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Hebrews 11:1

ESV Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
NIV Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
NASB Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.
CSB Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.
NLT Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.
KJV Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
NKJV Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

What does Hebrews 11:1 mean?

This often-quoted verse gives a direct definition of faith, meant to be read in the context of the rest of this letter. At the end of chapter 10, the writer of Hebrews finished describing why the new covenant in Jesus Christ was superior to the old covenant of animal sacrifices (Hebrews 10:1–18). This concluded with a reassuring reminder not to "shrink back," but to "have faith" (Hebrews 10:39). The definition given here is meant to tie this command to the examples given later on. After this verse, the writer will explain how the actions of various biblical figures proved both the existence and validity of their faith. Those contexts—former evidence and future expectation—are essential when interpreting the meaning of these words.

In the following verses, the writer of Hebrews will point out examples of believers who demonstrated real, saving faith in God. Each example of faith demonstrates trust, based on what that person knew and held as reassurance that God would act according to His promises. The "assurance" and "conviction" of faith is not blind belief, or gullibility, or wishful thinking. Study of the various characters mentioned in this chapter shows that they all had good reasons to trust in God. Their "faith" was not naively accepting fairy tales; it was acting in full confidence that God would do as He had promised, based on those experiences.

As the rest of this chapter demonstrates, that kind of faith—trust which produces obedience—results in God's blessings and approval. Our perspective, looking back on their example, should inspire confidence that God will make good on His promises, even if our earthly lives don't last long enough to see them come to fruition. God "creates" out of things we cannot see—both in a literal, physical sense, as well as a spiritual sense. Just because we don't understand how God will act does not mean He cannot, or will not act.
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