictures man's futile attempt to save himself by good works.

George Cutting points out that "it was not the personal excellence of Abel that God looked at in counting him righteous, but the excellence of the sacrifice that he brought and his faith in it." And so it is with us: we are not justified because of our character or good works, but solely because of the excellence of the sacrifice of Christ and our acceptance of Him.

Abel was killed by Cain because law hates grace. Self-righteous man hates the truth that he cannot save himself and that he must cast himself on the love and mercy of God.

But Abel's testimony is perpetuated: Through his faith he still speaks. There is a sense in which faith enables a man's vocal chords to go on functioning long after his body is lying in the grave.

11:5. Sometime during his life Enoch must have received a promise from God that he would go to heaven without dying. Up to that time everyone had died—sooner or later. There was no record of anyone ever having been taken away without dying. But God promised and Enoch believed. It was the most sane, rational thing that Enoch could do; what is more reasonable than that the creature should believe his Creator?

And so it happened! Enoch walked with the invisible God for three hundred years (Gen. 5:21-24) and then he walked into eternity. Before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. The life of faith always pleases God; He loves to be trusted.

11:6.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him. No amount of good works can compensate for lack of faith. After all is said and done, when a man refuses to believe God, he is calling Him a liar. "He who does not believe God has made Him a liar" (1 Jn. 5:10), and how can God be pleased by people who call Him a liar?

Faith is the only thing that gives God His proper place, and puts man in his place too. "It glorifies God exceedingly," writes C. H. Mackintosh, "because it proves that we have more confidence in His eyesight that in our own."

Faith not only believes that God exists, but it also trusts Him to reward those who diligently seek Him. There is nothing about God that makes it impossible for men to believe. The difficulty is with the human will.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.

 

The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Hebrews 11:1-6

11:1. The danger about which the inspired writer warned springs from the sin of unbelief. The antidote for this dread poison is faith. First of all a brief description of faith is given in verses 1-3. The word translated "substance" is hupostasis; it could also be translated "essence" or "confidence." It is modified by the phrase "of things hoped for." Its best meaning seems to be that faith is that which underlies the inheritance which believers expect to receive. Secondly, the writer declares that faith is the evidence which gives proof of the existence of the unseen world.

11:2,3.  In these verses two more characteristics of faith are given:

(1) It is the means by which the elders (the Old Testament heroes of faith discussed in this chapter) gained their favorable testimonies.

(2) It is the means by which believers are able to understand the world which is seen and to grasp its relationship to the unseen world.

11:4. Verses 4-7 present faith as the means by which Abel, Enoch, and Noah were declared righteous. This brief section emphasizes the necessity of faith as the means of pleasing God and stresses the resultant righteousness displayed in the lives of these three men of faith.

As to Abel, many have inferred that his sacrifice was acceptable because it was a blood offering. He brought an offering from his flock while Cain presented one from his field.

However, this difference in the two sacrifices stands out as only one among others. Further, God later permitted even a sin offering that was bloodless. The poorest of the poor could sacrifice a handful of flour for his sins and find favor with the Lord. As God explained to Moses, "But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering" (Leviticus 5:11). Recognizing this, the writer of Hebrews declared, "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood" (9:22). Under the inspiration of the Spirit, though, he went on to rightly place the emphasis on blood sacrifice. He wrote, "And without shedding of blood is no remission" (ibid.).

The offerings of Cain and Abel also contained qualitative differences. Pleiona, translated "more excellent," simply means "more" in some qualitative sense. Genesis indicates Abel carefully selected "of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof" (Genesis 4:4) while Cain simply "brought of the fruit of the ground" whatever his hand happened to find (Genesis 4:3). Still, the most important difference between Cain and Abel in their worship to God concerns the element of faith. Hebrews makes clear what Genesis only implies. The significant things is Abel offered his sacrifice "by faith." That faith demonstrated itself as he presented a first-class blood offering. The Lord counted his faith as righteousness. The inspired record of this incident still testifies to Abel's life of faith. That life serves as an example for others of all times.

11:5. These comments on Enoch follow the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Masoretic text. In Genesis 5:24 the English Old Testament translated from the Hebrew reads: "He was not; for God took him." The Septuagint says Enoch "was not found, because God had translated him" and "he pleased God." Neither text expressly mentions faith. Since faith is the only means by which sinful men can please God, Enoch must have lived a life characterized by faith, because the Scriptures declare his life was pleasing to God. Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint indicate that God did not take Enoch in death but by a miraculous removal from this life which changed him from a mortal man to an immortal. Since the Bible says "Enoch walked with God" (Genesis 5:22,24), it is clear that he was a man of faith. God's Word testifies to Enoch's God-pleasing obedience. Habakkuk 2:4 provides the link between faith and God's being pleased with men (Hebrews 10:38).

The Bible never separates faith from obedience. Indeed, Paul wrote of the "obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26). When a sinner is genuinely converted, his changed lifestyle indicates the reality of his faith. Then through the years his confidence in God causes him to walk softly before the Lord in obedience to His commandments. He stands in awe at Jesus' words, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). Keeping the commandments of God gives him "the answer of a good conscience toward God" (1 Peter 3:21).

Enoch's experience fit this pattern. Commenting on it Taylor wrote, "God's Spirit witnessed that all was well; no last-minute adjustments were needed. Here again the part faith played was indirect—faith, in itself, cannot translate anybody to heaven. But Enoch's walk with God was by faith, and the translation was God's sovereign reward for his faithfulness in so walking" (Beacon Bible Commentary, p. 140).

11:6. This verse enunciates the principle drawn from the Septuagint version of Habakkuk 2:4 ("the just shall live by faith") and is demonstrated by the Biblical account of Enoch's life. Apart from faith no man can receive God's approval. Whoever comes to God, i.e., prays and worships, must do two things if his worship is to be accepted as were the sacrifice of Abel and the life of Enoch. They must believe both that God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. The Hebrews to whom this epistle was written believed in God's existence, but some of them apparently were wondering whether or not Jesus was truly the Messiah and if He was going to return to set up the kingdom of God. They were assured that if they continued to walk with God, they would also obtain a testimony to their own righteousness before God. The same is true for believers today.

SOURCE:  The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Galatians-Philemon.  Copyright © 1998 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.

 

Advanced Bible Study Commentary: Hebrews 11:1-6

VERSES 1-3:  FAITH LEADS US TO TRUST AND RELY ON GOD.  Before the writer launched into a discussion about faith, he declared that genuine Christians were not ones who “draw back and are destroyed,” but rather they are those who “have faith and are saved” (Heb. 10:39).  Faith makes the difference between destruction and life.  In Hebrews 11:1, the writer explains what faith is.  Though not a formal definition of faith, it does clearly demonstrate what faith is.

Verse 1.  Verse 1 states that faith in the reality of what is hoped for.  The word reality (hupostasis) already appeared in two verses in Hebrews.  In Hebrews 1:3, it means the “nature” or “essence” of Jesus as the exact expression of God’s glory.  It also appears in Hebrews 3:14, where it is translated “reality” and is the conviction that something is real.  Faith is not believing something so strongly that it finally comes true.  Rather it is a reality grounded in something that is true and worthy of that faith.  We can have faith that we will go to Jupiter in our lifetime, but if that faith is not grounded in reality, it is useless.  All of the people who will be mentioned in Hebrews 11 had a faith that was grounded in God, the ultimate reality.

Faith is also said to be the proof of what is not seen.  The word for proof can be translated as “test” or “trial.”  It is something that reveals what is real.  Faith proves things that cannot be seen with the physical eye.  While eyesight may produce conviction about objects in the physical world, faith produces similar convictions in the spiritual world.  One cannot see God with the physical eye, but faith tell us He is real.  It reveals God to us.  Our faith is not causing God to exist.  God exists and faith reveals Him to us.

Verse 2.  In verse 2 the writer hinted at where the remainder of the chapter would go.  He spoke of their ancestors.  The actual Greek word is “elders” (presbuteroi), a term referring to those who were older and more mature in their faith.  Beginning in verse 4, these elders appear, sometimes briefly and sometimes lengthy, as examples of men who had faith in God and how it impacted their lives.  Some of these were memorable for their faith—men like Enoch, Noah, and Abraham.  Others might have seemed out of place—Barak, Samson, and Jephthah.  However, God was not commending the size of their faith but the object of their faith.  Each of these as some point in their lives and leadership but their faith in God.

The “ancestors” had faith and thereby won God’s approval.  That is not to say that they earned God’s approval.  Salvation is a gift of God, not an achievement of works (Eph. 2:8-10).  Actually the world God is not mentioned in the Greek text, but is is implied.  The Greek word translated “won God’s approval” is from the word that means “witness” or “martyr.”  It occurs seven times in Hebrews, and in each instance refers to the faithful witness of the biblical record.  The word appears in Hebrews 11:4, where Abel’s sacrifice made him “approved” in God’s eyes.  God saw the faith that the elders put in Him.  Their faith was pleasing to God and through it gave them standing before Him. 

Verse 3.  Verse 3 serves as a bridge between the explanation of faith in verses 1-2 and the examples of faith in the remainder of the chapter.  The world by faith serve as an introduction throughout the passage of examples of faith.  They rehearse the history of God’s people, and the introductory formula makes certain that the reader knows the work of God was carried forward on the wings of “faith.”  But what in this faith that the writer credits with so much of God’s work among His people?  It is derived from a Greek verb (pisteuo) that means “to believe.”  However, it is more than mental assent; rather , it is a belief that comes from an inner conviction of heart and mind.  A person can believe a truth but lack conviction about it.  That is not the word that appears in this passage.  The word describes a firm conviction that includes personal surrender to that proposition.  Incorporating the linguistic background, faith could be described as “the trustful human response to God’s self-revelation via His words and actions.”1  The following examples in Hebrews 11, introduced by the phrase “by faith,” all serve as illustrations of how people trusted in God despite sometimes overwhelming situations where they could not physically see His presence.

The example in verse 3 is slightly different and set the stage for the later uses of “by faith.”  When the phrase occurs throughout the remainder of the passage, it always introduces an Old Testament person who demonstrated faith despite overwhelming odds.  However, in this verse, the subject of faith is we.  The writer first brought faith in to the present, where he and his readers believed and trusted in God in their various situations.  He made it clear that by seeing creation and believing in a Creator, they were standing in a long line of others who trusted in things that they could not see with their eyes.  He made it clear that faith was not the exclusive property of heroes from the past, but they too were called upon to express faith in God.  The Christians who faced trying and discouraging circumstances should not give up on the Lord merely because they could not see Him or His work in their lives.  They had to see with spiritual eyes of faith. 

One example the writer used of how people expressed faith in his day was in the arena of creation.  By faith people in his day embraced the understanding that the universe was created by the word of God.  This was a radical departure from creation stories  of their day.  Different societies had varying creation stories, but nobody had a creation story ex nihilo—that God created from nothing.  By faith Christians and Jews believed that God made the world through the creative power of His voice.  Where did they get such an idea?  They read and believed the Scriptures.  Seven times in Genesis 1 God’s creation is connected with His creative word (Gen. 1:3,6,9,14,20,24,26).  In order to create, all God had to do was speak.

Knowing the written word of God, the people who lived in the day of Hebrews could easily believe that what is seen could have been made from things that are not visible.  One cannot see God, but His handiwork is evident.  For the writer of Hebrews, the visible universe is not sufficient to account for itself.  Even in our scientific would creation does not merely account for itself.  Steps of faith must be involved in the universe’s origin.  Because of the record of creation in Genesis, many believe that a God they could not see with their physical eyes created the universe.  That is faith, not merely because they believe it in their heads but because they have the conviction in their hearts that it is true.

VERSE 4:  FAITH RESPONDS IN WORSHIP TO GOD.  With the introductory formula, by faith, the writer introduced his first hero of faith from the Old Testament.  Abel was the second son of Adam and Eve, and his story appears in Genesis 4:1-16.  Adam or Eve appropriately named their son, for the meaning of his name was “vanity,” “vapor,” or “breath.”  Certainly his life would be cut short by the tragic circumstances surrounding his older brother, Cain.  Abel was a shepherd, while Cain was a farmer.  They both worked with their hands and had their own struggles caused by the fall (Gen. 3:17-19).  Abel raised livestock and Cain grew crops.

Apparently both men had a desire to worship even after the fall.  The entrance of sin in the world did not completely extinguish their desire to worship God, though as seen in the life of Cain, even worship could becomes a point of contention with God.  Cain brought some of the produce of the land to present as an offering to God, while Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock to the Lord.  Both were natural offerings that they would have given from their own livelihood.  However, “The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering” (Gen. 4:4-5).  This enraged Cain and sent him reeling.  He invited his brother into the fields where he worked and killed him.

Based upon Genesis 4:4-5, the writer to Hebrews reminded his readers that Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did.  Questions abound as to why Abel’s sacrifice was better.  Some have suggested that God received Abel’s sacrifice because it was a blood sacrifice, while He rejected Cain’s because it was not.  Certainly Hebrews says that forgiveness cannot come without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22).  However, nothing in Genesis indicates that God had required an animal sacrifice of either one of them.  They seemed to bring a freewill offering.  Also, nothing in the text seems to indicate that the problem was the kind of sacrifice.  Rather, the problem seemed to be that Abel offered his “by faith,” and Cain did not.

As Abel offered his sacrifice from his flock, he did so in faith that God would see it and approve it.  Certainly the writer of Hebrews linked together the better sacrifice with faith.  Because of this, Abel was approved as a righteous man.  This is reminiscent of the words about Abraham that Paul quoted in his letter to the Romans: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness” (Ron. 4:3).  This was a question of Genesis 15:6.  Abraham had right standing before God because he had faith in the Lord.

As God saw the faith of Abel, He also approved his gifts.  We can offer the right gifts in the wrong spirit and not be acceptable in the Lord’s eyes.  That is what Cain apparently did if mothering was defective in his gift.  Other offered grain offerings that were acceptable to the Lord, but Cain’s heart canceled his outward worship.  We can offer the wrong gift with the wrong spirit or the wrong gift with the right spirit.  We can even offer the right gift with the wrong spirit.  However, what God is looking for is the right gift with the e right spirit.  Abel did this and Cain did not.  Sin was crouching at the door and it consumed Cain and affected Abel as well.

Though Cain’s disobedience took the life of Abel, it did not silence his witness.  The writer of Hebrews said that even though he is dead, he still speaks.  The death of God’s servants does not silence their witness.  Jesus said the righteous blood of Abel still cried out to be avenged (Matt. 23:35).  The writer to Hebrews said that the blood of Abel cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus spoke a better word (Heb. 12:24).  Jesus’ blood called for a better word as He prayed for his executioners, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  However, Abel’s blood still spoke a word, calling for justice to be done.  Long after his death, Cain was indeed his brother’s keeper (Gen. 4:9).

VERSES 5-6: FAITH RESPONDS WITH OBEDIENCE.  In Hebrews 11:5-6, the writer introduced another example of someone trusting in Jesus.  He again used the words “by faith” to introduce the subject.  This time the hero of faith was Enoch from the first book of the Bible (Gen. 5:21-24).  Enoch has always been a mysterious figure in the Bible because he appeared only briefly.  In fact, he appeared in a list of the genealogy of Seth.  The passage appeared like those before it, noting that Enoch was born to his father Jared, and that he was 65 years old when the fathered Methuselah.  However, that’s where Enoch’s story differed than any other in the genealogy.  The biblical record in Genesis noted that “Enoch walked with God 300 years” (Gen. 5:22).  Then it again stated that he walked with God and “then he was not there because God took him” (Gen. 5:23).

What was meant by the phrase “God took him”?  Hebrews leave no room for uncertainty.  In addition to saying that he was taken away, it says that he did not experience death.  The verb “taken away” in Hebrews 11:5 is sometimes used as a euphemism for death, but in this instance the writer made sure that he emphasized that Enoch did not die.  God took him.

The point of Enoch’s departure was the he was approved by God because of his faith, and therefore God took him away to be with Him in a similar way as He did Elijah (2 Kings 2:11).  He was approved because he pleased God, and the thing that pleased God was the same as what Abel did that pleased God—he expressed faith in God.  Enoch’s release from death was due to his faith in God, and in the midst of corruption, he stood out as a man of righteousness.  Though Enoch could not see God, he trusted Him by faith, and God rescued him from death.  This certainly was a preview of the day with people would put their trust in Jesus and God would also rescue them from death. 

From the example of Enoch, we can learn that faith responds with obedience, and that faith will please God and change us.  As we connect with the Lord in a walk of faith and obedience, we are transformed and begin to experience the victorious life that God provides.  Enoch stood as a shining example of this in his generation.

Though the Old Testament never explicitly says that Enoch had faith, the writer had no problem with referring to him as a man of faith.  Why did he have such confidence?  He stated in the first part of verse 6, “Now without faith it is impossible to please God.”  He had just stated in verse 5 that Enoch “pleased God,” so he must have been a man of great faith.  Faith is indispensable when it come to pleasing God.  God is not merely looking for right actions but a right heart that trust in Him.  That is what pleases God.

Two conditions must exist for a person to believe God.  First, the one who draws neat to Him must believe that He exists.  Without a deep conviction that God is real, a person cannot draw near to God.  People do not draw near to imaginary figures.  They cannot have relationship with them.  Faith is the conviction that though they cannot see God, they believe that He is real.  Second, the one “who draws near to him: must believe that He rewards those who seek Him.  Not only must a seeker believe that God is real, but he also must believe that God cares.  He longs to reward the one who pleases Him.  He wants to work in behalf of those who trust Him.

Though God rewarded Enoch at one instant in time, remember that he walked with God for 300 years before he was taken (Gen. 5:22).  Surely in those years he experienced hardships and difficulties living in a culture that was fragmenting from the fall.  God keeps His promises, but His reward for faith is not always instantaneous.  At the end of chapter 11, the writer reminded those struggling with persecution and hardships: “All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us” (Heb. 11:39-40).  God’s rewards are not always instantaneous because He is working out His perfection in us before He calls us home to be with Him.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


 

 

DIGGING DEEPER: Key Word(s)

Our ancestors (v. 2)—Literally “our elders,” in Hebrews 11 the Greek term refers to people who lived a long time ago.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Faith (v. 1)—Trusting commitment of one person to another, particularly of a person to God. Faith is the central concept of Christianity. One may be called a Christian only if one has faith.

Our English word “faith” comes from the Latin fides, as developed through the Old French words fei and feid. In Middle English (1150-1475) “faith” replaced a word that eventually evolved into “belief.” “Faith” came to mean “loyalty to a person to whom one is bound by promise or duty.” Faith was fidelity. “Belief” came to be distinguished from faith as an intellectual process having to do with the acceptance of a proposition. The verb form of “faith” dropped out of English usage toward the end of the sixteenth century.

Old Testament Expressions:

The word “faith” occurs in the Old Testament only twice in the KJV, eighteen times in the RSV, and sixteen times in the NIV. This discrepancy becomes even more interesting when we note that the RSV and the NIV agree on only five of these verses of Scripture (Deut. 32:51; Judg. 9:16,19; Isa. 26:2; Hab. 2:4), and the KJV concurs with them only on the translation of Habakkuk 2:4. These differences revolve around problems with the translation of two Hebrew roots, ma’al and ‘aman.

The first of these roots, ma’al, is a negative term that means “to be deceitful, treacherous, or unfaithful.” The RSV, NAS, and the NIV translate this word with the phrase “broke faith” (Deut. 32:51; Josh. 22:16) or with “acted unfaithfully” (Deut. 32:51; Josh. 7:1). The KJV translates this root in those same verses with the word “trespass.” While the Hebrew uses no single noun for “faith” in these verses, the translators have in each case rendered the sense of the Hebrew.

The second root, ‘aman, is more difficult to translate because its meaning changes as it passes through the various Hebrew verb forms. There are seven such forms, but this root occurs in only three of them. In the first and most basic verb form the root means to support or nourish and is used of a parent’s care for a child. In the second verb-form one encounters a range of meanings having to do with being secure.

Only the third verb form was rendered with the Greek word for faith in the New Testament and in the Septuagint, an early Greek version of the Old Testament originating in Alexandria. ‘Aman expresses the idea of stability and steadfastness in this form and is translated as standing firm (Job 39:24, RSV; Isa. 7:9b NIV), or “to trust” (a person) or “to believe” (a statement). One stands firm in one’s convictions. In relationships, one trusts persons and believes their testimony or promises. Thus, we find no Hebrew noun for “faith” in the Old Testament, only verbs that have been translated with “faith” because of New Testament influence.

If we do not find the noun “faith” in the Old Testament, we surely find the concept named with other words. In the Old Testament faith is described as the “fear of God” (Gen. 20:11; Ps. 111:10; Eccl. 12:13; Mal. 4:2), and in terms of trust (2 Chron. 20:20; Ps. 4:5, Isa. 26:4), and obedience (Ex. 19:5; 1 Sam. 15:22, Jer. 7:23). Faith is a New Testament concept that encompasses and enriches these Old Testament concepts. The English versions of the Old Testament have translated a pair of Hebrew verbs using the noun “faith.” They do so in order to express the understanding of God’s relation to humanity that has grown out of the New Testament.

Because the Old Testament does not have a word equivalent to the English noun, “faith,” does not mean the idea of faith is unimportant for the Old Testament. Habakkuk 2:4 was properly taken by Paul as the center of Old Testament religion. God prepared the way for His people in mercy and grace, then called them to obedience. To accept the responsibilities of God’s covenant was to trust His word that He alone was God and to commit one’s life to His promises for the present and future. That is faith.

New Testament Expressions:

The Greek noun, pistis (faith), is related to the verb pisteuo (I have faith, trust, believe). The noun and verb are found virtually everywhere in the New Testament, with the notable exception that the noun is absent altogether from John’s Gospel and occurs only once in 1 John. The verb form does not occur in Philemon, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, or Revelation.

Classical Greek used pistis and piseuo to mean “trust” or “confidence.” In this period belief in the existence of the gods of the Greek pantheon would be expressed with the verb nomizo (to think, believe, hold, consider). In the Hellenistic period, however, both the noun and verb moved from secular to religious usage. The noun came to mean piety, and the verb took on the meaning “to believe”—a usage derived from debates with atheism in which faith required the overcoming of objections.

In the New Testament “faith” is used in a number of ways, but primarily with the meaning “trust” or “confidence” in God. This basic meaning is particularly evident in the Synoptic Gospels. Mark 1:15 introduces and summarizes the Gospel with Jesus’ charge to his hearers to “repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (The word usually translated “believe” in this verse is the verb form of “faith” for which there is no English equivalent. The call is repeated as “Have faith in God,” using the noun form, in Mark 11:22.) Thus, Jesus called His hearers to place their confidence in God. It is common in the Synoptics for Jesus to say after healing someone, “thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matt. 9:22; Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50; 8:48.) One’s confidence in or allegiance to God makes one whole. John expressed a similar understanding of faith in 6:29 and 14:1 where people are called to have faith in the Christ. The difference between John and the Synoptics is a grammatical one; John used only the verb and never the noun for faith.

Outside the Gospels faith is related to the keynote concepts of the Christian message: the state of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9), sanctification (Acts 26:18), purification (Acts 15:9), justification or imputed righteousness (Rom. 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 3:24), adoption as children of God (Gal. 3:26). Each of these comes by faith. As in the Gospels, faith is an attitude toward and relationship with God mediated by Christ Jesus. It is surrender to God’s gift of righteousness in Christ rather than seeking to achieve righteousness alone.

Faith is also called a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22)—something God creates in a person. In another place “faith” is used quite differently as a gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to some but not to others (1 Cor. 12:8-9). Apparently such special gifts of faith refer to the ability to do great acts for God, what Jesus called moving mountains (Matt. 17:20; 1 Cor. 13:2).

The New Testament sometimes uses “faith” to designate Christianity itself or that which Christians believe (Acts 6:7; Eph. 4:5; Col. 1:23; Tim. 1:19; Jude 3). In this usage it is clear that an element of what we call belief is essential to the personal relationship we are calling “faith.” Here it would be well to note Hebrews 11:6 also—”But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is” In this verse also the word translated “believe” is the Greek verb form of “faith.” Context here dictates that we understand it in the sense of intellectual acceptance of a proposition, “belief.” To have a right relation with God, it is necessary to “believe” that God is, that God has revealed Himself in Christ, and to accept God accepts you.

If faith is the religion itself, it is so in more than an intellectual way. Faith is also the living out of the religion; it is Christianity in action. This is the meaning of “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “Walking” represents the totality of one’s way of life. Paul wrote that “faith,” both in the sense of Christian piety and of the trust and confidence one puts in God, determines action in life. Faith changes the standards and priorities of life. Similarly, using the imagery of a soldier’s armor, Paul said that faith is a shield against sin and evil in our lives (Eph. 6:16; 1 Thess. 5:8).

If Christianity itself may be called “the faith,” then it is a small step to the New Testament usage of the participle of the verb form of faith to designate Christians. This form is often translated “believers” (it occurs most often in the plural) or “those who believe” (Acts 4:32; Rom. 1:16). If we continue our distinction between faith and belief, we would prefer the translation “those who have faith” or the ungrammatical “those who faith.”

The nearest the New Testament comes to presenting a definition of “faith” per se is in Hebrews 11:1. Here faith is called “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (RSV). Thus, Hebrews closely ties faith very to Christian hope. The personal conviction of faith encourages the Christian to continue hoping for the fulfillment of the promises of God, but it is not the substance (as in the KJV) of these “things hoped for” in any normal sense of “substance.” The “things hoped for” have a reality greater than anyone’s hoping for them. Faith is then meant as a sort of foretaste of the hoped for things.

Faith as the Way to Salvation. The concept of faith is primarily that of a personal relationship with God that determines the priorities of one’s life. This relationship is one of love that is built on trust and dependence. We receive it by trusting the saving work of Jesus. Faith is the basic Christian experience, the decision for Christ Jesus. It is the acceptance of Christ’s lordship (i.e., His God-given, absolute authority). In this sense faith is doubly a break from the past: it is one’s removal from sin, and it is one’s removal from all other religious allegiances (1 Thess. 1:9). As a break from the past, faith is the beginning of relation to God and not an end. It is, especially in Paul’s letters, the inauguration of incorporation “in Christ,” in which one continues to grow and develop.

If faith is primarily a relationship into which one enters through acceptance of Jesus’ authority, it also includes a certain amount of “belief.” As a derived use, then, “faith” may also denote the content of what is believed. In this sense faith is the conviction that God acted in the history of

Israel and “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In theological usage “the faith” may refer to many more doctrines and dogmas that have been developed since New Testament times, but in the New Testament “that which must be believed” was more limited as Romans 10:9-10 may demonstrate. Conclusion Faith is what we believe, it is Christianity itself, but primarily it is the relationship we have with God through what Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

 

ENOCH (v. 5)—The son of Jared and father of Methuselah, seventh in descent from Adam in the line of Seth (Jude 1:14). He is said (Genesis 5:23) to have lived 365 years, but the brief record of his life is comprised in the words, "Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" (Genesis 5:24). The expression "walked with God" denotes a devout life, lived in close communion with God, while the reference to his end has always been understood, as by the writer of He, to mean, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God translated him" (Hebrews 11:5).

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


 

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

 

Faith

By Scott Andrew

Scott Andrew is a doctor of philosophy candidate in theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX.

W

HAT DOES THE BIBLE mean when it tells us to “have faith”?  In Ephesians 2:8-9 the Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith.  We are not saved by our works.  Yet in James 2:14 the Bible asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds [works]?  Can such faith save him?”1 This rhetorical question is answered in James 2:26 where the Bible says, “faith without deeds is dead” (NIV).

This apparent contradiction has troubled biblical scholars for centuries.  Martin Luther wanted to throw the Book of James out of the New Testament because of its emphasis on works.  A few early twentieth-century theologians felt that the subject of faith and works revealed that the theologies of James and Paul are contradictory.  However, the Bible is the Word of God.  It is not contradictory.  Apparent contradictions often can be resolved through further study.  Perhaps we would do well to study the word faith  and its meaning for the early church.  What did the Greek word for faith mean for  the writers of Old Testament concept of faith relationships between people and God.  In other words, to properly understand what the word meant for the writers of the New Testament, we must look briefly at the Old Testament idea of faith.

Several Hebrew words are translated by the Greek word in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). Of these terms the Hebrew word ‘aman  [ah-MAN] portrays best what is incorporated in the Old Testament idea of faith.3 The root idea of ‘aman is “firmness” or “certainty.”  The verb forms mean “to confirm, to support, to be established, to believe in.” The noun forms can mean “faithfulness, steadfastness, fidelity, truth.”  This word was transliterated into the Greek New Testament as the word “aman.”4

In the Old Testament faith is seen as a process through which a believer goes.  It is not merely an event, but a growing relationship as one moves through life.  Faith begins with the person of God.  Deuteronomy 7:9 refers to God as “the faithful God” (NIV).  He is the God who faithfully keeps His covenant with those who love Him.  The faithful God also is mentioned in Isaiah 49:7.  This verse referst to the coming Redeemer—a Holy One of Israel who shall bring salvation to all people, including the Gentiles, and who shall establish a people.  The faithful God is the origin of this redemption.  The faithful God is the starting point of salvation.

The Old Testament concept of faith then moves from God to people.  Artur Weiser states that “As the TO understands it, faith is always man’s reaction to God’s primary action.”5 In Genesis 15 the Lord promised Abraham that his seed would be like the stars in heaven, that is, without number.  In Genesis 15:6 Abraham responded to God’s promise by having faith in God.  In Nehemiah 9:8 the same word (aman in Hebrew, pistis in the Septuagint) is used to state that the Lord found Abraham’s heart to be faithful before Him.  The Lord reached down to Abraham; in return, Abraham responded in faith.

Another aspect of faith in the Old Testament is seen in the verb tense of aman that is translated “to believe.”  In the Old Testament when people believed in God, He transformed their entire lives.  In Psalm 116:10 the psalmist’s belief in the goodness of God transformed his entire life.  In Jonah 3:5 the Ninevites believed the message that Jonah preached.  Their belief in God transformed their entire city.

Belief in God also becomes the basis for a person’s righteous acts.  In 2 Chronicles 20:20-27 the people of Judah believed the message of God’s prophet.  They went into battle armed with only a song of praise.  Because they believed the Lord’s message, the enemy was routed by a mighty act of God.

Thus faith begins with the person of God.  When God reaches out to us, we should respond with faith.  This response results in a transformed life—a life full of actions that are based on faith in God.

Perhaps this short study of aman will help to resolve our New Testament problem concerning Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:14.  William Barclay explains that the main difference between these two passages is that they are speaking about different times in a Christian’s life.  According to Barclay, in Ephesians 2:8-9 the apostle Paul described the beginning of a Christian’s life.6

Barclay’s interpretation is confirmed by the Greek New Testament.  In the Greek we are saved dia pisteos (“through faith”).  The word dia  shows means or agency.7 Thus faith is the means or agency through which we are saved.  We are not saved ex ergon (“from works”; these are the Greek words in Eph. 2:9).  The Greek word ex  shows origin or cause.8 Our salvation does not originate from works and is not caused by works.  Salvation is by God’s grace through the agency of our faith.

What happens after this?  In the Old Testament a person’s faith resulted in a changed life—a life filled with godly acts.  In the New Testament faith in Jesus Christ also results in a transformed life.  Paul described the transformation of a Christian’s life in passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Colossians 3:1-11.  James referred to this new life-style in James 2:14-26.

Barclay states that James 2:14 is talking about he professing Christian, the man who says that he has faith.  Such a man will demonstrate his faith by his deeds.9 Saving faith results in a transformed life.  The Christian’s transformed life will shine forth in good deeds.  Thus Paul and James agreed regarding the kind of life a Christian should live.

Those who claim that Ephesians 2:8-9 contradicts James 2:14-26 should study these verses in context with Ephesians 2:10.  In Ephesians 2:10 Paul stated, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”  The Greek words translated “unto good works” are epi (“unto”) ertois (“works”) agathois (“good”).  The word epi  also can be translated “for the purpose of.”  One Greek-English lexicon describes it as a word that shows the result of a state of being.10 Our state of being is that each Christian is a new creation in Jesus Christ.  This new creation performs good works. There is no contradiction between Paul and James.

Faith is a process.  It begins with the person of God.  God is a faithful God who wants to reconcile the world to Himself through Jesus Christ.  God reaches down to us.  When we respond to God, we are transformed.  This transformation results in good works.  The Christian life is based on a transforming faith and results in a life that is full of good works performed for the glory of God.           Bi 

1.  From the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission.  Subsequent quotations are marked NIV.

2.  Rudolf Bultmann and Artur Weiser, “pisteuo,”  in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964-76), 6:174-79.

3.  Ibid., 182-96.

4.  Jack B. Scott, “Aleph—Mem,”  in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament  (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980). 1:51-52.

5.  Bultmann and Weiser, 182.

6.  William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 74.

7.  William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 179.

8.  Ibid., 234-36.

9.  Barclay, 74.

10. Arndt and Gingrich, 287.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1990.

 

Enoch  A Portrait of Faith

By Shawn L. Buice

Shawn L. Buice is professor of New Testament and Greek at The Baptist College of Florida, Graceville, Florida.

FAITH.  WHAT A WORD!  Believers are keenly aware of this word’s significance in their spiritual lives.  For example, the New Testament exclaims that believers are to “walk by faith, not by sight” (Rom. 1:17) and that “the righteous will live by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7).1

The Greek New Testament uses the term translated “faith” in several ways.2  Two, however, stand out.  First, this term relates to salvation.  Paul wrote, “you are saved by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  Believers thus understand that faith is inextricably linked to salvation.  Second, the New Testament uses this term to describe the process of spiritual growth.  Writing to believers at Colossae, Paul affirmed “the strength of [their] faith in Christ” and then instructed, “Just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him” (Col. 2:5b,6).  These new believers had received Christ by faith and were then to walk with Him in faith.  Faith, then, is both essential for salvation and also vitally important in a believer’s daily spiritual life.  One example of an individual whose life was marked by faith was Enoch.

The Old Testament Depiction

The Old Testament’s description of Enoch is brief but instructive.  First, it states, “Enoch was 65 years old when he fathered Methuselah” (Gen. 5:21).  According to the biblical record, Methuselah lived 969 years (v. 27).  Enoch was thus the father of the individual who lived longer than anyone else recorded in Scripture.

Second, Genesis says Enoch “walked with God” (vv. 22,24).  This phrase catches the reader’s attention.  Genesis 5 presents an extensive genealogical record beginning with Adam and continuing through Noah to his sons.  Using a basic pattern, the genealogical record gives a man’s name, states how old he was when he fathered a specific son, and then describes how long the man lived after the son’s birth and/or how old he was when he died.  The record of Enoch’s life, however, breaks this pattern.  Something about Enoch’s life was so distinct that it deserves to be highlighted.  Enoch’s record adds the descriptor that he walked with God.  This is the only time the genealogy makes any statement about an individual’s character.

Genesis twice says that Enoch “walked with God” (vv. 22,24).  This walk set Enoch apart.  The Hebrew word translated “walk” indicates a “communion or intimacy with God.”3  Kenneth Mathews, a scholar in ancient Near Eastern languages, explained that this Hebrew word highlights that Enoch “walked ‘back and forth’ with God.”4  This means Enoch had an ongoing communication and intimacy with God.  This was not a one-time event but a pattern or lifestyle of closeness with the Father.

Genesis clarifies, “And after he fathered Methuselah, Enoch walked with God” (v. 22, emphasis added).  The text give no hint of Enoch walking with God before his son’s birth.  Maybe Methuselah’s birth was the catalyst that caused Enoch to focus on God.  Part of what this teaches us about faith is that sometimes a major change in a person’s life can cause the individual to become serious about his or her relationship with God.

Two other Old Testament texts speak of walking with God.  Genesis 6 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among his contemporaries; Noah walked with God” (6:9).  Certainly the testimony of Noah’s life was that he lived in ongoing communion and intimacy with God.  Noah’s righteous walk was a stark contrast to what God saw in others: “human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time” (v. 5).

Centuries later, the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote, “Mankind, he [God] has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).  The verb “to walk” comes from the same Hebrew root word that describes Enoch’s and Noah’s lives.  Micah was saying that God’s people are to live in ongoing communion and intimacy with Him.

Third, Genesis states the Enoch “was not there because God took him” (Gen. 5:24, emphasis added).  The story of God taking Elijah uses the same Hebrew term for “took” four times (2 Kings 2:3,5,9,10); these occurred as people foretold of Elijah being taken “up into heaven in the whirlwind” ( v. 11).  Both Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven without facing death.  It is exactly at this point the writer of Hebrews begins his description of Enoch.

The New Testament Depiction

The New Testament mentions Enoch in three different places.  First, Luke states Enoch was part of Jesus’ genealogical heritage (Luke 3:37).  Second, Jude describes Enoch as a preacher.  According to Jude, part of Enoch’s message entailed judgment against the ungodly and false teachers in his day (Jude 14:15). 

Third, Hebrews 11 gives a brief description of Enoch.  Hebrews 11 picks up the description of Enoch where Genesis 5 left off.  The Bible states: “By faith Enoch was taken away, and so he did not experience death.  He was not to be found because God took him away”  (Heb. 11:5).5  The New Testament frequently uses the word translated “faith” in this verse.  The Book of Hebrews alone uses it 32 times; of those, 24 are in Hebrew 11.  In this chapter the word “connotes trust in God and reliance on Him in the sense of fidelity and firmness.”6  The text, then, characterizes Enoch as having faith.

Hebrews 11 also discusses the impact of Enoch’s faith.  The Bible explains: “For before he was taken away, he was approved as one who pleased God” (v. 5).  One may wonder how did Enoch please God?  The first phrase in the next verse answers this question fully; it states, “Now without faith it is impossible to please God” (v. 6).  By his faith, Enoch pleased God, and, as a consequence, God approved of him.  They key, then, was Enoch’s faith.

What then is the Bible’s portrait of Enoch?  The few occasions that the text mentions Enoch give readers a glimpse of what set Enoch apart.  The Old Testament describes Enoch as a man who walked with God meaning he lived in ongoing communion and intimacy with the Father.  The New Testament enhances our understanding by describing Enoch as a proclaimer of God’s truth who lived by faith and in such a way that he pleased God.  What a portrait of faith for believer’s today!             Bi

1.  All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

2.  See the excellent discussion of this concept by Otto Michel, (pistis, faith) in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, gen. ed. Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 593-605.

3.  Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1a in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 313.

4.  Ibid., fn. 49, p. 313.

5.  Italic type highlights the original Genesis 5 text.

6.  Allen, Hebrews, vol. 35 in The New American Commentary  (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010), 541.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 43, No. 3; Spring 2017.

 

To Believe

By Charles A. Ray, Jr.

Charles A. Ray, Jr. is the associate dean of the research doctoral programs and professor of New Testament and Greek at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.

W

E USE THE ENGLISH WORD “believe” frequently and in a variety of ways.  Consider the following sentences: I believe we have met before; I believe it is going to rain this afternoon; I believe this will be a good year for the stock market; I believe she is the girl I will marry; I believe Jesus was raised from the dead.

Each use of “believe” expresses a commitment to an opinion or conviction, but the level of commitment to that opinion or conviction will vary according to the context.  For example, you may tell me that you live in another state, and I may change my opinion about whether we have ever met.  My conviction that this will be a good year in the stock market may be strong and still not affect my behavior; I may stick to bonds because I am at heart a conservative investor.  My conviction about whom I will marry may change if the girl in question refuses the ring I offer her.

In the New Testament Era, Greek speakers would have understood the Greek word pisteuo (translated “to believe”) in much the same way.1  One Greek-English dictionary gives as the primary definition of pisteuo “to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one’s trust.”2  The level of trust one placed in a conviction could run from entertaining the possibility that something was true to complete confidence in the person or idea entrusted.  A second meaning for the Greek word that is not associated with the English word “believe” is to entrust something to someone.  While this meaning is less common for pisteuo, the literature of the period used it regularly.  For example, when Paul spoke of the stewardship that was entrusted to him by God, he used the Greek verb pisteuo.3

The more common meaning of considering something true is both in the New Testament and in Greek literature outside the New Testament.  Before the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon, she had heard many reports of Solomon’s wealth.  However, she told him, “But I didn’t believe the reports until I came and saw with my own eyes” (1 Kings 10:7, HCSB).4  She was not willing to entertain the possibility that the reports of Solomon’s wealth were true until she had verified them by first-hand experience.

In an event recorded in Jewish apocryphal literature, the Jewish ruler Jonathan did not believe or accept as true the peace proposal of the Syrian king Demetrius because of Demetrius’s earlier actions against Israel.  In other words, Jonathan refused to trust Demetrius or to take him at his word, probably with good reason.5

On the other end of the spectrum, when Moses encountered God at the burning bush, he complained, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Ex. 4:1, HCSB).  Combining “believe” and “obey” clearly indicates that Moses was concerned with more than just intellectual assent to his status as a messenger from God; he wanted a level of trust that would lead to obedience to God’s directive to follow him (Moses) out of Egypt.

Most of the occurrences of the verb “to believe” in the New Testament are directed toward divine rather than human objects.  Hearers believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15), believe in Jesus (John 12:11), believe in His name (1:12), and believe in God (Acts 16:34).  The common element in these occurrences is a conviction that something is true and worthy of trust.  The object of the belief is often expressed with a “that” clause, stating the truth that someone believed: Peter believed that Jesus was the Holy One of God (John 6:69); Martha believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world (John 11:27); and the Thessalonians believed that Jesus had died and had been raised from the dead (1 Thess 4:14).  The object can also be expressed with the Greek prepositions en or eis, both of which are usually translated by the English preposition “in.”6 

The degree of commitment to the truth expressed in each instance must be determined by the context, and one way to look at context is to look at synonyms and antonyms of the word in question.  John 1:12 couples believing in His name with receiving Him, indicating that more than just intellectual assent is demanded.  John 3:36 uses parallel clauses to express opposite scenarios.  The person who believes in the Son has eternal life; in the second clause, the person never sees life, and the wrath of God remains upon him.  However, rather than use the Greek word apisteo, which is usually translated “disbelieve,” John used the Greek word apeitheo, which is often translated “disobey.”7  At least in John 3:36 “believing” carries a strong element of “obeying.”

A second way of gauging the level of commitment is to look at the results of believing that are expressed in each passage:  becoming children of God (John 1:12) and sons of light (12:36), never thirsting (6:35; 7:37-38), and seeing Jesus’ glory (2:11; 11:40).  One of the most frequent results in John’s Gospel is the possession of eternal life (3:15-16,36; 5:24; 6:40,47; 20:31), which Jesus described as being raised on the last day (6:39,40,44,54) and never dying (11:26).  Thus the Lord promises to the one who trusts with “complete confidence” and “total commitment”8 a new relationship with Him culminating eternal life.

A response to Jesus at merely an intellectual level does not result in a new relationship.  John recorded an instance connected with the Feast of Passover in which many people saw Jesus’ signs and believed (pisteuo) in His name (2:23).  However, rather than a promise of eternal life, John remarked that Jesus did not entrust (pisteuo) Himself to them (v. 24).  Some scholars have suggested that since their faith was based on signs, it was suspect; but earlier in the same chapter Jesus used a sign to reveal His glory to the disciples, and they believed (v. 11).  Rather, John credits Jesus’ reaction to the crowds’ faith to His knowledge of a person’s heart (vv. 24-25).9

When the crowd asked Jesus about doing God’s work, He replied, “This is the work of God—that you believe in the One He has sent” (6:29, HCSB).  Later in that passage, Jesus explained that the one coming to Him and believing in Him (v. 35) and the one seeing the Son and believing in Him (v. 40) would have eternal life and be raised up on the last day.  To the one responding in faith to Jesus as the bread of life Jesus promised a new relationship with Him that would transcend death.                                              Bi

1.  The verb pisteuo occurs 241 times in the New Testament and 81 times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  The Jewish historian Josephus used the verb 222 times in his writings, and the Jewish philosopher Philo used it 83 times.  All word searches were performed using Accordance version 10.1.7 by OakTree Software.

2.  (pisteuo, believe) in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature [BDAG], rev. and ed. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), 816.

3.  See 1 Cor. 9:17 (oikonomian pepisteumai ).

4.  When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the translators used the Greek word pisteuo in this verse.

5.  1 Maccabees 10:46.

6.  Some scholars attempt to distinguish a difference between these two Greek prepositions.  However, in the Gospel of John, where this construction occurs most frequently, the two prepositions seem to be used synonymously.  For example, en auto is found in John 3:15 and eis auton occurs in John 3:16, yet most English translations’ render both phrases as “in Him.”

7.  Although several English translations render apeitheo in this verse as “refuses to believe” (HCSB) or “rejects” (NIV), the primary meaning of the verb is “disobey,” and it is so translated by the NRSV.

8.  (pisteuo, believe) in BDAG, 816-17.  The second definition listed for pisteuo is “to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence.”

9.  James seems to be addressing this same sort of insufficient response in James 2:19: “You believe that God is one, you do well.  The demons also believe—and they shudder” (HCSB).

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2014.

 

CAIN In The New Testament

By Gregory T. Pouncey

Gregory T. Pouncey is pastor, Thelma Baptist Church, Wetumpka, Alabama.

C

AIN, THE FIRSTBORN SON of Adam and Eve, has left the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” as his contribution to modern society.  Many people today remember these words, though they have forgotten that God would have answered Cain’s question in the affirmative.  They use this phrase to shirk responsibility toward others, but in Genesis God did hold Cain responsible as his “brother’s keeper.”  Cain’s trouble began when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice from among his livestock, but He did not accept Cain’s sacrifice from the fruit of his fields.  The Genesis account offered no reason for God’s rejection of Cain’s offering except the question, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”  (Gen. 3:7, NIV).  Obviously something was wrong with Cain’s motives in offering his sacrifice to God.  Rather than make his heart right, Cain killed his brother.  Because of his sin, God cursed the ground and condemned Cain to wander the earth.  Since Cain feared that others would kill him because of his sin against Abel, God gracefully placed a mark of protection on Cain, warning others that whoever killed Cain would face sevenfold retribution.  Gain fled his homeland and settled in the land of Nod.

The writer of Genesis left unspoken the precise reason for God’s refusal of Cain’s sacrifice.  While it is true that Abel’s offering was a blood sacrifice and Cain’s was a grain offering, this reason is neither proposed nor implied by the writer of Genesis.1 The Lord’s question “Why are you angry?” implied that Cain had no basis for complaint with God’s rejection (Gen. 4:6, NIV).  Furthermore, God challenged Cain to “do what is right” (Gen. 4:7, NIV), implying that Cain’s problem included behavior that was not right.  The writer of Hebrews proposed that Abel’s faith caused his sacrifice to please God, making his sacrifice more acceptable than Cain’s was.  Cain’s unrighteousness probably exposed his lack of faith.  When God confronted Cain with his evil, He said, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen. 4:9, NIV).  This question sounds hauntingly like the question God asked Adam in the garden (Gen. 3:9).

Though Cain’s contribution to modern society is small, he influenced Jewish and Christian literature by serving as a symbol for evil.  The New Testament writers mentioned Cain directly in three places.  In the first passage, Hebrew 11:4, the central focus of the passage is Abel as a man of faith.  Cain appears only in contrast to Abel.  The writer did not have to mention Cain by name (compare Luke 11:51; Heb. 12:24).  His use of Cain probably intended to set a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous.  Even in death the righteous Abel accomplished more than the unrighteous Cain did.  In the second passage, 1 John 3:12, the writer clearly used Cain as a symbol of evil or unrighteousness.  He encouraged his readers not to “be like Cain, who belongs to the evil one and murdered his brother” (NIV).  He also explained the murder by noting that Cain’s actions were evil while his brother’s were righteous.  The final reference to Cain in the New Testament, Jude 11, also used Cain as a direct symbol of evil.  The writer charged those who moved away from faith with going “the way of Cain.”  He connected Cain’s error with Balaam’s greed and Korah’s rebellion.

Jewish and early Christian literature continued this use of Cain as a symbol of evil, but the later writers used Cain in ways that went far beyond the witness of the New Testament text.  The Jewish Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, a pre-Christian writing, cast Cain as one who did not believe in God.  The authors proposed that he did not believe in judgment, in God as Judge, or in an afterlife.2 Obviously Genesis mentioned none of these problems with Cain.  The Jewish historian Josephus characterized Cain as “very wicked” and “intent upon getting” rather than giving.3 He also stated that Abel was a “lover of righteousness,” but Cain was completely “wicked.”4 The writer of the Pseudo-Clementine Homily used Cain as a symbol of evil, demonstrating that from Adam came both good and evil.5 In the Apocalypse of Abraham, the writer suggested that Cain acted under satanic influence, embodying all that the enemy of God entailed.  Louis Ginzberg, author of Legends of the Jews, found legendary Jewish material that suggested Eve conceived Cain through a carnal union with the serpent in the garden.6

The New Testament writers refrained from these fanciful tales of Cain’s origin.  Significantly, the three places where Cain appeared in the New Testament added little understanding or interpretation that did not already appear in Genesis.  In Hebrews 11:4 Abel and Cain occur as a stark contrast between good and evil.  God accepted Abel’s sacrifice because by faith he was a “righteous man.”  The implication of the passage is that Cain did not offer his offering in faith, and he lived an unrighteous life.  Ironically, though Cain murdered Abel, Abel’s life “still speaks,” long after the first murder in the Bible (v. 4, NIV).

The writer of 1 John 3:12 used Cain as illustrative material as he encouraged believers to love each other.  The unrighteous Cain personified evil by taking the life of his brother.  The writer said that Cain “belonged to the evil one” (NIV).  On the other hand, Christ, not Abel, provided the contrast to Cain in this passage.  The passage proclaims that the proof of love is that “Jesus Christ laid down his life” (1 John 3:16, NIV).  Instead of taking life, Jesus gave life.  Cain represents unrighteousness and evil in this passage, but Christ represents righteousness and goodness.

The mention of Cain in Jude 11 also serves as illustrative material.  The writer compared the false teachers of his day with Cain.  These teachers had “taken the way of Cain” (NIV).  The precise meaning of this phrase is unclear.  Perhaps the author compared the false teachers to Cain because they hated others and had a murderous spirit such as Cain did.  Maybe the writer chose to compare them to Cain because they “murdered” people spiritually as Cain murdered Abel physically.  Probably the writer used them because Cain opposed a true servant of God when he murdered Abel, just as the false teachers opposed the true Christians.

Cain’s murderous act demonstrated that the effect of sin did not cease with the taking of forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve in the garden.  In Adam’s own children the power of sin destroyed his family.  Cain’s troubles went far beyond a defective offering when he took matters into his own hands and appeased his jealousy by killing Abel.  Perhaps with this instance in mind, the writers of Proverbs wrote, “The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable – how much more so when brought with evil intent!”  (Prov. 21:27, NIV).  Like this passage from Proverbs, Cain serves as a reminder to all who choose evil instead of righteousness that God must judge the sinner because of his or her sin.

1.   J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: The Tyndale Press, 1969), 140.

2.   Pseudo-Jonathan, 7.8

3.   Josephus, Ant. Jews, 1.2.1

4.   Josephus, Ant. Jews, 1.2.2

5.   Pseudo-Clementine, Homily, 2.16

6.   Ginzberg, LOTJ, 3.2

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 2001-02.

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

(33.137) What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found: What priest of Baal was killed in Jerusalem when a reform movement threw out all the idols?  Answer Next Week:

Last Week’s Question: What king ordered the priest Uriah to make a copy of a pagan altar he had seen in Damascus?  Answer: Ahaz; 2 Kings 16:11.