CHIASM AND THE CONCEPT
OF FAITH IN HEBREWS 11
In his book Der Glaube im Hebraerbrief Erich Grasser ar-
gues that in Hebrews faith is not directed to Christ in any way.1
Grasser believes that faith in Hebrews is seen ethically, as stead-
fastness only, and not soteriologically.2 However, a careful exe-
gesis of Hebrews 11 shows that faith in this epistle is as Christo-
logically oriented (i.e., it has Christ as the object of faith) as it is
in the Pauline Epistles, even though it is not expressed in terms of
"faith in Christ." The chiastic structure of Hebrews 11 supports
GENERAL DISCUSSION OF CHIASM
Many biblical scholars have come to recognize the presence and
importance of chiastic structures in the interpretation of certain
passages in the Bible.3 This seems to be especially true of the Book
of Hebrews. The term "chiasm" derives from the verb xia<zw,
which means "to mark with two lines crossing like a x (chi)."4
The term xiasmo<j denotes a "placing crosswise, diagonal ar-
Victor (Sung Yul) Rhee is Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and
1 Erich Grasser, Der Glaube im Hebrderbrief (Marburg: Elwert, 1965), 65–66, 79,
2 Ibid., 63.
3 Some major studies on New Testament chiasms are Nils W. Lund, Chiasmus in
the New Testament: A Study in the Form and Function of Chiastic Structures
Hendrickson, 1992); Donald R. Miesner, "Chiasmus and the Composition and Mes-
sage of Paul's Missionary Sermons" (S.T.D. diss., Lutheran School of Theology at
ses, Exegesis (Hildesheirn: Gerstenberg, 1981).
4 Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon: A New Edi-
tion Revised and Augmented Throughout with Supplement, rev. and augmented by
Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968),
328 BIBLOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1998
rangement, especially of the clauses of a period, so that the first
corresponds with the fourth, and the second with the third."5 This
term is used "in rhetoric to designate an inversion of the order of
words or phrases which are repeated or subsequently referred to
in the sentence.”6
A survey of the literature on chiasm indicates, however, that
use of the word "chiasm" is not limited to the parallelism of words
or phrases; it is also used to refer to an inversion of ideas or con-
cepts in a broad sense. Understanding "chiasm" in this sense,
many scholars in recent years claim they have found chiasms in
many parts of the Bible. For example Blomberg believes that 2
Corinthians 1:12-7:16 is written chiastically at the conceptual
level,7 and McClister says Matthew 17:22-20:19 is chiastically
Moreover, some scholars suggest the entire Book of Hebrews
was written chiastically. For example Vanhoye, divides the book
into five major parts, excluding the introduction and conclusion,
A. Eschatology (1:5-2:18)
B. Ecclesiology (3:1-5:10)
C. Sacrifice (5:11-10:39)
B’. Ecclesiology (11:1-12:13)
A. Eschatology (12:14-13:19)
In this article the term "chiasm'' is used both macroscopically
(i.e., of ideas and concepts) and microscopically (i.e., of words
and phrases) in identifying chiasms in Hebrews 11:1-40.
7 Craig Blomberg, "The Structure of 2 Corinthians 1–7," Criswell Theological Re-
view 4 (1989): 8–9.
8 David McClister, "Where Two or Three are Gathered Together'": Literary
Structure as a Key to Meaning in Matt 17:22-20:19," Journal of the Evangelical
Theological Society 39 (1996): 550. Others who apply the term "chiasm" conceptually
include A. Boyd Luter and Michelle V. Lee, "Philippians as Chiasmus: Key to the
Structure, Unity and Theme Question," New Testament Studies 41 (1995): 89–101;
and Ian H. Thomson, Chiasmus in the Pauline Letters, Journal for the Study of the
New Testament Supplement Series 111 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 46–
232. Thomson says the following passages are arranged chiastically: Romans 5:12-
21; Galatians 5:13–6:2; Ephesians 1:3–14; 2:11–22; and Colossians 2:6-19.
9 Albert Vanhoye, La Structure
litteraire de L'Epitre aux Hebreux (
clee de Brouwer, 1963), 59, 240-42. According to Vanhoye, the center of the entire
Book of Hebrews is in 9:11–14 (ibid., 237). Welch also believes Hebrews is chiasti-
cally arranged. However, he suggests that the center of the book is 8:1–2 (John W.
Welch, "Chiasmus in the New Testament," in Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structures,
Analysis, Exegesis, 220).
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 329
Why were chiasms used in the Bible? Miesner suggests four
functions of a chiastic structure: to promote memory, to elaborate
the literary beauty, to clarify meaning, and to aid in recovering
the original word.10 For the purpose of this study in Hebrews 11,
clarifying meaning is the most important reason the author of
Hebrews employed chiasm. This literary device is more than
artistry to impress readers; it is a means toward more effectively
communicating the message.11
Scholars generally agree that the main idea (or the central
point) is in the middle of a chiasm, with the other thoughts revolv-
ing around the center. The center section is important for these
reasons: the center is always where the turning point takes place;
there is often a shift of thought at the center, after which the origi-
nal trend of thought is continued to the end of the section; and in
many instances identical ideas that occur at the center are dis-
tributed in the extremes.12 Thus in a chiastic structure the main
emphasis of the passage is likely to be in the center section. In
Hebrews important words or phrases such as God, Christ, holding
fast to one's confidence, or facts about eschatology are placed in
the center section of many passages in the book. Detecting these
points in the centers of chiasms helps support the view that faith in
Hebrews is both Christologically and eschatologicaily oriented.
HOW CHIASM WAS USED IN HEBREWS 11
TO CLARIFY THE CONCEPT OF FAITH
The chiastic arrangement of Hebrews 11 may be illustrated as
A. Introduction (11:1—3)
B . Abel's example of suffering on account of faith (11:4)
C. Enoch's example of triumph through faith (11:5)
D. Principle of faith: Impossible to please God without
10 Miesner, "Chiasmus and the Composition and Message of Paul's Missionary
Sermons," 444-49; also see Ronald E. Man, "The Value of Chiasm for New Testament
Interpretation," Bibliotheca Sacra 141 (April-June 1984): 148-54.
11 Man, "The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation," 154,
13 To the best of this writer's knowledge, no one has yet proposed a chiastic struc-
ture for Hebrews 11. Vanhoye rightly points out that 11:13-16 is the center of 11:8-
22 (Vanhoye, La Structure littgraire de L'Epitre mix Hebreux, 189). Lane also rec-
ognizes that this
section is the center of 11:8-22 (
Biblical Commentary [
finds that 11:13-16 is the center of the entire chiasm of Hebrews 11:1-40. The author
of Hebrews seems to have had a broader context in mind.
330 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1998
E. Example of faith seen through Noah (11:7)
F. Abraham's faith (11:8-10)
G. Sarah's conception of Isaac by faith
H. Middle section: Interim comment
G'. Abraham's offering up of Isaac by faith
F'. Faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (11:20-22)
E'. Examples of faith seen in the Mosaic era
D'. Examples of faith in conquering
C'. Examples of those who triumphed through faith (11:32-
B'. Examples of others who suffered on account of faith (11:35b-
A’. Conclusion (11:39-40)
MIDDLE SECTION: INTERIM COMMENT (11:13-16, "H")14
This middle section of Hebrews 11 has troubled scholars. For ex-
ample Moxnes states, "The insertion of the author's own com-
ments in 11:13–16 makes it more difficult to see the structure of
the underlying source,"15 and Michel asserts that 11:13–16 is an
editorial insertion.16 However, this difficulty is resolved when
one realizes that the author placed it intentionally at the center of
the chiasm for a rhetorical purpose.17
Basis for the center of the chiasm. Verses 13–16 are consid-
ered the center of the chiasm in Hebrews 11 because of the author's
use of "all these" (ou$toi pa<ntej) in verse 13. Swetnam argues that
the phrase refers only to those individuals mentioned in verses
8–12 (viz., Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob) because Enoch is
exempted from those who died (v. 5).18 Attridge also says that
those who "died in faith" (v. 13) refers primarily to the patriarchs
14 Since the main point is usually in the center section of the chiastic structure,
it seems appropriate to begin the exegesis of the chapter with the center point
(11:13-16). Then each corresponding section of the proposed chiasm will be ana-
lyzed to ascertain what aspect of faith is emphasized.
16 H. Moxnes, God and His Promise to Abraham, Theology in Conflict, Novum
Testamentum Supplements 53 (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 178.
16 Otto Michel, Der Brief an die Hebraer (Gottingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984), 401.
17 This middle section is also arranged chiastically, as are many of the sections in
this chapter. Most of the findings on chiasmus at the microscopic level are omitted
here because of space limitations. For details see Victor (Sung Yul) Rhee, "The
of Faith in the Overall Context of the Book of Hebrews" (Ph.D. diss.,
Theological Seminary, 1996), 205-52.
18 James Swetnam, Jesus and Isaac: A Study of the Epistle to the Hebrews in
Light of the Aqedah, Analecta Biblica 94 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1981), 91.
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 331
(Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), although he acknowledges that it
may refer to all the exemplars of faith mentioned in verses 4–
12.19 The solutions proposed by these scholars are legitimate be-
cause the language of sojourning and looking forward in verses
13–16 clearly parallels verses 9–10. However, it seems that "all
these" is broad enough to include all the exemplars of faith men-
tioned, not only in verses 4–12, but also in verses 17–38.
What evidence supports this suggestion? First, the author's
interchangeable use of the present tense and the aorist tense (ei]sin
in v. 13; e]mfani<zousin and e]pizhtou?sin in v. 14; o]re<gontai and
e]paisxu<netai in v. 16) suggests that "all these" may encompass
more than those individuals mentioned in verses 8–12. The au-
thor seems to have chosen the present tenses to identify the readers
with the patriarchs. This observation opens up the possibility that
ou$toi pa<ntej should not be limited to those in the immediate con-
text; it may include all the heroes of faith in chapter 11.
Second, "all these" may refer to all the faith heroes in chapter
11 because of the emphasis on God's promises in the chapter.
Verses 13–16 emphasize not death, but the promises of God. In
other words the author's main concern in the middle section was
to show that the Old Testament characters died while anticipating
God's promises by faith.20 This theme is also seen in the introduc-
tion (vv. 1–3) and the conclusion (vv. 39–40). In both passages the
emphasis is that those whose faith was in the Lord had not yet re-
ceived His promise. The references to "the men of old" (oi[
presbu<teroi) in the introduction (v. 2), "all these" (ou$toi pa<ntej)
in the center section (v. 13), and "all these" (ou$toi pa<ntej) in the
conclusion (v. 39) refer to all the Old Testament exemplars of
faith mentioned in this chapter.
Aspects of faith in the center of the chiasm. at aspects of
faith are emphasized in verses 13-16? First, it seems clear that
faith has a future orientation. "Without having received the
promises" (v. 13), "having seen them [God's promises] and hav-
ing welcomed them from a distance" (v. 13) "seeking a country
[patri<da, ‘homeland’] of their own" (v. 14) "reaching out for a
better place" (lit. trans., v. 16), "He has prepared a city for them"
(v. 16)—all these expressions indicate that their faith had a for-
ward-looking eschatological outlook. Second, the change from
19 Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle
to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (
Fortress, 1989), 329. Attridge also recognizes the problem of including all the indi-
viduals in verses 4-12 because of Enoch, who did not taste physical death.
20 Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek
International Greek Testament Commentary (
332 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1998
the aorist to the present tense in verses 13 and 16—from a]pe<qanon
to ei]sin (v. 13) and from o]re<gontai and e]paisxu<netai to h[toi<masen
(v. 16)—indicates that faith in Hebrews also has a present aspect.
This tension between the present and the future can also be found
in other parts of the Book of Hebrews. For example God has
already crowned Jesus with honor and glory (2:9); yet He is wait-
ing until His enemies will be made a footstool for His feet (10:13).
Although believers are entering rest at the present time (4:3), a
rest still remains for the future (4:1, 6, 9).21
EXAMINATION OF 11:11-12 ("G") AND 11:17-19 (G"")
Basis for the chiasm. These sections are in the context of the ex-
emplars of faith in the patriarchal period. Verses 11–12 and 17–19
relate to each other by the references to Isaac and by mention of the
offspring (spe<rmatoj, v. 11; ]Isaa>k, v. 17) and power (du<namin, v.
11; dunato>j, v. 19). Sarah's faith related to the birth of Isaac, and
Abraham's faith to the sacrifice of Isaac.
Aspects of faith. These parallel passages emphasize stead-
fastness of faith while waiting for the fulfillment of God's
promises. Verses 11–12 show Sarah's steadfastness of faith in
light of God's promise that He would provide a son for Abraham.
The forward-looking aspect is certainly present in this passage,
but the emphasis is on Sarah's trust in God's ability to bring about
conception, even when she was barren. Verses 17–19 speak of
Abraham's steadfastness of faith, specifically when faced with
the command to offer up his son. As in the case of Sarah, Abra-
ham's faith was also firmly based on God's promises. Abraham's
dramatic act of offering up his son was based on believing in
God's promise that Isaac would be the heir of the promise.
Both sections also emphasize the concept of resurrection from
the dead. In section G this thought is implied in bringing back
Abraham's physical deadness. In section G' this idea is more
explicitly stated by the fact that God is able to raise up Isaac. The
author's use of parabol^? (v. 19) seems to suggest that the reference
to raising people "from the dead" encompasses more than
bringing Isaac back to life. Ellingworth notes that there is no ref-
erence to the resurrection of Abraham or Isaac in the Old. Testa-
ment or other pre-Christian sources.22 This observation leads one
21 For a detailed discussion of the present and the future aspects of eschatology
in Hebrews, see C. K. Barrett, "The Eschatology of the Epistle to the Hebrews," in
The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology: Essays in Honor of
ed. W. 11 Davies and D. Daube (
versity Press, 1954), 363-93; and George Eldon Ladd, Theology of the New Testa-
ment (Grand Rapids: Eerdrnans, 1974), 572-77.
22 Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 602.
Chasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 333
to consider that the idea of resurrection stems from the author's
reflection on the Old Testament passage (Gen. 22) in light of new
revelation in the New Testament period. Thus it seems reason-
able to assert that Abraham's receiving back Isaac pictures the be-
lievers' yet-future resurrection.
Moreover, the author's use of "only begotten son" (to>n mono-
gen^?, v. 17) seems to suggest that the reference to Isaac's coming
back to life may depict the resurrection of Christ. Thus it is quite
possible that the author had in mind the Christological implica-
tion of faith. As examples of faith, Sarah and Abraham illustrate
the forward-looking aspect of Old Testament faith. In this sense
faith in chapter 11 is eschatologically oriented. However, one
should keep in mind that this future-oriented faith is inevitably
related to Christology, as will be explained later.
EXAMINATION OF 11:8—10 ("F") AND 11:20—22 (“F’”).
Basis of the chiasm. In what sense can F and F’ be considered
counterparts in the proposed chiasm? First, the chronological or-
der supports the parallelism. In verses 8–10 the author discussed
the forward-looking faith of Abraham. Then after a brief inter-
ruption (vv. 11-19) he continued with the forward-looking aspect
of faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Second, the parallelism be-
tween these two sections is seen in the references to "Isaac" and
"Jacob" in both sections. Verse 9 briefly mentions the names of
these patriarchs, and verses 20–21 provide a more detailed ac-
count of their forward-looking faith, in addition to that of Joseph
Aspects of faith. In verses 8–10, the emphasis is on Abra-
ham's forward-looking faith based on God's promise. The ex-
pression "the city which has foundations; whose architect and
is God" (v. 10) refers to
which the descendants of Abraham would inherit four hundred
years later. However, the descriptions of the city seem to speak of
than the Promised Land. Obviously
by God; so Abraham was looking forward to the eschatological
heavenly city.23 Thus it may be said that Abraham's faith was
In verse 20 the future aspect of faith is indicated by Isaac
blessing Jacob and Esau "regarding things to come." Also
Joseph's mention of the Exodus and the instruction about his
burial (v. 22) pertained to the future. As for Jacob, it is not imme-
diately clear whether his blessing was eschatologically oriented.
23 Moxnes, God and His Promise to Abraham, 181.
334 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1998
However, Genesis 47:29–48:22 shows that Jacob's blessing on
Ephraim and Manasseh involved a future aspect.
Sections F and F' in the chiasm have in common the theme of
forward-looking eschatology. Thus it seems reasonable that
Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, as exemplars of faith (vv. 20–22), con-
tinued Abraham's faith in verses 8–10. The insertion of section G
(vv. 11–12) and G' (vv. 17–19) seems to be intentional, for these
sections develop a different aspect of Abraham and Sarah's faith,
namely, trusting in God's promise.
EXAMPLES OF FAITH SEEN THROUGH NOAH AND MOSES
(11:7, "E"; AND 11:23-29, "E' ")
Basis of the chiasm. The forward-looking aspect of faith, sum-
marized in the center section (vv. 13–16), continues beyond the
examples of faith seen in the patriarchs. According to the pro-
posed chiastic diagram, the story of Noah in verse 7 corresponds
to that of Moses in verses 23–29. They are related by water experi-
ences. As Noah and his family were saved from the Flood (Gen.
6:5–8:22; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5), so also were Moses and the people
Aspects of faith in Noah's example (11:7, "E"). What aspects
of faith are seen in Noah? First, Noah's act of building an ark in-
dicates that faith involves obedience to God's word. Second, the
phrase "about things not yet seen" (peri> tw?n mhde<pw blepome<nwn)
refers to the Flood, which came about one hundred years after God
had told Noah about it (Gen. 5:32; 7:6), and the promise that He
would deliver him and his family from it (6:17–18). This for-
ward-looking aspect of Noah's faith is similar to the theme in the
center section (Heb. 11:13–16). Noah's faith is also a perfect ex-
ample of faith described in verse 1 (i.e., "faith is the assurance of
things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen") because "his
action showed that he was convinced of the substantial reality of
things still in the unseen future, still in the realm of unfulfilled
hope."24 Moreover, Noah was able to heed the voice of God and
build the ark because "he believed that what God had said He
would do—save his household from the flood (Gen. 6:18)—He
would do. Despite all the appearances to the contrary Noah put his
full trust in God."25 Noah's faith, that is, his trust in God, was re-
lated to God's promise, which in turn was forward-looking.
Another issue related to the concept of faith is the meaning of
24 R. Williamson, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 354.
The author used the same verb (ble<pw) in verses 1 and 7 in referring to what will
take place in the future.
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 335
the statement, he "became an heir of the righteousness which is
according to faith" (th?j kata> pi<stin dikaiosu<nhj e]ge<neto
klhrono<moj, Heb. 11:7). Although the phrase seems at first glance
to be a Pauline expression, Attridge argues that it needs to be un-
derstood in light of the development of common Jewish and
Christian themes in Hebrews.26 "What Noah's story exempli-
fies," Attridge says, "is the reverent reliance upon God's
promises and consequent faithful action that enables one—in a
quite un-Pauline fashion—to do what is righteous."27 In most
cases in Hebrews the word "righteousness" (dikaiosu<nh) refers to
the character of a person (e.g., 7:2; 12:11), or his or her righteous
deeds (e.g., 1:9; 11:4). It is also true that the emphasis of chapter 11
as a whole is on righteous actions carried out by faith. However,
the use of dikaiosu<nh in verse 7 seems to have a different sense. It
is qualified by the phrase kata> pi<stin, which indicates "the way
or the condition by which righteousness is actualized: it describes
a righteousness bestowed by God according to the norm of faith.''28
In addition, the verb gi<nomai may have a passive meaning. Thus
the phrase may be rendered, "he was made an heir of righteous-
ness according to faith."29 Understanding dikaiosu<nh in this
sense shows that it is close to Paul's concept of justification by
faith." Therefore, unlike Attridge's assertion, the phrase "the
righteousness according to faith" (th?j kata> pi<stin dikaiosu<nhj)
does have a Pauline ring in some sense. If this is correct, then
quite possibly the author used Noah to convey truth about Christ.
This finding is consistent with the account of Noah in two of the
Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 24:37–38; Luke 17:26–27). This analysis
suggests that faith in Hebrews is as Christologically oriented as
26 Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 320.
29 Walter Bauer, William A. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lex-
icon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed., rev. F.
Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (
1979), 158, 2.a
30 In many instances Paul used dikaiosu<nh in reference to "the righteousness be-
stowed by God" (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-22; 4:3, 5, 13; 10:4, 6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:6; Phil. 3:9). It
is interesting to note that throughout his epistles he combines the three terms
klhrono<moj, dikaiosu<nh, and pi<stij only once, namely, in Romans 4:13. The same
terms are also used together only once in Hebrews, namely, 11:7. Yet Paul's use of
dikaiosu<nh is not limited to the righteousness God bestows. As in the case of He-
Paul also used the term to refer to the righteous living of believers (
6:13, 16, 18-20; 14:17; 2 Cor 6:7; 9:10; Eph. 4:24; 5:9; Phil. 1:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; 3:16). Thus
it may be said that Hebrews' use of dikaiosu<nh differs little from Paul's use.
336 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1998
in the Pauline literature and the Gospels. This Christological
implication of faith will become more evident in Moses' example
of faith in the following section.
Aspects of faith in Moses' example (11:23-29, "E"). This sec-
tion touches on three subjects: the faith of Moses' parents (v. 23);
Moses' decision to suffer for Christ (vv. 24–26), and Moses' depar-
faith of Moses' parents. The fact that his parents were not afraid
of the king's edict implies that they obeyed God, and their
obedience shows their complete trust in Him.
The second section (vv. 24–26) describes the choice Moses
made by faith. His faith involved enduring hardship in that he
chose to share ill treatment with the people of God. This corre-
sponds to the steadfastness of faith the author of Hebrews empha-
sized throughout the epistle. In this sense, faith in Hebrews is eth-
ically described. However, this ethical aspect is not completely
detached from Christology. The author of Hebrews stated that
Moses regarded the abuse of Christ as greater riches than those of
Christ? Apparently the intention was to point to similarity be-
tween Moses and Christ. As Moses chose to endure hardship with
the people of God rather than the fleeting pleasure of sin, so Christ
chose to endure the cross in place of31 the joy set before Him (12:2).
As Moses regarded the abuse of Christ greater riches than the
comparison indicates that "the choice of Moses is not only a model
to be imitated, but also the type of the choice of Christ.”32 Thus it
may be said that for the author of Hebrews Moses' ethical aspect of
endurance is Christologically oriented. Another element in
Moses' example of faith is seen in 11:26. Moses refused to be
called the son of Pharaoh's daughter because he looked to the re-
ward God had stored up for him. In other words his faith was es-
chatologically oriented; it involved a forward-looking aspect.
This element of faith also corresponds to the theme of verses 13–
16, the center section of the chapter.
The third section (vv. 27–29) further describes Moses' faith.
Each of these three verses points out that faith is complete trust in
obedience to God. Moses departed from
steadfast as if seeing the One who is invisible (v. 27). Moses' in-
stituting the Passover (v. 28) and the Israelites' crossing the Red
31 "In place of renders a]nti>, which has the idea of exchange or substitution. It can
also mean "because" or "for the sake of." See Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commen-
tary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 523-24, n. 117.
32 Mary Rose D'Angelo, Moses in the Letter to the Hebrews, Society of Biblical
Literature Dissertation Series 42 (Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1979), 34.
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 337
Sea (v. 29) also show that faith involves trust in and obedience to
God. Christologically the Passover with its sprinkling of the
blood is a type of the suffering Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7).
FAITH SEEN IN THE PRINCIPLE OF PLEASING GOD
(11:6, "D"; AND 11:30-31, "D' ")
Some scholars say that verse 6 is the continuation of the example
of faith by Enoch in verse 5. Attridge argues that "the scriptural
datum that Enoch pleased God now provides the basis for the
claim that it was because of his faith that the patriarch was trans-
lated."33 However, verse 6 may include more than Enoch. Just as
verses 13–16 should be considered a summary of the exemplars of
faith in chapter 11, so the principle of faith in verse 6 applies to all
the exemplars of faith in this chapter. Particularly verse 6 corre-
lates with verses 30-31, as seen in the proposed chiastic scheme.
Principle of faith (11:6, "D"). At least three principles of faith
may be observed in this verse. First, one cannot possibly please
God without faith. Second, faith involves believing in the exis-
tence of God, indicated by the verb e@stin ("is"). Bruce asserts that
"it is not belief in the existence of a God that is meant, but belief in
the existence of the God who once declared His will to the fathers
through the prophets and in these last days has spoken in His
Son."34 Third, faith entails believing that God rewards those who
seek (e]kzhte<w, "to seek out or search for"35) Him. It denotes "a
singular determination to devote oneself to the service of God."36
The idea of "reward" implies a forward-looking aspect of faith,
which is "a matter of unwavering hope in the God who controls the
future. It exhibits the solid faith that is the condition for receiving
recompense by God."37 This verse points up the qualities of faith
found throughout chapter 11, especially in verses 30–31.
of faith in conquering
Why are these verses paired with verse 6? Three observations
may be made about faith in this passage. First, verse 30 is signif-
icant because this is
the story of the second generation of
who acted in faith and pleased God, as opposed to the rebellious
33 Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 318. Also see F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to
the Hebrews, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 290.
34 Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 290.
35 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature, 240.
36 Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 338.
37 Ibid., 338-39.
338 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1998
first generation. Thus in the gap between verses 29 and 30, the
author of Hebrews implied that while the first generation was not
able to enter God's rest because of disobedience (3:7–4:13), the sec-
ond generation did enter the rest (i.e., the land of promise) by
faith under Joshua's leadership. This obedience by the second
generation was an act of faith which pleased God, and which cor-
responds to the first principle of faith in 11:6.
Second, the author's inclusion of Rahab (v. 31) is significant
because she, a Gentile, became a member of the covenant people of
God by faith. Joshua 2:8–14 suggests she had the kind of faith de-
scribed in Hebrews 11:6. She came to realize that the God of Israel
is the true God, having been informed of the miracles performed
the Lord (e.g., His drying up the water of the
victory over the Amorite kings). This corresponds to the second
principle of faith in verse 6, which states that the one who draws
near to God must believe in the existence of God.
Third, when Rahab realized who the true God is, she received
the two spies in peace and pleaded for her life and the lives of her
family members (Josh. 2:12–14). Her act of faith indicates she be-
lieved God rewards those who earnestly seek Him out (e]kzhte<w),
which corresponds to the third principle of faith in Hebrews 11:6.
Rahab clearly exhibits "a faith that was oriented toward the fu-
ture. She was prepared to assume present peril for the sake of fu-
EXAMPLES OF TRIUMPHS AND SUFFERINGS THROUGH FAITH
(11:4, "B"; 11:5, "C"; 11:32-35a, "C' ' ; 11:35b-38, "B' ")
Basis for the chiasm. Verses 32–38 may be divided into two parts.
In the first part (vv. 32–35a), after listing some exemplars of faith
from the Old Testament (Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah,
David, Samuel, and the prophets), the author proceeded to de-
scribe, without specifying the names, certain victories accom-
plished by others through faith. In the second part (11:35b–38),
however, the author indicated a change of subject by a@lloi de> . . .
e!teroi de> (vv. 35–36). From this point on the author was describ-
ing those who endured sufferings through faith. Thus the two pas-
sages (vv. 32–35a and vv. 35b–38) indicate that the same faith has
two effects: on the one hand it manifests God's power and on the
other hand it allows God's people to endure trials. The themes of
triumphs and sufferings are also found in verses 4–5. Abel illus-
trates faith through suffering, and Enoch illustrates faith through
38 Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 379.
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 339
While verses 4-5 and 32-38 are thematically related, the
themes of sufferings and triumphs are discussed in inverted or-
der. Enoch's victory by faith (v. 5) corresponds to the exemplars of
faith who experienced victory in their lives (vv. 32-35a), and
Abel's martyrdom because of his act of righteousness by faith (v.
4) fits well with those who endured sufferings by faith (vv. 35b-
Aspects of faith in 11:4 ("B") and 11:5 ("C"). In what sense
was Abel righteous (v. 4)? This depends on the interpretation of
the prepositional phrase di ] h$j ("through which"). Grammatically
speaking, it is possible for qusi<an ("sacrifice") to be the antecedent
of this phrase. However, the context seems to indicate that pi<stij
("faith") is more likely the antecedents.39 The author repeatedly
emphasized the importance of pi<stij by using phrases such as di ]
h$j and au]th?j (cf. di ] h$j in v. 7 in reference to Noah). If the phrase
di ] h$j refers to pi<stij, then it may be said that Abel's righteous-
ness was bestowed because of his faith. The passive voice
(e]marturh<qh) further supports this idea. Thus, as with Noah's faith
in verse 7, the reference to righteousness by faith in verse 4 dif-
fers little from the Pauline concept of righteousness by faith.
Abel's martyrdom on account of his righteous offering by faith is
a type of others who suffer for the sake of righteousness. The sig-
nificance of this point is discussed later in connection with
Another issue related to Abel's faith is the meaning of the ex-
pression, "through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks." Some
writers say this refers to Abel's call for vengeance. For example
Bruce says the words "he still speaks" refer to "Abel's appealing to
God for vindication until he obtains it in full in the judgment to
come.”40 Referring to Hebrews 12:24, which states that Christ's
blood speaks better than that of Abel, Bruce contends that the
statement "Abel still speaks" refers to Genesis 4:10.41 However,
the context indicates that Abel's speaking was not by his blood, but
was by his faith. Moreover, as Lane points out, the verb lalei?n is
never used in Hebrews of someone addressing God.42 For this
reason it is more likely that Abel's speaking has a reference to
his offering in Genesis 4:4. Because of the sacrifice he offered by
faith, he is still speaking to believers through the written Word of
39 C. Spicq, L'Epitre aux Hebreux (Paris: Gabalda, 1952), 2:342; cf. Lane, Hebrews
40 Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 286.
41 Ibid. Genesis 4:10 says, "The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from
42 Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 335.
340 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1998
God: he is a living witness to all ages.43 Though he died, he still
speaks. In a sense his "life from death" typifies those who will be
resurrected through Christ in the future.
Enoch was taken to heaven because he pleased God (Heb.
11:5). According to the short account of Enoch's life in Genesis
5:21-24, God took him because he walked with Him for three hun-
dred years. His walk with God for three centuries implies that his
faith entailed obedience to God, steadfastness, and a forward-
looking aspect. Enoch's translation without tasting death shows
the triumphant victory he had through faith.
Aspects of faith in 11:32-35a ("C'") and 11:35b-38 ("B' ").
Verses 32-38 may be viewed as a chiasm, in which verses 32-35a
and 35b-38 complement each other by contrast, looking first at ex-
amples of victory through faith and then at examples of suffer-
ings and martyrdom through faith.44 Both sections contain the
idea of resurrection. Verse 35a speaks of the resurrection of those
who had victory by faith, and verse 35b speaks of the hope of resur-
rection of those who experienced suffering and death by faith.
The subject of the resurrection reveals that faith is directly
related to hope, which is mentioned often in Hebrews. This hope of
resurrection makes it evident that here faith involved an eschato-
logical, forward-looking aspect. The chiastic structure of verses
32-38 implies that faith manifested in the outer sections (vv. 32-
34, 36-38) was based on the hope of resurrection in the center sec-
tions (v. 35). In this sense the characteristics of faith exhibited by
the exemplars of faith were eschatologically oriented.
INTRODUCTION (11:1-3, "A") AND CONCLUSION (11:39-40, "A')
Basis for the chiasm. What clues indicate that the introduction
(vv. 1-3) and the conclusion (vv. 39-40) are chiastically
arranged? First, the context shows that the reference to "the men of
old" (oi[ presbu<teroi) in verse 2 corresponds to "all these" (ou$toi
pa<ntej) in verse 39 (also in v. 13). Second, the introduction and
conclusion are related by the idea of attestation by faith
(e]marturh<qhsan, v. 2; marturhqe<ntej, v. 39). Third, the use of the
verb ble<pw (blepome<nwn, v. 1; probleyame<nou, v. 40) also suggests
these sections are parallel.
Aspects of faith in 11:1-3 ("A"). In this introduction the au-
thor presented one aspect of the definition of faith by using the two
terms u[po<stasij and e@legxoj. [Upo<stasij may be interpreted in at
43 James Moffatt, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the
Hebrews, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: Clark, 1924), 164.
44 For a detailed analysis of the chiasm see Rhee, "The Concept of Faith in the
Overall Context of the Book of Hebrews," 237-38.
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 341
least three ways. First, the term may be understood in the subjec-
tive sense as either "assurance" or "confidence." Those who hold
this view point out that the word is used in the same way in 3:14.45
However, the problem with this view is that this sense has never
been found in the contemporary literature." Moreover, the exem-
plars of faith in chapter 11 had more than a subjective hope; they
had an objective hope toward which they were looking.
Second, u[po<stasij is understood by some scholars as "foun-
dation." This view takes the word in a literal sense as meaning
"standing (sta<sij) under (u[po<)."47 Lindars argues that the En-
glish translation of "assurance" or "confidence" is derived from
the literal meaning of "foundation."48 He asserts that "in the pre-
sent context faith is the foundation of a positive attitude towards
the future, which cannot yet be experienced but has to remain a
matter of hope."49 The word "foundation" emphasizes "the begin-
ning which contains within itself the certainty of completion."50
This view sees the term in a somewhat objective sense. However,
the problem with this view, again, is that u[po<stasij is never used
in this sense in extrabiblical sources. Mathis, for example, sur-
veys both Hellenistic and Greek patristic literature, and con-
cludes that u[po<stasij does not mean "foundation"; rather, it has
the sense of reality.51 Moreover, translating verse 1 as "faith is
the foundation of the things hoped for" does not seem to bring out
the eschatological hope the author stressed throughout the chapter.
A third view, which also takes u[po<stasij in an objective
sense, is that the word means "reality." Koster, for example, after
surveying the meaning of the term in Greek literature, the Septu-
agint, and other Jewish literature, suggests that the word denotes
"reality," "substance," or "actualization."52 Understanding
45 Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 280; and Hughes, A Commentary on the
Epistle to the Hebrews, 439.
46 Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 308.
47 Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 439. See also Otto Betz,
"Firmness in Faith: Hebrews 11:1 and Isaiah 28:16," in Scripture: Meaning and
Method, ed. Barry R. Thompson (Hull: Hull University Press, 1987), 92-113. Betz
argues for the "foundation" view by comparing Hebrews 11:1 with Isaiah 28:16.
48 Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Letter to the
Hebrews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 110-11.
49 Ibid., 111.
50 Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 439.
51 M. A. Mathis, "Does 'Substantia' Mean 'Realisation' or 'Foundation' in Hebr
11,1?" Biblica 3 (1922): 79-87.
52 H. Koster, "u[po<stasij," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed.
Gerhard Friedrich and Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 8:572-89.
342 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1998
u[po<stasij this way in 11:1 makes good sense because "faith lays
hold of what is promised and therefore hoped for, as something
real and solid, though as yet unseen."53 This objective under-
standing of the term is also consistent with the forward-looking
aspect of faith in chapter 11.54 Thus it seems reasonable to under-
stand u[po<stasij in verse la as the reality of what is hoped for, "the
reality of the future blessings that constitute the objective content
of hope."55 The participle e]lpizome<nwn ("hoped for") in verse 1,
along with u[po<stasij, points to the future second advent of
Christ.56 Thus again faith in Hebrews is seen as eschatologically
Scholars differ on how to interpret e@legxoj. Since the word is
used in no other place in the New Testament, its exact meaning is
difficult to determine. As with u[po<stasij, the meaning of e@legxoj
may be "conviction" in a subjective sense or "proof" in an objec-
tive sense.57 Among those who take the subjective view, Bruce as-
serts that e@legxoj means "conviction" in much the same sense as
"assurance" in the preceding phrase."58 Moffatt, arguing against
the objective understanding of e@legxoj, states that "faith is not the
e@legxoj of things unseen in the sense of ‘proof,’ which could only
mean that it tests, or rather attests, their reality."59 He asserts that
the author of Hebrews "wishes to show, not the reality of these un-
seen ends of God–he assumes these–but the fact and force of be-
lieving in them with absolute confidence."60
The subjective understanding of the word as "conviction" is
possible here; it makes sense in the context of chapter 11. All the
exemplars of faith had assurance of the things hoped for, and
conviction of the things they had not yet seen. However, since the
53 Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 439.
54 The word is used two other times in Hebrews (1:3; 3:14). In both places the objec-
tive meaning of "reality" seems to fit the context quite well. In 1:3 Jesus is described
as the xarakth>r th?j u[posta<sewj au]tou?. This suggests that u[po<stasij may be un-
derstood as "reality." Likewise, although it is possible to interpret the word in a
subjective sense (i.e., confidence), an objective meaning of "reality" also makes good
sense in 3:14 ("if we hold fast to the beginning of the reality until the end," author's
55 Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 328–29.
56 James W. Thompson, The Beginnings of Christian Philosophy: The Epistle to
the Hebrews, Catholic
Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 13 (
Biblical Society of
57 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature, 249.
58 Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 279.
59 Moffatt, Hebrews, 159–60.
60 Ibid., 160.
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 343
phrase "the e@legxoj of things not seen" describes what precedes
("faith is the assurance [or reality] of things hoped for"), this
writer feels that e@legxoj should also be understood in an objective
sense as in the case of u[po<stasij (i.e., “proof” as opposed to
"conviction"). Thompson rightly argues that because of the paral-
lelism of u[po<stasij and e@legxoj, the two must be interpreted
alongside each other. Thus interpreting e@legxoj as “proof”61 al-
lows one to see that faith in chapter 11 is "an objective reality, so
objective that it can be called a ‘proof ‘(e@legxoj) of the things which
have been and are hoped for by all those involved."62 Adding the
phrase paragma<twn e@legxoj ou] blepome<nwn establishes the inner
right of resting on the thing hoped for (i.e., u[po<stasij). Under-
standing e@legxoj in a subjective sense breaks down the neces-
sary parallelism of u[po<stasij and e@legxoj and obscures the in-
ner right of the u[po<stasij.63 For this reason the objective under-
standing of e@legxoj seems to be what the author of Hebrews had in
If the objective understanding of u[po<stasij and e@legxoj is
correct, then the definition of faith in verse 1 may be stated in this
way: Faith is the reality (or substance) of the things hoped for, the
proof of the things not seen. These two terms clearly indicate that
what the author intends to emphasize in chapter 11 is a forward-
looking aspect of faith; with this type of faith the men of old have
been attested by God (v. 2).
Aspects of faith in 11:39-40 ("A, "). To appreciate how the au-
thor summarized the forward-looking aspect of faith, several is-
sues need to be discussed in this concluding section. The first has
to do with the phrase they "did not receive what was promised" (ou]k
e]komi<santo th>n e]paggeli<an, v. 39).64 Some men and women men-
tioned in chapter 11 did receive in their lifetime what God
promised (e.g., Noah, v. 7; Abraham and Sarah, vv. 11-12; the
ever, verse 39a states that they all (ou$toi pa<ntej) did not receive
the promise. In what sense did they not receive the promise? What
61 Thompson, The Beginnings of Christian Philosophy, 70.
62 James Swetnam, "Form and Content in Hebrews 7-13," Biblica 55 (1974): 334.
63 Friedrich Bilchsel " e@legxoj," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,
2 (1964): 476.
64 D'Angelo suggests that the phrase dia> th?j pi<stewj can be related to either mar-
turhqe<ntej or e]komi<santo. She asserts that this multiplicity of meanings is inten-
tional (Moses in the Letter to the Hebrews, 23). However, it seems to be more natu-
ral to connect it to marturhqe<ntej because of the word order. Moreover, a compari-
son with verse 2 indicates that this interpretation is more plausible (i.e., the
phrase e]n tau<t^ refers to pi<stij which is used along with marture<w).
344 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1998
does the promise refer to in this verse? The middle section (vv.
13-16) indicates they did not receive the promise of the heavenly
place (e]pourani<ou), the city God had prepared for them (v. 16). In
12:14-29 the author gave further insight on the heavenly city. It is
entered this heavenly city, as indicated by the perfect tense
(proselhlu<qate, "have come to"). In other words the promise
mentioned in 11:39a is an eternal inheritance available through
Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant (9:15).65 The exemplars
of faith saw this heavenly city, without having received the final
fulfillment, There the exemplars of faith in the Old Testament
did not receive the promise in the ultimate sense, as 11:39 states.
Another issue is the meaning of the phrase ("something bet-
ter," krei?tto<n ti, v. 40). "The krei?tton ti is our inclusion in this
people of God for whom the telei<wsij of Christ was destined."66
The ultimate promise, in the sense of messianic bliss with eter-
nal life (10:36-37; cf. 6:17-18), was not granted to the exemplars
of faith in chapter 11.67 Their perfection awaited and depended on
the sacrificial death of Christ. In this sense their faith was escha-
tological in that it had a forward-looking orientation. At the same
time the author of Hebrews connected this eschatological outlook
of faith to Christ's sacrificial death. Thus it may be said that the
heroes and heroines of faith in the Old Testament had a Christo-
However, the faith of those in the New Covenant is both escha-
tologically and Christologically oriented. On the one hand be-
lievers under the New
Covenant "have come to
city of the living God, the heavenly
the mediator of a new covenant" (12:22, 24). In this sense the es-
chatological fulfillment has already taken place. On the other
hand the ultimate eschatological fulfillment has not yet taken
place because believers are still looking to the city that is to come
(13:14). Thus it may be said that the faith of those under the New
Covenant is eschatologically oriented just as was the faith of those
in the Old Covenant. This forward-looking aspect of faith of those
in the New Covenant is also closely related to Christology: believ-
ers must run the race which lies ahead of them by looking to Jesus
65 Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 392.
66 Moffatt, Hebrews, 191.
67 Ibid., 190.
Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 11 345
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Analyses of all the corresponding sections in Hebrews 11, includ-
ing the center of the chapter in verses 13-16, support the argument
that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote chapter 11 chias-
tically to set forth the importance of the eschatological nature of
faith. For him faith involves both present and future aspects.
However, the primary emphasis in Hebrews 11 is on the future
(i.e., the forward-looking aspect). This eschatological orienta-
tion of faith is introduced in verses 1-3, restated in verses 13-16,
and summarized in verses 39-40. In between these summary
statements, the author cited examples of faith from the Old Tes-
tament to illustrate this forward-looking aspect of faith. Faith in
Hebrews, then, involves the present and the future.
Also chapter 11 reveals that the Christological aspect of faith
is present. True, faith in Hebrews is not expressed as "faith in
Christ." However, this does not mean that faith in Hebrews is
merely a de-Christologized ethical element, as Grasser contends.
Several points in chapter 11 suggest that this aspect of faith is im-
plied by the author (e.g., the reference to "heir of righteousness
which is according to faith" for Noah in v. 7; "reproach of Christ"
in describing Moses' faith in v. 26; the institution of the Passover
in v. 28; and others). In other words the ethical aspect of stead-
fastness must always be interpreted in the context of Christology.
In Hebrews Jesus is the object of faith. Moreover, the references to
"God preparing for something better concerning us" and "their
denial of perfection without us" (v. 40, author's trans.) clearly
point ahead to the institution of the New Covenant based on
Christ's sacrificial death on the cross. The futuristic outlook of
faith (i.e., the forward-looking aspect) by the exemplars of faith
in the Old Covenant is ultimately related to Christ in the New
Covenant. In this sense it may be concluded that the concept of
faith in Hebrews is both eschatologically and Christologically
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