Wednesday, 27 February 2019
For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. Hebrews 11:2
The word “For” introduces a real-life explanation of what was stated in the preceding verse. “By it” is speaking of faith, the main subject of verse 1. In order to show the value of faith to the reader, the author then chooses a subject concerning faith which will continue to be used throughout the chapter, which is “the elders.”
The word in Greek is presbuteros. It signifies “a mature man having seasoned judgment” (HELPS Word Studies). How to correctly translate this is a bit difficult. Vincent’s Word Studies argues that “Fathers” is better. However, that isn’t so. There are a couple of women (Sarah and Rahab) who will be cited by name as examples in this list, and the general term “women” will also be used in verse 35.
Some translational choices have been: the ancients, the people in days of old, the people of old, the men of old, the elders, our ancestors, people of ancient times, the saints of old, etc. As seen, some are rather good paraphrases, such as “our ancestors.” Others fail to include the women, such as “men of old.” Maybe the word, “elders,” is the best. As the masculine of such words in both the Greek and English traditionally stands for all those spoken of, including women, it properly defines the term while not making the error of excluding women entirely. Regardless as to the word chosen, the author is speaking of those of faith from the past. It is they who, by demonstrating faith, “obtained a good testimony.”
From this, the author will go on to give a noble list of names of those who simply took God at His word, and who were considered as pleasing to Him because of it.
Life application: It must have been both interesting and hard to grasp for the early Hebrew Christians to read this verse and to reflect on what the author was saying. After 1500 years of observing the law, they had surely come to think that they participated in their righteousness before God. But the writer says otherwise, as does the rest of the New Testament.
After defining faith in the previous verse, the author now states that it is faith which pleases God, and it is that for which we receive commendation. If you think about it logically, it must be so. God told the Israelites to put blood on their doorposts at the Passover. Did the blood save them or was it that they had faith, believing in what God asked them to do in applying the blood? God later asked them to sacrifice for their sins at the temple. Did these sacrifices restore them to God or was it faith in what they symbolized?
How you answer these questions is of no small matter. In fact, the same debate rages on in Christianity today. A large percentage of those who follow Christ believe that we participate in our justification. In fact, it’s one of the principle differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestant theology. Roman Catholicism says that we must participate in our justification. In their poor theology, if we fail to die in a righteous state, it’s off to purgatory with our soul.
But the term “justification,” as used in the Bible, literally means, “to declare righteous.” In other words, Paul says that the moment we put our faith in Christ, we are justified. Only one option is correct – that we are justified by Christ alone, through faith alone, by God’s grace alone. There is nothing we can add to this justification. When we attempt to do so, we state “God, what you did in the Person of Jesus, your Son, was insufficient to save me.” In essence, we reject the very salvation that He has provided.
Don’t be deluded – there is nothing you can do to add to the work of Jesus Christ. Stand firm in what He has done and… Have faith!
Lord, our souls praise You for the great and awesome deeds which You alone have accomplished on our behalf. Forgive us for ever-striving to add to what You have done when, in fact, what You have done is fully sufficient to restore us to You and to keep us eternally secure. We trust in You, we rest in You, we glory… in You alone. Amen!