What does Hebrews 11:1 mean?
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.
Verse Commentary:
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.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 11:1–3 defines faith using words which are frequently quoted, and also frequently misunderstood. As with the rest of the book of Hebrews, context is critical. In this passage, the writer demonstrates that godly faith is really ''trust.'' What we have seen of God's nature and character should lead us to trust Him, and trust naturally leads to obedience. This is not an endorsement of ''blind faith,'' especially since it comes after a lengthy discourse full of evidence and logic. Instead, the writer presents the idea of ''faith'' as a confident look to the future, based on reliance on God's promises. The next two sections of Hebrews will present God's acceptance of faith and actions which prove it.
Chapter Summary:
True, godly faith is defined as trust, relying on God when looking to the future, and obeying even when we don't fully understand all details. The great figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, all lived according to this type of faith. Ultimately, that means trusting God's intent to make good on His promises from an eternal perspective. The model of faith presented by those people, in light of the struggles they faced, ought to inspire Christians towards a more confident, purposeful faith.
Chapter Context:
Up to this point, the book of Hebrews has given extensive evidence proving that Jesus Christ, and the new covenant He brought about, is God's ultimate plan for mankind's salvation. Chapter 10 provided an additional warning about the danger of falling away from this truth. Chapter 11 begins by clarifying the meaning of the word ''faith,'' primarily by listing examples of Old Testament figures who exemplify it. The ultimate application of this knowledge should be a motivation to ''hold fast'' to the gospel, despite hardships. That encouragement is a major theme of chapter 12.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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