11:1 substance. The word translated “substance” (Greek hupostasis), meaning “that which stands under”) is translated “person” in Hebrews 1:3. It means basically “the foundation.” Contrast apostasis (from which we derive “apostasy”), which means “that which stands away.” The term “hypostatic union,” meaning the union of God and man in Jesus Christ, comes from this word hupostasis. It refers to their “substantive,” or “foundational,” union.
11:1 evidence. The word here for “evidence” (Greek elegchos) is found elsewhere only in II Timothy 3:16, where it is rendered as “reproof.” The basic meaning is probably “conviction.”
11:2 elders. These “elders” probably meant the ancient patriarchs listed in the subsequent verses, rather than elders of the Israelite theocracy or the elders of the local church. The word itself means, simply, “elderly man.”
11:3 faith. The word “faith” occurs twenty-four times in this chapter, with the great theme that true saving faith (Hebrews 10:39) and faith to live by (Hebrews 10:38) will inevitably produce works of faith that demonstrate its reality (see also James 2:14-26). This has been already demonstrated by a great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), whose works of faith have been described in the Old Testament, and are outlined in some cases here.
11:3 worlds. The word for “worlds” (Greek aion) was used to mean either “age” or the physical world, or both, depending on context. It seems to anticipate our present scientific understanding of the cosmos as a space/time/matter continuum. All (space, time, matter) were framed by the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (compare Hebrews 1:2; John 1:1-3,14; Psalm 33:6,9). Note also that the special creation of the universe is the very first object of this living, saving faith. Faith in redemption without faith in creation is impossible in any meaningful sense. Only the Creator can save.
11:3 things which do appear. The physical universe, therefore, was not somehow made out of pre-existing materials of any kind. Thus theistic evolution is an oxymoron. Only special creation of the worlds, accomplished merely by the omnipotent “Let there be!” of God, can account for the things that are seen. His processes of creating and making all things ex nihilo—that is, “out of nothing” but His own omnipotence—were all completed and stopped at the end of the six days of creation week (Genesis 2:1-3). His present works consist of conserving and redeeming what He has created, as confirmed by the two most basic and universal of all known scientific principles, the so-called First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law (mass/energy conservation) assures us that the universe did not create itself, as many modern physicists and New Agers imagine. The Second Law (mass/energy deterioration) assures us that the universe must have been created in the beginning and is not of infinite age—otherwise it already would have completely deteriorated into uniform stillness and death. Therefore it could only have been spoken into being by the omnipotent Word of God! Those who believe otherwise are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
11:4 Abel. This chapter confirms that the ancient heroes of faith (Abel, Enoch, Noah, etc.) were not mythological characters, nor were the events described in the Old Testament legendary events.
11:4 he was righteous. “Righteousness” has always been imputed by God to sinful men only on the basis of obedient faith in His Word. Abel’s “more excellent sacrifice” could have been pronounced such by God only on the basis that Abel believed God and offered the type of sacrifice specified by God (a slain animal, whose blood was shed as an atonement, or “covering,” for the sin of the one offering it as a substitute), whereas Cain, for reasons of pride, did not.
11:4 being dead yet speaketh. The “voice” of Abel’s blood cried out “from the ground” (Genesis 4:10), thus becoming a type of the innocent shed blood of Christ “that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).
11:5 translated him. This remarkable assertion of Enoch’s rapture into heaven while still in human flesh seems scientifically impossible, both by the law of gravity and the inhospitability of outer space to human life. Nevertheless, with God nothing is impossible, and the writer of Hebrews confirmed that the amazing event briefly described in Genesis 5:21-24 really happened.
11:6 believe that he. God is not found by naturalistic induction. Faith, or at least a willingness to believe, must come first (John 7:17). But faith in God is warranted by abundant evidence.
11:6 without faith. There are many things in life that we can well do without, but there are at least seven things a Christian simply cannot do without: (1) Christ (Ephesians 2:12); (2) His shed blood (Hebrews 9:22); (3) His sinlessness (Hebrews 4:15); (4) faith in Him (Hebrews 11:6); (5) faith-generated works (James 2:20); (6) true holiness unto Him (Hebrews 12:14); (7) heavenly chastisement (Hebrews 12:8). “Without me,” Christ said, “ye can do nothing” (John 15:5), but with Him, we have “all things” (I Corinthians 3:21).
11:6 seek him. However, no one can truly “seek after God” (Romans 3:11), unless God first seeks him (John 6:44; II Chronicles 16:9).
11:7 Noah. The writer here not only affirms the historicity of Noah but also of the ark and the worldwide Flood (see notes on Genesis 6–9 for extensive discussion of the evidence and its significance).
11:7 not seen as yet. The world had never even seen rainfall, or a river flood, let alone a global flood (Genesis 2:5), yet Noah believed God’s word and set about building a huge ark on dry land that would have been completely useless and unnecessary in a local flood. He and his family could easily have migrated to another region if it were to be a local flood, and so could the animals.
11:7 fear. Noah was not fearful for his own life, but for the lives and souls of his descendants if they continued to live in the violent and ungodly antediluvian society of the day. Hence he built an ark “to the saving of his house.” Because of his obedience, not only was he saved, but so was his family (see Genesis 7:1; compare Acts 16:31).
11:7 righteousness which is by faith. He, like all others who truly believe God’s Word, received His imputed righteousness by faith. This particular verse is the only one in Hebrews 11 that both begins and ends “by faith.”
11:10 looked for a city. Abraham could see that city by faith, and we can see it even more clearly, for John has described it for us (Revelation 21–22). Like the patriarchs, we also should confess that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13), not allowing ourselves to grow deep roots here on earth.
11:17 only begotten son. Isaac was not really Abraham’s only begotten son, for there was Ishmael, but he was counted by God as such, since Ishmael was begotten outside the promises of God, due to a lapse of faith for a time by Sarah and Abraham. The use of the term here stresses the fact that Abraham’s offer of Isaac can be taken as a thrilling type of God’s offering His only begotten Son. See notes on Genesis 22:1-18.
11:18 it was said. This passage is quoted from Genesis 21:12.
11:19 able to raise him up. Abraham had assured his servants that he and Isaac would return (Genesis 22:5), even though he fully intended to slay Isaac in obedience to God, simply because he believed God. Thus, even in a time when no one had ever been raised from the dead, Abraham believed God would raise Isaac up in order to keep His promise. Such was the faith of Abraham!
11:23 proper. The Greek, as well as old English usage, indicates the term “proper” meant “very comely.”
11:26 reproach of Christ. Moses lived about 1500 years before Christ, but even at this early date, he knew about the promised Messiah (see, for example, his prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15-19), and knew God’s eternal promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were worth far more than temporal riches.
11:26 treasures in Egypt. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses quite possibly could have eventually become king of Egypt, but he knew by faith that God’s promises were far greater, and he believed them.
11:33 obtained promises. Many of the elders won great victories, and received the fulfillment of many divine promises (e.g., Daniel), while others “received not the promises” (Hebrews 11:39) even though they also had great faith. Perhaps it takes even greater faith to stand true to God when the heavens seem silent to our prayers than when He is answering in great victories.
11:35 not accepting deliverance. The apocryphal books of the Maccabees describe how many faithful Jews were tortured unto death, even though they could have received deliverance and riches if they only would recant and renounce their faith. This type of experience was later shared by many of the early Christians, but they had faith in such promises as that of II Corinthians 4:17: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
11:37 sawn asunder. According to Jewish tradition, the prophet Isaiah was executed by being sawn in two during the reign of the evil son of King Hezekiah, Manasseh.
11:39 a good report. This summarizes “the good report” obtained by the “elders” of our faith (Hebrews 11:2).